Today marked our last full day in Granby, and in Colorado, and we still haven’t seen a big horn sheep. Consequently, Kay and I drove back into Rocky Mountain National Park hoping to see some wildlife, and specifically the sheep. We saw a few pronghorns between Grandby and Grand Lake, but nothing in the National Park’s large meadows. We didn’t even see any elk from the high mountain overlooks where we had seen them the past several days, just a pica and a marmot.
As a last resort we hiked The Crater Trail. The Crater Trail was so named when it was believed to be the crater of a past volcano. Subsequent studies determined that The Crater is actually a natural bowl, and its layers of volcanic rock erupted from another volcano that used to reside nearby. The hike is not long, only about one mile, but there is 730 feet of elevation gain, and you’re starting at +10,750 feet, so this one can be a lung-buster.
We took frequent breathing breaks, and enjoyed wonderful views back across the Cache la Poudre river valley, and across to the high mountain ridge where the high parts of the Trail Ridge Road can be seen along with the Alpine Visitors Center and the several high overlooks and pull outs. Once past the trailhead vicinity, we saw more birds here than at anywhere else on the trip. As we broke out of the trees at treeline, amazing views across the meadows flanking Specimen Mountain, presented themselves. Here, the trail was steep, and heavily eroded, making hiking difficult. We saw elk tracks in the dusty ground from the trailhead to the top, and old elk droppings appeared more frequent near the top.
We made it all the way up—to 11,480 feet. The ridge line overlooking The Crater did not abruptly drop off, but was steep enough that Kay warned of getting too close to the edge. Looking over the Crater to the west, the Never Summer Range appeared closer than it actually was and huge, even intimidating. To the right, Specimen Mountain goes on up (though that trail is closed all the time now). We did not see any of the big horn sheep the area protects, but saw lots of sheep trails on the mountainside.
Because of ominous clouds, thunder, and increasing winds, we did not tarry the ridge—section of the Continental Divide, but made our way down the descent. This hike was challenging for us, with a bit of “are we there yet?” and “how much higher?” but the payoff at the end is one of the best on the west side. We made the ascent of one mile with a 730-foot elevation gain in an hour with lots of stops to regain our breath, and the descent in 45 minutes. It certainly gave us a sense of accomplishment.
After the hike, we ate lunch at the Fat Cat, Trip Advisor’s number one rated restaurant in Grand Lake. Our dining experience started bad, and never improved, including both service and food!
The rest of the day was used for recovering from the long hike and packing for our return home tomorrow.