Ida Peak – Rocky Mountain National Park
Date: August 13, 2017
Elevation Gain: 2,963 ft
Start Time: 5:35 am
Duration: 6:02 hours
We got an early start and arrived at the trailhead while it was still dark. With our headlamps on we headed out on the trail and soon found ourselves down in a boggy area. As we were looking for a good place to cross over without getting our feet wet I checked the GPS and discovered that we were on the wrong trail. We went through this same routine I don’t know how many times this year. It was just starting to get light as we arrived back at the car. We quickly discovered the correct trailhead on the east side of the parking lot. There was a small lake near the road that we walked around while taking in a beautiful sunrise.
The trail then went into the trees and started the climb up the hill to the south. After about a quarter mile up the trail we noticed four large bull elk up the hill to our left. It was still just getting light so we weren’t able to get very good photos. As we continued the trail turned left and headed up the hill giving us a much closer view of them. We were fairly close but it was clear that they were comfortable with humans and paid us little notice. It was exciting being this close to such huge animals in the wild.
After we left the elk the trail headed up the hill to the south with a large meadow below us to our right. We noticed some deer near the treeline below us. There was one fairly large buck that was obviously showing three smaller bucks who was in charge. About a half mile further uphill we reached the treeline. As we were cresting a hill we noticed three young bull elk standing right on the trail giving us the stare down. We took photos for as long we could and then started slowly approaching them until they relinquished the trail. Just as we were passing them we noticed three more much large bull elk come out of the trees much further down the hill below us.
As we continued to ascend the open slope the sun had risen so it was now light but since we were on the west side of the mountain we were still in the shade. Now that we were above the treeline there was a constant wind coming up the slope from the west causing us to layer up even though we were still climbing. The views to the mountains to the south and west were stunning.
At about the three mile mark we crested the ridge giving us our first views of the valleys to the west and south. It was a breathtaking view down through a valley with many small spotted lakes as well as to the impressive peaks beyond. It was also very nice to have the sun on us again.
A short distance further the trail disappeared into a rock field on the western slope of Mount Ida. As we were scoping out a route to take over the mass of rocks above us I noticed one of the rocks move below me to my left. It was a ptarmigan. Its plumage perfectly matched the lichen covered rocks all around us. It didn’t move and as we were admiring it we noticed another one very close to us on our right. Now that we weren’t moving we also noticed several pika scrambling over the rocks all over the hillside.
As we made our way up through the rocks I noticed the altitude for the first time. We were now over 12,000 feet which caused me to stop the climb occasionally to catch my breath. It was getting to Sandy even more than me because she was starting to feel a little nauseated and had a headache. It was a steep climb up through the rocks. We would find a faint trail off and on that made the climb easier. Just as we were nearing the peak we were offered views to the valley below us to the south. We ran into a marmot right there that ran right up to us a few times causing us to wonder what his motive was.
Just as we were reaching the peak we noticed for the first time that there were people already there. They must have been there for a while because we never saw anyone on the trail ahead of us. The peak itself was rocky so it took us a little while to negotiate our way up to a good viewpoint. The 360 degree view from this 12,900 foot point was absolutely incredible.
There were four people on the peak. There was a couple who, as it turns out, became engaged at the lookout just before the base of Mt Ida. There were also two guys who were sharing their story of seeing a moose the previous day. They started earlier than we did in the dark and told us that they could hear some big animals along the trail so we told them about the elk. We started swapping big game stories which quickly led to Sandy sharing the story of being chased by a black bear in Glacier two weeks earlier.
Mount Ida was a must do hike in the park. The wildlife and views were tough to beat. In hindsight, however, we should have done this hike later in the week after we had time to acclimate to the altitude more.
Here’s a video of our hike: