Bear Lake to Grand Lake, 2019

Last September, I went on a point-to-point hike from Bear Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park to Grand Lake. I’ve been on a few really nice hikes since moving back to Colorado, but this one is arguably at the top of the list. I’ve spent a ton of time hiking in RMNP over the years, and many of them have started in the Bear Lake area. But this is one of the few times I’ve spent time on the west side of the park, and traversing ~20 miles of it made me want to spend a lot more time there going forward.

This hike lacks some of the spectacular views of other areas of the park, but there were still some really striking views at the top of Flattop and Hallett Peak. Because I started on the Bear Lake side, I was able to summit these mountains in early morning (by ~8AM) and the light was absolutely gorgeous (one of these days I’m going to have to summit Hallett early enough for sunrise). Going west like I did has a few other benefits in addition to the early morning views:

  1. The total elevation gain is ~3400 feet, which is about 800 feet less than going the opposite direction
  2. From the summit of Hallett to Grand Lake is all downhill, so all the tough elevation gain is done before it gets hot and the last 13 miles or so are a nice, easy cruise
  3. If the weather turns in the afternoon (I got hailed on for about 20 minutes near the end of the hike), you’ll be down in the cover of the trees rather than exposed above treelike around Hallett.
  4. The west side of the park is much, much less popular than the Bear Lake area, so by the time all the tourists arrive you’ll be done with the busy part of the hike. Despite being a popular time of year for the park, I only ran into about 20 people throughout the 9 hours of hiking.

The only downside of this hike is the fact that it’s not a loop so planning is a little tricky. To remedy this wrinkle, my dad and uncle spent the prior night in Grand Lake and hiked the trail in the opposite direction as I did, and when we met for lunch halfway we swapped car keys and continued on. This made the planning a lot easier, and as enjoyable as 9 hours of solo hiking can be it was pretty nice to see some familiar faces to break up the day.

I didn’t do a ton of photography throughout the day, but I still ended up with a handful of shots that I really enjoy. They more than justify the additional weight of a medium format digital camera and a brass brick of an old 35mm film camera. I hope you like them! 🙂

The color photos were taken with my Fuji GFX 50R and the 45mm f/2.8, and the black and white photos were taken on Ilford HP5+ pushed two stops with my Leica MP with a 50mm Summicron (thanks to Thomas Skrlj for selling it to me!). Digital photos were processed in Capture One and film photos were developed by theFINDlab and scanned/converted/edited by me using Negative Lab Pro.

If you’re interested in looking at some more details of the hike itself, feel free to check out my Garmin trail. Garmin tends to overestimate the mileage a bit, but overall the hike was somewhere in the ballpark of 19 miles and 3400 feet of elevation gain, with about 3000 of that happening in the first 4.4 miles.

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