Before I started this blog I had been posting trip reports to a forum for lovers of Rocky Mountain National Park. This is one of those reports, with only minor edits for clarity.
Hike date: 24 September 2011 — Originally posted: 28 September 2011 – 11:57 AM
Saturday I hiked the North Inlet Trail to Ptarmigan Creek, then off the trail to Bench Lake. Shortly after starting up the trail, I had a bit of discomfort on my right ankle. I have a couple of seasons of hiking in these boots and was a bit surprised that I’d be getting a hot spot there. Not a big deal, though, so I continued. It’s something like six and a half miles to Ptarmigan Creek, and the trail climbs very gently. In spite of my ankle I was making good time, something like 3 miles per hour. By the time I reached the creek I had only encountered 7 other hikers, 3 of whom started at Bear Lake.
I went up and down the trail a few yards either side of the creek looking for anything resembling a trail but didn’t see anything so I just headed up the hill. In the macro sense, navigation is trivial – just stay on the east side of the creek as you climb. It’s a fairly steep climb (for me at least), and I was more concerned with encountering terrain I would be unwilling to descend. I’m a bit of a fraidy-cat when it comes to steep descents, particularly when I’m hiking alone. My general rule is to never go up anything I need to use my hands on because I know I’ll get the heebie jeebies on the way down. Saturday, though, I broke my rule because I have hiked three times this summer where I didn’t make it to my destination and I was so close I didn’t want to turn around.
War Dance Falls are somewhere near the top of the climb. It’s a bit hard to tell where they are exactly, as the creek between the trail and the lake is basically a falls the whole way. I was unable to get a view I liked for a photo.
I sat for about a half hour and had my picnic lunch before making my descent. I managed to go down pretty much the same way I went up. I was a bit surprised, as in the best places there is just a faint suggestion of a trail. When I got to the steepest bit, where on the way up I recognized I’d have problems, it’s steep enough that my fanny pack was in contact with the ground. I carry two water bottles, one on each side of my pack. At this point, one of the bottles got nudged out of its holder and bounced down the mountain towards the creek. I thought I saw it get lodged between a rock and a tree, but when I got closer I could see that I was mistaken. I lost my bottle. Murphy’s law applies here – I didn’t lose the half empty bottle but the full one. I’d have to ration my water a bit for the 7 mile hike back to the car.
When I got back on the trail my ankle really started bothering me. At one point, I thought I felt moisture there – I thought my blister had popped or torn open. Nothing for it but to continue as best I could. It was painful enough for me to alter my gait a bit. I tried taking longer strides or shorter strides, I tried walking slower and walking faster, but nothing helped. In the end, it really affected how fast I could hike and the same trail I was managing 3mph on the way up I was now doing less than 2mph down.
I made it back to the car with a few sips of water left. When I changed from my boots to my shoes, I expected to see a bit of a mess on my ankle. Much to my surprise, there was no blister. There was a bit of swelling but no redness. I’m guessing now that I got some sort of insect bite. It got red later in the day, and was puffy for another day or so. Now the swelling and redness are gone but I still have a bit of pain. Why couldn’t the damn insect have bitten me a couple inches higher?
Bench Lake is the 44th lake I’ve visited in the park. There are still a few more I can get to on my own, but they’re getting to be longer hikes and farther off the trails. I think I can probably do Nokoni and Nanita on this trail even though they’re quite long for day hikes. But the first seven miles of trail is so flat I think I’m willing to give it a try. Maybe next year.
Bench Lake verdict: It was nice to get there once, but probably not worth the effort a second time.