This morning Dad and I headed back to the Bear Lake parking area to get the trail to Flattop Mountain. Flattop rises above Dream & Emerald Lakes and is right next to Hallett Peak (the peak that has been in all the pictures!). the summit is 12,322. It’s a 4.4 mile walk (one way – 8.8 miles round trip) with close to 3,000 feet of elevation change! The trail descriptions made it sound fairly easy – just straight walking, not rock scrambling or hand over hand climbing. We were a bit worried about afternoon thunderstorms though, they seem to pop up everyday and it’s a big deal if you are above treeline!
In order to beat both the traffic to Bear Lake and the thunderstorms we left the campground at 7am and we were on the trail before 8. Like all the trails in the Bear Lake area this hike was very popular and there were lots of people starting out with us.
Map of the trail at a viewpoint on Bear Lake
Hallett Peak from Bear Lake – where we were going is just to right, you can’t see Flattop
There were 3 big groups that we kept flip flopping with as soon as they’d get ahead they’d take a break and we’d pass them. We met up with a group of about 8 boys and 2 Dads from Oklahoma City! We talked to them a bit and saw them on the way down as well!
The trail up was just a lot of uphill walking. It was actually rather easy – just set your pace and go. We were walking slower than we would have elsewhere because of the elevation – we started at 9.475 – but once we got into a pace it was just one foot in front of the other! The trail was wide and smooth!
The weather turned out to be perfect for this hike – the morning was very overcast, high thin clouds keeping the temperatures down and hiding the intense sun! The clouds made it a bit harder to take pictures, but most of the mountains we were seeing I’d already taken a zillion pictures of!
On the way up there were several viewpoints, especially once we got above the treeline! We could see Alberta Falls (we hiked by it on Tuesday) and Bear Lake, the campground that is closed this summer, Estes Park and of course Longs Peak and Hallett Peak. I didn’t stop to take many pictures, I was very goal oriented on the way up because I wanted to make the summit and get back below treeline before the storms fired up.
Dream Lake (we hiked to it on Tuesday) from above.
The trail & Hallett Peak
The lake in the middle on the hill is Bear Lake, where we started
Emerald Lake (we hike to it on Tuesday) from above
Once above the treeline there were bunches of pika and marmots running around! I didn’t take any pictures of marmots, I have zillions of pictures of them, but this little pika posed for me! He (she?) was sitting on that rock whistling!)
In the rocks there were tons of wildflowers, mostly small versions of the flowers we’d seen below, but there were also tons of columbine! I couldn’t resist this patch!
Eventually the rocks got smaller and the views got bigger!
Almost at the top, about 1/4 mile away, there was a snowfield! I thought the trail crossed the snowfield, there was a path across it, so I trekked across. That was dumb! It took a lot of energy to get across it and I was ready for lunch and a break at the summit! Turns out the trail went around the snowfield!
From the summit looking east you could see the Tyndall Glacier, Dream Lake and the valley (Emerald Lake is hidden by the cirque of the glacier)
It was very windy and chilly at the top! On the way up we’d stopped to put the leg on our “shants” and put on long sleeve shirts! It was sunny, but not hot! When we arrived at the summit the sky was mostly blue with some high thin clouds and some puffy white clouds. It wasn’t looking threatening at all. By the time we were ready to descend however the clouds were organizing themselves to south and looking ominous.
I really wanted to get below the trees before any storms whipped up so we began the 2 mile trek down. We were moving much faster than we’d come up! I usually go slower downhill but the combination of the weather, the smooth trail and needing to use the “facili-trees” made me step it up a bit! (the issue with drinking a lot of water is that you have to pee a lot – this is very hard above treeline because it’s all open and even the rocks aren’t quite big enough to hide behind!)
Luckily we made it down before the storm got going, and even when it did get going, it wasn’t bad. Some rumbles of the thunder, some rain, but nothing big. When we arrived back at Bear Lake parking area it was almost deserted. Very few people were coming out on the busses and most of the people who’d arrived earlier in their cars had left! The rain must have scared everyone away!
The rest of the day continued to be rainy and cloudy so we timed our hike just right!
After Dad and I got showers we returned to Mama Rose’s for dinner – this time we had a reservation and were seated immediately. The food was pretty good too! After dinner we hit up Safeway for a few things and realized we could see Flattop from the parking lot! We got out the binoculars to be sure! I think we tricked a few people into thinking we saw wildlife or something!
After our hike we studied the topo map and learned that when we were at the top of Flattop were standing on the Continental Divide! At the top there was a trail that went down a different way and it turns out that that trail was the Continental Divide Trail – another long distance trail similar to the Appalachian Trail!
We decided that the hike up to the top of Flattop was easier than many of the hikes we’ve done on the east coast! It was just a steady uphill walk followed by a steady downhill walk. Yes, we gained 3,000 feet of elevation and were over 12,000 feet but compared to the hand over hand climbing required to summit the smaller mountains back east, it was easy! Sargent Mountain in Acadia NP is about 1,200 high, yet getting up there involves about a 1/4 mile of climbing over rocks! Crazy!
I really like my new pack! I carried 5 liters of water (and drank 4!) and it actually felt lighter than my old pack with 1/2 as much water! I have a small pocket on top that I can put snacks in that is easily accessible so I don’t have to dig. There’s plenty of room for my camera if I have to put it in because of rain. There are other pockets for gear that I don’t use as much – survival pack, extra bootlaces, chapstick, and everything is easily accessible. The one thing is that it makes my shoulders hurt – I think it’s more lack of movement – I think I hold my body in a way that makes my shoulders not move, when I exaggerated my arm movement, my shoulders felt better. My dad has the exact same problem with his pack!