- Mileage: 3.4 miles roundtrip
- Elevation gain: approx. 550 feet
- To get there: Take Highway 7 to the Wild Basin Trailhead in the Wild Basin Area
- Side trips: Calypso Cascades, Ouzel Falls, Ouzel Lake
If you’d like to bring your llama to the Wild Basin campsites, feel free to. On a side trail up to Tahosa and the other nearby sites, we are immediately greeted by a sign: “All stock except llamas prohibited.”
“None of the other stock could handle this,” Alex says, joking about the unimproved trail we are embarking on.
“But you can ride your llama up here?” I ask him.
“People don’t really ride llamas,” he tells me. “They’re more just pack animals.”
I feel silly for not knowing this, but, stil,l the thought of seeing a llama ambling up the trail in front of me is a funny one. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a llama up close and it would certainly be the highlight of this trip.
As we continue past the sign, I begin to understand what is meant by ‘unimproved trail.’ Large rocks jut up in the middle of the trail all the way up, and I am constantly having to step on top of them or around them or over them. I fear this might be a problem with my long legs. It seems those legs are always getting away from me and I am often tripping and stumbling and falling over any obstacles. After the 0.4 miles up the unimproved side trail, we reach our campsite without any major injuries.
The Tahosa campsite is a good one for our first overnight trip. It sits below a group of rocks up on a hill in Wild Basin. We had left the Wild Basin trailhead with the words of a ranger in our head: “We have had a lot of bear break-ins at this trailhead.” Bears, he told us as he was driving around the parking lot, have been breaking in to cars at Wild Basin and stealing people’s coolers. Normally, bears don’t make me nervous while I’m in the backcountry, but I am thinking if they are aggressive enough to break in to cars, they probably wouldn’t hesitate to approach you (and your food) on the trail.
I’ll just break the suspense, though, by saying that we didn’t see any bears or signs of bears on our trip. We put all of our food and other scented items, like toothpaste and chapstick, in our park-issued bear vault and made sure to cook a good distance from our tent. I did, however, spill soup broth on my pants and have to head back to the tent in my shorts, goose bumps crawling over my legs as storm clouds rolled in.
Tahosa, being on a hill, offers great views to the south and west. We are sitting on the flat rocks, looking out when we get there. From here, we can see to the Boulder area, we can see the effects of the 1978 Wild Basin forest fire, and we can see one towering mountain in front of us. It might be St. Vrain mountain at 12,162 feet, but it might be a more elusive mountain, one that isn’t named on our map. From the west, there are dark storm clouds threatening but straight ahead, to the south, the clouds are glowing with the rays of sun they are sitting in front of. They are bright and warm and we are waiting to see if the dark clouds will move on.
We set up camp, hide our food and head out on our first side trip: Calypso Cascades. (Read about Calypso Cascades here.)
When we get back, it’s dusk and I am scanning the rocks above us for signs of lurking mountain lions, bears… or llamas. We are at a perfect spot for animals to watch us: situated at the bottom of rock walls. Still, there are no signs of animals and we hike up and down over rocky hills to the east of our site to retrieve our bear vault and cook dinner. We are lucky that the Rocky Mountain winds aren’t blowing and our cooking is easy. As our water for Top Ramen boils, the sun is setting and streaking the western skies with bright pink. The pink color crawls east, above our heads, and mixes with the dark grey of the storm clouds moving in. It creeps south over the summit of our mystery mountain. There’s not much more that could make a ten-cent soup dinner any better.
We both drip soup broth on our clothes in the process of eating so we leave our top layers behind for fear that a bear might get a hankering for oriental seasoning and claw through our tent. We can tell it’s going to storm as a chill sets in to the air and we crawl into our tent right away. We leave the rain fly open to watch the last colors of the sunset disappear and we hear one distinct bird call as dusk fades to darkness.
“Do you hear that?” Alex asks.
“Yeah,” I tell him. “What is it?”
“I don’t know what it is, but supposedly it calls about half an hour before dark every night.”
It’s 8:34 now and, sure enough, it’s dark by 9:05.
“How does it know that every day?” I ask Alex.
“It just does,” he says.
It’s not long before we are asleep, but we wake up through the night to relentless light rain coming down on our tent. Finally, I wake up to light skies outside. We open the rain flies to a low, thick fog settling in all around us. As we eat breakfast and clean up camp, it lifts and settles, lifts and settles, being indecisive. It is still moving as we leave Tahosa and head for our second side trip: Ouzel Falls. (Read about Ouzel Falls here.)
Source for hiking details: Hiking Rocky Mountain National Park, A Falcon Guide by Kent and Donna Dannen.