Saturday 13 September 2008

rocky mountain high, altitude sickness high

Ahh...the rockies. Our campsite was awesome with a view of the squarish Long's peak - the only '14er' (14,255 feet/4,344 m) in the park, although Colorado has heaps. Long's is the prize for the hardcore peak baggers visiting the park, apparently 10,000 people attempt it per year but only 3,000 reach the summit. The hike is only 8 miles one way, but the elevation gain is 4,855 feet (1,479 m). You either need to start at about 3am to get it done in a day before the afternoon weather closes in, or make it an overnight - em wasn't particularly keen for either so I left it for my next visit :)

The elk were in rut, we could see herds of them in the meadows below our campsite and hear the males bugling all day and night. The bugle is funny, it sounds like someone opening and closing a really squeaky door slowly.

First day we did a cool hike to Ouzel lake (10,010 feet/3,051 m), which was high enough to feel the effects of the altitude. The next day I left em at Bear Lake and climbed 2,850 feet/868 m up to Flattop (12,324 feet/3,756 m), which resulted in headaches, getting snowed on, and feeling vaguely nauseous but the views were awesome out over the mountains and down from the top of Tyndall glacier. We did lots of hikes over 5 days in the park, but these two and Mills Lake were probably the best.

On our last night it pissed down rain all night, and our tent was in a natural drainage path, which became a waterfall and small river. We made some quick flood diversion earthworks and managed to stay dry. Frickin bears meant we couldn't cook in the tent vestibule (see here for why camping in bear habitat is a pain in the arse), so we had a delicious cold dinner of corn and beans in a burrito.

The pine beetle has smashed the west side of the park, with whole hillsides of trees killed. The more visited (and interesting) east side is expected to suffer the same fate over the next few years. There are no good ways for controlling the beetle except a return to cold winters which kill the larvae - how's that for an unexpected consequence of global warming?

The rockies are also experimenting with birth control for the elk, which have no natural predators since the wolf was hunted out of the park. Their preference was to re-introduce the wolf as was done with great success in Yellowstone, but the objections were: the wolves could not be confined to the park, and they would make visitors nervous. They are expecting to get sued no matter what they choose to do!

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