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getting in touch with my inner colorado girl

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12er: Mt Ida in RMNP

After discovering my love for sub-14ers on the Friday of Labor Day weekend I had the chance to hike a 12er on Labor Day itself. Holiday traffic on I-70 back towards Denver is no fun, so Graham and I decided to go for a hike on Labor Day and not head back to Denver until late in the evening. Anyway, for our hike we headed into Rocky Mountain National Park with his family through the western Grand Lake entrance. Although I have spent a lot of time on the eastern side of RMNP and the Wild Basin area I had never been to the Grand Lake side of the park, and I was immediately impressed with the gorgeous views of the Never Summer range.

IMG_7245Never Summers from the trail to Mt. Ida.

Like the difference between the crowds on a 14er versus a sub-14er the west side of RMNP is far less crowded than the other parts of the park. I had always thought Wild Basin was the best kept RMNP secret but as it turns out that accolade totally belongs to the west side! 

We chose the Mt. Ida hike because Ida is one of the peaks visible from Grand Lake and Shadow Mountain Lake, and it’s kind of fun to hike peaks that you look at regularly. It was described in the guidebooks as a 9.6 mile roundtrip hike, and I was excited for another fun sub-14er. We began our hike a little late in the morning at around 10 a.m., and after climbing through the trees the trail quickly meandered onto exposed tundra.

IMG_7248The trail winding through the tundra.

Confession: I like being tough and rugged but man I always love the nicely maintained trails at National Parks. The guidebook describes this hike as half off-trail, however, compared to my normal hikes the trail was in great shape. The views were amazing, and I could not believe how few people were hiking Ida. We got passed by more mountain goats than people on the tundra! (True story.)

IMG_7250Looking down into some mountain lakes.

IMG_7270The Never Summers again.

The trail became rockier near the summit and the last mile essentially traverses a boulder field. Sub-14ers are really no easier than 14ers! I was definitely as out of breath hiking Ida as I am on 14er trails. The weather also started looking questionable, probably due to our admittedly late start on the trail. We decided to summit, snap a few pictures and eat lunch on the way down instead of hanging around above treeline.

IMG_7253Alpine lakes are my favorite ever. 
IMG_7254Looking down towards Grand Lake and Shadow Mountain Lake.
IMG_7258Summit photo. I may have been wearing Graham’s Patagonia over my rain jacket. It was chilly!
IMG_7259Longs Peak is incredibly striking from the distance.

It started sprinkling on us as we headed down the boulder field. Luckily the weather cleared by the time we got back to treeline so we stopped and ate a picnic lunch of tuna, crackers, cheese and fruit. The rest of the hike down was a breeze.

IMG_7257West side pride.

Want to check out this hike?

I’m looking forward to exploring the west side of RMNP even more next summer. Mt. Ida is an awesome, not crowded hike that offers a legitimate summit experience ending at an impressive 12,889 feet with views of Longs Peak, the Never Summer range and the Colorado River valley towards Grand Lake. Add it to your list of must-do RMNP hikes! Check out the hike information on the ProTrail website for Mt. Ida.


On a serious note I hiked Mt. Ida over Labor Day weekend, just a few weeks before that area of the state was struck with massive flooding. Estes Park on the eastern side of RMNP was completely isolated and the major highways leading into town were destroyed. RMNP was closed for a few days and has just reopened, though there is serious damage there as well. As someone who has loved RMNP and its surrounding mountain communities this has hit very close to home. If you want to check out ways to help the communities harmed by the recent flooding check out this link for some reputable organizations that are responding to this disaster.




Ever since I summited my first 14er back in 2010 I have been hooked on being above 14,000 feet. There is just something magical about being eye level with the clouds.

IMG_1454Mt. Sherman, my very first 14er in 2010.

Last summer I set a lofty goal of completing every 14er by age 30. There are 54 14ers, and I have currently done 22 of them. While I’d like to eventually summit all of the 14ers I think I may be revising my goal for several reasons.

IMG_3367This one time last summer I did three 14ers in one weekend. I was nuts. (Also I apparently really love my Marmot rain jacket.)

