HAYDEN GORGE - NOT!

Labor Day 1992

This trip was planned to be all things to all people. First we would open with a nice cross-country hike to Little Rock Lake site. (LRL is the only designated backcountry campsite in RMNP that has no trail to it.) Then we would spend 2 more days with friends and wives enjoying the wild woods. Friends and wives would then depart, leaving Jeff and I together to tackle Hayden Gorge to make up for my inability to go in there last year. As so many plans go, that was the plan but not the trip.

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Friday 9/4/92

Jeff B., his wife Maria and I head out from Milner Pass toward the Little Rock Lake site. Trailhead at 1515. We head off into the bushes and are treated to the rolling hills covered with mush meadows and stunted stands of pine. The elk are out and about and so we hike from encounter to encounter. This is waaaay better than looking at them thru the car windows in Moraine Park.

At 1800 we are at the unnamed pond that Jeff and I refer to as 'lion lake' where I could have been eaten the previous year. The hike had been uneventful because I hadn't fallen into the water in any of the creek crossings. We stop for our dinner break and note that the sky is kind of cloudy but not yet a problem. We spent about 30 minutes eating and resting then go onward. From here it is significant timber bushwhacking downhill to LRL. About 10 minutes along, it starts to rain lightly. We regret that we'd plunged over the hill since lion lake would have made a good overnight campsite due to bad weather. Our permit was not for that zone but we could reason that it's better to be setup in the wrong place warm and dry than to risk hypothermia farther along. Anyway, it was a bit late for that decision . We don our rain parkas, cover our packs and move along.

With the rain, the clouds obscure much of the light and we plunge onward and downward. Over trees, under branches, we push on. Maria is a great trooper. She hadn't trained for such an ordeal but doesn't complain. We keep expecting that we'll hit the lower meadows anytime now but the woods are slippery and we are encountering more boulders and ledges than we'd expected.

As we continue the ordeal, the sun disappears while we're somewhere on the hillside. Jeff and Maria are doing fine though their shorts, legs and boots are wet and they've taken some scrapes. My boots and BDU pants are wet but it seems that 'we're almost there' so I choose to go on in wet clothes. Visibility in the trees is about gone when we arrive at a grassy mushy meadow next to one of the lakes. My memory of the placement of the site is pretty well gone from last year and my concentration is limited. Jeff heads us leftwards in the dark and we blunder along a hillside and what we guess to be downstream and all of a sudden we are standing beside the silver arrowhead that marks the camp! Yowza!

Now we proceed to setup. The rain is alternating moderate with light. Jeff has a new tent (NF Tadpole) that he DID put up in the backyard but these conditions are challenging. I am very concerned that Maria be taken care of quickly since she's the 'tenderfoot' here so I help Jeff setup their tent by holding the flashlight and lending a hand (hadn't gotten the flashlight out until this point).

Maria is hurried into their tent then Jeff helps me setup my one-man tent. Then he jumps inside with Maria leaving me to ponder the mystery of how I'm going to get the inside gear all fixed up without getting all wet. A Eureka Gossamer isn't even big enough to sit up in. This will be interesting......

I toss my Ridgerest and sleeping bag into the tent along with my fleece shirt and pants, stocking cap and generic small clothes bag and a water bottle. I then strip my boots, wet BDU pants, and rain parka into a big trash bag, tuck it in under the pack which is cinched up under its rain cover and dive into the tent. I also think to get my Pack Towl and toss it in to mop up whatever water gets in during the transition. It's TIGHT in there! Getting the ridgerest unrolled and stretched to the foot of the tent is tough. Even tougher is pulling out the sleeping bag and getting it stretched out. More than once my stomach muscles cramp hard from being scrunched up tight and turned around the wrong way inside the tent. On the other hand, all the thrashing about is generating more than enough heat to keep me from getting chilled. Eventually I get all sorted out and settle down to sleep.

But I don't sleep. There is a hellacious rain/sleetstorm dancing on the tent fly about 3" from my face. Occasionally a blast of wind will tug and rattle the rainfly on the tent. My little cockleshell of a shelter is staying dry inside but the racket is more than enough to keep me from a sound sleep. EARPLUGS! Dangit! I left my earplugs inside my pack which is outside in its cover in the storm. It sleets, it rains, it blows, it rattles the trees most of the night. (From this experience I develop SOP of putting the earplugs in the misc. pouch inside the tent.) Sometime in the dark, the rain stops but the wind continues. The site is well sheltered so the wind is mostly a noise factor.

