It was another cold morning, but I slept really well. I woke to my 6am alarm, but rolled over and slept until 7. After wiping the frosty condensation off the ceiling, I started packing up and getting ready then. The sun finally hit my tent at 8 right when I had all the inside stuff taken care of. I hit the trail at 9, refreshed and in good motion.
At first, the trail was like what I had been doing the previous night, with snow and blowdowns, a couple of which I had to crawl under. But bits like that were separated by nice open meadows with good views.
I stopped an hour later for a snack because I felt really empty, and I was about to start the final climb to Bowen Pass. It was steep, but not too bad. On the final thousand feet or so, the switchbacks were filled with snow, so I just shortcutted them and climbed straight up to the pass on a steep rocky line that might have been the old trail or a game trail.
I reached the top of the pass by 11, and stopped to take a few minutes to think logistics while the goats on the slopes casually looked on. I turned off airplane mode and started looking at information about permits for Rocky Mountain National Park because I would be entering it before I even reached the highway just 7 miles down the hill. I tried calling them but got no answer. It looked like I had to pick up a permit in person anyway. The wilderness permit office closed at 3:30, so my goal was set. Get to the highway and hitch 5 miles to the visitor center where the office was before 3:30.
There were a handful of blowdowns on the east side of the pass, but nothing annoying. There were also an increasing number of day hikers as I got closer to the park. There were plenty of tourists and cars at the trailhead. I walked out to the highway and stuck out my thumb. At first, cars were slowing because I was next to the crosswalk, but I only wanted them to stop if they were offering a ride, so I fixed it by moving a few feet. It was just before 2 when I arrived, and I was only passed by a few dozen cars by the time I got a ride from an older outdoorsy couple in a minivan about 20 minutes later. Pretty easy hitch.
They could only take me as far as the entry gate to the park. I don’t know why, since their day pass and earlier reservation should have gotten them back in, but they wouldn’t go through. It was fine though. The visitor center was only a half mile further on, so I just walked.
When I arrived, all the rangers were gathered together at some tables in front of the restrooms instead of in the office. One asked me what I needed and I pointed toward the wilderness office. It turned out the one asking was the one who worked in that office, and she said she’d meet me there. I guess that explains why they didn’t answer the phone. They just don’t even go in the office until someone shows up needing help.
It was easy enough to get a permit, though easily the most expensive permit I’ve yet bought. Thirty bucks for a single night! I got a site on the southern half of the loop around 7.5 miles from the southern trailhead, so I would tackle the 26 mile loop counterclockwise. There was a 1.5 mile connector trail straight from the visitor center, so I could leave straight from there and start the loop immediately.
But I wouldn’t start immediately. I had been in such a hurry to make sure I got a permit, I had skipped lunch, so I left my phone charging in the office while I went to a picnic table among the trees across the parking lot to take care of that. I also emptied my trash and filled up my water. The former was especially important since there is a lot of bear activity in RMNP, especially the part I read entering, so I needed the extra room in my bear can to store as much of my food as possible.
I got my phone back with 35% more battery than it had before and started hiking again about 3:30, planning to reach my campsite by 9. At first, the trail was kind of gross. Dirt and rock chewed up by heavy horse traffic through a burned out forest. Eventually, I joined a wider dirt road with a good number of day hikers leaving the way I was entering. I scared off (or not) at least half a dozen snakes of various sizes in the first mile on this road. None stuck around to have their pictures taken. They weren’t keen on having their enjoyment of the bright sunny afternoon disturbed by tall, heavy-booted, stompy intruders.
There were not so many snakes as that road got narrower and more rugged and eventually dead-ended to a proper foot track. That bright sunny afternoon didn’t last either. As I started climbing up the North Inlet canyon in earnest, on actual rock staircases in places, dark clouds came in and blanketed the sky, smothering the sun completely and cooling things down…but not too much.
In fact, I was mostly comfortable even sitting right at the foot of the Cascade Falls to cook dinner around 5:45. It was starting to get chilly by the time I packed up and left again at 6:30, having traded sunglasses and hat for a headlamp, ready for the night-hiking.
The climb continued. It was another 1000 feet up to the elevation the junction to my campsite was at, and most of that happened right at the beginning of this last 4 mile stretch. As night fell, I started to see tiny fluttery drops of water come down, small enough to be snow if they didn’t fail so fast, but too few and far between to call rain. I was worried if would start raining, even as I looked on enviously at the roaring campfire visible in the Porcupine Camp. My campsite did not permit campfires, nor would I want to spend the time one would require when arriving so late, but I wouldn’t have minded a few minutes beside one at that moment. My rain fears abated as did the clouds. The stars came out.
I turned off onto the side trail to my campsite, crossed the upper North Inlet Falls ravine on a high bridge, and cruised into my campsite a half mile later. I set up my tent while my Garmin fetched a weather report. 0% chance of rain for every hour all night. Nice. I filled every last bit of space in my bear can with snacks, carried it with my stove and Nalgene way back up the trail to a random spot nowhere near my campsite, then hit the sack.
Just before 10:30, a steady light rain started. I made sure everything still with me was pulled in under the fly and let all that reportedly impossible rain on the tent sing me to sleep.
Trail miles: 18.6 (18.7 actually hiked, but some very different miles)
Distance to Grand Lake: 18 miles