Instead of reserving a spot at the same campground (in defiance of the girl working the kiosk), we decided to take our chances at getting a campground in the mountains, and waved goodbye to the humping dogs and elk statues as we pulled out of Longmont. On the way through Boulder, we stopped off on Pearl street for awhile and some people went into an outdoor outfitters store while everyone else just sort of tooled around a bike shop and made good use of their indoor plumbing.
Eventually, everyone was getting kind of antsy, so we all piled back into the van and headed to Nederland, where we got a state park permit and had some snacks from a natural food store. The road that went to the camping and hiking area that we were headed to got more and more slim as we approached it, and eventually the pavement was gone and we were taking the little green van on a rather gnarly mountain road that was barely wide enough for two automobiles to pass by one another.
Arriving at the camp area, we got out of the van and started hoping that we could still find a spot to pitch the tents. It was a holiday weekend and there were lots of vehicles and people milling about, but somehow we managed to find what I imagine to be one of the most prime camping spots I've ever seen. Not only were we tucked away down in the trees of a forest, but we had to cross one creek just to get to our camp area and there was another small brook running only 20 feet or so from our tents. It was like a camping site out of a movie and we were going to be staying there. Rad!
After setting up the tents and eating some more snacks, we packed up and headed up the side of the mountain that was closest to us. The actual trail to the top was about 4 miles and the height of the pass that we were headed to was about 10,000 feet (from which you could see the Arapahoe Glacier). The height of people in our group ranged from almost 6'6" (yours truly) to about 5'1" (Angie), so we tried to keep the pace fairly even so everyone stayed together. About halfway up, we ate some more food, then continued on while jabbering back at random marmots that scrambled across rocky outcroppings.
About 45 minutes after eating, we stopped again for a rest and a couple people decided that they'd had enough for the day. For some reason or another, the altitude wasn't bothering me too much, so I decided that I'd try to make it to the very top since I'd come all the way to Colorado anyway. The group of 6 turned into 3 different groups (of 1, 2, and 3) and everyone made their own pace up (or down) the mountain (pics 1, 2, 3, 4, 5).
It was at this point that I started feeding off some supply of energy I didn't even know I had. Perhaps it was the natural beauty of the place or simply the challenge of going clear to the top, but I found myself alternately jogging/hiking very quickly up the path. Once I got to the pass, the air was decidingly cooler, so I broke out my sweatshirt and talked with a couple women there who had made the hike up themselves. I decided that I would try to climb clear up to the very peak myself, but I kept losing the path (as well as being fearful of hurting myself with nobody else around) and decided to turn around and head back down.
Going back down the hill was about 5 times easier than coming up, and I again found myself jogging and being tugged by gravity as I zoned-in on finding the correct footing (while at the same time trying to catch glimpses of the amazing view) so I didn't take a tumble. Eventually, I caught everyone and we hiked back to camp and made up some dinner, as everyone was completely starving by that point.
The sunset created some of the most eerie and interesting clouds I'd ever seen and as we were settling down for the evening, I looked around our campsite and was reminded by just how cool of a spot we had. Before going to sleep, we all piled into one tent and just talked for a long while (again divulging some fairly big secrets to one another) before going to our respective tents and going to sleep. I could see my breath and fought off the cold all night, but it was still a refreshing change from what the weather in Nebraska had been like before the trip.