Hallet Peak over Bear Lake at Sunrise
If you plan on visiting Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado and you like exhilarating, scenic day hikes above the tree line, consider hiking to the summit of Hallet Peak (12, 713 ft). You can reach the summit on a non technical trail that provides plenty of gorgeous views but very little exposure to heights. This article gives you a taste of what to expect on this scenic hike.
Starting the Hike
To access the trail head, go to the Bear Lake parking lot (See the map at the end of this article). If you start early, which you should to avoid getting caught on the summit during afternoon lightning storms, you will have no problem finding a parking spot. I departed from Bear Lake just after sunrise on a chilly August morning. The trail head was deserted at this hour, although there were a few other parked cars, evidence that a few early birds were ahead of me. I dressed in layers and soon began to soak through them as I ascended steadily through the thick, still forest. About an hour into my hike, on the curve of a switch back, I came across a mature deer, less than 20 feet away. He was immobile at first, but I spooked him when opening my camera.
I was on the trail for almost two hours before seeing a person, a hiker coming down from the summit who praised the sunrise. At this point, I regretted not packing a heavier jacket. I was counting on the sky clearing by now, but the clouds persisted and now that I was above the tree line, the winds were howling. I found a pair of sweat pants in my backpack and stuffed them inside my jacket to help insulate against the wind.
Above the Tree Line
At least the views were better above the tree line. At one point, I could look almost straight down to Emerald Lake, a popular family hiking spot and lunch spot. Being somewhat claustrophobic, I dislike hiking in dense forests for too long, so the tree line is always a welcome sight, despite the chill. As in most hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park, hiking above the tree line provides great views of surrounding ranges and valleys. Depending on the time of year, snow fields blanket the tundra. Even in August, I passed several snow fields as I approached Flattop Mountain on the way to Hallett Peak.
Looking Down to Emerald Lake
As I scanned the ridges, I could see a group of elk grazing beyond the snow fields. At this point, I also saw many marmots darting across the trail and one white-tailed ptarmigan. Luckily there are some large boulders along the trail, so I used one for a wind break while I had a snack.
Group of Elk Below Flattop Mountain
Reaching Flattop Mountain
When I reached Flattop Mountain, the wind had died down and the clouds had completely cleared. Flattop mountain is a sprawling expanse of tundra, speckled with medium-sized boulders and a series of cairns that loosely define the trail. Due to rains from the day before, many of the flat rock surfaces contained puddles that reflected the deep blue sky. I felt good, especially since the trail had leveled off and I was walking without much effort.
Approaching Tyndall Glacier
After I traversed my way across the broad expanse of Flattop mountain, and then along the ridge between Flattop and Hallet Peak, I approached the top of Tyndall Glacier. I could see that a few fearless souls had sledded down the glacier, as shown by their winding path in the snow. The rest of their journey must have been tedious, as a huge rock field extends down the valley starting where the glacier stops. Beyond the rock fields is Emerald Lake.
Top of Tyndall Glacier
Scrambling to Hallet Peak
From the top of the glacier, I looked up to my right to see Hallet Peak. There was no obvious route to the top, so I began picking my way up the talus, careful not to twist an ankle while hopping between boulders. The walk down on a sprained ankle was not how I wanted to remember that day. The route became a little steeper as I approached the summit, but I kept my vertigo in check. Just when the heights were starting to make me uncomfortable, I realized that I couldn't go any higher. After about 3 hours, I had reached the summit. Surprisingly, there was no wind. And no noise. It was so quiet, I could hear only my heartbeat. I ate lunch and took in the 360 degree views.
Looking Down From Hallet Peak
After lunch I headed back down. I took my time on the way down and looked for photo opportunities. The partly cloudy sky has created interesting, constantly changing shadows on the mountains and snow fields. I passed many people who were ascending on my way down. They were short of breath and asked me how much longer to the summit.
I was pleasantly exhausted when I finally reached the trail head. The temperature was 40 degrees warmer than when I had started in the morning. The 10.5 mile hike took about 6 hours and included 3,300 ft in elevation change. The feeling of contentment when you finish a difficult hike is a great feeling, especially when it includes such incredible scenery. Now, I just need to convince my family to do this hike with me next year.
Rocky Mountain National Park
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