Here at Castle Mountain Lodge, we are incredibly lucky to have such a diverse and multi-talented staff. Our Outdoor Project Manager, Nathan Wood, is one of those amazing people. And he’s now offering outdoor photography workshops!
Nathan Wood is a passionate landscape photographer who has spent the past two years exploring Rocky Mountain National Park. You can often find Nathan in the early mornings hiking through the dark to reach a distant lake or remote peak for sunrise. Through many years of trial and error, Nathan is excited to share what he has learned and will provide tips and tricks to gain the best images possible given any situation. Nathan has over 10 years of photography experience and 5 as a professional. You can check out more of his work and the types of views you could be capturing on his website: https://www.nathanwoodphotography.com/workshops
Capture the night sky, sunrise, or gorgeous waterfalls with Nathan against the vast landscape of Rocky Mountain National Park in one of his three photography workshop options. Each private workshop starts at $149 and can be personalized to fit your needs. If you’re curious and want to learn more, feel free to contact Nathan with your questions at email@example.com
When you’re standing at Bear Lake looking west, Hallett Peak is the prominent Mountain on the south side (left) of Tyndall Gorge. It’s been the subject of millions of photos, and serves as an iconic backdrop to how many perceive and remember Rocky Mountain National Park. When I first moved here in 2001 it grabbed my attention immediately and I desperately wanted to stand on the summit. A couple of months of hiking later I decided to make the trek to its 12,713 foot summit. I remember that day vividly and it’s still one of my most memorable days in the hills.
Over the past 18 years, I’ve climbed Hallett in every season, and try to do it at least once a year. We used to have a rule that if you are on Flattop Mountain, for any reason, you have to pop over and up to Hallett (only a half mile and 400 vertical feet away). So I’ve climbed it when crossing to grand lake, crossing back, etc… I’ve climbed it twice in one day. I did it early in the morning and then when my good friend got back in to town and wanted to go for a hike, I was game. But didn’t know that he wanted to do Hallett, so up I went again that evening. I think I’ve been up there all hours of the day, night, morning, evening. I’ve run it from my house in Estes covering 35 miles round trip in about 7 hours. Needless to say, Hallett holds a special place in my heart and I’ll always be drawn to it’s summit, one of my favorite in RMNP.
So, two years ago I counted up all the times I could remember climbing Hallett and came up with 48 times that I could confirm, with probably 6ish more that were hazy on the details so didn’t officially count those. I’ve kept old climbing/hiking journals, Garmin Data from my old running watch and Strava Data for my newer runs. So 48. Which was really close to a significant milestone. 50! (which was also my number when I played football for the fighting Lake Travis Cavaliers back in the day) A few days later, I got 49 out of the way, then on July 4, 2017 I hammered out #50 from my house just south of Estes. It took 7 hours and 25 minutes and covered 36.26 miles. A worthy way to get my fiftieth under my belt.
I haven’t climbed it as often over the past two years since that day, but got a couple more in for good measure. The last time I was up there was June 5th of last year, a couple of weeks before I toed the line at the Bighorn 100 and used it as my last ‘bigger’ run before that race. Then, days after finishing bighorn we acquired Castle Mountain Lodge and, as you could imagine, time was no longer a luxury and I let my training and hiking/running fall on the back burner a bit.
Fast forward to now. 15 lbs heavier, just coming off a calf injury from early in the summer when I bumped my running miles up too fast, and in serious need of some high country outings. Calf is perfect, endurance not so much. But, as those of you who know me can attest to, I can be a bit determined and stubborn. A trait that many ultra runners share. I mean, when you’re hurting at mile 60 and you have another 40 to go, you have to be either stubborn or stupid. I don’t *think* I’m stupid, so it has to be stubbornness, right?
I’m slowly inching the miles up paying careful attention to how the left calf/achilles is feeling and felt that I was ready for a decent little push up Hallett. I would take it slow and just enjoy being out while hopefully being able to hobby jog back down from the summit.
Thursday was a quiet day at both properties so I took the opportunity to hit the trail. I dropped the girls off at school and crossed my fingers that I could find parking at Bear Lake. It wasn’t meant to be so I parked at the Bierstadt Lot and shuttled up to Bear Lake hitting the trail at exactly 9:11am. At first I felt great, settling into a nice hiking pace clipping the first mile along in a kiss over 16 minutes. Then the heart rate started to climb so I backed off a bit just enjoying an average hiking pace of around 3 miles an hour. While not my typical speed and stamina I was trying to be kind to myself and was reminded that I am just getting my mountain legs back under me.
These early miles ticked by uneventfully. Once one gets to tree line is always where this hike gets amazing. Every. Single. Time. Sure enough, as the trees thinned out a family of Ptarmigan greeted me and a few minutes later I stopped to watch a Pika (PIE – kuh) gather some summer grasses for its winter den. As you turn due west after crossing Flattop’s eastern flank a marmot scurried by. The tundra grasses are experiencing their autumn at the moment with reds, oranges, and yellows exploding everywhere beneath your feet. Truly an amazing place.
