Friday Flattop Mountain

I like National Parks. I've scoffed them in the past as being too crowded, but the truth of the matter is there is a reason these are the crown jewels of our world. And the animals notice too. There are simply more of them up here, even more than in Wilderness. I've lived here forever and never really explored the park. Funny thing, Elaine, born and raised in Nederland, hasn't either. We're having fun checking out someplace neither of us knows much about.

I've done this hike up Flattop Mountain a few times – twice on skis and once as a freshman at CU in mountain biking shoes. Not ideal for hiking – I bruised my left big toe so badly it fell off and it's still not perfect even today. A good place to be and a super fun climb that leaves the forest and crosses some of the best alpine tundra in the state.

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Working our way up the 2,700 vertical to the top of the Continental Divide and Flattop Mountain.

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Hallet Peak. We mulled scrambling the 600 feet to the top of this, but the weather was moving in. Nice turns by some fellow die-hards down Tyndall Glacier.

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Elaine found a random Czech Republic flag littered on the top of the tundra. Not being ones to leave litter, we decided to take it home.

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Long live the Czech Republic.

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Ptarmigan are the only animals that don't migrate from the tundra, or hibernate (marmots), or burrow (pika). They tough it out – snow, cold, wind – all year long. The camoflauge plumage is spectacular.

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The parks may be oversigned and have too many cars, but they are vital for our world. I believe that having people go for hikes in beautiful places builds the next generation of environmentalists.

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Pretty girl with a Czech Republic flag in her hair.

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Emerald Lake in the foreground, Longs Peak in the background.

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Early signs of autumn.

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Changing folliage.

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Baby Stellar Jay.

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Unspoiled Wilderness. It's the most important thing left on the planet.

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Tall grasses in Bear Lake.

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Mamma bear and her cub.

Wednesday jaunt to Black Lake

Headed back to the park to Glacier Gorge. Good swimming in Black Lake and an awesome herd of elk bathing up high. Oh, and apparently to people passing on the trail, I now officially look like Shaun White!

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Chasm Lake. Apparently this was the location they chose for the official Colorado state quarter. Longs Peak is up on the left.

Colorado-quarter

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Fun bridge dot this canyon trail.

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The first of the elk near Black Lake.

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Elk in Black Lake. Doesn't get much more Colorado than that.

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National Parks are cool.

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We were able to swim in this water for about three seconds it was so cold. These guys lasted 45 minutes.

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Awesome day.

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We stayed awhile and I shot a lot of photos, as this is not something I've ever seen.

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Up close with the elk.

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A little artsy black and white.

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Heading down the falls below Black Lake.

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Elaine enjoys the chilly, wet conditions.

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Enjoyinh Hiajaya Lake.

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The day ended with a relaxing sit at Lilly Lake.

Crisp, wet, fall-like hike…homemade mac & cheese in the oven :)

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Chore day in the morning, Check engine lights, new ID's, various riff-raff to occupy time. When afternoon rolled around, we were worn by the necessary mundane. And then it started to rain. And thunder. And then rain harder.

I suggested we go for a hike. An advantage of living here a decade-plus, and exploring the hell out of the woods  – you learn where to go to:

A: avoid people

B: avoid lightning

The road less travelled. A vertical wall of a climb, followed by a faint moose trail that eventually ends up in a swamp. When I biked a bunch, I always shunned the freeway trails for the silly, the faint routes where I would see nobody. Today it's more on foot, because on foot, the options are even more endless. You don't need trails at all. You can explore the locales of the humanless. Perfect in my book.

It was cold, wet and beautiful. We both wondered aloud why we didn't bring rain pants, but that little discomfort only accentuated it all. It was wonderful to don ski caps, fleeces and Gore-tex after the swelter of recent months. And move in the cold.

The only thing more perfect is the toaster oven Elaine got for her birthday. The caboose has no oven. Or make that, had. It may seem minor to most, but being able to feast on an incredibly yummy homemade baked mac and cheese, after a very crisp, very wet and very fall-like, appetite rising hike was a gift. Perfection indeed.

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Non county-approved bridge.

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Up the wall. 1,000 feet gained in 20 minutes.

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The trail grows fainter as the Wilderness begins.

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We're small out here.

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Stark and beautiful.

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We don't need no stinkin' trail.

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Vibrant evening of ski caps, fleece and rain coats. And soaked pants. And wet boots. And loving it all.

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Rivers running through a sea of moss.

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In a few months, this will be frozen.