by Dr. Jim Detterline
The alpine paradise of Rocky Mountain National Park draws 3.5 million visitors annually to enjoy its features, which include a plethora of waterfalls and swiftwater passages, 147 lakes of various colors and depths, and 100 peaks towering above the 11,000-foot treeline —with 14,259-foot Longs Peak as the spectacular centerpiece. Most travel Trail Ridge Road, the nation's highest contiguous road, which traverses the width of the Park. However, many infrequently traveled areas remain, where one might expect to find few, if any, fellow human travelers. To truly experience these areas, you must get out of the car and wander on foot. The Park officially advertises "more than 360 miles of trails." Some are short and heavily civilized, while others offer access to the most remote and pristine areas of the Park.
As a Park ranger, my backcountry patrol beat covered popular routes such as theEast Longs Peak Trail, as well as little-known cross-country zones such as Forest Canyon, where the greenback cutthroat trout was rediscovered in the 1960s after it had been considered extinct since the 1930s, and where mischievous black bears roamed. Interestingly, the Park received the majority of its so-called "Bigfoot" sightings in this area! I was assigned to cover Forest Canyon for an entire workweek at times. The peace and tranquility of this area inspired me to throw the typewriter into my backpack, as it was the only place in the Park where I could sequester myself and catch up on overdue reports.
I have now been enjoying the backcountry of RMNP for 26 years, yet there are still numerous untrodden corners and little-used trails to discover as new treasures. Lisa Foster is the consummate scholar and guide to these places. Aside from being an accomplished mountaineer and technical climber, she has served as a Park scientist, journalist, filmmaker, resource manager, hiking guide, and more, which has given her a unique perspective on the geography, natural history, and human legacy of RMNP.
Lisa shares this perspective in her guidebook, which explains the well-known trails and sights of the Park, as well as detailing almost unknown paths and challenging off-trail scrambles. For example, her description of the well-worn Keyhole Route, the sole nontechnical route to the summit of Longs Peak, is the best description I've seen and is the next best thing to hiring a guide. The uncluttered maps and clear photographs amply support the descriptions without taking away the adventure.
In May 2005, Lisa and I hiked along the obscure trail to 'Hidden Falls' to catch a final water ice climb for the season. Her enthusiasm for the Park was unbounded,and we shared information about the little points of interest along the way. After the climb, we continued to an old outlaw cabin for a grand view of the expansive valley of the North St. Vrain Creek below. We gazed over the sun-draped features all around us and enjoyed a quiet moment in an uninhabited corner of America's fourth-busiest park. I have had the pleasure of sharing adventures among the Park's features and personally being guided by Lisa Foster. Now, with her guidebook in your hand, you will have that chance, too.
Dr. Jim Detterline
Retired Longs Peak Ranger, RMNP Instructor of Biology, Aims College