Cub Lake

Thursday, May 28

Starting June 4, to visit Rocky Mountain National Park, you’ll need a Timed Entry pass. Last night, I visited the Recreation.gov website to scope it out. I couldn’t actually do anything, as these reservations weren’t available until this morning, but it looked promising. Each reservation costs two dollars and you can use any of the various park passes to cover your entry to the park. As I have a pass that is good through June, I should have no problems!

When the appointed time came, I logged on to the system and tried to buy a pass. I was presented with a list of choices, including a reservation to be used in conjunction with my annual pass. I selected this and continued. I was soon asked for my name and the number of my pass. I entered the number, but it told me it was invalid. I played around with it for a little while, trying different things. I could have bought a reservation and a one day pass for $27 ($2 for the reservation, $25 for the day pass). But I certainly didn’t want to pay 27 bucks a pop for a hike.

I decided the most expeditious course of action was to go up to the Park and buy a new annual pass. So that’s what I did.

I arrived at the entrance station at about eleven. The day was nice, a bit cool, mostly cloudy over the divide, not very breezy. They used to hand you a clipboard so you could sign your new card and the credit card receipt. Now they just hand you the card and receipt and tell you to be sure to sign the card when you get home.

Having arrived so late, I couldn’t hike very far. And I think, for the most part, I’m going to avoid the Bear Lake area as much as possible. I’d been talking to my brother about hiking to Cub Lake and as it was fresh on my mind, that’s where I headed. This is one of those hikes that’s short enough and popular enough that I’d be expected to have hiked it several times. But I’m thinking I’ve hiked it exactly once.

The small parking lot right at the trailhead was full, so I went up the road another two-tenths of a mile to the larger lot where the bathrooms are.

The Cub Lake trail is separated from the Fern Lake trail (and the road that leads to that trailhead) by a ridge that runs east and west. The first thing to do then, is head south around the eastern end of this ridge before turning west. The trail runs along the base of this ridge, on solid ground. The flats here are occupied by a series of ponds surrounded by grassy marshes.

This whole area was ravaged by the Fern Lake fire in 2012. The damage to Moraine Park was minimal. It’s an open, grassy lea with no trees. There are some bushes that grow 12-15 feet high; these were burned but are now growing back. As you make your way past the ponds and marshes, you begin to see burned forest. Many of the aspen seem to have recovered nicely, but the pine forest takes quite a bit longer to return.

Cub Lake used to be a fairly typical forest lake: a pleasant place to visit, but because of the trees, no great view. Now, to even get from the trail to the shore you must navigate a maze of deadfall. The slope above the opposite shore is fully burned, with just a few trees right beside the water surviving.

I was expecting to see quite a few hikers, but I enjoyed a surprising solitude. I spent an hour sitting by the lake, listening to the birds, and watching a particularly brave ground squirrel that was quite interested in the contents of my pack.

I did see quite a few more hikers on my way out. I’m not wearing a face mask when I hike, with my intention to step well off the trail when I encounter other people. A good number of hikers had bandanas around their necks that they’d pull up over their mouths and noses as I approached. But it was fairly easy to avoid being in close contact with people, so I wasn’t concerned about the general lack of masks.

Any day in the Park is a good day. I bought my new pass, spent a few hours in nature, and was able to relax a bit. So it was a good day.

When I returned home, the first thing I did was try to buy some Timed Entry passes. I quickly arrived on the screen where I was challenged for my pass number. I typed it in, double checking it, and was informed that the number was invalid. WTF?

Very frustrated now, I deleted it and retyped it. Generally, a web page won’t show you any errors until you press Enter. This one updated the error message for the pass number field as each character was typed. When I typed slowly, I saw it go from “invalid” to “valid” before I’d typed the entire number. So it didn’t want to see the last few digits. Nowhere on the page does it inform the user that the whole number isn’t necessary. It may be that my old pass was working, had I thought to cut a few digits off the end.

Having passed that hurdle, I managed to purchase two passes. I was after a handful of them, though. I did try to purchase a third one, but it wouldn’t let me. It didn’t say I had reached any limit, it just failed to cooperate any longer. No worries, I got two good days in June. In a day or two, I’ll sign back on and see if I can get a couple more.

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