In 2013, my father and I attempted to hike to Flattop Mountain within the Rocky Mountain National Park. While it was a beautiful and enjoyable hike, a sudden storm engulfed the top as we approached causing us to abort the pursuit due to the risk of lightning strike.
This year, we set a goal to return and complete our original plan and make it to the top.
The hike started with a steady climb from Bear Lake up to the surrounding ridge and a steady ascent along the ridgeline.
As we climbed, we heard the unusual sound of a helicopter overhead. This was unusual because air traffic is generally not allowed within the national park at such a low altitude. The only previous flight activity I’ve witnessed is for wildland firefighting, but no active fires had been reported in the area.
I carry a search and rescue radio with me when I hike and had programmed it to the Rocky Mountain National Park frequencies in case I encounter an emergency and need to summon assistance. Scanning the relevant frequencies, we determined the aircraft was a medevac helicopter assisting park rangers with a rescue of someone several valleys over from our present location. We continued hiking, accompanied by the intermittent radio traffic of the successful patient evacuation.
As we ascended along the ridge, the vegetation began to change to smaller and denser varieties. Looking down through periodic clearings revealed the views afforded by our increasing altitude.
Once above 11,000 feet, larger trees become scarce and smaller ground cover start to give way to the rocky soil below.
Many of the trees that remain are formed into what is known as flag trees. The one-sided prominence of branch growth is due to the strength and consistent force of the wind.
Affixed to a rock along the trail is a sign that simply reads Mountains Don’t Care. This sentiment reiterates the caution that must be used at higher altitudes and the reason we discontinued our first ascent even with the summit in sight.
With the weather this time in our favor, we continued towards the top. The beauty of nature can be found in both the grandest and the smallest scale.
With the final leg of our ascent, Hallett Peak is visible to the South while the rounded summit of Flattop abuts the sky’s horizon.
At the top, the signpost pointing down to adjoining trails in all directions marks the commonly-accepted, if not scientifically-verified summit.
Wandering around on the high plateau and observing the mountains and valleys below gives one the feeling of surveying the vast kingdom of this familiar but foreign land.
Shortly after starting our descent, we encounter a pika feasting on the vegetation growing among the rocks. This is the same animal whose tracks I found in the snow on the way to Mount Chapin.
As if a reminder of the unpredictability of mountain weather, we glance to the East to see a sudden cloudburst appear, drenching the neighboring peaks.
Further down the mountain, a switchback looks down onto Emerald Lake, 1,200 feet below.
As we reentered the tree cover, the prominent top of Longs Peak dominated the distant skyline directly ahead. Longs is the highest point within the national park and the Northernmost summit above 14,000 feet in the Rocky Mountains.
Returning to the lushness of the forest, we encounter a pair of blue grouse making their way through the green vegetation.
Near the end of the trail, a grove of aspen quaking among boulders and fir trees make a ideal fixed-perspective video subject.
With the conclusion of the Flattop hike on the last day of my trip, the goal started three years prior was now accomplished.