Saturday 9/5/92

It's windy out there. As dawn breaks, I peek outside to see cloudy sky and cool temperatures to go with the dampness after the storm. The sound of my tent zipper rouses Jeff and we exchange reports of our night's rest. All are safe and dry though I didn't sleep well. We roust out in our fleece looking like fuzzy gray teddy bears. Maria surprises me by shrugging off last night's hardship. Standing around cooking breakfast gives us a chance to look around. There are clouds with bases below the level of Trail Ridge Road. There is also a light dusting of snow up there. The air stays cool since we are missing the normal morning solar heatup. We string clothes lines to hang wet raingear. Even without sun, it's worth draining them somewhat. We cruise up to Rock Lake to look around. It's cool and windy up there. We look back up the hillside we'd navigated the night before and wonder why we were so far to the right. (which caused the difficulties with ledges) We cruise back down. Maria burrows back into the tent to study her nursing textbook. Jeff and I get our fishing gear and go downstream a bit to fish the creek down in the trees away from the wind.

The second party consisting of John Forman, Barry Zuroski and Linda Z. becomes an item of discussion. Will they come? Is TRR even open? We fish the creek half-heartedly but note that the clouds are thinning and the wind calming. At 1100 the sun is showing weakly thru the remnants of the cloud haze. We mosey back to camp for lunch. After lunch we go up to Rock Lake and fish there. It is pleasant in the sun but we can still see snow alongside TRR. Will they come? If they DON'T arrive, we have a logistical problem in that Maria needs to be back at school on Tuesday and cannot get there alone. Jeff and I would have to go out with her and we would be aborting our attempt on Hayden.

Fishing is so-so. About 1500 we tire of playing with the little lake fish and go back to camp for a nap. I feel that I need to make up for last night's lost sleep. We pretty much expect that if the others aren't here now, they aren't coming. We are resigned to enjoying the following day and then departing on Monday. This is still a nice place to be but I feel stymied. I drift away with these thoughts.

1630

Hi ho the camp! It's the rest of the crew! They'd started late and had all taken an inadvertent 1hr nap at lion lake on the way in. What a commotion 6 people make where there were 3 before!

We swap stories of noisy nights in tents and of snow on TRR. Dinner is ended with a nice hour of sitting underneath an old, spreading dwarf pine and enjoying the illumination of 3 candle lanterns in our cozy little alcove.

Sunday 9/6/92

I am up reasonably early and presently others bestir themselves and we thrash about getting breakfast. The day is clear and promising. Today's plan is to find a way up to the Gorge Lakes. I also learn of the logistics of numbers. Our group size conspires to get us hiking at 1000, about 2 hrs later than would be wise. We also suffer from differing capabilities and motivation in getting up to the lakes. We try some difficult bushwhacking and rock hopping and even wind up doing a little rock climbing up thru a rock tunnel to get up to a ledge. The differing capabilities and motivation continue to hamper us. We hit a plateau around noon and plunk down for lunch. Clouds are building over the lakes and as we dawdle, we see that going higher would not be wise for weather reasons. Lesson learned. (This is also a difficult route up - trying to follow the creek. Pretty but difficult.) So much for visiting the Gorge Lakes. We return to camp, get the fishing gear and watch the showers and clouds go around us.

Dinner is another pleasant evening of talk and candlelanterns.

Monday 9/7/92

This morning we pack up the crew, divide the gear and go our separate ways. Jeff and I are each carrying our own tent, stove, and water filter. We have so much stuff because we really couldn't send much out with Maria and we figure that backup would be nice.

We say so long to the other group as we part ways in the drainage meadows just downstream from LRL. Immediately Jeff and I make a poor route choice by trying to contour around the shoulder of the ridge on our way toward the mouth of Hayden Gorge. We waste a bunch of time and energy rock-hopping instead of bushwhacking thru the trees alongside Forest Lake. Jeff seems to be in a sombre mood. We have a pretty view of Forest Lake and stop for a rest but his thoughts are elsewhere.

Beyond Forest Lake is a tangle of down trees and small trees and tracklessness that shocked me the previous year. We press along. Jeff has little to say. He is wearing shorts and takes a few more scrapes to add to the ones we got Friday. We press on. The plan of the day was to push into the Gorge as far as we could that day. Our permit was only for the upper Forest Canyon zone for that night but we figured to get a jump on time in the Gorge by busting the zone. We feel that we need to get high up into the Gorge and study the escape routes. Our intended track is to exit via the 'high road.' Since no one we'd been able to contact had ever been into the Gorge, we had no route-finding info beyond the topo map. This didn't give me cause to worry but seemed to prey on Jeff, and perhaps he was the more thoughtful of us two. After all, yesterday we'd had a really hard time climbing toward Arrowhead Lake and if Hayden was like that, only with packs, it would be murder getting out.

He wasn't enjoying the bushwhack. He was bleeding from both shins, sweating profusely, getting pine needles down his back and not seeing much scenery. At least he was wearing leather gloves and a long-sleeve shirt. I wasn't bleeding because I was wearing long pants, but was in the same physical condition. Mentally though we were in different worlds. I had already experienced Forest Canyon and was simply in a head-down-push-on transit mode and excited at the prospect of maybe entering the Gorge TONIGHT! Jeff, on the other hand, was missing his wife, bleeding, disappointed at the lack of scenery, shocked by the hard work, and worrying about IF we would be able to exit the top of the Gorge. The possibility of having to bushwhack BACK thru here if we couldn't get out the top of the gorge was eating at him.

