Mt. Ida, Rocky Mountain National Park

Like many mountains in RMNP, Mt. Ida's summit can be reached by with good stiff-soled boots, snacks and water, and a jacket. There's no snow up there now (July 29, 2006) and you don't need ropes or any other technical gear. The trail leads up the curved side of the mountain so you can walk right up. Above treeline, we always stayed on the trail, or where there wasn't one, we tried as much as possible to hop from rock to rock and avoid stepping on the alpine plants.

We started from Poudre Lake at Milner Pass, where the road passes over the Continental Divide. We chose this hike because of some lakes we glimpsed from Trail Ridge Road. Our topo map showed there were many more lakes in that area than we could see from the road. A ranger confirmed that the only way to see these lakes, especially the one called Highest Lake, was from above—specifically, from the top of Mt. Ida.

Highest Lake is at the top of a stairstepping chain of lakes—Arrowhead Lake, Inkwell Lake, Azure Lake, and some others. You can see the location of Highest Lake in the below picture taken from Mt. Chapin, but you can't see the lake itself.

We made up our minds that we had to see Highest Lake, whatever it took. Leaving our hotel at 5:00 AM, we started hiking at 6:00.

Driving across the park to the trailhead as day was breaking, we saw live jasmin groups of elk right by the road in several places, and even a group of bighorn sheep was in the road and on the tundra just west of the Rock Cut area. The sheep avoid people, so it was a thrill to see them. We never saw them at any other time. Elk are tame compared to the sheep, often grazing just off the road or trail, or within easy binocular viewing all day long. They looked more exotic in the dawn light, though.

Face to face with animals

We saw a female deer on the trail with two fawns behind her. They leaped in the air and bounded down the forested slope as if they were on springs. After about a mile we emerged above treeline, onto the alpine tundra. Along the trail we saw an elk fawn bounding down the open hillside all by itself—the only time we saw a small elk without others nearby.

We saw a lot of marmots throughout the park, but on the Mt. Ida hike, Tom spotted a whole family of them snuggling on a rock on the tundra. The adult pair was “spooning” on the rock and three or four youngsters playing around it.

A few minutes later Tom pointed to our left and said, “Look at the size of that marmot!” We looked through the binoculars, and it turned out to be a porcupine. He had a crabby little scrunched-up snout and he walked as if his feet were sore. He waddled slowly away from us. I wanted to run toward him on the trail and see if he would hunker down and flare up his quills, or something. But I restrained myself. The porcupine was my favorite wildlife sighting. I'd never seen one before in the wild, and we'd had no idea we might see one up there. Often, they are forest dwellers, but this interesting article says they live in different habitats depending on available forage. Surprisingly, the article also says, several predators are able and willing to kill a porcupine: “The list includes lynx, bobcats, coyotes, wolves, wolverines, and great horned owls. Important predators include mountain lions and fishers. Fishers will attack from the front repeatedly, avoiding the tail quills, until they are able to flip a porcupine on its back and attack the unprotected ventral surface. Mountain lions supposedly make no attempt to avoid the quills of porcupines; instead they attack at will and deal with the consequences.” Ouch.

We also saw several sets of beautiful, sweetly clucking ptarmigans and their young. They're basically mountain chickens. The amazing thing is that they live at a high altitude all year, turning white for winter camouflage

As we hiked up Mt. Ida, we weren't sure if we'd see Highest Lake and its neighbor lakes, Inkwell and Lake Azure, from the summit or if we'd have to go farther. Near the top, I walked to the cliff edge and looked down. The thrill of seeing these lakes, bringing the map's data into real life, made this hike one of the most exciting things I've ever done.

Highest Lake, the one we really wanted to see, is above and to the right of the lakes in the picture. From the Ida summit, we could see just a sliver of it around the side of Chief Cheley Peak. The view above is more or less looking to the east. Turning our heads to the west, we saw Lake Julian and more lakes, snaking streams, and green valleys.

According to our topo map, the Continental Divide runs right through Mt. Ida. So, sitting on the rocks of the ridge, we could see streams destined for the Gulf of Mexico and streams headed to the Pacific at the same time.

On our way down, two individuals asked us how they would know when they got “to the top.” This is a good question, as every mountain seems to have one or more false summits. For instance, on Mt. Chapin, I wondered (until Tom showed me on the map) whether we were on the summit of Chapin or on a false summit of Chiquita, the next mountain. It is clear from a map, but it is easy to follow a trail and not carry a map. In the case of Mt. Ida, you'll know when you reach the summit because you can only go downhill in every direction; the false summits surrounding Mt. Ida always allow you to see that you have higher to climb. On pointier, forested mountains, I think it could be a lot harder to identify a false summit, and much more difficult to retrace steps and shoot for the real summit.

Another description of a summer hike to the Mt. Ida summit

Turns out Mount Ida is also the name of two “sacred” mountains in Greece and of a town in Arkansas on Lake Ouachita.

Some things we've seen in Colorado

Coyote and pups playing in a big green meadow, with a beautiful sandy creek snaking through it

Pinkish sunlit rock spires above us at 6:15 AM

Clear, cold lakes reflecting the boulders and trees surrounding them; we soaked our feet in each one! So therapeutic for the hike back down.

