September 16, 2001
Clark Peak
When you get older, the trips change
By Miles Blumhardt
The Coloradoan
    We call it half jokingly our mid-life loser backpacking trip and for the past two years, this escape from our everyday responsibilities has landed us in a quiet corner of the Rawah Wilderness.
    The annual getaway earned its name

Miles Blumhardt/The Coloradoan

Peace and quiet: A placid and picturesque Timber Lake in the Rawah Wilderness is an ideal place to camp.

because Dave Atkin, Tim Walmer and I are fully aware that our biological clocks have launched us into a much different time zone than when we first met nearly 15 years ago. We are married and each have two young kids and our backpacks, which used to hang on a prominent nail in the garage, have been relegated to the garage attic to make room for trikes, bikes and hand-me-down kids clothes.
    Where before it would have been blasphemy to pack in a radio or magazines, this year we did so shamelessly. Where before we might not have even brought a sleeping pad, now it is the most valuable piece of equipment. Where in our younger days we saw ourselves as Clark Peak, maturity has allowed us to say it's OK to be just another stone in the boulder field of life.
    The three-hour hike to a campsite we had scouted out last year was worth it. To the east, we could look down the valley from where we hiked to the Laramie River Valley, to the southwest was the unnamed falls that tumble from Timber Lake and to the west was the barren spine of the Medicine Bow Mountains that separates Rawah Wilderness from the Colorado State Forest. A little stream meandered near enough to be convenient to keep our meals and adult beverages cold but not so close as to be impacted.
    In fact, our site was so perfect we wondered why we didn't see more evidence of people camping in the area. We saw several abandoned campsites but had the place all to ourselves during our three-day trip, which included a weekend.
    If you are burned out on Rawah because it is so heavily used, give the Timber Lake area a try. I hate to give up a good camping spot, but it was unanimous with our group that the area offers some of the best campsites we've ever experienced. Once you get past the cutoff to the Rawah Trail, about an hour into the hike, you'll likely see few, if any, other hikers.
    Our day hiking plan for the one full day we were there was to hike up the seldom-hiked north side of 12,951-foot Clark Peak, which is the Bow's tallest peak. Then we

Miles Blumhardt/The Coloradoan

Over the water: Dave Atkin of Louisville hops across a stream where Timber Lake spills over a ledge in the Rawah Wilderness.

were to finish by fishing at Timber Lake, which is one of the most beautiful alpine lakes I've seen. The lake alone would be worth the 6 1/4-mile hike in.
    We're getting older, but we still enjoy a challenge, so we stumbled across an expansive boulder field to a headwall where the last of the dirty snow refused to yield its entire water to the creeks. After surveying our options, we decided there was a chance to free climb up the headwall. Usually, when you reach the mid-life loser age, caution is the chosen part of valor.
    But two-thirds up the crumbly rock face and we were in over our heads. Well, at least I was. I had higher aspirations for my 15 minutes of fame than being the featured idiot as the Sky 9 helicopter shot video of my rescue.
    It was only the second time in my life where I knew death or serious injury was a distinct possibility if a hold didn't hold. Stupid.
    We drug our sorry selves out of the mess and humped up the saddle to the long hike up Clark's backside. Living through the headwall fiasco was a good thing, because the views from Clark's summit are incredible. Because the peak is isolated, it allows spectacular panoramic views. To the north the Rawah Wilderness unfolded before us. To the west, the trees of the Colorado State Forest gave way to North Park's sagebrush flats. To the south, the Mummy Range served as a formidable forefront to Rocky Mountain National Park. To the east, you could see the entire length of the Poudre Canyon.
    There are easier hikes to the top of Clark. The Jewel Lake Trail from the Colorado State Forest side is the easiest and shortest route at 3.7 miles. You also can access the summit off the Blue Lake Trail. The best time to climb Clark is July through September. In fact, once the aspen have started turning, the views from Clark's summit would be that much more spectacular.
    We basked in the sun out of the breeze just off Clark's summit and ate our lunch under yet another cloudless Colorado summer day. What a great day to be alive. We hiked back to Timber Lake by a much less treacherous way then made our way to camp.
    Tim headed off to fly fish for brook trout in the creek below Island Lake while Dave and I, the two older of the trio, sat in our camp chairs, dozed off, rested our pounding quads, read the football magazines and listened to the pregame of the CU-Fresno State football game on KOA.
    When Tim gets a little older, he'll learn to enjoy these backpacking trips a little more.



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