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Backpacker Magazine – February 2003

Hike The Hidden Trails of Rocky Mountain National Park

Here's a detailed hiking planner that will take you to the hidden corners of Colorado's most scenic park.

by: John Harlin

Never Summer Loop

Think of the name as a sure-fire crowd repellent. In fact, the snow melts out of the Never Summer Mountains in the northwest corner of the park between May and July, depending on the year and altitude. Then it's wide open for backpackers to scramble its almost-13,000-foot peaks and marvel at a geographical anomaly: The Continental Divide loops southward here, and for about 6 miles, all east-flowing waters reach the Pacific and west-flowing waters head for Mississippi. The choicest weekend (or longer) loop goes up the Colorado River Trail and down the Grand Ditch Trail (10 to 15 miles round-trip, plus side hikes). Each trail is unique: The former parallels the uppermost reaches of the stream that eventually carves the Grand Canyon; the latter follows an old gravel road (not used by vehicles) along a canal carrying water toward the parched eastern plains. Look closely, and you'll find abandoned mines and the archeological remains of Lulu City, which once supported them. Little Yellowstone at the northern end recalls the bright white and yellow volcanic rocks of that famous Wyoming canyon. Still seeing more people than you care to? Step out of the national park into the seldom-seen Never Summer Wilderness.

Lost Lake, Mummy Range

Listen to the growling thunder as you search deep in the Mummy Range for mysterious Lost Lake, lurking somewhere under Stormy Peaks Pass. Actually, the only mystery is how this spectacular place could be so overlooked. A quick glance at the topo reveals its appeal: Right at timberline, Lost Lake is the first of a chain of lakes set close to tight clusters of contour lines indicating cliffs, ridges, and icefields of magnificent stature. Their wild isolation is hard to beat even in a state full of superlative mountain scenery.

As you shoulder your load 9 miles and 2,500 vertical feet from the trailhead, you might appreciate the "barrier of effort" that will forever keep most of humanity from reaching Lost Lake and her sisters. Once you've dropped your pack in camp, you'll want days to explore tundra drainages leading to a handful of hikable 13,000-foot peaks, including Mummy Mountain itself. Don't miss a dash up Stormy Peaks Pass, if the weather gods allow it. Trails here don't loop, so when food runs out, you'll need to hike back the way you came.

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