Rocky Mountain National Park is only a 20 minute drive from our campground. Due to the Covid Pandemic the park is requiring reservations to visit the park. That includes if you just want to hike the trails. Reservations have to be made days in advance and there are a limited number of them. There is a loop hole if you can wake up early. If you arrive before 6 am you do not need a reservation. I asked Victoria and Alexander what kind of hike they wanted to do. Their options were a peak, a waterfall or an alpine lake. They both agreed that a waterfall and lake will have more people so they chose a peak. They also liked the idea of hiking to higher elevations than we have in the past. Rocky Mountain National Park has many peaks that can be hiked to that have elevations over 12000ft. So we chose a hike that was 8 miles long with a peak that was 12300ft high. We woke up at 5am and were in the car by 530am. We drove through the open gate at 550am just in time. It would have been a little tough if we had gotten up early for nothing had we not beaten the 6am deadline and been turned around. We drove through the park and as we approached our turn to the trailhead that we planned to hike we saw that the road was closed. There was a detour so we followed the signs. However, the signs led us out of the park only to come back using another entrance. This normally would work just fine but this time we could not get back in because it was now after 6am. So we searched for another hike. All of the visitor centers were closed either due to covid or due to the early hour. Our phones did not have any service either. We found a large map on a wall of the park and it showed where the Continental Divide trail crossed the road. So we headed to the intersection. At the parking lot for access to the Continental Divide trail we saw a map that showed a trail that goes to Ida Mountain. So we set of for Ida Mountain not knowing how far or how high it was. The trail began climbing immediately. That would not normally be too much of an issue but here we were already at 10000ft elevation so we all felt the thin air in our lungs and the along with the burning in our legs. After .5 miles we came to a sign that said Ida Mountain was 4.5 miles away along with another sign telling us to be aware of lightning on the upper ridges. It said that if there was dark clouds in the sky consider turning back. Ashley and I looked up to the sky and saw nothing but blue sky and a few white puffy clouds. We had been experiencing thunderstorms this last week but they normally did not start until late in the afternoon. So up to Ida Mountain we went. The hike was stunning. We climbed above the tree line and had close up views of the Rocky Mountains in all directions. Soon there were multiple alpine lakes in view 1000 ft below us. We passed a small herd of mule deer that would have made a deer hunters year. Alexander and Victoria saw their first Yellow Bellied Marmot in the wild and were so delighted we watched it forage for 5 minutes just off the trail. Soon, however, there were marmots around every corner watching us as we hiked by. There were even two of them that decided we were zero threat so they made no move to leave their rock as we passed by them less than 8 feet away. As we neared the top and the final slopes of Mount Ida we came into a field of slate rock with 100’s of American Picas. These super cute little creatures had the kids smiling as they went in and out of the rocks we were hiking upon. The kids and I joked that they were encouraging us up the mountain. It was really a wonderful experience with the picas all around. Their squeaks were like a chorus of picas welcoming us to their alpine home. After reaching the top we gave our legs and lungs a much needed break as we ate some snacks. We took some pictures and headed back down. Ashley and I were conscience of the thunderstorms that had been developing late in the afternoon, so we were anxious to not be around at that time. We started down the mountain at just before noon underneath blue skies. Now keep in mind there are absolutely zero trees or bushes around, we are walking on alpine tundra. If lightning comes there is nowhere to hide. And as you can see where this is going the weather was about to take a turn for the worse, the much worse. After making our way down the slate rock slopes for about 30 minutes we all jumped at the sound of crashing thunder. We looked to our left down the mountain and saw a dark cell of clouds making its way up the valley in the direction we were walking. Seconds later a huge bolt of vertical lightning flashed just to our left. We counted the seconds until the next thunder and it was 4 seconds. Not good. We were completely exposed on the side of a alpine tundra mountain with two even more exposed tundra saddles to cross. We quickly decided to find a depression to hide in until the cell passed. We found a good safe spot about 30 meters off the trail and settled down to wait out the passing of this one cell. We pulled out our warmer clothes in anticipation of losing any heat that we had accumulated on the climb. Just as we pulled on our jackets the rain and wind began. At first just light rain, yet as the wind quickly increased so did the rain. And then the rain turned to hail. This nice rest in a depression while this ONE storm cell passed was not looking like it was going to be the case. We watched as dark clouds began to form in all directions as the temperature quickly dropped. We had light rain gear, pants and sweatshirts so we did not get too cold but the wind was increasing and there did not look to be an end in sight. We also were 3.5 miles away from the protection of the trees. I was beginning to get worried that we would get too cold to be able to move the 3.5 miles quick enough to get to safety. So after we had a 5 minute break in the thunder I told the kids to eat as much as they needed and drink as much water as they could. They were about to have the most important trail run of their lives. We explained the danger that we were in and the reason to be both afraid and at the same time focused. They were amazing. They followed direction immediately. The lightning and thunder scared them but they kept it together perfectly. We made our break knowing that we had about 3 miles of tough trailing running ahead. The rocks were now super slippery and the consequences of being on the exposed slopes too long were deadly. So after 5 miles of climbing up to nearly 13000 ft of elevation, sitting in a hailstorm for 15 minutes and with the fear of being struck by lightning we set off on a trail run like no other. We pushed through a mile to the first saddle where we took a quick break to catch our breath before we ran across the open saddle between two hilltops. Once we all were ready we bolted across the saddle and up the trail to the opposite hillside that offered at least a little more coverage. We continued running along this hillside all the way back to the protection of the trees. We were soaked, freezing cold, and totally winded and yet we never felt so alive. Victoria and Alexander handled this very stressful and frightening event like champions. After we were in the trees again we finished the remainder our 10 mile hike as if our brush with death never occurred.
Mount Ida in Rocky Mountains National Park