1200

We reach Hayden creek and are probably above the point I'd reached the previous year. According to our permit, we should stop here for the day. But we wanted to get ahead and so we could spend as much of the afternoon as we wanted getting bonus mileage. We drop our packs for lunch and rest. Jeff is very quiet. Upon attitude check, he confesses that he's bummed out. I am optimistic about pressing on but don't really know how to handle Jeff's concerns. I cannot positively assert that we can escape the top of the gorge but I want to go find out. On the other hand, I am sympathetic to his feelings because this was the place where I'd laid down and cried for awhile last year when I was transiting Forest Canyon alone. Jeff and John had come in to meet me for a day and had wound up giving me an escape route from my overextended journey. ( See A BIG WEEK IN RMNP ) He's my friend and I don't want to bully him.

We draw out the lunch break and sit quietly just listening to our inner voices. We take a picture of each other which later gives evidence of both the density of the woods and our moods.

Jeff can't find it in himself to go on. And I won't force him.

The bailout plan is to turn around and march back toward the car for the rest of the day. We'll wind up camping in the zone legally for the night and we'll get to the car tommorrow. It's too far to make the car today from here unless we want to hurt ourselves and probably hike in the dark. We figure we can probably be in the vicinity of lion lake for the night.

We turn around and go back. Jeff remains quiet but I try to fill in the silence to hopefully make him feel better. Yeah, he caused us to bail. But he's my friend and maybe he'll want to try it another time. Maybe being defeated now will whet his appetite to come back and conquer the Gorge.

We reach Forest Lake and stop to rest. The day is nice and the view pretty good so we sit for a little while. Then we go on. This time we walk the mush meadows that drain Forest Lake and find easy travel. Then down to LRL outlet creek meadows. We find an OUTSTANDING crossing rock at the downstream end of the meadows just where the stream breaks over the hill to Forest Canyon and right nearby is a nice cleared spot in the woods which would make a dandy camp some other time. We head up the slope to lion lake. I try to keep track of what we're doing by timing and counting. In one 5 minute period I counted 48 logs that I stepped over while walking uphill with a pack. The next 5 min. interval I get 64 logs. This is not easy but we're making darn good time.

1545

We reach lion lake. That's IT, I'm pooped! We setup our separate tents, break out dinner and eat. Jeff seems to recover somewhat with food and returning to our known world. We are still fiddling with dinner as fog starts to form 100' above the lake and starts to obscure the rockslide across the way. There is no wind at all and the woods are terribly quiet. At 1900 the fog is fully formed. We can hear elk bugling off to the northwest and things get eery. I am glad that I'm not here alone since this is the place where I'd been stalked last year. We turn in about 2000 and hear the mix of elk bugling and some coyote wailing in the stillness. In the night, the wind came up.

Tuesday 9/8/92

The night was uneventful and we both slept well from exhaustion. We are up at 0645 and have a leisurely breakfast and pack up. Jeff has the idea that it might be fun to go up the ridge and over to the divide to return to the car instead of going back thru the mush meadows and scrub forest. I'm game. We're underway at 0815 and head up the ridge toward Mt. Ida. The views are wonderful but the wind is kind of annoying. Probably 20mph on the lower portion of the ridge. As we climb higher, the wind increases. There is no shelter of any kind on the tundra. We walk, heads down, as far as we can. After 2 hrs we ease down off the tundra at the head of a snow chute and get out of the wind for a bit. The wind is really, really annoying. I estimate 40 mph or so because our packs keep weather-vaning us around and we can't put our feet down on the trail reliably (keep missing due to 'windage') But the weather is clear so we doublecheck that clothing is right and prepare to move on. I bring out a big bandanna and tie it over my face and nose. I cinch it in place with the chinstrap of my boonie hat. Then go.

The bandana is GREAT! No more horizontal flying snot getting on my glasses! Walking is still difficult because foot placement is unreliable but we stagger along and eventually reach Milner Pass parking area at 1215.

On the trip down the Big Thompson Canyon toward home, Jeff and I review the bailout and I reassure him that we'll continue to backpack together. He, in turn, digs out the map and we start discussing how we WILL get into the gorge one day. He thinks that dropping in from the top will work. It does. (SeeHAYDEN GORGE by Alan Silverstein on the RMNP Trip Report page.)

Lessons:

Looking at this from 1995, it was still a great trip. We saw some remote parts of RMNP and had some capability-expanding experiences and some fun too. That October, Alan Silverstein and I had the chance to recon the top of Hayden. (See A LONG DAY ON THE HIGH DIVIDE by Alan Silverstein & myself on the RMNP Trip Report page.)

Ron Miller ron@fc.hp.com