- Mileage: 8.4 miles roundtrip
- Altitude:11,760 feet
- Elevation gain:2,360 feet
- To get there: Take Highway 7 to the Long’s Peak Area. Leave from the Long’s Peak trail head.
I am employing my Pilates breathing: inhale for five counts, exhale for five counts. This is my best technique for staying calm in nerve-racking situations. The current situation: crossing a 150-yard, south-facing snowfield on the way to Chasm Lake. The stakes: slipping and sliding uncontrollably into a boulder field. Breathe, balance, and remain confident, I tell myself.
I am not sure I can say we knew this was safe. But we knew it was doable because other hikers were making it across. With each step down onto the slushy July snow I jam my foot hard sideways into the edge of the footpath. I keep my hands out in attempted balance and sometimes use them to brace against the snow bank. As soon as I step off the snowfield on the other side, Alex says we made it. I say we’ve only made it halfway. We still have to go back across it. In the meadow below Chasm Lake, I suppress my natural nervous feelings in order to enjoy this spontaneous side trip, the last hoorah on our first two-night backpacking trip in RMNP this season.
On this, the third day of our trip, our trail took us from the Boulder Brook group site, up and over Granite Pass, past Battle Mountain, past the turn off for the Long’s Peak summit trail and, finally, down the Long’s Peak trail toward the trail head. While Chasm Lake is 4.2 miles from the Long’s Peak trail head, our hike out was leading us right past it and it was only 0.7 miles out of our way. When we realized this, we went for it.
Now, with our heavy packs off the trail on the other side of the snow field (for balance reasons), we are scampering through a meadow that looks, to me, like it is straight out of “Fern Gulley.” I am half expecting to see a fairy flit by or a gnome run across the brook. Maybe three days of hiking at high elevation has got me feeling a bit loopy, but this meadow is unreal. The grass is a bright green and short, as if it’s been manicured. There are waterfalls flowing down the rocks from Chasm Lake (which we can’t see yet) and a shallow brook winding across the land. Rocks speckle the landscape, perfect for moments of child-like frolicking across the tops. And, of course, because it is sunny, wet, and July in the mountains, there are wildflowers. From here, we can see over all the hills and down onto Colorado’s plains.
After crossing the meadow we scramble up a small boulder field, a challenge after the 21 miles we’ve hiked in the past two days. I am out of breath and wishing for the water in my pack on the other side of snowfield. At the top of the boulder field, we hop over a few more large rocks and then find ourselves at Chasm Lake, staring up at The Diamond on the face of Long’s Peak. This is the closest I’ve ever been to a mountain as big as Long’s Peak (which stands at 14,255 feet, the highest point in Colorado north of I-70). This mountain is a giant and I am reveling at it in the same way that I’ve always reveled at the length and depth of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River and in the same way I reveled at the width of Kilimanjaro last year. Besides these two things, everything I’ve seen up until this moment seems puny in comparison to Long’s.
Moments after reaching the lake, all the other groups there leave and we have a little bit of time to ourselves at the lake. Before long, though, the still silence allows my many nervous thoughts to creep back up: we should get back across the snow field before the afternoon suns melts it too much and makes it more treacherous; we should get back before the marmots find that Clif Bar in my pack; we should get back in case there’s an afternoon storm coming. Aware of all these risks, I let them stew but try to tell my brain to quiet down so I can enjoy the views on the way back.
“Is it really scary?” a lady asks me as I step off the snow field on the other side.
I exhale for a long moment.
“I just,” I begin, putting my hands up to reassure her. “I just did Pilates breathing all the way across.”
Source: Hiking Rocky Mountain National Park, A Falcon Guide by Kent and Donna Dannen.