You’re viewing a version of this story optimized for slow connections. To see the full story click here.


Hiking is really not my thing.

Story by Whitney James October 29th, 2014


Living in Colorado, it’s easy to take my surroundings for granted. The fact that I live less than an hour away from peaks that rival Yosemite’s and alpine lakes too numerous to count (no, being land-locked doesn’t suck) has, for the last three years, been a given. Rocky Mountain National Park has always been so close, for some reason it was easy to waft a hand in its general direction and leave it for the tourists. Plus, bikes are banned. But this past weekend brought a record-setting heat wave across Colorado’s Front Range, and with it the idea of exploring the closer-to-home peaks. Even if it involved walking up big hills (i.e. 12,000-foot mountains) without reaping any screamin’ descents.

That’s right… This past weekend, we went hiking.

upwards to chasm lake

Most good ideas aren’t original. So when mapping out how to plan an attack on Rocky Mountain, I looked to my friends for advice. One in particular had just visited Chasm Lake and reaped sweet sunrise shots (get ‘em here). As to not totally poach his adventure, I suggested Bryan and I hike up for sunset—knowing full well the sun would be behind the 14,259-foot Diamond on Long’s Peak, making great mountain selfies all but impossible (sorry, Instagram). We were met with 50 degree weather, total privacy, and the cold beers I’d lugged up the 4.2 mile, 2,400-foot ascent. If you’re thinking to yourself that it still looks cold, trust me when I say it was. Luckily we were sporting new gear from our friends at Mountain Standard, helping to block the wind and keep us toasty along with a little bit of our old standby, Bulleit Rye.

and back down again

After Bryan mentioned that my lips were turning blue, we decided to bail on star shots at Chasm Lake and begin our descent back to camp. We made it just through the quarter-mile rock-scramble at the top before night fully fell and the stars came out, matching the incredible city lights visible to the east. After running into a few people crazier than us who were on their way up, I let Bryan play with long exposures while I pretended to be a headlamp model. You can see the other pair headed through the dicey section in the photo below, headlights illuminated against the snow, ice, and the rockiest of mountains. Once reaching Longs Peak Campground, we hunkered down for a sleepless night with winds I was sure would bring the whole forest down.


UP with the stars

We woke at 4:45 AM to make coffee and drive out of, and then back into, Rocky Mountain National Park to reach the Bear Lake Trailhead (fitting, since Bryan looks like Bear Grylls). The winds had not abated during the night, I was running off of no more than twenty minutes of sleep, one of my two headlamps had died, we were uncomfortably low on water, and I had a head cold. Ah, the mountains.

We parked the truck and put our headlamps back on to start the trek to Emerald Lake, a painless 3.5-mile out-and-back that reaches perhaps one of the most staggering vistas in the entire park. At this point, I was wondering if the sun would ever come back to greet us. As we hiked I held my breath for a lodgepole pine to come slapping out of the forest and right onto my beanie. We met the lake just as the sun touched the horizon, and although it’s hard to see, caught killer light with stars still visible to the west. And once again, we had it all to ourselves.



With numb fingers, we conceded to the elements and high-tailed it back to the truck as the normal, day-time tourists flowed into the lot. Campfire flavored lattes were calling our names in Estes Park. Those and hot showers, long naps, and a plan for the next weekend outside.

Footnote: Photos by myself with my Canon 60D and Bryan Rowe with his Canon 5D Mark ii.