Monday, October 27, 2014


Because last weekend's 34 mile near-death experience (kidding... kind of) wasn't enough, we had to get in another near-deather before the mountains are closed for the winter. In the summer of 2009 we did a 4 day backpacking trip in RMNP and it was the most beautiful trip we had ever been on. We parked at the North Inlet TH and headed up that trail. The loop goes up to Flattop Mountain and comes down the Tonahutu Creek Trail through various meadows. We thought the loop was roughly 23 miles so we decided to run the whole thing this last Sunday.

Sunrise as we come down from Berthoud Pass

Early morning rays at Granby

We parked at the North Inlet TH again and put our layers on. It was a cold morning and we knew there would be 1-2 foot snowdrifts above treeline. What we weren't prepared for was the wind. We quickly warmed up on the climb up the North Inlet Trail and we filtered water at the July campsite just below treeline. We could hear the wind pushing through the tops of the trees and decided to put our shells on just after treeline.

I had a hard time trying to keep up with this guy

Views from the N. Inlet Trail

July backcountry site just before treeline 

Starting to feel those ferocious winds

The bighorn sheep don't seem to mind the cold

They've got pretty good camouflage

Last picture before we hit the rough stuff

I didn't know what I was about to get myself into

As we got nearer to Flattop Mountain, the drifts got higher and the wind got fiercer. We were getting dangerously cold and I started to lose feeling in my toes and fingers. We had forgotten how many miles of this loop were above treeline, but we had figured we would be moving fast enough to stay warm. The crappy, icy snow slowed us down and we started to get really worried. I never thought we were going to die but there was zero margin for error. It was too cold to stop to eat or drink and I was starting to fall behind. Cory literally started pushing me from behind in some places just to keep me moving. I twisted my ankle pretty badly in the snow but it was too cold to feel the pain at that point.

Cory thought this was not the time to be taking a picture

Thankful to be alive

Never have trees looked so welcoming

When we finally got to tree line we had to take a moment to emotionally collect ourselves. There was a lot of hugging and proclaiming of "I'm glad we're alive!" The Tonahutu Creek Trail is beautiful and much more gradual of a descent than N. Inlet, but my ankle was killing me and we still had a lot of miles left. The stress of dealing with the snow and wind on the ridge had taken a lot out of us. We decided to just take it slow and enjoy the scenery.

Tonahutu Meadows was our favorite camp site during our backpacking trip in 2009. I remember sitting on a big rock with Cory while cooking pancakes for our group. As we enjoyed the early morning sun, two runners came blazing down the trail. At that point neither of us had even done a marathon and so we were pretty impressed by this trail running couple and talked about one day being able to run the loop. To this day we still can't figure out where they came from. It was only 6am and they were running down the trail back towards the Tonahutu TH with hardly any gear. They would have had to start the trail in the night! I guess it will always be a mystery. Sadly, the pine forest across the meadow was badly burned during a fire in 2013 as you can see in the above pictures.

We stopped again to filter some more water

Granite Falls

Big Meadows

By the time we hit Big Meadows we were wiped out. 5 years ago at this spot Cory told me his master plan for dating me. I pretty much knew at that moment that he wanted to marry me. We had a few moments of nostalgia, but we were ready to be done with this run. We had forgotten how long it was from Big Meadow back to the trailhead. The whole loop ended up being 26.4 miles and it took us almost 8 hours. We could have gone a lot faster but we weren't pushing the pace at all.
We spent a total of 40 minutes stopped. After struggling so much on the ridge, we were pretty content to coast on the way back.

This loop is gorgeous and makes for some great high altitude training!

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