Saturday, October 7 - Sunday, October 8, 1989: Boulder Brook, Rocky Mountain National Park
The National Park is a quiet but intense place as winter draws near. My friend Sherry Perkins and I spent a night at a campsite alongside Boulder Brook, in the huge basin on the north flank of Longs Peak below the Boulderfield. We enjoyed exploring the area both Saturday and Sunday. There was quite a contrast between the crowds on the Mills Lake trail Saturday and the vast, calm emptiness of Boulder Basin on Sunday.
We secured a backcountry permit Saturday morning, parked at Glacier Gorge Junction (9200'; waiting time: 5 minutes), and headed up-trail about 1145. The aspen leaves had almost all fallen from skeletal trees to form a carpet of gold. The air was cool, clear, and crisp all weekend. I was surprised by the heavy flow of water over the ballistic Alberta Falls so late in the year.
At the point where the trail branches near Glacier Knobs, we hid our packs and strolled the right fork about a mile up to Mills Lake, 9960'. As always, the view from there up Glacier Gorge to the ramparts of Longs Peak was awe-inspiring. A tracery of fresh snow lined the grey walls. We marveled at the scene longer than we had planned.
After a nearly two hour detour we returned to and recovered our packs. Next we followed the left fork, the North Longs Peak Trail, as it meandered east from the Glacier Gorge drainage into Boulder Basin. It gains only about 1300' total in the 3.6 miles from the parking lot to the junction with the unimproved Boulder Brook trail at 10480'. At this point we headed down the latter and looked for our campsite. It was well marked, but much farther down than we expected, perhaps a quarter mile and a 300' drop to 10200'.
The two campsites here are on smooth gravel, near the brook, surrounded by open forest and a huge mountainside flanked by ridges. We arrived about 1700, just before the sun set behind the extensive NW ridge of Longs Peak. It got cold fast, but suitably prepared, the sleeping was warm and comfortable.
Sunday morning we explored up the mountain. We were gone from camp nearly eight hours but encountered no one else that day. That might be due partly to us losing the trail early on. From the group campsite (and toilet) above the trail junction, we tried to cut up to the trail at the next switchback. The map was inaccurate and we wound up bushwhacking several hours through heavy growth, then stunted ``fantasy forest'', and then timberline, due south up the mountain.
About 1240 we arrived at 12150' on the NW ridge. Crossing the ridgetop put us into the teeth of a cold west wind. But what a tremendous vantage point! We looked down on shimmering Black, Blue, Mills, Frozen, and Shelf Lakes. The Gorge spread before us and rose up to Storm, Longs, Pagoda, Chiefs Head, and McHenrys Peaks, towering grey walls punctuated by the Spearhead and Arrowhead, etched with fine white lines.
After 40 minutes we roamed north down the ridge a ways and then dropped east down the boulders to pick up the head of the south fork of Boulder Brook. To our surprise, there was nearly a trail along this stream, a wide shelf clear of overgrowth, a highway back to camp. And it was the scenic route! The creek flowed and danced crisply over emerald, mossy rocks decorated with silver-white rime ice. Anywhere the splashes reached, there were pearls, columns, sheets, and ripples.
We returned to camp about 1640, packed up, and headed north down the Boulder Brook trail at 1715. It was a much nicer trail than I remembered from 12 years ago. Being ``unimproved'', it was steep at points, but very lovely as it followed the creek through aspen trees.
Our adventure wasn't quite over. At a junction 0.4 miles from the road (8820', and two miles downstream from the parking lot), we whimsically turned left to follow a trail back, rather than the road. But it got dark before we arrived. After a while I decided we should cut over to the road... but I forgot about Glacier Creek. Oops. No way to cross it... so we bushwhacked along it in pitch dark (ecch). That got old, real fast. We decided to drop down and cross the creek somehow.
To make a long story short, we waded across with our boots on (which felt good... for a moment), discovered a 20' cliff on the other side, found a dirt slope to crawl up (with full packs of course), and reached the road at about 2000. I ran 0.7 miles to retrieve my car, and we still found time for a hot dinner in Estes Park.
By Alan Silverstein