Your Rocky List
By Gary Hall
This article first appeared in the Winter 2017 edition of Get Well, Live Well Estes.
One of the great challenges of living in the Rocky Mountains is not the wind, snow, or voluminous crowds of tourists. It is deciding which mountain to climb next, which trail to hike or run, where to go in the wonderful wilderness that surrounds us. Rocky Mountain National Park has so many options, so many slopes and angles, such a wide variety of choices, that a hiker, runner, or climber of any level of skill has a selection of spots that will truly delight the senses and feed the soul.
If you’re a novice, it will serve you to do some investigation before launching into the vast back country. Pique your interest start making a list! Experienced hikers typically have a checklist in mind of destinations of interest. Many of the locals also keep a list of hikes and peaks and lakes that appeal to us, so that we can plan and dream about scaling those heights and exploring those trails. This approach is indeed a good one – it gives you focus, it helps you prepare physically and psychologically, it becomes a vision that you can then make real.
There’s plenty of local hikers who can provide a wealth of information about their favorite hikes, from easy to demanding to ridiculous. Just ask around at any of the hiking supply stores – or anywhere in town – there will be plenty of recommendations to check out. Summer, fall – and winter is certainly not off-limits! Make your list of the best snowshoe hikes or the areas that are amenable to cross-country skiing. And then there are the crazier elements of the outdoor community who ski down some of the permanent snowfields, or go up to the old Hidden Valley Ski Area (long since shut down) and attempt to navigate those overgrowing slopes.
There’s no “bucket” about this list – you just keep moving. Perhaps you won’t climb the ambitious summits that you climbed when you were young, but there’s a destination suited for any age and fitness level. Many of the regional hikers are well into their seventies or eighties. We try to attain the goals we set for ourselves, we sometimes succeed, sometimes – not quite. But there is always another potential destination. After the muscles rest and the sun comes up again, that next trail presents itself.
Is it OK to repeat? The late, great Jim Detterline, ranger and rescuer, made more than four hundred ascents of Longs Peak in his all-too-short life. Perhaps the journey is the goal. So, yes, repetition can breed even greater appreciation of the many mysteries of the park. Many hikers return to favorite lakes, trails, and summits. They view those magical spots again and reflect on their beauty, and often meditate on the passage of time since last they visited those locales.
So, get one of the hiking books, grab a map of the park, ask around, remember what you’ve done, consider what you’ve always wanted to do – and choose some destinations by name, or altitude, or difficulty, or just point to a random spot on the map and figure out how to get there. Send yourself an email with your Rocky List. And add to it whenever you hear of a trail that sparks your interest. Then, after you’ve attempted or achieved that goal, you’ll find your Rocky List never ends.
Gary runs the trails when the weather permits, and imagines he’s running the trails the rest of the time. Thirteen years in Estes Park, most of those employed at the medical center, means that he needs to recharge batteries early and often leaping over rocks and careening up mountains.