Friday, August 10, 2012

Rocky Mountains Day 2: August 2, 2012

We woke up refreshed. We had these really good Quaker Oat oatmeal cups with peaches and almonds. We drove into the park – we were excited to be there!

The first thing we saw in the park was a wild turkey family with two adolescent turkeys.

We also saw a magpie eating something.

The trailhead of interest required driving on Old Fall River Road, a one-way dirt road, which Dave was very happy to tackle. Not only was the drive beautiful (complete with pines, cascading brooks, and sweeping views), but we ascended ~4000 feet without breaking a sweat.

We decided to take it easy, given that the elevation at the trailhead was 11,407 feet. We felt the altitude with fatigue, shortness of breath and some dizziness, so we went pretty slowly. We saw a pair of birds eating a mushroom. They were taking turns.

This could use some sauce.
On the way up, we saw a bunch of fuzzy brown rodent-like creatures. We had no idea what they were, but they were cute. We saw two types.

Are you a beaver?
What is this cutie?
The alpine tundra was beautiful; we felt like we were in “The Sound of Music.” We ascended a pretty steep slope and got to the top of Mount Chapin (12, 454 feet.) We met a guy at the top who told us an alternate way down, which ended up being the more conventional route up. Oh well – guess the way we did it was more adventurous. We found a surprisingly impressive view with an equally impressive drop-off.

On the way down, we saw more of the bigger brown groundhog/rodent-type creature. The guy at the top, who passed us on the way to another peak, said they were marmots.

On the way down, we got a good view of some elk with some cool antlers.

We sped back home feeling decent; Mabel only had a mild headache that had come on and off throughout the day. We saw a fawn by the road.

We made it to the Alpine Visitor Center, which has the distinction of being the visitor center at the highest altitude in the national park system; it is closed for 8 months of the year due to winter conditions.

We discovered what the other type of animal was when we saw a stuffed rendition of it in the center:

Pikas! Apparently, they are part of the rabbit family. We bought some books and a Rocky Mountain sticker for the national park passport (Mabel also drooled over a Deluxe Explorers edition with amazing maps and checklists of places to get cancellation stamps, but ultimately decided against it because of its bulk). Then we headed back to the car where Mabel got full blown altitude sickness – a horrible headache and nausea. Miserable! The ride down was not fun. Dave had to stop by an internet café to see if he could finish downloading his Garmin map, and Mabel sat in the car trying to hold down the cheese and crackers and sausage we had had for lunch. We finally made it back to the cabin where she promptly took an Aleve, drank some water, and took a nap after which she felt much better. The cause was easily discovered - only ½ a liter of water consumed during the entire hike. Dinner was pasta, roasted garlic from the day before, and corn roasted in foil in the heat of our campfire.

We read Dave’s new book on wildlife in the Rocky Mountains and learned that not only is the marmot a “yellow-bellied marmot”, but that “this large ground squirrel is often seen lounging in the sun on rocks or along park roadways. The marmot’s life in the summertime is one to be envied: eat, sleep, and sunbathe.” It was probably a pretty good day for those marmots, and not a bad day for us humans, too.

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