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887 Summer Stories
Sleeping on the Trail

Lake Nokoni from the Northwest Ridge of Ptarmigan

Lake Nokoni from the Northwest Ridge

While visiting Rocky Mountain National Park (map - trails are on the left or west side of the map, near Grand Lake) in the summer of 2013, we had planned a four night backpacking trip. We were to start from Bear Lake on the east side of the Park, cross the Continental Divide and descend to the west side of the Park. Once on the west side our route would make a loop of the Tonahutu Creek and North Inlet trails and then return back across the Divide to Bear Lake. A fire along Tonahutu Creek closed the area and made us change our plans. The Rangers helped us change our route, but there was no way to do the loop.

One Ranger then suggested that we connect the East Inlet Trail to the North Inlet Trail, as a possible loop. That sounded interesting, but we had just hiked the East Inlet Trail to Lake Verna and knew there were a lot of trees down, making cross-country travel difficult. The route would have required several miles of bushwhacking through the downed trees trying to connect the two drainages. Instead of following their suggestion, we decided to hike the North Inlet Trail to Lake Nokoni area, climb Ptarmigan Mountain, and explore.

On the trip, after setting camp at the Pine Marten site, we hiked to Lake Nokoni and then on to Lake Nanita. This was our first visit to the area and we were also trying to scout the start of the Ptarmigan Northwest Ridge route from Lake Nokoni. We were planning on climbing the ridge, the next day.

A typical section of the trail to Lake Nokoni

Trail to Lake Nokoni

After a brief visit to both lakes, we began our return hike to camp. As we descended through the switchbacks below the lake, we came upon two folks lying across the trail. Looking again, we saw our eyes were not deceiving us, it was a middle aged man and a college aged young man lying like fallen logs across the trail. As we approached, they stirred.

The young man seemed a bit embarrassed. The older man was too tired to care, he just moved enough to allow us to pass.

After asking were they okay, we heard the story.

They had started late the day before (as in yesterday) from the trailhead. They hiked as far as they could go and then stayed at a campsite, but not their registered one - they couldn't make it that far. The hike had taken a lot out of them. Then, after a late start this morning, they continued the short distance on the North Inlet Trail to the Lake Nokoni Trail. They turned and followed the Lake Nokoni Trail, but it was steeper than expected, and they finally just had to stop. (That's where we found them.) Their plan was to hike to Lake Nanita and then travel cross-country to Lake Verna.

Hmm, sounded like they talked to the same Ranger we had talked to!

We wished them well and continued on our descent. As we hiked we discussed our encounter with the two hikers.

The hikers were in good shape, but they were carrying large backpacks. Just guessing, they were also probably having acclimating issues. The other problem was - they were on the easy part of the route. They were definitely going to have an adventure, if they completed the loop.

We never asked the hikers, why they were lying across the trail. After looking into their eyes, it was obvious. We recognized that look, we had seen it in our own eyes. They simply had gone just as far as they could go!

It is so easy for us to say, that would never happen to us. But, it is even easier for us to overestimate the distances we can hike and still easier to pack too much weight into our backpacks. Then, before we know it, we are lying across the trail like logs.

So here's a simple formula:

(2 many miles + 2 many pounds) x elevation =

laying across the trail like logs


Happy to Sleep on the trails


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