Hallett Peak – Rocky Mountain National Park
Date: August 18, 2017
Elevation Gain: 3,423 ft
Start Time: 5:17 am
Duration: 6:40 hours
The trailhead to Hallett Peak is at the Bear Lake parking area. We got a jump on things so that we could avoid the crowds as usual but also to enjoy a sunrise that we seemed to be just missing every morning. The smoke from the forest fires out west had started to creep more and more into the lower elevations through the course of the week which really enhanced the colors. We always arrived at the trailheads while it was still dark but each morning we were in thick trees during sunrise. This proved to be the case again this morning because there was about two and a half miles of trees and despite speed walking much of it the sun rose on us again while we were in the trees.
While it would have been nice to have a full view, streams of red light, as if they were laser beams, appeared in places along the trail. We had never seen anything like it before and it gave the forest an almost mystical feeling. This laser beam period probably only lasted about five minutes or so. Of course, ten minutes later we broke through the treeline just as the sun crested the horizon leaving the colored light show behind us. It did feel nice having the sun on us again.
The trail lead over to the edge of the canyon to our south giving us a view down to Dream Lake where we stood two days before. Shadows dominated the view below us masking the details of a very beautiful lake, however the morning light revealed Hallett Peak for the first time for us which stood prominently at the end of the dimly lit canyon.
As the trail traversed back over to the north we could now make out the Fern Lake trail we had hiked the previous day. One very long switchback later we again found ourselves looking down into the canyon to the south with a view of Emerald Lake this time. The trail then headed northwest taking us around the right side of the ridge we were on. The landscape was fairly barren now with views to the north and we had a steady cold breeze in our face. We could hear the pika which we would occasionally see darting through the boulders.
The trail eventually made it back to the edge of the canyon to the south with a straight-on view of Hallett peak with Tyndall Glacier below it. We then headed back northwest toward Flattop. At about the 4.25 mile mark we reached the junction where we left the main trail to head south towards Hallett Peak. There was only a faint trail which would reveal itself occasionally but it was relatively easy hiking along this flat area. We could see Hallett in front of us so there wasn’t much of a mystery where we needed to go. We naturally were lured over to the cliffs above Tyndall Glacier and were soon looking straight down Emerald Lake Canyon although no lake was visible.
Once we reached the base of Hallett Peak from the east I thought that it was going to be route finding to the top but there was a trail most of the way. It became increasingly steep as we ascended up the very rocky hill. We maintained a reasonable pace and just kept grinding away at it and before we knew it we could see a large cairn at the top. There was one man already up there when we arrived who shrugged off our salutations because we were obviously disturbing his perfect morning. We always love being by ourselves at our final hiking destinations but when we aren’t we are pretty good about enjoying friendly conversion with others. So…we started to enjoy some friendly banter with each other and he soon left the peak for us to enjoy by ourselves. I’m not sure why he left so fast because we are so cute together.
After taking in the views for a short time we headed back down. We spent some more time along the cliffs above Tyndall Glacier. We noticed some footsteps heading down the face of the glacier reminding us that there are some true adventurers out there. When we reached the junction to the main trail we headed east to an overlook of Fern Lake Canyon. There were a group of backpackers resting near the overlook who all did there best to avoid eye contact with us. I suppose they were concerned that we might ask them if they wanted a piece of us and then stick them with our shivs so I guess I can’t blame them although they had us outnumbered. The views were incredible.
On the way down we ran into quite the crowd of folks heading up the trail. I imagine most of them were going to stop at Flattop with the view down into the valley. The crowds got increasingly thick as we descended and was a real party when we got down to Bear Lake which was just short of the parking area. The parking lot fills early and then the shuttle system continues with a ready supply of additional humanity every fifteen minutes. When we arrived there were only a few cars in the parking lot. It sure pays to get up early in this park.
Here’s a video of our hike: