I'm a freelance writer and blogger living in beautiful North Wales, UK. Visit my blog at:
Published October 5th 2016
Climbing the Rocky Mountains Is Easier Than You Think
There are few things I hate more than getting up early. There's *nothing* I hate more than getting up early on holiday.
You can imagine my deep loathing when, on our first full day in Colorado, I was prised (literally) out of my peaceful slumber at 6am to go 'up a mountain'.
I'm a Scottish woman who lives in Snowdonia in Wales, so I'm accustomed to seeing fabulous mountains. Ben Nevis, in my home nation is the highest peak in the UK and Snowdon in Wales, where I live now, is second. Although both are stunning, I much prefer to admire them from a distance.
The prospect of a Rocky Mountain, without coffee, at 6am, wasn't really a thought that had me leaping out of bed, shouting: 'Woohoo! Let's do it!' But, apparently, this was *exactly* what was going to happen.
We hit the road for the two hour drive to Mount Evans, getting tangled up in rush hour traffic along the way. The sun coming up over Castle Rock (the area we were staying in) was an angry red and made me relent for a few seconds about being roused at such an ungodly hour.
After a half hour or so, we turned on to the I-70 and headed west, taking us into the realms of road signs which read: 'All Truckers Must Have Chains' and 'There Wil Almost Definetly Be Elk and Other Wild Beast Crossing The Road Right In Front Of Your Car, So Good Luck with That'.
After driving through a pretty little town called Idaho Springs, the scenery changed dramatically and we began to climb long and winding trails towards the visitor centre. Here, the signs changed from warnings about suicidal wildlife to warnings about falling rocks.
Interestingly, it wasn't until we stopped being told about the potential for wildlife crossing the road that two deer bolted out in front of the car just ahead of us before diving back into the mountain on the other side. I can only assume they'd had their morning coffee as they extremely alert.
As we climbed higher in to Rockies, the leaves began to change colour from dark green to brilliant yellow and the roads got progressively narrow enough to merit a 15mph maximum limit. That was absolutely fine by me as there was a chance of being crushed by bits of falling mountain on one side and a sheer death drop down the cliff face on the other. Clearly caution was key to surviving long enough to see my next birthday. Or, at least, my next meal.
As you pass Echo Lake, which was dotted with fisherman enjoying their last chance to reel one in before the entire road closes for the winter, you also get the chance to see the Rocky Mountain Ducks (I'm sure that's a thing) and they were happily...ducking away (also a thing).
After passing your last piece of civilisation, you slowly ascend the mountain and the views just keep coming. As we visited just before the end of the season, it was completely peaceful, with very few other visitors around. There's a lot to be said for literally feeling like you're on top of the world and even better when it's just the two of you, staring out across the Colorado landscape in wonder.
Lake Summit is where the road closes after Labor Day, so the cut off point is here, which is still a very impressive 12,300 feet high. There is spacious parking, toilets, and trails that lead off up to the peak. Although you can't take your car any further than this point, you can park up and walk..if you feel this is necessary. I didn't. I was still recovering from driving the tiny, windy narrow roads from Idaho Springs. Also: it was cold. Like, Scotland cold, so I felt quite at home at the lake and decided to stay there.
Les, however, took a walk around to take shots and converse with the gorgeous little Chipmunks that were scurrying around on the trails. I wanted to take one home, but not sure how US Customs would have viewed that. UK immigration likely wouldn't have been too thrilled, either, so I bid them a good day and let them be.
Once you've exhausted yourself and your camera, you can slowly (and do go slowly as the bends are quite sharp and there are no barriers in many places) head back down Mount Evans before disappearing off into the Colorado sun. And, quite possibly, back to bed.
Note: there is a $10 charge for a pass to take your car past the visitor centre, which is just North of Echo Park. The pass is valid for the entire season.