Estes Cone is a popular destination in Rocky Mountain National Park. It is fitting that this popular destination would be in the early part of the Year of the Mountaineer hiking series. It is near Estes Park, closer to the eastern entrance to the park near Allen’s Park. The trailhead is shared by Longs Peak and Chasm Lake.
The trail branches off to Estes Cone from the main trail to the northeast about a mile from the ranger’s station. The hike was just under 7 miles with an elevation change of 1,800 feet. It seems as that should be a short hike with only moderate elevation change. The trailhead starts climbing not far from the Ranger’s Station, and shortly the terrain becomes very uneven with rocks, tree roots, water bars and a few stream crossings. At 0.7 miles from the top of Estes Cone, the terrain changes from rocky to very steep and boulder-strewn. During the final push to the summit, scrambling was required to reach the top. All of us remarked that the scramble to the top was fun. The descent was tricky and a challenge. There were no incidents from the exciting but tricky scrambling.
Earlier this year, our current leader decided to snowshoe hike to Estes Cone. It was very difficult to find the route, as the trail was under several inches of snow. There were none of the characteristic blue diamonds on the trees to aid scouting the trail. She had a written description in addition to her GPS to guide her. There was an error in the description, as it said to go “to the campground” instead of “through the campground.” Her GPS and the trail map indicated that we were to travel east. Another hiker quickly responded that we were heading in the wrong direction. This participant’s GPS had a larger and more detailed screen. The leader corrected the misdirected route and we found the proper heading and trail. We were off by 500 feet, but the error caused confusion, and breaking trail in deeper snow from the established trail had ensued. The snowshoe hike had been exploratory and a change of pace from the normal summer hike. Estes Cone wasn’t summited, but the journey had been a beautiful one.
The summer hike to the top of Estes Cone was worth every step of the very difficult climb. As with all summits in RMNP, the view from the top is breathtaking. Many summits were visible, including Hallett Peak and Flat Top in the distance. Battle Mountain, Mt. Meeker, Mt. Lady Washington and Longs Peak loomed large to the southwest. The Longs Peak Keyhole was visible, but the feature was not prominent. Estes Lake and Estes Park were visible to the north east. Today, we had broken clouds that added ‘set decoration.’ We also were treated to the beginning of fall color. There were dappled patches of bright yellow. The backlighting from the strong sunlight gave the aspen a brilliant glow. The temperature was 70 degrees at the trailhead when we completed the hike. It was slightly warmer than average. The hike had been a little more tiring due to the heat but we had been blessed with an intermittent cool breeze. It felt great, especially during the ascent up to the Cone.
In addition to the warm temperature and the incredible views, our last high point caused us to stop talking and listen. The unmistakable sound of the bull elk’s bugle was the heard in the distance. The sound travels far and we weren’t sure just how far away he was. I was glad that he was out of sight as the bulls can become very dangerous during this time.