There are no trees in the tundra.

This past Saturday I decided to have myself a little adventure. It is Fall in the Rockies after all, so I decided to strap on my trekking poles and get myself a little nature-fix.

After my last hiking excursion which started to take on unpleasant “Three-Hour-Tour” undertones, I was a bit apprehensive about heading off into the aspens by myself. But then I found a nice little hike up to Silver Lake, only about an hour outside of Denver on scenic Guanella Pass. So I hit the road early to avoid most of the autumnal foliage seeking crowd and enjoyed a beautiful drive up the winding pass through quaking aspens, an adorable little town switchbacks aplenty.  I even saw a handful of big horn sheep munching on some roadside grass.

At long last, I found myself at a parking lot with what appeared to be a trail and a sign about a lake. (And no, I will not tell you how many times I turned around and re-experienced the same part of the road while trying to locate my trail-head. It would just make you pity me.) “Good enough for me”, I thought, at this point eager to get out of the car and get to hiking.

With Mt. Bierstad at my back, I put one foot in front of the other to see where this trail would take me. (Bonus: When I want to hike it for my next 14er, I totally know where that trail-head is.) As it turns out, on a day for seeking aspens and fall colors I ended up on a hike through a treeless valley, a comedy of errors fairly typical for directionally-challenged me.

So not up to Silver Lake as I had planned. I still have no idea where to find that trail-head. It does look pleasant though. Maybe someday.

Instead I ended up completing the Square Top Lakes trail which weaves through alpine tundra to two separate lakes. (Isn’t it amazing what you can find out after the fact by using the internet? Now if only I was smart enough to do that in the moment…)

realized the following five things along the way:

Square Top Lakes Photo

1.  It’s pretty incredible what a different type of surroundings you can find yourself in with just an hour drive out of the city.

2.  There are LOTS of hikes in Colorado and you may never find a specific one if you are crummy at directions like this author. But you will still probably find something lovely to hike.

3.  Altitude will make you instantly feel out of shape, like one of those bulldogs(?) that wheezes as it walks. Embrace it. This is part of the experience. (This trail travels from 11,678′ – 12,265′ over the 4.6 mile round trip.)

4.  People are surprisingly nice and supportive when you are huffing and puffing your way to the top of the hill. They can be very kind while telling you that you have many more hills to climb before you get there, but that it is worth it. Spontaneous support of friendly strangers will make your heart warm and your breathing a little easier.

5.  Even without any harvest-toned aspen trees surrounding you, the beauty of Colorado can always take your breath away. Literally and figuratively.

Square Top Lakes

I did manage to find a little waterfall nestled in some aspens on my drive back, just at the base of Guanella Pass. And although about half the trees had already shed their red and orange foliage, it was still a beautiful sight.

Alternate hike or no, I call it a complete success.

Guanella Pass

So happy Fall to you, dear blogosphere.

Go throw on your hiking boots and soak up a little bit of your own locations’ natural beauty, will ya?

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