The problem with 14ers is that everyone else and their mom agrees with me. On popular front range 14ers (e.g. Greys & Torreys, Quandary, Bierstadt, etc.) there are caravans of hundreds of people hiking every summer weekend. If you arrive after 7 a.m. you are sometimes out of luck as far as finding parking! I love being in mountains to reconnect with nature and find solitude on the high peaks – sometimes 14ers do not provide this experience.

Luckily I’m pretty much done with the high traffic 14ers. I need to do Democrat, Cameron, Lincoln and Bross in the front range and just Mt. Antero, Mt. Missouri, Mt. Columbia in the Collegiates. After that it’s on to the Elk, San Juan and Sangre de Cristo ranges, which are not a day trip for Denver residents and will be much less crowded. Because of the distance and planning these peaks will require, I think my goal will be 3-4 peaks a summer. I’m not going to get all 54 peaks by age 30 but that’s okay! Why? Well you see I’ve recently fallen in love with hiking shorter peaks.

IMG_7191Summit of Mt. Irving Hale, 11,754 feet.

Because of the fixation that Coloradans (myself included!) have with 14ers the “smaller” mountains tend to go ignored. While the parking lot for Greys and Torreys is full every Saturday morning in July, neighboring peaks that are 12,000+ feet and offer the exact same views are often deserted. Graham and I hiked Mt. Yale earlier this summer, which was his first 14er ever. He’s a Colorado native and had always only hiked 12ers and 13ers for the exact reasons above. Over Labor Day weekend we were in Grand Lake for the weekend, so Graham had the chance to introduce me to the exciting world of sub-14ers.

IMG_7159Graham and Cooper starting out on the trail in the Indian Peaks Wilderness.

The Indian Peaks Wilderness borders the Boulder area along the front range, and it’s a pretty popular place for people to hike. The western side of the Indian Peaks Wilderness, located by the bustling metropolis of Granby, is probably 1/20 as popular.

indian-peaks-mapIndian Peaks overview.

Graham and I had originally intended to hike to Upper Lake, about a 10 mile hike from the Roaring Fork Trailhead. The first part of the trail was brutally steep, much like a 14er, and probably helped keep a lot of casual day hikers from attempting the hike. We had the trail completely to ourselves and saw no sign of others.

The scenery was lush and green, and we hiked alongside a creek for the first few miles. Cooper was excited about the creek, taking several swim breaks along the way. #mountainpup

IMG_7169The Pacific Northwest or Colorado?

When we reached an exposed mountainous valley at treeline I was instantly a believer in sub-14ers. We were in a beautiful mountain valley, eye level with the jagged Indian Peaks and not a soul was in sight. I was half-tempted to start running around Julie Andrews style and sing “The Hills Are Alive.”

IMG_7175The hills are alive with the sound of Cooper.

Graham and I veered off-trail at this point because we wanted to see the view from the top of a nearby peak. We found a worn trail and headed towards the peak. We were immediately rewarded with awesome views of Lake Granby.

IMG_7178View of Lake Granby.

IMG_7181Cooper summiting like a boss.

At the summit we found a trail register in a peanut butter jar. Graham and I were interested in knowing what peak we were standing on after all, and as it turned out we had found Mt. Irving Hale, an 11,754 foot peak. The trail registry dated as far back as the early 1990s, which was kind of crazy to see. Physical proof of how much less traffic Irving Hale got than a 14er.

IMG_7203Official summit at the cairn.

IMG_7207Cooper at the summit. In booties. I die.

If you noticed giant puffy clouds in the summit photo don’t worry we saw those too. After evaluating the weather at the summit we decided to just turn around from Irving Hale and not continue to our original destination of Upper Lake. We quickly got back below treeline and the weather cleared. I’m always happy to not take my chances with weather though because you never know when you’re not going to be lucky.

Once we got back to the creek we took a much needed break to soak our feet in the cold stream. The trail had been steep on the way up and back down, so it felt great to submerge my aching feet in some seriously cool water.

IMG_7213So cold but so good.

Overall my first sub-14er was an awesome experience. It offered everything I love about 14ers minus the congestion. And the best thing about sub-14ers? See below.

Peaks in Colorado:

14ers – 54

13ers – 637

12ers – 676

11ers – 468

I’ll let the numbers talk for themselves. 🙂

I’ll also let Cooper talk. Look at how happy that pup was after a sub-14er!

IMG_7216Cooper endorses sub-14ers with two paws up.