Hunter’s Creek campsite

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Hunter's CreekHiking details:

  • Mileage: 6.6 miles roundtrip
  • Elevation gain: 1,450 feet
  • Altitude: 9,760 feet
  • To get there: Take Highway 7 to the Wild Basin Area of RMNP. Leave from the Sandbeach Lake trail head, which is right by the entrance station.
  • Side Trips: Sandbeach Lake

I am sucking in hard through my nose, trying to get any amount of air through my allergy-ridden sinuses and into my lungs. As I struggle, I have a realization about Rocky Mountain National Park: everything here is uphill. I haven’t hiked all 355 miles of trail in this park, or even come close, but from what I’ve seen you have to go uphill at some point in every hike here. This, I am still not quite used to.

There are four of us today and Alex and his brother are far ahead, out of our eyesight a lot of the time. Victoria and I are moving slowly and steadily on the never ending slopes to Hunter’s Creek. As we climb, we stop to catch our breath and find ourselves looking down into Wild Basin. Below us is the Saint Vrain River, Alex says, moving from side to side gently, like a woman dancing. She sits in a brushy meadow, flanked on either side by mountains and hills. We are standing on the hills to the north. Like from the Tahosa campsite, we can see the effects of the 1978 fire on the south side of the meadow. At our feet, the wildflowers are beginning to crawl across the land in yellows and purples. My favorite is the Indian Paintbrush, in its deep shades of red, orange, and magenta. As the Wyoming state flower, it is the symbol I equate most often with Yellowstone. It thrives there on trails all over the park and I wonder if RMNP has any of these gems hiding in the hills. July will tell.

We got an early start up to Hunter’s Creeks, with hopes of making it to Sandbeach Lake in the afternoon. The boys want to fish and Victoria and I want to lay on the banks and read. Now, as we put foot after foot of elevation under our belts, it is midday and the sun is shining with full force. Although we are slathered in sunscreen as an extra defense against the intense mountain sun, this trail shades us nearly the whole way up. The Hunter’s Creek campsite, too, is in the shade. There is a big boulder between us and the creek, but we can still hear it turning and tumbling past about 20 yards away.

After our afternoon side trip to Sandbeach Lake we are peeling off wet layers, drenched from the rainstorm we watched move in over the lake. We are in the tent almost immediately, taking swigs of whiskey to warm our goose-bumped skin. We commence on a game of Go Fish, forgetting the rules, which are stale to us in our adult years. Do we put down pairs or fours? Can you ask someone for a card that you don’t even have? Alex wins, with a mess of matching four-card groups in front of him. Next: Bullshit. And every time someone calls bullshit on you, you have to drink. By the time this ends, we come out of the tent to a gloomy but dry sky and cook copious amounts of Oriental flavored Top Ramen. We try for Sandbeach Lake again after dinner, leaving our fishing poles and books behind this time. Again, we hike a mile uphill, through snow and puddles. And again, we find stacks of heavy clouds above the lake. But they are unthreatening and we stay through dusk.

We hike quickly away from Hunter’s Creek the next morning, needing to make it home in time for various obligations. Victoria and I are leading the way this time, as the boys, we later found out, were scaling a rock face to get some different views.

“We thought you went up to the lake again,” they tells us as they come running down the trail to catch up. “We ran up there to find you.”

Just as we are feeling good and guilty for accidentally misleading them, they crack smiles and tell us about their brief adventure above Wild Basin.

Calypso Orchid

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