Rocky Mountain NP: North Inlet / Tonahutu Creek Loop Trail Trip Log

August 2011

Part 1: Continental Divide Loop Section


Day #1:Tonahutu/North Inlet to North Inlet Falls Camp

8 miles on day 1 is usually nothing.  8 miles uphill with a heavy pack at 9,000' altitude is something.  Take it easy this first day is my advice to anyone from sea level visiting this spot.  The other piece of advice is to follow the ranger's advice and get on trail early and be done by 3 at the latest.  Afternoon showers every day. 

Once again Joe has provided me with ample ammunition with which to fuel my own private chuckles.  We through quite an ordeal to find where we can obtain a bear canister.  We haul them all the way up the trail (10 miles) to our campground.  We fill them with anything that might have any smell attracting bears.  Food.  Toothbrush.  Toothpaste.  Wet wipes.  Deodorant.  Anything you can think of (a real pain in the @$$).   I then plan to carry the canisters the suggested 75 feet away from our campsite so if the bear comes around sniffing for food, he doesn't wander into your tent.  

So just as I'm about to carry the canisters away for the night, what does Joe do? He say's, "Oh wait... Don't forget my cup!" - And proceeds to toss out the remaining half cup of coffee 18 inches from our tents.  Shaking my head. :-s

I swear this was a plan to get me killed. Had to be deliberate. How can you find out if someone has secretly taken out a life insurance policy on you?

The campsite is nice, right along the river with a nice waterfall. Definately a far cry from the dearth of water you get when you are hiking the Grand Canyon. All along the trail, there are spots to pump water, so there is no need to hump a gallon on your back. A Nalgene or two is plenty.

Day #2: Day Hike to Lake Nakoni and Lake Nanita

No rain today, which was good.  We took a nice leisurely stroll out to the lakes and hung out there for a while.  A couple of kids in their early 20's were out there fishing for lunch and dinner.  My dinner on the other hand was Chili Con Carne from the Organic camp meal company.  It was delicious.  On the way down.  Note to self: Don't buy that stuff EVER again.

Day #3: North Inlet Falls Camp to Haynach Camp

This was one of the worst beatings I ever took.  Up at 4:30am, on trail by 5:15am.  We hiked through about 5 campsites and two major sets of switchbacks on the way to the summit of Flattop mountain at 12,324' elevation. 

The summit is actually more like an extensive alpine bench that straddles the Continental Divide.  From there, you'll have up-close views of Hallett Peak (12,713’) and Tyndall Glacier.  You literally walk right past Hallett, and if you wanted to it would be no problem to wander up there for an even higher vantage point. 

No sign marks the summit, however the Flattop Mountain Trail – Tonahutu Trail junction is commonly recognized as your final destination.

We got to the summit trail junction at about 10:30am, and after a quick lunch and some photos, we were speeding down the descent by 11:10am being chased by some nasty and persistent storm clouds.  The faster we humped, the more diligently they pursued.   A few hours later at the trail junction leading to the Haynach campsite, we slowly and painfully climbed the last mile to pull into camp at about 2pm.  And collapse.  The last mile was tough after a 10+ mile hike that was probably more like 12 or 13 since our map was grossly inaccurate, always underestimating rather than overestimating, according to the guy with GPS. 

Apparently, there are supposed to be , elk, bighorn sheep, mountain goat , ptarmigan, marmot and pika that are usually seen along the way.  The only thing we saw were grasses, lichens and a great number of wildflowers along the way.  

Obviously these animals didn't get the memo that we were there and expecting them to entertain us.   That is with the exception of this fine specimen I snuck up on at the final mile of my hike. 

Oh, was the pain worth it!  The meadow that this campsite is situated in is one of the prettiest places I have ever been.  wild flowers litter the lush green grass the covers the entire meadow, broken up only by a snaking brook that splits the meadow in two, tracing itself all the way back to the water feeding glaciers clinging to the mountains in the distance that tower over the whole place like a natural amphitheater.

