Today we did a popular, short hike in Rocky Mountain National Park. The Gem Lake hike isn't long but there is a lot of elevation gain in a short time, so it's certainly not "easy". But lots of people manage to make it to the small pond framed by rock walls. The people-watching once you are there is part of the fun.
I had given Linda two choices for hiking today - Cub Lake out of Moraine Park at 4.6 miles round-trip and rated as "easy" OR Gem Lake north of Estes Park at 3.4 miles round-trip and rated as "moderate" with a lot more elevation gain.
She said "flip a coin". I chose Gem Lake based on two facts. First, it's a hike I had picked out earlier. And second, our new friends Tim & Sarah suggested that after the hike, we could drive a few miles farther into Glen Haven and have a couple of the famous cinnamon rolls at the General Store. The cinnamon roll thing sealed the deal; that and I thought the Cub Lake hike would probably be better a little later in the year.
I presumed both hikes would be crowded. They are both listed in the Rocky Mountain National Park's newspaper as "Early Season Hikes". Since many of the best hikes in the park still have trails covered in snow, many visitors are relegated to the few early season hikes the paper recommends.
We arrived at the Gem Lake/Lumpy Ridge Trailhead around 10:00 and there were just a couple of parking spaces left in the parking lot. However, there are three trails leaving from there, so we hoped that not everyone would be on the Gem Lake Trail.
Lumpy Ridge is the granite boulder area that provides a northern backdrop for Estes Park. Because of the rounded boulders and formations of different sizes, the ridge looks .... well .... lumpy.
The trail started out with a gentle climb at first and then went up steeply. It was interesting due to the boulders ....
and the great views of the Rocky Mountains behind us.
We took a break at about the half-mile point after the first steep climb. There was an outcropping of rocks where we stopped and took in the views overlooking Estes Park.
Then we hiked on. There were a couple more gentle sections ...
but mostly this was a steep hike gaining 900 - 1,000 feet in its 1.7 miles. There were several natural resting stops to take pictures of the mountains and valley below ....
and the rock formations. I'm sure this is the most photographed rock on the trail.
The steepest part of the trail was at the top. It included a series of high steps, and I concluded that the builders of this trail were all well over six feet as it was a struggle for us to get our short little legs up the steps.
Not too far from the top was a sign to a "privy" - yep, there was actually a toilet up there. However, though "privy" comes from a root word meaning "private", the privacy was debatable. The little shed was tucked in behind some rocks, but if you sat on the toilet, pretty much your upper half was visible to everyone that might be waiting in line.
This short little trail climbing up to almost 9,000 feet was doing a number on us ... and we weren't the only ones. Lots of folks were struggling as I don't think they realized the steepness, the elevation gain, or the thinner air at altitude.
But we continued on.
The photo below, is from just below the lake.
Finally, we made it!
Gem Lake is a cool place, but it's really more of a small pond framed by rock walls on two sides.
There were a few small groups of people scattered around when we arrived. Other than the natural beauty of the rocks around the water, we immediately noticed that the rocks were "alive". Everywhere we looked chipmunks (with eye stripes) and the larger Golden-mantled Ground Squirrels (no eye stripes) were scampering.
An army of them would run along with the new arrivals waiting to see if they would sit down and offer an opportunity for a handout - voluntarily or otherwise. Of course, several folks were feeding them which made them more aggressive.
As we had a little bit to eat, we kept our food and our backpacks close. Still, one climbed on my backpack and this one was so close, my camera couldn't even focus on it.
Linda took this short video of both types of little rodents.
Though we don't condone it, and it irritates us to see people feeding the wildlife, we had to admit it was amusing watching the little beggars interact with the people. Some of the kids loved it and others were completely freaked out when they became surrounded and harassed.
More and more people arrived. The squirrels had trouble keeping up as folks climbed on the rocks and the potential bounty increased.
I told Linda to keep the video camera on 'cause if we sat there long enough, we would probably witness something pretty hilarious.
Alas, we won't make any funny video money, but we enjoyed observing the humans and there were several "almost" video-worth moments.
We started back down and enjoyed the return views.
The sunlight was a bit better on the way down, and our energy was up as it was all downhill.
We took a couple of photos, like this one of Estes Lake just east of town.
We passed lots and lots and lots of people that were on their way to the top. The late arrivals were struggling even more than the folks that went up the same time we did. We didn't get a particularly early start, but we were glad we beat most of the crowd. We arrived back at the parking lot right at 1:00 - it was a three-hour hike-sit-hike.
As we exited the trailhead area, the parking lot was full, and cars were lined up on the sides of the main road a good half-mile from the trailhead. Yep, our timing was once again pretty good.
The Gem Lake hike is a nice little "moderate" hike, but like many National Park hikes, you may have to go early to avoid the crowds.