This last weekend, I returned to Rocky Mountain National Park once again to hike to the summit of Mount Ida. Starting at Milner Pass Trailhead, the path quickly climbs above treeline before disappearing in the alpine tundra and rock fields leading to the summit. It proved to be a beautiful hike, and perhaps my favorite that I’ve completed within this park.
Before continuing about Mt Ida: the weekend before, I took a significantly lighter stroll to Lulu City on the Colorado River Trail. I discuss this, with pictures, at the end of this post.
I woke up at about 6:30am Saturday morning and ended up arriving at the trailhead at Milner Pass right around 7:30am. Unfortunately, the main parking lot was already full of people arriving even earlier than I had, and the closest turnouts otherwise were already starting to fill up as well. Nonetheless, I chose one, prepared my pack and set up the road to the trail.
The trail starts well above 10,000ft altitude. A short stint alongside La Poudre Lake is a pleasant start to the hike, but it then quickly goes steep, making a quick climb above the treeline into the alpine tundra that makes up most of the hike.
In the alpine environment, the hike feels as though it levels out a little, but it keeps a steady climb further and further up, following the Continental Divide nearly the entire way. Awesome views of the Never Summer Mountains remain present the entirety of the hike above treeline, and views down glacial gorges ripe with a variety of lakes and remaining snowfields down the opposite side.
Several miles into the hike, the trail disappears into a large rock field. It starts off plenty easy to traverse, but a little bit of route finding is required. I thoroughly enjoyed climbing around, watching the marmots and pikas wandering the fields. In this area, I also spotted a fairly large wolf wandering the tundra; clearly aware of humans walking nearby, it moved quickly out of sight, although being an impressive sight nonetheless. Where there was grass among the rocks, an impressive collection of wildflowers dusted extra colors across the bright green of the tundra. As tiring as the climb and high altitude was, the experience of the hike was wonderfully pleasant and breathtaking.
After more than the 4 miles posted at the trailhead, I arrived at the summit. Basically just a particularly large pile of boulders, several other hikers arrived to eat lunch as the marmots tried to sneak in and steal any scrap they could find. The 360 degree views from the summit are a wonderful view across the Colorado Rockies.
The way back was a quick and easy, or so I thought. Use trails seemed to easily guide me back down the mountain from the summit, including the occasional cairn to try and lead the proper direction.
I suddenly stopped after hiking for a while along use trails and following cairns, realizing that this looked very different than the way that I had gone up the mountain, and the use trails and cairns suddenly disappeared in open tundra and rock field. Looking back up, I noticed several hikers headed up the mountain, hundreds of feet above me on a totally different path. Nowhere else to go, I just beelined across the tundra and rocks to find the trail again. This happened once more, but at least that time, a clear use trail and cairns led me through back to where the true trail existed once again.
I ended back at the car in the early afternoon, wonderfully giving me some time to make a stop for some food and beer before going on to relax in the area for the rest of the weekend!
On the elevation chart below, it is worth noting that I didn’t properly calibrate my altimeter, so the measurements are somewhat wrong. But it provides a good enough deal to provide some stats. At 10.9 miles and 3769ft of elevation gain, it was a pretty tough hike. But a pretty great one at it!
The weekend before hiking up Mt Ida, I was still wanting to recover from my hike to Lake Nokoni the weekend before that. I decided to go on a trip that the NPS rates as “moderate”, to Lulu City, using this as an active form of resting for the weekend.
I actually started this hike just after noon, and while following the easy to follow trail, I had some rain fall on me as thunder boomed overhead. Nonetheless, it was still a pleasant hike, following the early, shallow Colorado River to an old mining camp. It was a pretty easy hike on my standards, but it was also quite a pleasant one.
On the way back, I was forced to wait out an elk hanging out on the trail. I yelled at it a couple of times, and it barely did more than look up at me once. He just didn’t seem to care about me one way or another! Pretty cool experience overall.
Total was just 8.6 miles with about 1725ft of elevation gain. A fairly easy one for me!