My words can't even describe the beauty, so I'm hoping that the hour and a half i took wandering, crawling and metering to get some halfway decent shots can come even close to measuring up to actually being there.  Word had it that this was the most spectacular site in the whole park, and I must admit after being there, I can see they were not exaggerating. 

Day #4: Haynach Camp to Tonahutu/North Inlet Trailhead 

On trail by 7:15am and it took us much longer than we thought to get back to the car.  However, again on the way were some beautiful vistas and some great hiking.  Big Meadows was really a beautiful site, and the fact that we walked along its edge for well over an hour tells you that here big means BIG.

In town, we sat down in a local pub right near the trailhead and I had the best tasting cheeseburger and potato salad I have ever had.  My assumption is my hunger level might be deceiving me... but not that much.  Interestingly enough, this was the first opportunity we had to get a phone signal, and speak of the devil, we get a phone call advising us that our Sunday departure date just happens to coincide with Hurricane Irene's scheduled landing on the tri state area.



Part 2: Long's Peak Section


Day #4: Long's Peak Trailhead to Goblin Camp

The plan was to hike out of the loop, drive around to the other side of the park, and hike 6 miles and 3,000 ft to Boulderfield Camp by 3pm.  We realized at the Ranger station just before the hike on Monday that it was not impossible, but not advisable.  For starters, the ride around is approximately an hour and a half as opposed to the 30 minutes or so Joe thought it was.   In addition, that was a lot of humping for a guy whose knee was not yet 75% let alone 100.  Given this state of affairs, we amended the plan to stay just 1 mile in at Goblin Camp, and then move earl the next day to Boulderfield for a possible summit bid with a Saturday 1 or 2am mountaineers start. 

Day #5: Goblin Camp to Boulderfield Camp then drive to Estes hotel to make evacuation flight plans!

Three things conspired to cause us to give up on a Long's Peak ascent and instead, try and get a flight a day early to beat the Hurricane.  First, it rained most of the night, and while I left it up to Joe to make the final decision to get up early and hike to Boulderfiled for a Long's Peak attempt, I was relieved when a yelp to wake up never came at my tent around 3am.  Second, once we finally did get going, my knee was killing me from 4 straight days of heavy packs uphill with no ice therapy save some Advil and Motrin.  Third, and most important, the forecast was calling for things to be shut down well into the next week,  possibly leaving us without a flight home until the following Wednesday or Thursday.   I had take a full week off of work, in the middle of a big project that I was the lead PM on, so I didn't want to miss another 3 days. 

So we hiked back out, rearranged our hotel stay, and worked diligently for 12 hours or so to get a flight back home.  Nothing was smoking toward Newark, so we took the only flight available across the ENTIRE eastern seaboard, and that was to Dulles International in Washington D.C.  Apparently, it takes more than a Hurricane to shut Dulles down, so we booked it, rented a car and drove the empty I95 all the way home. 

All things considered, a great trip indeed.   Didn't get Long's Peak, but that just gives me an excuse to return!


Trip Book

My friend Brad swears by this guy. After the first chapter I understood why. Look's like I'm going to be going and getting all of his books! There were quite a few laugh out loud moments and now I am wishing I had highlighted them so that I could go back and re-read them.

Dark Star Safari: Overland from Cairo to Capetown ~Paul Theroux

In the travel-writing tradition that made Paul Theroux"s reputation, Dark Star Safari is a rich and insightful book whose itinerary is Africa, from Cairo to Cape Town: down the Nile, through Sudan and Ethiopia, to Kenya, Uganda, and ultimately to the tip of South Africa. Going by train, dugout canoe, "chicken bus," and cattle truck, Theroux passes through some of the most beautiful — and often life-threatening — landscapes on earth.

About the Author: Paul Theroux's highly acclaimed novels include Blinding Light, Hotel Honolulu, My Other Life, Kowloon Tong, and The Mosquito Coast. His renowned travel books include Ghost Train to the Eastern Star, Dark Star Safari, Riding the Iron Rooster, The Great Railway Bazaar, The Old Patagonian Express, and The Happy Isles of Oceania. He lives in Hawaii and on Cape Cod.

Support this guy because I want him to write more books!



















"A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects."    — Robert A. Heinlein

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