If you vacation with me, we don't sleep in. I've got limited time off, so I've got things to do. Places to be. Things to see. Get your lazy butt out of bed.
Luckily, I didn't have to do much persuading with Marc and Michael...they were just as eager to get on the trail! By 6 am, we had parked at the Glacier Gorge Trailhead and had started on our way. On the itinerary for the day: Bear Lake, Alberta Falls, Mills Lake, the Loch, Timberline Falls, and Sky Pond.
None of that happened.
What did happen was incredible.
From the trail head, we hiked about a half mile in to Bear Lake. As I was taking the picture below, Michael looked at a little plaque, standing right at the shoreline.
"Hey, listen to this," he said. "Tyndall glacier is one of the 5 remaining active glaciers in Rocky Mountain National Park and it's right...." he pointed straight ahead, up into the mountains, "...there. Come on Aimee, Can we hike up to see it?"
I looked at the plaque to see that the glacier was at approximately 12,000 feet, nestled in between Flattop Mountain and Hallett Peak. I eye-balled our water situation. We only had enough for a half-day of relatively easy-paced hiking. Hiking to Tyndall Glacier would take a lot of time, we would gain a lot of elevation, and it would be more strenuous than the hikes we had planned. At the same time, it was hard saying no to the excitement in Michael's voice.
"We go as far as we can on half our water supply," I said. "When we're half spent, we turn back. No exceptions. Agreed?"
Pleased with this plan, Michael nodded and led the way, blazing the trail up to Flattop Mountain, which would get us closest to the glacier. The hike was beautiful, winding lazily up the mountain. I breathed in the fresh air...ah...pine. Due to the extremely snowy winter, the higher we climbed, the snowier the trail became. So snowy, in fact, that after a while, we lost the trail. We searched for tracks in the snow, to see if there was a clear traffic pattern, but it seemed as though other hikers ran into the same predicament. Tracks were everywhere, evidence of others who had paced back and forth trying to pick up the trail.
Suddenly, we heard voices coming from behind some nearby trees. We walked toward the sound to find two hikers, obviously faced with the same predicament. Where the heck was this trail? The collective experience between the four of us was relatively low, and we were hesitant to venture too far from our current spot for fear of losing the safest route back down.
Just as we were debating whether or not to give up and turn back, we heard more voices. Soon, 6 hikers appeared. They looked equipped, experienced, and like they might have better luck at picking up the elusive trail. They stopped for a break, looking around for the trail as well. We approached them, introduced ourselves and explained that we were lost.
They invited us to join them in a quick break before launching a collective effort to find the trail. Feeling the safety of our numbers (counting the 2 hikers we had encountered earlier, our group had expanded to 11), we agreed and started shooting the breeze. The group of 6 hikers all worked for the same company and had formed a hiking club that went out on Saturdays to hike various alpine trails. They genuinely seemed to love these Saturday hikes and had a lot of experience with the alpine tundra.
Tom, the leader of the group, explained the snow pack this year forced flexibility with their 2014 hiking line up. In fact, this hike--to Flattop Mountain and Hallett Peak--was their back up plan. The trail they had intended to do for that day was still inaccessible, since there was a 12 foot snowdrift still blocking the last three miles to the trailhead.
With the help of Tom & co, we found the trail, and hiked with them a while. We had some great conversations and enjoyed getting to know each other along the way. We stopped at this vantage point for break just before reaching Flattop Mountain.
Out came the water and snacks.
I eyeballed my supply and realization sunk in. I was running low, and my brothers were probably in the same place . There was no way we were going to make it up to the Tyndall Glacier and back down with what we had left. *sigh* I really did not want to turn back, especially since we were having such a great time with our new friends.
I explained our water predicament to the others and apologized for having to turn back. They looked at me like I was crazy. "You've come this far," one of them said, "You gotta summit." They all agreed and kindly offered to share their water with us so that we could all continue on together. Unlike us, they had expected to do a strenuous hike that day and had plenty of water to spare. Elated, we accepted their gracious offer.
And with that, we continued on our way. Michael would see his glacier after all!
The last stretch of our hike to Flattop Mountain was a bit difficult for me. We had only flown to Colorado the day before and I had a dull headache, which I recognized as one of the symptoms of altitude sickness. I slowed, careful not to over-exert and drank plenty of water. At last we reached Flattop and the Tyndall Glacier. That was a miiiiighty fine glacier. Michael was more excited than he appears in this picture. ;)
In order to summit Hallett Peak from Flattop Mountain, we just sort of scrambled up this rocky ridge. It was a bit scary, but but I think that was just my overactive imagination.
I was thrilled when I reached the top - 12,713 feet of elevation! Not bad for a sea-level girl with very little experience! We stayed and lunched (snacked?) on Hallett Peak and took many-a-photo.
Thank God for sending strangers to us on the mountain that day. By sharing their water, they gave us an even bigger gift: an afternoon of fast friendship, unforgettable views, and the incredible experience of being on the Continental Divide. A special thanks to Tom, Heidi, Brett, and John for letting us tag along for an experience we will not soon forget!