The Rockies are a mountain range that run from Alaska to Mexico and form the backbone of the North American continent. It also divides North America into two watersheds. If rain falls to the west of this division, called the continental divide, then it will drain into the Pacific, most likely through either the Colorado or the Columbia. A rain drop falling on the other side will end up in the Atlantic, most likely via the Mississippi/Missouri. The continental divide runs throughout the country and I crossed it numerous times in Yellowstone and Grand Tetons as well. However the continental divide is very prominent in the Rockies.
For this part of the trip, I was joined by Naresh, who flew into Denver on a Friday night and we spent the whole weekend in the park. Naresh, along with Anti has been a national park buff like me and we have been to numerous parks together. He has a acerbic sense of humor, which I quite enjoy. He and I were roommates way back in 2005 and have stayed in touch. Both he and Anti are going to join me again later in this trip towards the Smoky mountains.
When we got to the park, there was a Scottish festival going on in Estes Park, which is a city just outside the park. Possibly due to the overfill from the festival, all the campgrounds on the eastern side of the park were occupied and we had to drive through the park to the west side and we luckily found a camping site there. However the catch was that it was at around 9000 feet elevation. It was sunny most of the day and we were unprepared for the sub-zero temperatures the next morning. After warming ourselves, spotting the deer right next to the campground and gorging on ramen, we set out to do a continental divide hike.
We were hiking up to Mt. Ida, which is at a height of roughly 12900 feet. This is the highest that I have climbed to. Mt. Whitney is the tallest peak in the mainland US and it stands at around 14300 feet. I will definitely climb it one of these days. However what makes Mt. Ida unique is that the path to get there is along the continental divide. So one can claim to have traversed the middle of the US (at least a teeny tiny part of it).
Needless to say most of the hike was above the tree-line. Getting above the tree-line is a funny story. We lost the trail at the beginning itself, thanks to Naresh not listening to me. We had a topographic map of the trail and so knew the general direction to go and so we decided to freestyle climb it. It was very steep and we just climbed without thinking. I was a bit worried about getting down, but decided that it was not enough to stop us.
After got to the top, the continental divide was very easy to spot and so our trail was good from then on. We started to get going, but the winds were crazy and in spite of sunlight the windchill brought the temperature to the single digits in Celcius and the wind was drying us out. All of this made the hike a factor of two or three more difficult. However it was worth it and we took frequent breaks. Here are some photos taken while climbing.
After an arduous 5 hours, we made it to the top of Mt. Ida. When we got up there, we could see the road we drove on and a couple of gorgeous glacial lakes. These lakes were so pure that we could see their bottoms. Here are another samples of the pics.
I will talk about Moose, Elk, the Colorado and the dying pine forests in the next post. Probably will post it in Chicago. I am currently in Omaha Nebraska.