Make no mistake: we are based in the Upper Great Lakes region and that is truly where we prefer to remain. There is enough adventure in this region to keep most very very busy. However, once in a while we do like to step a little out of our sphere to experience new things.
The latest opportunity came about when I found out that a good friend from my undergraduate days invited us to his wedding in Grand Lake, CO. Grand Lake borders the southwest corner of Rocky Mountain National Park. It’s a quaint town of roughly 450 year round residents. In my limited experience it’s a pretty standard mountain town and I couldn’t help but feel like some sort of hijinks of shenanigan was around every corner. This of course is due to the fact that I have seen way too many 80/90’s ski movies. Unfortunately none of those fabled scenarios presented itself to us; there were no mega developer ding dongs trying to ruin a local spot or heinous villain with a comically ridiculous scheme taking place the day of the big race; maybe next time.
Even with the lack of mischief the trip was poised to offer up a great first experience in the mountains. We had several goals in mind while planning our trip out west:
- Hike a mountain.
- Fly fish a mountain stream.
- See wildlife.
More on the latter two in future posts.
Suffice it to say, we had our pick of mountains to choose from. Within a short drive of our lodging (Spirit Lake Lodge) there were mountains of every shape and size. Living at 633 ft above sea level we opted for a relatively tame hike of Shadow Mountain.
Shadow Mountain’s fire tower sits 1635 feet above Grand Lake.
Shadow Mountain is accessed via the East Shore Trailhead. The East Shore Trailhead is very easy to find from downtown Grand Lake; take Jericho across the bridge and you can’t miss it. The East Shore Trail is part of the Arapaho National Forest. Just under a mile into the hike we crossed over into Rocky Mountain National Park. Rocky Mountain National Park has always been on my short list and after dipping our toes into that pool on this trip we will surely be back.
We took a left at the first fork in the trail and immediately started our climb. I have read other posts about the lack of decent views on the way up but that’s clearly not true: (sometimes having your eyes open isn’t enough to see things)
We were treated to these views at nearly every turn on the way up the roughly 3.5 mile trail. Little gems like these really rounded out this hike. Coming from the almost boreal forest of the Upper Great Lakes region I was somewhat taken aback at how barren the mountainside was. I’m not quite sure what I expected, but I couldn’t help but feel like this particular mountain was dead. This didn’t affect my enjoyment of the hike but it was on my mind the whole way up.
The hike up was unlike anything that we have ever done before. The elevation is a serious challenge. It wasn’t enough to make the hike impossible, but it was definitely something to get used to. In hindsight, heading out without t0tally acclimating to the altitude was probably not the best idea but we had limited time.
At the top the views of Shadow Mountain Lake and Grand Lake were breathtaking. We had a snack and continued to drink lots of water while enjoying the surrounding landscape.
All things considered this point-to-point hike (including snacks and photo op at the top) took us around 3.5 hours at a moderate pace. Doing it midweek meant that we had the whole mountain to ourselves. Shadow Mountain was the perfect starter-“mountain” for us. It was close to our lodging; hike-able without any climbing knowledge or equipment, and rewarded us with great views. We will be coming back to the mountains but next time we will be going higher.