Sunday, July 26, 2009

Andrews Glacier, Flattop Mountain

Ann, Nick, Laurel, and I got up early Sunday morning for a hike in Rocky Mountain National Park. As we were driving through Estes Park, we saw a mountain lion running away from a campground and into someone's front yard. This cougar was huge!

We continued into the park and started our hike at the Glacier Gorge Junction trailhead. Not too far along the trail we decided to take a smaller side-trail that would bypass Alberta Falls and potentially save us some time getting to Andrews Glacier.

The weather was overcast and damp and it had recently rained. As we hiked through the dense vegetation our pants got pretty soaked. Back on the Andrews Glacier Trail the weather began to improve and we started to dry out. For an hour or two it was a beautiful, hot, sunny day.

At the glacier, Ann and I chose to hike directly up the snow, while Laurel and Nick skirted around the side and labored through a scree field instead. The snowfield ended in the Andrews Tarn. This small lake only exists due to snowmelt from the glacier. There were no streams flowing into or out of it.

The slope of the glacier by the lake was rather shallow, so there was little risk of slipping and sliding into the lake, especially with an ice axe. As we ascended the glacier the slope increased and we began to switchback. There was an inch or two of soft surface snow/ice on top of the hard ice of the glacier so our ice axes did not penetrate very deeply.

The glacier widened towards the top so there was a part that Laurel and Nick had to ascend on snow too. Once on top of the glacier there was a short scramble up to the alpine meadow, where we saw a few elk grazing.

Thunderstorms were imminent so we forwent summiting Otis and Hallett Peaks. After a short while we got onto trail, lumped over the top of the unspectacular Flattop "Mountain", and began our descent. Although we thought the weather too risky to remain above treeline for long, there were plenty of people ascending Hallett and coming up the trail to Flattop too.

The descent to Bear Lake was long. The closer we got the more RMNP tourists we saw -- surprising at first since we saw none at the start of our hike (but of course that was before 6:30 AM). From the Bear Lake trailhead it was a short hike back to the car. For the day, we hiked around 12 miles in about 8.5 hours. See our trek in Google Earth or Google Maps.

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