Gorge Lakes (Part 1)


The first summer I spent in Colorado I did some of the more touristy things that the state has to offer. These are things that everyone who visits or even lives here should do at some point so I figured I'd check them off the list right away. One of those activities was driving Trail Ridge Road in Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP) from the east side of the park to the west side. The road climbs above treeline as it snakes through the mountains and provides spectacular view of the Rocky Mountains. At the top there are several viewpoints where you can look west. One of the things that struck me as I was looking around was the valley between the mountains I was standing on and the ones to the west. I could look over the edge, 2000 feet down, and see a river and some lakes down there and I remember wondering to myself whether you could get down there to go hiking.

Gorge Lakes from Trail Ridge Road, Rocky Mountain National Park

The view of the Gorge Lakes from Trail Ridge Road

A couple years later I was perusing one of my books that details all of the hiking trails in RMNP. I came across a section about the Gorge Lakes and as I started reading I had an eureka moment. This was it, this was the area that I had looked down upon years before from the road and here were the details for how to get there. I took in all I could from the book and when it said that there was actually a backcountry campsite down in there I got really excited. I immediately figured out how to book the site and on the first day you can reserve backcountry sites in RMNP I got online and reserved Little Rock Lake campsite for two nights during the first weekend of September. The next step, which turned out to be pretty easy, was finding a couple of friends who wanted to do it with me. Andrew and Mike were on board right away so then all we had to do was wait for September to come.

When the day arrived we got up before dawn and made the drive to the park. It was a little chilly down in Denver and Boulder and as we drove up into the mountains the temperature continued to drop and of course a light rain began to fall. By the time we made it to the trailhead at Milner Pass the temperature was 34 degrees and a steady light rain was falling. We sat in the car with the heat blasting and had a long conversation about whether this was going to be worth it. We were inches away from calling it and just driving into town to hang out for the weekend when the rain broke (momentarily). We made the decision that we were there so we might as well do it. We hopped out of the car, got our packs together and got on the trail just in time for the rain to start again. At this point we were hiking though so there was no turning back.

As we climbed the trail the rain continued and the fog got thicker. I would be lying if I told you it wasn't pretty miserable for the first 45 minutes. After about a mile and a half of hiking the fog decided to lift for a minute and we got a decent little view of the tundra we were hiking through. We used this little break in the weather as an opportunity to take stock of where we were.

Milner Pass Trail, Rocky Mountain National Park

A break in the rain lets us regroup

Milner Pass Trail, Rocky Mountain National Park

The trail looking back from where we just came.

On a normal trail, hiking through fog isn't so bad. You can generally follow the trail to your destination without really getting lost. But the hike to this campsite is not a normal trail. You start off on a trail that takes you to Mt. Ida and beyond but the route to the campsite and the Gorge Lakes splits off about a half mile from the summit to Mt. Ida. From there you hike off trail down a ridge and into the gorge, navigating by compass and, assuming you can see, following the most logical route down the mountain. Unfortunately for us, the fog made it a bit difficult to see where we were going. Nevertheless, we pressed on keeping a lookout on our left for the ridge that we would use to navigate down the mountain. At one point, completely surrounded by fog, we came to a rocky outcrop that felt like it was higher than everything around it. We pulled out or compass and map, looked around and made the decision that there was no way that we had already gotten to the summit of Mt. Ida. Besides, we hadn't seen any ridges off to our left so we should probably keep going. We continued to press on but the trail started down hill pretty steeply and when we consulted the compass we decided that we were going the wrong way. Back up hill we trudged to that same rocky outcropping where, to our surprise, we found three human beings. One of them had a gps and proclaimed we were standing on the summit of Mt. Ida. And that is the story of how we hiked half a mile too far and up an extra 800 feet to decided we hadn't hiked far enough so we should keep going, just to decide we had gone too far therefore deciding to turn around hike back up a couple hundred feet just so we could accidentally summit Mt. Ida twice in one day.

Hey Andrew and Mike, how is the view from the top of Mt. Ida today?

Summit of Mt. Ida, Rocky Mountain National Park

Summit of Mt. Ida