The trail steepens right through there as you near the switchback below the hitch rack. This is where I could tell my absence from the high country was catching up to me. I started noticing the breeze. The sweat dripping into my eyes was making me grumpy. And my pace slowed to a crawl. I gave myself about a minute to have a little pity party then reminded myself how lucky I was to have two legs that work, the opportunity to take a day off at the drop of a hat and climb one of my favorite mountains on earth. Shut up Michael… quit whining.
I picked up the pace even through my heavy legs protests, and kept chugging on up hill. Before too long I was cresting the summit of Flattop Mountain in about 1:25. Not too bad, considering. I hopped across the tundra en route to the final summit push for Hallett and grunted up over the steep boulder strewn slope. I forget how daunting it looks as you start up, but soon remembered that it goes very quickly if you just keep moving along. I think it took about 10 minutes to scale the summit cone in a total time of 1:43. Far from my fastest but felt pretty good about the effort.
And just like that I stood on top of Hallett for the 53rd time (at least). I sat behind a wind break and soaked in the views for a minute and then criss crossed the summit to my favorite little spots. I spent about 10 minutes up there before picking my way back down the summit cone. I crossed behind Tyndall Glacier and was soon back on the main Flattop Trail. I didn’t plan to run hard down the trail, and really didn’t. With the heavy legs I thought I was running sub 7 pace a couple of times only to look at my watch and see I was doing mid 9’s. But I still managed to get back down the 5 miles of trail from Hallett’s summit in about 55 minutes for a roundtrip time of 3:02. I felt good about that and feel like I was able to move pretty well for being out of practice. It was actually my 2nd fastest time on the descent!
But dang, I am not used to that kind of effort at the moment and I was wiped out! Legs were jelly, throat hurt from breathing so hard, and my heart rate was through the roof. Not that that was blazing fast or anything. I’ve done it faster taking it way easier when I was in better shape, but it did feel ‘good’ to push a bit, relatively. As I sit here the next day writing this, my hips are sore, my throat is sore, my eyes hurt, and I’m kind of a wreck! I bailed out on my normal Friday morning run with the Estes Valley Trail Runners and will take today off and hopefully get a little jog in tomorrow. I may go up Mt. Chapin as I’ll drop of one of my good friends, Taylor Bodin, at the Chapin Pass Trail Head in the wee hours tomorrow as he goes for the FKT (Fastest Known Time) on the Mummy Kill route (Chapin, Chiquita, Ypsilon, Fairchild, Hagues, and Mummy Mountains).
Another perfect day up on Hallett Peak. If you haven’t done this hike, I suggest you put it high on your list. And if you’re thinking of doing Flattop, please just hop over to Hallett. It’s more than worth the little bit of extra effort to get there.
As the days get longer and the sun warms up our mountain landscape we all eagerly await the snow to disappear and the hiking trails to open up without the need for traction or floatation. One of the first high places to melt out is always the Twin Sisters trail that leads to the summit of Twin Sisters Mountain which stands at a respectable 11,427 feet, so this mountain always seems to get a lot of early season traffic.
The trail is easy to follow and very well maintained. Though the round trip is now only 6.6 miles, more on that later, it’s relatively steep with the total elevation gain hitting 2,363 feet.
When I got up on the morning of June 10th, the thermometer ready a chilly 29 degrees F. I was a bit surprised, but the sun was out so I figured it would warm up quickly. I threw an extra layer on and drove up to the trail head and quickly hit the trail. At five to seven there were just three other cars at the trail head. This trail doesn’t ease you into anything and starts off at a pretty steep grade right away. For the most part, the trail is pretty uneventful, rising up through dense forest with the exception of a spot or two with some views over the Tahosa Valley below. At about one and a quarter mile up you reach the site of the huge landslide that happened during the flood event of September, 2013. It’s a pretty impressive sight and it wiped our quite a bit of the trail. Hikers made social trail of sorts in the following year and, only in the past year, the park service reestablished a trail through the area. It’s much shorter and much steeper than the old trail, hence the ‘now only 6.6 miles’ comment above. I think it shaved off a quarter of a mile, or a bit more, on the one-way distance.
Before too long you near tree line and wind through some stunning outcroppings with magnificent views to the north overlooking Estes Park and some of the northern mountains in the National Park (Mummy Range). Tree line ends abruptly and the views of the forthcoming summit push are always reason to stop and snap a quick photo.
This stretch always goes by quick, but seems to take longer than you’d expect when you first set eyes on it. But soon you’ll pop out on the little summit plateau with two main ‘summits’ before you. Most people head up the slightly closer, and lower, summit on your right while the true summit is the big block on your left. Pick your way across tundra (look for a variety of tundra flowers on this stretch) and a short, steep boulder field which will pop you out right on the summit. Turn to your right (west) and try not to let your jaw hit the rocky summit as the views are absurd!
Take your time up there, weather permitting, and make you way back down the way you came.
Hike Info: Distance: 6.6 Miles Elevation Gain: 2,363 Feet Summit Elevation: 11,427 Feet Trail Head Elevation: 9,206 Feet