Wednesday, October 08, 2008

RMNP - Colorado River Trail to Stage Road

Today we were going to do our first backpacking trip in to the Rocky Mountains. After a breakfast of hot cereal and some warming up and relaxing by the fire - it was a chilly morning - we packed up our campsite at Moraine Park, packed our backpacks for the hike and headed to the other side of the Rocky Mountain National Park.

Sun coming up over the mountains in Moraine Park Campground, not many tents here

Our camp site the Moraine Park Campground

Breakfast near a campfire

We picked up our backcountry permits yesterday and paid the $20 fee. All we had to do this morning was to drive from Moraine Park to the Colorado River Trailhead, located on the northwest side of the park. We wanted to check out the west side of the park before they closed the Trail Ridge Road (US34) in a week or two. Once the road was closed for the season it would stay closed until the snow would melt in June of next year. This was probably our last opportunity to hike the west side of the park this year.

Fall colors on Trail Ridge Road

Trail Ridge Road above the tree line

Higher still there is more snow

By the time we arrived the Colorado River Trailhead and got all our stuff together, it was already close to 11AM. We made some peanut butter sandwiches and ate them right there since it was almost four hour since we had breakfast and we weren’t planning on stopping for lunch any time soon. We left the car in the parking lot displaying the backcountry camping tag. It was still very chilly, only in the upper 40’s but as we started to hike it was getting warmer and warmer. We stopped a few times to get some layers off.

Above pictures - Mike and I near the begining of the Colorado River Trail

The Colorado River Trail climbs some 470 feet by the time it gets to Stage Road, our backcountry campsite. The trail was about 4.5 miles long but and the climb was gradual one so it wasn’t very tiring. Most of the trail was easy, some was moderate and there were only a few steep and rocky sections. It was perfect for that first long backcountry backpacking trip.

The first mile went by really quick and I barely felt the pack on my back. The second mile was still OK, but now there was definitely a pack on my back. The third mile I started to slow down a bit, some sections were becoming difficult and it was hard to say if it were the sections themselves or was I just getting tired? The last mile and half I just wanted to get there already. Funny how we had planned on setting up camp at Stage Road and still do a hike afterwards. We actually wanted to hike to Thunder Pass, but half way through the hike to the campsite we realized that was probably not going to happen, so we decided on hiking to the Little Yellowstone instead, which was closer to our campsite.

The Colorado River trail and the Colorado River

But I’m jumping way ahead. Just past Lulu City we stopped for our one and only break. Not much left of Lulu City, if you look around there are some cabin remnants there. We hiked straight through and I didn’t really see much from the trail. Hard to believe that at one point there might have been 500 people living here. Lulu City used to be a mining town. It was founded around 1879 and was named after the founders favorite daughter. People came here form all over to mine silver and gold here.

Little Dutch Creek north of Lulu City

Crystal clear waters of the Little Dutch Creek

Past Lulu City there was a fork in the trail, we went left and arrived at the Little Dutch Creek where we decided to have lunch, a small can of tuna fish and crackers. We only had another mile and a half left so this was a nice spot to relax for a little. We were getting tired and we were hungry. The sun was shining and it had warmed up in to the mid 60‘s. The day was breezy, but most of the trail traveled through the forest so we didn’t feel the wind, we just heard the tops of the trees moving and some of the dead trees creaking, like they might collapse at any moment.
We passed a few people hiking the first two miles but the last two plus miles we saw no one. I’m sure on a weekend there would have been more people here, and that’s why we wanted to come here during the week.

After 4.5 miles of hiking we arrived at the Stage Road backcountry camp site

We arrived at Stage Road backcountry campsite at around 4:00PM. We would be the only people camping here. Even though the sun would not be setting for another two and half hours, this campsite was nestled in between mountains and with all the trees above us, we only had an hour and a half before the sun slid behind the mountains.

Stage Road backcountry camp site at Rocky Mountain National Park

We set the tent up but we were too tired to do any hiking and there wasn’t enough sun left anyway. From our campsite we could hear water running and we could see a river below us so we decided to hike down there and check it out. This was either the Lulu Creek or the Colorado River. I can’t tell which from the map, both are near by.

A simple bridge near Stage Road

A river or creek near Stage Road

Before we lost all our daylight, we decided to have some dinner. We split one of those freeze dried meals where you only have to add some water. This was our second time using our Jet Boil, it was great. Boiling water was fast. The dinner, not very good. I had a granola bar instead and only ate some of the chicken and rice that Mike couldn’t finish.

Our bear-proof water-proof sacks with all our food hanging in the tree

There were no camp fires allowed here, so after Mike hung our food on a tree branch, so that bears and other animals couldn’t get to it, we just sat around waiting for the darkness.
I was tired and a bit sore, but I was also not feeling too good now. I was very cold and my face felt hot, and I thought I was getting a headache. Having had elevation sickness before, I was a bit worried that I might be experiencing some of that. Then Mike pointed out to me that it looked like I had some kind of a bite on my check. I didn’t have a mirror so Mike took a close up picture of the bite so I could see it. There was a black hole in my check, and the rest of it was swollen and red. I touched it and I couldn’t feel it, the whole cheek area was numb but felt warm to the touch.

The black dot on my cheek is possibly a spider bite

Then I remembered leaving the spot where we had lunch, I thought I had a hair on my face, I brushed it away a few times but something still kept tickling me. I figured the hair was stuck to my sunglasses, so I took them off brushed my hand on them to remove any stray hairs, put them back on and no more hair tickling my check. The thought of it gave me the creeps. This looked like a spider bite and if a spider did bite me, I’m so glad I didn’t see it. I don’t like spiders.

Night came quick and by 8PM it was pitch black and we were getting ready to go to bed. I had my new +15 degree sleeping bag, my sleeping bag liner, extra pair of wool socks plus all the layers I had on last night. Mike wasn’t using his thick fleece jacket liner so I put it on. The only piece of clothing I didn’t have on was my Marmot jacket. The night had barely started and I was so cold and it was supposed to be in the low 30’s overnight. Stage Road was located at 9,530 feet in elevation, that‘s 1,380 feet higher than our campsite last night. Tonight would be much colder than last night. Would I be warm enough? At this point I couldn’t tell if it was really that cold already or was I just feeling cold. Mike wasn’t even cold enough to use his fleece liner.

I didn’t sleep very well. The sleeping bag kept me barely warm enough for the first 4 or so hours, then I started to feel the cold creep through all the insulation. But I wasn’t just cold, I was having the chills. And my headache kept getting worst. At around 3AM I turned on my headlamp. Now I was freezing, I had a huge headache and I felt nausea. I drank some water and started to look for my Excedrin which was in the tent somewhere. I also felt like I had a fever. Was this altitude sickens or the spider bite, or both? Whatever it was I was feeling like crap.


RhondaRotate said...

OMG, Anna, are you alright? Anxiously awaiting your next post.

Anna said...


Well, the next post is up so you’re notice that I did make it back, but it was a grueling hike back. Hours of hours of my head pounding and my stomach turning. What kept me going was knowing that once I got to the car I could lie down.

As for the spider bite, it took over a week for it to disappear off my face. I’ll never know what actually bit me and I’m still amazed that something could bite my cheek without me noticing it.

As for the Altitude Sickness, I haven’t spent enough time in the mountains to really know how my body reacts to higher elevations. My suspicion is that I might have been dehydrated. It was warm the first day of the hike, I was drinking but probably not enough. The night before I had some canned soup for dinner and the day off I had the freeze dried food for dinner - both super high in sodium, which isn‘t great if one is trying to keep hydrated.