Mount Ida Birthday Hike (Sep 28)

I have to admit, I saw my looming 60th birthday as something of a major milestone. Certainly an age that sounds "old" for me, even though I don't feel much over 35 (and I'm probably in better shape now).

At first, I wanted to have a big party to celebrate with all my friends. Or commiserate. You know, lots of cake and ice cream. And black balloons. And "old guy" over-the-hill jokes made at my expense. :-)

But because we've been so busy this year, we reconsidered the party idea and decided I would most enjoy being outside, hiking to the top of a mountain, preferably one I'd never stood on before.

I thought back to my birthday last year. We were recovering from the Colorado Flood of 2013 and though our house wasn't directly affected, Estes Park's sewer infrastructure was severely damaged, and we were one of 1,900 homes without a flushing toilet for several weeks. So we hit the road to see other parts of Colorado. During this trip I celebrated my 59th birthday outside, photographing the Maroon Bells at sunrise from Maroon Lake, and then hiking with Susan to nearby Crater Lake. It was a fantastic birthday!

Mike at Maroon Bells for Birthday #59 last year

So, a few days before the Big Day this year, Susan and I planned a hike up to Mount Ida, off the Milner Pass trail. The summit is about 4.8 miles (almost 10 miles, total) and is fairly high -- starts at 10,753' and finishes at 12,889' for a gain of 2,136 feet (over 2,500' factoring in ups and downs on the trail). Moderate, bordering on strenuous in places.

We got up at zero-dark-30 (actually about 3:00am, as both of us were awake and raring to go, I guess). We dragged ourselves out of bed, which is not insignificant, since I'm definitely not a morning person.

After we had some quality time with our coffee and a light breakfast, we still had an hour drive over Trail Ridge Road in Rocky to get to Milner Pass and hit the trail at about 6:30am with the temperature at about 36F.

About to hit the trail. Where's my headlamp?!

It wasn't long before it was light enough to turn off our headlamps and enjoy the growing morning light in the sky and on the mountains.

Almost to treeline

First light on the Never Summer range

The first mile was pretty steep and in the second mile we had some seriously good scenery to enjoy! And the light on the mountains was just exquisite. Our best photographs don't really capture it, but it was fun to try.

Morning along the tundra trail

As we got to treeline, the wind began to pick up and a lot of very low clouds moved in, sometimes almost completely obscuring our view (sorry Pink Floyd fans, had to go for that "Obscured by Clouds" reference :-)

Susan heading into the clouds

But the clouds were always on the move and never dropped any significant precipitation, fortunately. But it was cooler and windier than we expected, and we were "layered up" for most of the hike.

Mike on the trail

The trail became more faint, but not difficult to find, especially with all the cairns. We kept putting one foot in front of the other, passing by a lot of tundra pika habitat, hearing their calls, and talking about whether we should have brought along our "citizen science kit." We did see pikas scurrying around a few times.

Pika on the tundra rocks

As we got closer to Mount Ida, the terrain became quite a bit steeper and the elevation was making our progress more challenging. But we kept going, reaching the final stretch at about 10am. We were taking more and more breaks to catch our breath, drink water and fuel up.

The summit was almost in view

The summit

By 11am we found ourselves at the top! Time for a much-deserved break to take in the spectacular 360 degree views.

View down from the summit. Inkwell Lake at center; Azure Lake at right

Susan on top of our world

View to the west to Grand Lake; Julian Lake at center

Panorama from just below summit (at right)

After scrambling around for awhile on the rocky summit, taking pictures and chatting with other hikers, we sat down and Susan pulled out my birthday dessert treat -- her daughter's bourbon pecan pie brownie, with a celebratory candle. After sharing some of it with a couple of other hikers, we started thinking about heading down.

Hard to light that candle in the wind!

Us on the summit before starting down; Grand Lake in background

After one last look around at the awesome scenery, we packed up and began our descent about 12:40pm.

Heading down

Took a short detour to take in this panoramic view from one of the cliff edges on the way down

We ended up dropping down to a lower route than the way we came up. There were several "social trails" through the tundra rocks, marked by cairns, and we might have taken a slight better track on the down than on the way up.

Hmm, where is that trail?

Mostly, it was just a long, but very scenic walk downhill. As we got about halfway down though, we started to get pelted by graupel, sometimes heavy enough to sting if it hit your bare skin. As we continued to drop in elevation, the graupel turned to rain. Fortunately, we were prepared with the right gear and clothing to stay warm and dry.

Got some rain from these clouds

When we got to an area just below treeline, so movement caught our eye and we saw a ptarmigan. We stopped and then noticed that we'd apparently disturbed a small family of them, as they came out from under the shelter of a tree near the trail and then moved on.

Ptarmigan along the trail

By now, we were both pretty tired from the hike and from being in the rain, so we just continued to march on down the trail.

Almost down -- the formations above Poudre Lake and the Milner Pass parking area

Because of the rain, not much was going on at the Milner Pass lot when we got back to our car about 3:45pm. We just threw our wet gear in the trunk and headed back over Trail Ridge Road towards home. A good bit of our drive back was in the clouds and rain, too.

Trail Ridge Road. At least it wasn't icy!

When we got back to the house and cleaned up, we were treated to a huge and intense rainbow to the east of our house. I'm pretty sure that was a birthday gift from Mother Nature. :-)

A nice double rainbow!

I was happy to discover dozens of Happy Birthday wishes on Facebook and then it was time to open a few birthday presents and enjoy more bourbon pecan pie chocolate brownies.

The Birthday Boy :-)

Our hiking statistics for the day

We reviewed our photos and the GPS track from our hike and were happy with the almost 11 total miles covered, the pace we set, the calories burned, and the scenery captured.

The stats and the map/track below were produced by Gaia GPS, an app for the iPhone (also available for Android devices). This $20 app, which can store offline maps when we're out of cellular data coverage, gave us the same (or better) functionality of a more expensive single-function GPS device.

Our GPS track for the day
Elevation and speed profile from Gaia GPS

This link has an interactive version of the map and hike profile above.

It turns out that spending the day hiking to the summit of Mount Ida was the perfect 60th birthday party for me! :-) :-)

Mike near the summit of Mount Ida

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