Hiking Hallett Peak in RMNP
As perhaps one of the youngest owners of a Franklin Covey Planner, prioritizing and scheduling has been a personal daily exercise for years. However, that daily ritual has fallen into the cracks of the COVID pandemic over the past several months. I love to build things, launch things, and generally create. It’s difficult to do that with so many scheduling unknowns related to our two school-age children. Yes, pour a glass of self-pity for our currently healthy and secure family and my lack of personal time.
There’s no doubt I’m in a funk. What better way to clear that than to execute a well-orchestrated hike up a mountain? With my wife and kids visiting family, I decided to camp in Rocky Mountain National Park and hike Hallett Peak, the 12,720 ft. mountain summit that stands sentinel-like over Bear Lake, Emerald Lake, and Dream Lake. At 10 miles and 3,240 ft. of elevation gain, Hallett Peak seemed like a good warmup to a Longs Peak attempt (14.2 mi, 5,525 ft. with lots of class 3 grade 3 climbing) later this summer.
The view from the 12,720 ft. Hallett Peak summit.
On the road to Glacier Basin Campground
Six months ago I had already reserved a spot at Glacier Basin Campground within RMNP. This is an ideal jumping off point for hikes that begin at the Bear Lake trail head. After dropping off Hero the dog at my parents, I made the beautiful drive up the Big Thompson Canyon with the Scamp in tow to Estes Park and RMNP beyond.
Estes Park is typically packed with tourists during the summer and I was curious how the town would look with a pandemic at play. Additionally, with a Colorado-wide mask order in effect, I was curious how wide-spread mask-wearing would be. As I made my way into Estes, I was surprised to see it looked just as busy as a pandemic-free summer. I’d estimate about half of the folks walking around were wearing masks and most had a mask on their person. This seemed pretty decent considering masks are not required outdoors and are just suggested when you can’t keep less than six feet distance (which was definitely the case).
There was a reasonable five-minute wait to get into the park from the Beaver Meadows entrance station. With Cinematic Indie Folk playing on the radio, cool mountain air, and the sounds of Glacier Creek out the window, the short drive to the campground from the entrance station always makes me grateful to have RMNP out my backdoor.
Following a dinner of salmon, salad, and pearled couscous I strolled through the large swaths of the closed group camping areas of the campground. The views of the surrounding peaks are spectacular, but I missed the sounds of campers laughing, running, and playing. There are natural areas I appreciate for their solitude and others I love for their hustle and bustle. RMNP falls into that latter category and it was hard not to feel a bit melancholy.
After a long bike ride earlier that day, I was more than happy to bypass a campfire, plan out my hiking schedule, read a bit of Hell Yeah or No, and go to bed early. It was cathartic making my packing list and planning out my early morning schedule in ten minute increments.
To the Bear Lake Trail Head
After a 5am alarm, a quick trip to the bathroom (most folks were wearing masks in these as well), and breakfast I was on the road to the Bear Lake trail head at 5:40am. Most trip reports I read of Hallett Peak estimated a six hour round-trip. With earlier thunderstorms than usual in the forecast, I wanted to be below tree line earlier than normal and figured this would give enough time. Plus, Bear Lake is by far the most popular trail head in RMNP.
Despite the early departure, I was filled with a sense of dread as I drove to the trailhead and saw full parking lots and cars coming back the other way (why would they be returning at this early hour?). The shuttle to Bear Lake doesn’t start running till 7am and hiking from the campground would add another 4 miles to the hike. With these COVID times, I also wasn’t stoked about riding inside a shuttle (even with capacity limitations). As the trailhead parking lot came into view, I exhaled a sigh of relief as the parking lot was just two-thirds full. With a line of cars behind me, I wager it was full at 6am.
As I walked through the parking lot to the trailhead I was energized by the sounds of excited hikers ready for a day in the mountains.
The view of Hallett Peak from Bear Lake as I began my hike.
First, hike to Flattop Mountain
The hike to Hallett Peak begins by hiking to Flattop Mountain. I began by taking an immediate right from the trailhead (this is the detailed route description). The ascent begins with a climb through a beautiful aspen grove with large rock outcroppings. Traveling solo (my hiking partner bowed out due to illness) and without a conversation companion I moved quickly up the trail.
