Trailhead: Longs Peak Trailhead
Starting Elevation: 9,430
Ending Elevation: 11,700
Total Gain: 2,800
Mileage: 8.75 miles
My brother came to visit while I wrapped up my Colorado adventure, so we had the whole sibling crew for a hiking excursion! An area un-ventured but still on my list was Rocky Mountain National Park, so we headed to Estes Park for a drive, camp, and hike on my last weekend.
We decided on Chasm Lake, a hike with great reviews and known for its stunning placement right below the crags of Longs Peak, one of the tougher 14ers in Colorado. Rocky Mountain National Park and Longs Peak are only about an hour and a half drive from Denver, and the peak fills an iconic location on Denver’s western skyline as one of the most prominent peaks.
Most hikers attempting Longs arrive at the trailhead by 2 am…I’m not kidding. One must really want it to tackle Longs since it’s a 15-mile hike with some very hairy spots on sheer cliffs and boulder fields and false summits. Longs is very popular though because it is a challenge, even for some of the more experienced climbers (and even if you’ve done it, you can always beat your time and try to set a record!). I can definitely understand wanting to complete a task for the feelings of fulfillment and badassery that inevitably come along with the pain, but on my last outing I wanted something a little more peaceful, plus I wasn’t sure my legs had another 14er in them!
To reach Chasm Lake we set off on the same trail as one would take to Longs, but cut left before the climb got too wild. The colors were starting to change, with bright yellow patches of aspen and fiery underbrush dotting the often sparse mountainsides. The climb was again steady, but I tried to enjoy it since it would be my last for a while.
Since both Longs and Chasm Lake are very popular, we came upon two mountain privies, something I have never run into on all my hikes. Technically, it is just a pit toilet in an idyllic locale with very luxurious pallet sides which allow for an airy experience and a great view when standing.
Even though I had a good laugh, the privies are very practical since I’ve read a lot about increased trail use by people who aren’t always knowledgeable about what “leave no trace” means. I definitely saw enough toilet paper along other trails to leave me skeptical of others’ hiking etiquette. Come on people – things move slowly at alpine, especially decomposition!
After the privies, the views started in earnest, first with a small lower lake and then great views of the crag of Longs Peak. Massive rock faces became bigger and more imposing the higher we hiked, eventually topping out over a nice scramble beside a waterfall flowing from the upper lake.
Chasm Lake is aptly named since it sits at the base of Longs, in a depression dug by giants. It’s as if the masses of rock falling from Longs turned to water as they settled. Snow still lingered in the deeper crevasses of the rock cirque and new snow dusted the higher crags, creating an impressive, cold vista that would look great on a Coors can.
The wind and thin air pushed us to keep moving, so we readied ourselves for the descent, a bittersweet contemplation for me since I knew I’d not only be leaving Colorado behind but also my great hiking buddies. My next adventures will be quieter, more solitary, more contemplative with less comradery and support. I look forward to the time alone for I’m needing some soul searching, but I know loneliness will creep in and I will long for these group hikes.
After scrambling down the tricky part from the upper lake and navigating across the water, the trail opened up and we hit it. I ran my best descent yet, with strong legs and sure feet that wanted to fly. I don’t always love running down, but that day it felt liberating to jump over the rocks in my path and navigate through the turns at breakneck speed. I often worry about a misstep or fall leading to an injury that would put me out for a while, but I put most of my fear in the back of my mind and simply enjoyed the ride.
I realized my body is sure and competent and resilient when I do misstep. An ankle was tweaked here and there, but the pain only lasted a while since I didn’t let it overtake my mind. Colorado has taught me many things, but one of the most valuable has been finding both my limitations and my strengths. I’ve had some great experiences while here, but they’ve also been tempered by times that were tough, from climbing that first 14er to dealing with the unexpected financial strain of a new pickup transmission. My experiences have illuminated how I deal with challenges of various origins and helped me gain valuable insight into the trajectory of my emotions when stressed.
That emotional trajectory is somewhat like running down a mountain: scary at first with rocks everywhere to catch a toe and send me sprawling, but in the end definitely surmountable and even exhilarating when defied.
“Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves.” – John Muir
To Colorado and everyone in it who made my trip one for the books ~ THANK YOU!!