Rocky Mountain National Park Trip Report by Monica Stapleton

Rocky Mountain National Park Trip Report by Monica Stapleton

Back in 2022, I spent a summer working at Rocky Mountain National Park as a Wilderness Ranger. The work was enjoyable, largely in part due to the group of people I worked alongside and the post-workday fishing sessions. As a self-proclaimed desert rat, I struggled a bit with the transition to the alpine region of Colorado. The snow lasted well into June, and the cold seemed to linger all summer; something I hoped to leave behind when I left the Midwest over a decade ago. And while I certainly enjoyed my summer in the mountains, I opted to return to my comfort zone in Southwest Utah once the snow returned to Rocky in the fall.

Fast forward to September 2023, and I’m doing the ranger thing in Zion National Park in Utah. The work is dreamy, but after a summer spent in the desert heat, I was daydreaming about the cooler temps and alpine lakes that Rocky had offered. So I decided it was time for a late summer trip. I snagged a cheap flight, packed my bags, and made my way to Colorado.

Haven pitched at a wooded campsite

As a park ranger, It’s a real treat to take the uniform off and be a tourist in a National Park. I was looking forward to drinking beer, floating around the lake, and doing a whole lot of nothing; all things I rarely had time to do when I was there the summer prior. Rocky is littered with beautiful alpine lakes. So many, it was tough to decide where I wanted to spend a couple of days. I landed on Ypsilon Lake. A step nine mile out and back hike to a campsite not too far from the water, with plenty of trout and side hikes to keep me busy. 

I was dropped off early that morning by a great friend of mine I had met the summer prior (thanks Anna!). Fresh homemade burrito in hand, I started up the trail around 6:30. I don’t fancy myself a morning person, but I do enjoy a good sunrise hike. I was happy to feel the cold on my skin, but quickly warmed up as I climbed along the Roaring River. The mixed conifer forest would occasionally give way to expansive views of the Mummy Range, an area I had grown particularly fond of the summer prior. I did my best to soak it all in. The smells. The sounds— all so different than where I was coming from. I cruised along, excited to see the site, get camp set up, and make my way to the lake. 

cooking set up in camp

I arrived at camp mid-morning. Setting up camp was a piece of cake. The Haven TentNet and Tarp set-up is straightforward, though I’d recommend watching the handy video provided by Six Moons before your first attempt. Rain can come out of nowhere on the continental divide, so I made sure everything was extra secure before grabbing my packraft and fishing gear and heading down to the lake. 

This was my first time using my PR pack for this purpose, and it’s clear that this is a purpose-built product. What shocked me most was how easy it was for me to empty my pack of base camp items, reconfigure with what I needed for a day trip, and have a pack that felt just as comfortable and secure filled to the brim as it did holding a quarter of its capacity. The pack has enough straps for functional adjustment, while not being overwhelming. On my hike up, I was packed pretty darn full. Standard backpacking gear, plus fishing gear, a packraft, pfd, and a collapsible paddle. It’s a lot, but the Flex PR was up for the challenge and truly delivered. It felt super comfy on the hike up and never felt like it was too empty or flopping everywhere when I took a bunch out. Needless to say, I was pretty stoked about that. 

Flex PR with raft and fishing gear

The next two days consisted of a whole lot of wind, some rain, plenty of beer, and fishing when the weather allowed. I was able to use the dry bag from my Flex PR to store my daily necessities while floating around the lake, and of course during the rain. While the conditions were far from optimal for the whole fishing/packrafting pipe dream I had, it allowed me time to hunker down in my tent, read, journal, and slow down. And even throughout the wind and rain, I stayed dry and cozy in my little Haven. 

It's easy to take these beautiful places for granted after working in them for a while. The trip helped me remember how lucky I am to call these parks home for a slice of time each summer, whether it be in the desert of Utah or the mountains of Colorado. Our National Parks are a real gem and deserve to be treated as such. 

Reading next

Upper North Fork of the Smith River, Attempted Headwaters Run Part 4 by Nicole Smedegaard
Letter to an Appalachian Trail Hiker by Amiththan Sebarajah

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