[cdt-l] Never Summer - RMNP Loop Report - Part 2
Karl L. Luce
k_luce at comcast.net
Wed Sep 19 17:24:34 CDT 2007
Day 4: Friday, September 14
Due to the unfortunate nature of the RMNP reservation system and doing the
hike clockwise, I locked in my 4th night at Box Canyon, only 2.6 miles
across the divide at Thunder Pass. I knew I could get there in 3 days but .
a long-distance hiker's schedule can change in a moment's notice. So I
pegged it at the 4th day. Very short day and the first time the normal
Rocky Mountain afternoon thunderstorms came back since the start of the
trip. Lightning strikes within a half-mile of the campsite, probably back
up on the divide.
Day 5: Saturday, September 15
Simple enough to go down to CO River valley and back up to Timber Lake where
I stayed at the Snowbird campsite, perched below the divide. The mileages
up from the Timber Lake TH do not match between the map and the signs. I
think I believe the signs for a total of 5.2 to get to the lake. The storms
came back in the afternoon.
Day 6: Sunday, September 16
A fast-moving set of thunderstorms came through, right while I was trying to
get breakfast going. This delayed the start of the day and was unusual from
The last remaining navigational challenge without a map was Long Meadows.
Not necessarily finding the meadows (which were beautiful and partial blue
skies had returned) but finding the trail down to Onahu Creek was another
story. My memory (based on the older map) indicated the trail would be on
the east side of the south end of the meadow, away from where the creek goes
down the valley, and then it would switchback vigorously down a steep wall.
Found many game trails headed that way but one looked stronger than the
rest. Reassurance in the form of a very old south-bound tree cut blaze
appeared and I was on my way. On the south side of the meadows, this trail
has not seen maintenance in a long time, running into Blowdown Central at
one point. At the very end were the Onahu Creek bridge sites mentioned on
the handout from the RMNP (well, I did have those "maps"), washed out a long
time ago. At the next-to-last crossing, a very strong trail appeared to go
uphill, which did not match my map memory at all.
Fortune also showed in the form of Shannon, a FedEx guy from NC. He was
supposed to stay at Sunset but asked me what the mileage would be to Grand
Lake. I guessed that it would be 6 miles. Well, a cheeseburger was calling
him there so forget staying in the woods for a 4th night. We jawed for a
while about hiking out east and things. Towards the end, I hoped my
estimate was good as I had lost my map a few days prior. Right away, he
offered his map. Said he didn't need it anymore, he was going into town. I
was and am still thankful!
My night's destination was Tonahutu Meadows, from which I could make a final
assault on the official CDT loop (optional or whatever) over the Divide.
The weather was getting worse. After gear and cover were donned, the
heavens opened for 10 minutes of hail. It showered on and off in hour-long
bursts after the tent was set up. Entertainment came in the form of five
elk grazing above the meadows and my taste this year of elk-bugling.
Throughout the storms, the map provided me with details about the route, One
confusing aspect was that the trail coming down from Long Meadows came down
further to the west and without the long switchbacks, not what I remembered
at all. Now, having the benefit of seeing both maps, it appears a newer
trail from Onahu Creek has been incorporated that is much shorter (0.8
versus 1.6) and is on the west side of the creek descending from Long
Meadows. It would also explain that strong path headed up the creek at the
next-to-last bridge site. I would also point out that the newer map is
*incorrect* on the location of the trail from the north and is *correct* on
the older map. Go figure.
Day 7: Monday, September 17
The scheduled day over the last major highlight: the divide walk up to
Flattop Mountain. Plan was to break camp early and hit the trail between 6
and 7 AM. Before 5 AM, the heavens opened with rain and temps at mid-40s.
Instead of packing, I laid in my bag waiting for the storm to abate. It did
briefly before 6 but before I got going, it started up again. By 6:30, it
appeared it would never stop. The stroke of bad luck appeared in my RMNP
schedule in that I got my worse weather day on what was to have been the
Instead, I booked it back to the car, only 8 miles down the Tonahutu Creek
trail. At 7:30, I departed and it was still going strong, rain in the
mid-40s at 10k feet. Which translates into whiteout conditions, snow at
11k-plus. Big Meadows just had clouds but looks back convinced me I had
made the right decision. I can return and combine it with an Indian Peaks
loop next year. The hike was cut short by one day but, all in all, a
wonderful experience. Many thanks to Jim Wolf for the Never Summers route.
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