Fall in the Park

A wonderful trip to Rocky Mountain National Park. I again assisted Andrew Skurka.

Fall is a sacred time for me.

There is no hyperbole in that statement.

It is the time of the year when I need to be outside. To embrace the chill of the autumn night and revel in crisp air of the autumn day.

The aspen are ablaze in yellow and the ground is covered in a mix of pale yellow and russet-colored leaves. There is the slight smell of damp leaves underfoot mixed in with the sharp smell of pine needles.

Seems as if nature is making one final push to reveal her splendor before winter sets in.

Perhaps it is an overly romantic view of this time of the year. But it is a time of the year I embrace. A season I look forward to every year. And it is when I seem to enjoy the outdoors the most.

I recently took a trip to Rocky Mountain NP and was again in the capacity as an assistant guide with Andrew Skurka.

It was a  trip to assist teaching the fundamentals of backpacking to those who many not have the time to learn on their own.  Typically these skills are learned over the course of many nights in the back country.

Jobs, family obligations and life in general sometimes makes getting out into the back country difficult. The wilderness fundamentals trips concentrates the important basics of backpacking into a structured long weekend. Convenient, thorough and invariably in a beautiful setting. Great way to learn the basics without the steep “trial and error” learning curve many of us had for our introduction to the back country (myself included!).

I enjoyed assisting last year, and looked forward to spending time in the park during a favorite time to be there.

For this trip, we all lucked out. We manged to hit a brief sweet spot between the closing of the back country due to the floods and the closing of the park due to the government shutdown.  As Andrew said in an e-mail “we threaded the needle“.  Indeed.

The trip started off early on Saturday as we drove to the recently re-opened west side of the park near Grand Lake.

The drive over Berthoud Pass was a bit brisk in terms of the temps, but we already were given a glimpse of the beauty to come.

We arrived at the East Inlet trailhead, prepared for our clients, greeted them and went over their gear.

After shouldering our packs, we made our way up the trail and enjoyed the crisp fall air. There were splashes of gold aspen in the distance.

We would break periodically over the weekend to discuss such topics as foot care, first aid, knot tying (I sheepishly admit I need to bone up on those. I only  know some basic climbing knots! Just enough so I won’t fall to my death when roped in 😉 ) and of course navigation.

A fundamental of any wilderness travel. And one Andrew and I stressed over the course of the weekend.

We soon reached our campsite near Lone Pine Lake and pitched the various shelters. It was a cold evening. The frost on the bear canisters and shelters said it all!

We made our way out of camp and practiced more land nav techniques in the field.

Further up the trail, we made our way to Lake Verma. Gear was dried out as another “in the field” lesson was given by Andrew or myself.

The views were not bad, either!

A primitive trail was followed to the always-wonderful Spirit Lake. Nestled near the Continental Divide, it truly is a special place.

We made our way back to camp. A last, and warmer, evening was had in the park.

Andrew illustrated his hammock shelter. I had half-kiddingly said I would show mine: A Z-lite, my quilt and the stars above.    One person on the trip said I needed a harmonica to complete the scene! 🙂

Pictured: Not me!

The following morning, hot coffee was brewed, breakfast enjoyed and the gear was packed for the final time.

We enjoyed a glorious hike out. The aspen were again blazing.

And the wildlife put on a trail-side show, too.

One last look was taken to the mountains in the distance. A wonderful last autumn view in the park.

The trailhead was reached. Cotton clothing was changed into and we all met for a late lunch in Granby.

A great trip and one where I think people received much out of it.  Myself included. Nothing like doing something that is a passion rather than a mere vocation.  Hmmmm…. 🙂

All the photos


The route: Up the East Inlet Trail to Spirit Lake and back over three days. About 16 miles  R/T and 1900′ elev gain.  We camped at the Lone Pine Lake group campsite both nights.

The map:  The NatGeo map for RMNP is fine for general navigation. For more detail, take out the appropriate 7.5 topo.

More info on the trips: Check out Andrew’s website

Post Trail Grub: Maverick’s Grille in nearby Granby, CO is quite good. Well done pub grub and a decent beer selection.  Their “burger of the month” special is invariably interesting in a good way!  Their fries are also extremely tasty.

Bacon, cream cheese and jalapeno.


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10 years ago

A sacred time indeed!

10 years ago

Beautiful pics — and a well-earned burger! 🙂 Sure am eager for the national parks to open again…