Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Rocky Mountain N.P. - Moraine Park

Winter in the high country was just around the corner. We learned that the Trail Ridge Road (US34 that runs through Rocky Mountain National Park) would be closing for Winter in mid October. The overnight temperatures in the high country were still in the 40’s and 30‘s but soon there would be snow and much colder temperatures. The camping season in the high elevation was coming to an end.

Since our arrival in Colorado we’ve been talking about going camping in the park. But what we really wanted to do was some backcountry camping. A couple of days ago we decided to do it. It we didn’t do it now we’d have to wait until May or June next year.

In order to camp in the backcountry we would have to backpack there. While Mike had all of his backpacking gear already, I didn’t. I still needed a set a trekking poles and a warmer sleeping bag. I knew that such big purchases while unemployed were not the smartest, but I like to live in the moment, and at the moment I wanted to go backpacking in the mountains. I was in luck, the sleeping bag I wanted was on sale at REI. I had already done some preliminary research on sleeping bags and visited the REI store back in Chicagoland, so I kind of knew what I wanted. The trekking poles I had no idea about. Mike got these cool Black Diamond ones, which he’s already tried out on our hike last week. He said they were the top of the line but for some reason I didn’t like them.

I checked out the selection at REI and really liked the LEKI trekking poles. They were lighter then Mike’s and had a smaller handle so they were more comfortable for me to hold. But since they were not on sale and cost even more then Mike’s poles I decided to shop around. That same day we left REI and drove across town to JAX and to my surprise, the same LEKI trekking poles I just fell in love in at REI were on sale here. We walked around the store and also noticed that the Jet Boil was on sale, another item on our list. This would definitely come in handy if we wanted to so some backcountry camping, so we bought it.

Now that we had all the equipment, Mike started to plan our trip. This trip would depend on if we could get a backcountry permit for the campsite we wanted to stay at. We were in luck again. One phone call later to the backcountry office at RMNP and we had a backcountry permit reserved for this Wednesday night. Since there were no backcountry sites available for Tuesday night we decided to still go to the park as planned but camp at the Moraine Park campground.

After some more thought this seemed like a good idea. It would let us acclimate better since Moraine Park Campground was located at 8,150 feet in elevation, the following night we would be sleeping 9,530 feet in elevation. Also, we could see how cold it was at 8,150 feet so we could bring enough warm gear on our backpacking trip for the night at 9,530 feet. We were going to bring lots of stuff with us to the park but we weren’t necessary going to bring it with us on the backpacking trip the following day.

Fall colors along the road at Rocky Mountain N.P.

The high temps were in the low 70’s today. We arrived at the park in the afternoon and picked up our backcountry permit for tomorrow night at the backcountry office. The temperatures in the park were in the 60’s but it was windy. We drove to the Moraine camp ground and started looking for a camp site. The best ones were already taken but we did find a nice one and about 30 minutes of driving around. The campsite cost $20, there were bathrooms with sinks and flush toilets nearby.

Our camp site at Moraine Camp Ground in Rocky Mountain National Park

After we set the tent up we decided to check out the elk. We could hear them bugling from our campsite, they were just below us in Moraine Park. This is one of those places where they hang out during the mating season.

More fall colors

See the big male on the right, he's bugling

A female standing in the road

A single male on the prowl

Two male elk dueling

The sun setting over Rocky Mountain National Park

In the early evening we got back to the campsite, started a fire and had dinner - canned soup. The wind continued, which made the temperatures feel even colder. The overnight temps were supposed to be in the low 40’s tonight and I was trying out my new +15 degree REI Sub Kilo goose down sleeping bag.

The wind continued through the night, which made sleeping hard since the rain fly was making all kinds of noise blowing around. While camping on the move to Colorado last week we noticed that one of the fasteners that attaches the rain fly to the tent had broke, with all the wind and the broken fastener, during the night our rain fly flew off the tent. The other three fasteners were still holding it so it wasn’t going anywhere. We left it on the ground for the rest of the night. It was less noisy this way but slightly cooler. I do like sleeping without the rain fly, since our tent has a mesh ceiling, this way you’re really sleeping under the stars. Even though I brought my big zero degree sleeping bag in case, I wanted to see if my new +15 bag was going to keep me warm enough, and it did.

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