Meghan and I haven’t been married for decades, so we’re not going to try to give out a bunch of unsolicited advice. I do believe, however, that all couples would agree on one item…..Never argue on the side of a mountain, in the middle of a thunderstorm, while on your honeymoon. Surely we aren’t the only ones to ever experience this scenario!
Three years ago this week we headed out to Estes Park, CO for a quiet little honeymoon. We had a week’s worth of fun, exploring, and relaxation planned. We set aside one of our days for a long hike. I looked over all the trail maps I could find, and mapped out a loop that would connect together several smaller hiking trails in Rock Mountain National Park.
It started out as a very calm and peaceful day. Our hike began on the old trusty Bear Lake trail head, and slowly began to wind upwards towards the sky. Our first amazing view came above Odessa Lake. The trail was high, and the drop off was steep. Definitely not the favorite spot for someone afraid of heights….like Meghan.
We continued down to Fern Lake, and there we sat with our feet dangling off a bridge eating a quick snack. We knew it would be a long day, so we took plenty of drinks and snacks. Sitting there was extremely peaceful, but with a long way to go we got moving again.
It was when we go to the fork in the trail, to Cub Lake or Fern Lake trail head, that we noticed the weather was started to get a bit more dicey. By this point we were already past half way, so turning around wasn’t a good option, as it would have taken us even longer. Going to the Fern Lake trail head wouldn’t have been useful, as we didn’t have a car there. So after a brief discussion, we mutually decided to continue on with the original plan.
As we headed toward Cub Lake we came across some Forest Rangers. We decided to stop and talk to them for a bit while they were cleaning up debris from the previous year’s fires. Meghan “The Worrier”, began to ask about what we should do if a thunderstorm did in fact come through the area. They mentioned you don’t really want to be on the mountain during a storm, but weren’t overly concerned with it. One of the Rangers pointed up the mountain to a big boulder. He said, “Do you see that boulder? Don’t be above that boulder in a storm. You don’t want to be the highest object on the mountain.” Remember this…it will come back around.
We continued on a bit more only to start hearing a little thunder. Quite surreal up that high, but at that point we didn’t see any lightning. Meghan began to get worried, and started questioning if we should head back down. I was continually getting reminded how close we were getting to that boulder previously pointed out to us. Around that time it started to lightning and sprinkle a bit. Our proceeding conversation went something like this:
Meghan: I think we should go back.
Willie: Go back where? We’re past halfway. It will take us longer to go back. Let’s keep going.
Meghan: The ranger said we shouldn’t be higher than that boulder, and we’re almost to it.
Willie: He said not to be the highest object, and there’s still plenty of trees up there. It looks like the trail should start going back down soon.
[A few minutes later…]
Meghan: We’re higher than the boulder now, Willie. Let’s go back to that trail head.
Willie: This storm will be well past before we ever get back down. We might as well keep going.
Meghan: I don’t feel safe up here. I want to go back down.
Willie: We’re already up here. If we’re going to get struck by lightning, we’re going to get stuck. Turning around won’t do us any good at this point.
After Meghan and I went back and forth for while, the trail just kept going up and up. Finally there started to be a little bit of rain, but luckily we had made it to a part of the trail with some overhanging trees. We stopped underneath to keep from getting soaked, and as soon as we got there it started to sleet. We had brought a few cheap ponchos, but they only helped a little. I covered Meghan from the sleet that lasted just a few minutes, and in the meantime our shoes were soaked from the rain.
After the storm passed we took a moment of pause, made light of the situation, apologized to each other, and then continued on. As we finally started heading down the mountain, it was a very eery feeling. If this were a movie, then this is the part where a bear would have jumped out of the trees. The trail had been burned through the previous year, and washed out by recent rains. It was hard to tell if we were even on the trail at all. In addition to that, it was clear that we were the only fools on the trail. The quietness of the mountain after a rain was nearly spooky, and we spent a part of the hike down in silence unsure we were even following an actual trail.
After a while we finally made it to a part of the trail that was in good enough shape to confirm we weren’t lost, which allowed us to let out a collective breath. We were able to make it down the rest of the way, as we enjoyed some more scenery of Rocky Mountain National Park. Overall we spent about 7 hours to hike the 10 mile trail, and experienced just about every feeling and emotion we could during that time.
As we made it back to the parking lot we felt like we had conquered the world with a simple hike. Our ponchos were almost torn completely, our shoes were soaked, we were exhausted, and had the feeling we had been married for 10 years rather than 5 days. It was one of the most memorable days of our lives together, even if we didn’t get along 100% of the time. After that we headed back to our cabin and took a nice long nap.