There are great views of Longs Peak, Dream Lake, and Emerald Lake along the way. I’ve done the hikes to Dream Lake and Emerald Lake in both summer and winter. It was fun seeing these lakes from above.
A view of Longs Peak with Dream Lake in the bottom right.
One of my favorite things about hiking up a mountain in the rockies is experiencing the dramatic changes in vegetation as I climb in elevation. Following the Dream Lake overlook, Aspen and lodgepole trees have faded away and the forest is filled with Engelmann spruce, subalpine fir, and limber pine.
The subalpine zone contains Engelmann spruce, subalpine fir, and limber pine.
By 6:45am I entered the krummholz zone - full of grumpy spruces and firs deformed from strong winds - with a stunning view of Emerald Lake:
A view of Longs Peak with Emerald Lake in the bottom right.
My excitement grew as I approached the alpine tundra. I’ve been interested in skiing the broad slopes of Flattop mountain and it’s fun to scout out a potential line in the warmer weather. As I hiked through the tundra, I passed two ladies carrying their ski equipment for a trip down Tyndall Glacier. Skiing in late July! On the way up I encountered just a handful of folks.
It’s been a while since I’ve done an early-morning hike above tree line and I forgot to bring a pair of gloves. The cloud cover and approaching weather kept the temperature down. My hands were regretting my mistake as I made my way to the summit of Flattop Mountain.
A snowfield on Flattop Mountain.
The push to Hallett Peak
With cold hands and fast-moving clouds, I bypassed taking a photo from the summit of Flattop. However, the views are fantastic. To the west you can easily see Lake Granby and to the east Lake Estes. I don’t believe there is a summit marker and the only trail sign I found points to the North Inlet trail. Knowing that Hallett Peak was to the south, I happened to see a trail runner making his way down through a boulder field. Looking more closely, I saw a number of cairns guiding the way to the top. I carefully navigated up through the boulder field and the final 400 feet to the summit of Hallett Peak.
At the summit I quickly grabbed my shell from my pack and bundled up against the wind and moist weather. With numbing hands, I didn’t stay long on the summit.
On the way down through the boulder field, I realized I had an unopened package of hand warmers left over from the ski season in my shell. I grabbed these and fumbled open the package. Soon, my hands were back to normal and I thanked my past self.
As I navigated down from the alpine tundra beneath the summit of Flattop I saw a number of hikers. I was pleasantly surprised at how the vast majority of folks applied a face covering when crossing paths (even in an low-risk transmission situation). Mask wearing appears to grow with elevation! With the cool weather, I was happy to have a face covering regardless of the pandemic on the way down through the tundra.
After descending through the tundra I saw almost no hikers. The start of a light rain smartly deterred many folks that were starting later. I returned the trailhead about four hours after my start.
Back at camp
After driving back to the Glacier Basin Campground, I grabbed my small camping chair, my lunch, and my book and dipped my feet in the ice-cold waters of Glacier Creek. Outside of a blister on the back of my foot (quite the way to break in a new pair of shoes), I was feeling pretty good.
Hallett Peak is a great hike for those that want big views and a trip through multiple vegetation zones without the exposure of Longs Peak. One of my favorite parts of the hike is that you start with a tremendous, sun-splashed view of the final destination over Bear Lake at the start.
What about that funk?
A solo camping trip and four-hour hike gave me plenty of time to think. The pandemic has accentuated the paralysis I’ve experienced following the acquisitions of the two companies I helped create. While I love creating with others, starting a company doesn’t get easier (at least for me). I’ve never met a founder with legitimate work-life balance and I’m fearful of going down the startup path again. Additionally, the school scheduling unknown this fall makes it hard to figure out how much time I’ll have to allocate to my own projects.
However, I resolved to work on a couple of things:
- Writing - give myself the freedom to write on any topic. Write for myself, spelling and grammar be damned. Unlike a software project, it’s easy to put down and pick up a half-finished blog post.
- Reduce doom-scrolling - without a passion project, I’ve succumbed to continually scrolling through news articles. I can’t think of any way staying on top of the news has made me a better person.
Here’s to the start of crawling out of my funk!