Sharon is using her vacation days to murder our children. I am certain of this.
Back in May, she unfolded a map across our dining room table, mindless of the syrup drops and those tiny, dried end-bits of steamed broccoli that somehow escape from our children's dinner plates like green photons from an alien sun.
"What is this?" I asked.
"A summer idea," she said. "To murder our children," she did not say, but it was understood.
The map was of the Rocky Mountains, specifically a four-day, 27-mile backpacking loop that began and ended at the North Inlet trailhead and crossed the continental divide somewhere in between.
"You're insane," I said.
"Hear me out," she said, then proceeded to outline her idea to fly to Colorado and take our three girls, ages 10, 10, and 15, over the Rocky Mountains with nothing other than the things we could carry on our backs. She summed it all up with, "It'll be [a] fun [way to murder our children]!"
"There's just one thing..." she added, pointing to the center of the map. "You see this section? From tree line to tree line?"
"If a thunderstorm comes while we're in that section, we'll die."
"How often do thunderstorms come to that section?"
"Usually every afternoon."
"I see. And how long is that section?"
"Seven miles," she said, as casually as you or I might say seven blocks.
"Yep. But half of that is down the mountain!"
"And the other half?"
"Up the mountain."
I looked at her to see if she was serious. She was. So I did the only thing I could. I agreed to help my wife murder our children with the Rocky Mountains.
North Inlet Creek
The first part of the trail was not particularly murderous. The five of us and my brother-in-law David spent the night a few miles from the North Inlet trailhead at Summerland Park, where everybody got a quick lesson in burying their own poop and the not-exactly-clear color of filtered stream water.
From Summerland, it was eight miles to our next campsite, most of it flat until the very end when the trail climbed over 2,000 feet to the July campsite, just shy of the treeline. This was nobody's favorite part, though the views did not suck.
For whatever reason, most of you will never be hiking this trail. Maybe you love your children, or your feet, or you know how to say no to your wife when she comes up with stupid ideas, but for those of you who follow my our footsteps and camp at July, halfway up Flattop Mountain, know this: Don't stop at the first campsite. Or the second. You will think I'm crazy because you've hiked so much already, but trust me and keep going to the third campsite. It's easily the prettiest site I've ever pitched a tent:
The view from my tent vestibule. To the girls' delight, the rocks were swarming with pikas.
And if you're lucky, a visitor might wander through your campsite, too.
Victoria saw it first. She screamed MOOOOOOOOOOOOSE! It's not a moose.
Day Three was mountain climbing day. Over the top day.
This is probably as good a time as any to say that three weeks before this trip Kathryn broke her pinky toe and, exactly 10 days before we set out from the trailhead, Sharon was having her right knee aspirated after a piece of her arthritic bone broke off and caused it to swell to the size of a cantaloupe.
Either one of those things would have been reason enough for me to call off the trip, but nothing stops my wife when she has a plan.
We saw exactly two people as we crossed Flattop Mountain, which was perfect for a murder, but as slow as we were, the clouds never gathered. The afternoon thunderstorm never formed. We courted the lightning and it politely demurred. At one point, I asked Sharon if she'd like me to lift up the smaller of the twins to bring her a little closer to the sky, but she just shook her head and trudged on, a broken woman.
She walked down the mountain in silence. Even the discovery of a pit toilet along the trail wasn't enough to raise her spirits.
We camped that night at Tonahutu Meadows.
If the Lord of Light won't take you, I might as well do your hair.
Day Four was a blur. Another morning of oatmeal and instant coffee, then nine miles of hiking down the Tonahutu trail to the car listening to my stomach growl rather than eating the god-awful things my kids called "taquitos" but were really creamy peanut butter rolled inside flour tortillas. Finding backpacking food that all generations could agree upon was not the easiest task in the world. I'm pretty much done with peanut butter for the next year, and my girls still haven't yet developed a taste for a dinner of dehydrated whisky crystals.
- Total distance: 27 miles (43.5 km)
- Starting elevation: 8,540 ft (2,600 m)
- Highest elevation: 12,324 ft (3,756 m)
- Total elevation gain: 3,784 ft (1,156 m)
- It gets cold at night and above the treeline. Pack jackets, gloves, and hats. If you have anemic 40 degree sleeping bags, I recommend thermal underwear.
- The twins carried just their basics: Sleeping bags, a ridge rest, their thermals, hat & gloves, and a pair of flip flops for camp shoes. Total pack weight just under 15 lbs.
- Kathryn's pack came in just under 20 lbs.
- All food and scented products need to be stored in bear-proof canisters while in the backcountry of Rocky Mountain National Park. We rented two expedition-sized carbon fiber ones from Wild Ideas. They were HUGE and we filled them. Each weighed approx 18 lbs full.
- For water filtration, we used a Platypus 4L GravityWorks, which was excellent and easily able to keep up with the needs of six people. Water was plentiful and available everywhere except between treelines on Flattop.
- All our campsites were stove-only (we used a Snow Peak GigaPower, and it handled the wind and elevation wonderfully), so without a campfire to sing around, it was paramount to bring something to entertain the kids in the evenings while the adults snorted lines of whisky crystals. Lightweight travel games/cards worked great.