Elk with giant antlers, elk fawns and whole families, and deer with little fuzzy antlers

Tiny rabbits munching something on a dirt road—can't imagine what—and when the car came, they waited till the last second and then scampered like kittens


Foot-long fish in a really cold lake—they were speckled and had a pink stripe—maybe trout?

Lots of marmots

Alpine plants above 10,000 feet, including lewisia, sedums, mosses, and others I have no idea of

Honeybees, spiders, and small wasps at 13,000 feet on the alpine plants

Four mountaintops: Estes Cone, Mt. Chapin, Mt. Chiquita, and Mt. Ypsilon. They're nothing but rocks and alpine plants on top, and people have built small amphitheatre-shaped wind shelters on the Livesexchat summits because it is so windy.

In one summit shelter, a cheerful retired guy was hanging out, waiting for his son to hike three more summits. We liked him. He offered us a tip on the best return route around the saddle of Mt. Chiquita when we came back from Ypsilon. He was like the guru on top of the mountain. You climb up and head to the little shelter, and wow! There's a guy in there, with advice for those who made the trip!

The coolest things about looking down from Mt. Ypsilon, 13,500 feet: Seeing the lakes at each level going down like stairsteps; you can't see any other lake from any one lake, so looking down on them was beautiful. Also standing above the distinctive slanted snowfields that give Mt. Ypsilon its name was neat. We can now look up at Mt. Ypsilon from the road, with its giant “Y” of snow in its couloir, and say “We were up above those!”

Shrine to Yard Work

I did more yard projects on Saturday than I thought possible. First I pruned the big shaggy arbutus and ceanothus, crawling under and behind them with loppers, clippers, and a saw. I was happier with the results than I thought I would be. It was a really harsh pruning for both of them and I thought they would take a year to start looking natural. But I guess I've learned a lot about pruning in the past couple of years from books and the Internet, as well as from talking with a garden designer and an arborist. The arbutus now seems to float off the ground with its pretty legs showing, and the ceanothus is airy, structured, and not touching the house any longer.

Arbutus before and after:

The most fun thing I did was build a “shrine to yard work” out of leftover pavers and piers. I was copying something I saw on the Internet on Friday. Here's the one that inspired me:

And here's mine:

It has a section of stump in front of it that I got from the guy next door. I planted a hen-and-chick in the center of the stump where it was soft. This was such a fun Live sex project! … Okay, it looks pretty dumb. But maybe in winter, when it's cloudy and wet all the time, it will look sort of mysterious. It's way back between a tree and (another) giant, dark ceanothus, so I can tell myself it looks cool from far away. Maybe it will even get moss growing on it like the “original” has. I've read you can get moss to grow on something by coating it with a blended mix of moss and buttermilk. Maybe I won't tell Tom if I make that particular milkshake with our blender. Although I'm sure he would agree that the shrine needs moss.

I also planted a hen-and-chick in a hollow stump section of an arborvitae we had removed last year. The hollow piece is the size of a small flowerpot, so I filled it with soil and gravel and put it on the sunny side of the front steps.

Last Saturday I'd gone with a friend to a huge nursery (so huge that from inside, you couldn't see a way out in any direction—scary!) and bought a hebe to go in a yard-sale pot. I put it at the edge of the new patio. I scored some rusty metal trellises at that yard sale too. It was a great sale. Here's the hebe in its pot:

Sunday, we went for a bike ride to Green Lake. We took the Burke-Gilman trail east to Ravenna Boulevard even though Green Lake is to the northwest of us. This was a great, fast route through a beautiful neighborhood. We've lived here long enough that I thought I knew the best bike routes to “hub” areas like Green Lake, so it was a fun surprise to find a route I didn't know about.

Notes on bamboo spread and control

A local bamboo nursery has an enlightening article on bamboo's aggressive reputation and ways to control its spread:

“The first strategy is to be an active gardener in your own garden. When the weather warms up and plants are springing to life, get out into the garden and start working with your plants.” Hooray and amen to that.

In springtime, after the plant has spent the winter snaking its rhizomes under the soil, “Look for shoots where you do not want them, break off the shoot (it's edible!) and cut through the rhizome with a shovel. Unless you have a large grove, no variety of bamboo in our climate will send out so many rhizomes so far from the mother plant that a few minutes of attention in the spring won't control the plant's spread.”

Other means of control are burying a 24-inch barrier all around the plant or planting on a mound. The mound slows the growth, making it easier to root-prune with the shovel as in the first strategy.

We have two small clumps of bamboo planted behind a buried metal barrier. They have spread little since 1999 or 2000 when we planted them, possibly because they're in dry shade under a neighbor's bigleaf maple. As of this summer they're also behind our shed. I didn't have the heart to cut them down before we built it.

We have an unrestrained clump of Yellow Groove bamboo near our southeast property corner. This is the one I planted with intentions of root-pruning it. This year it sent up new canes four or five feet from the clump. I might root-prune it this weekend and again in spring as the article recommends. I didn't know there was a preferred season for that.

My two main tasks this weekend are to drastically de-limb the giant ceanothus at the southwest corner of the house and the giant arbutus to the north in the Woodchipstrip. They have both turned into misshapen masses. A coworker suggested I use bungee cords to hold back other limbs so that I don't get smacked around or poked in the eye while crawling around choosing which limbs to remove. I'm supposed to be removing their limbs and not the other way around.