climbing Hallett peak

Trip Duration : 6h:48m

Distance: 9.9 miles

Elevation Gain: 3,092 ft.

Colorado, Colorado, Colorado...Over the past year, I may have spent more time in California than in Colorado, but yet, something about Colorado always keeps me wanting more. The landscape just seems more rugged, the mountains more untouched, and the weather more powerful and unpredictable. As seemed to be the theme during this year, we arrived in Colorado perhaps 2 weeks too early. We had originally planned and booked a permit for a five day hiking trip across Rocky Mountain National Park, but the weather was not on our side. The day we arrived, new snow storms were dumping on the high altitude passes of our planned route. So, we spent one night in a low altitude camp site, and then began planning more strenuous day trips for the remainder of our time in Colorado; Flexibility and a willingness to adapt are integral when in nature. Up first, Hallett Peak. 

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The worst thing about hiking in Colorado is getting up early enough to get a parking spot at more popular trailheads. The hike up to Hallet Peak starts from Bear Lake Trailhead which unfortunately happens to be one of the most crowded trailheads in Rocky Mountain National Park. The trailhead has many beginner level trails stemming from it which tourists flock to to get "low effort, high reward photos". Following the advice of a Park Ranger, we planned to arrive at the trailhead by 6am to make sure we got a spot. We considered sleeping in our car overnight at the trailhead, but this is against Park regulations. We Google Map'd the surrounding area for Rest Areas, but found none. So, with no other options available, we made the Walmart parking lot home. 

One and half hours, a McDononald's stop, and about 781 hairpin turns later, we arrived at the Bear Lake Trailhead. We were surprised that the lot was only half full. Having done some route scouting using the Gaia GPS app, we knew the route up would be approximately 3,092 feet. Based on the gear that many of our fellow parking lot neighbors were carrying, we figured that a very small percentage of them were planning on making the trek up to Hallett Peak along Flattop Mountain Trail. In our experience, as long as you aren't at one of the most popular trails/mountains, the tourist crowd tends to dwindle out after 1,000 ft of vertical. This first 1,000 feet of trail was mostly within the trees. Only after this point did the tree density begin to thin out. 

As we got up a little higher, views of Hallett Peak and the ridgeline of which it was a part, began to appear. Consistent with the name, Flattop Mountain, these pseudo-ridgelines looked relatively easy to access and stirred within us the desire to hike across them for miles. The problem in this area isn't finding an incredible hike, it's deciding which incredible hike to do. 

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Once above treeline, we came across a warning that Rocky Mountain N.P. provided to people heading higher. For a trail that's over 9 miles round trip with 3,100 ft of elevation gain, we were pretty surprised by how many people were carrying very little, if anything. It's one thing for professional-looking ultramarathons to be doing this route with minimal gear, water and food, but it's a whole other thing for the average person to be doing it without any gear whatsoever. Even though it's a pain to carry a half-full backpack with the essentials on a day hike, basics such as a map, compass, umbrella, rain gear, and even a light-weight tent could be life-saving if the weather turns quickly. Weather in the mountains is unpredictable at all times of the year. Don't be stupid light at the risk of death.

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In 'big view' areas like Colorado it's easy to bypass the small things. Although not quite yet wild flower season, most of the trail above treeline was lined with these small yellow wildflowers. Rocks and glaciers are great, but wildflowers complete the picture.

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The hike really started to get exciting once the ruggedness of the Rocky Mountains came into view. The gently sloped high alpine fields of grass and boulders began to share the sky with the rugged rocky peaks that this region known for. Snow fields, cornices and glaciers dotted the skyline. 

The only snow encountered on the way up to the summit was a snowfield of approximately 150 meters in length. The edge of it had a pretty impressive cornice that peered over the cliff into the cirque below. Having not done this hike before and therefore not knowing where the edge of the cirque was, I was a little uncomfortable with how close the worn path was to the edge of the cornice and decided to walk a little further inwards. A good amount of snow consolidation and sun cups of only minimal depth, made crossing the snowfield quite easy. 

More so an interesting feature than a dangerous obstacle during the summer months, Tyndall Glacier came into view as we approached the base of Hallett Peak. The glacier is located in the cirque just north of the peak and was named after John Tyndall who discovered that carbon dioxide was a heat-trapping gas. 

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The final push to the top involved a small amount of class 2 scrambling, but nothing that one couldn't handle if they had already made it up this far. Whereas the trail up to this point was populated mostly with marmots, above Tyndall glacier seemed to be pica territory. We heard their high pitched calls on multiple occasions, but unfortunately, they were pretty camera shy (quite the opposite of their marmot cousins). The scenery as we made the final push to the top was typical Colorado beauty.

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We followed the same route off the summit back down to the trailhead. For those looking for a more adventurous, albeit twice as long, route back down, you could try heading north along the relatively flat Continental Divide towards the Spruce Lake campsite and then circling south back to the Bear Lake Trailhead. At our time of travel, we had been told by a Park Ranger that an avalanche blocked a section of this route making it nearly impossible to complete in a timely manner. As always, be sure to check trail conditions before starting a hike. If you're interested in doing a hike in this region and aren't sure where to begin, be sure to check out our Custom Trip Planning services!