At 4:45 A.M. Dustin leaves the house. Sometimes I remember him kissing me goodbye; other days I wake up wondering if he has left yet.  Drake is still in dreamland at this point, but in just a couple more hours, he will rise with a cry for “Mommy” crossing his lips.  As I roll over to offer him milkies, I rub my eyes and wonder what the sunrise will look like.  After a few minutes, Drake finishes his milkies, and touches my face with a happier “Mommy”.  Most days it is an, “aw mommy”.  This is the first of many sweet moments that he gives me throughout the day.  Him and I walk to the blinds, open them and he declares “bright!”.  Typically, a beautiful pink, orange, purple and blue sunrise starts the day on a splendid note.
By the time the day gives me a sunset, it still feels like I have an eon before Dustin will stroll in the door around 6:45.  While there are so many magical moments during my day, there are times when I teeter on the brink of insanity.  I want a moment to just look at the mounds of homework strewn across the table.  I want a moment to pee.  I want a moment to sip my coffee or just a fraction of a second to take a bite of my lunch.  At the same time, I love all the moments of play, all the stories, all the snuggles.  It seems as if a year passes in those hours from 4:45AM to 6:45 PM.  A year full of frustration, stress, overabundant joy and a million laughs.  When I say this out loud it sounds like I am talking in a circle, a sign of a crazy woman.  Perhaps I am.  I know my plight is not unique, and I also know I can’t adequately explain it either.    
Negative emotions caused our family pot to boil; something had to be done.  While we drove to get our Christmas Tree I told Dustin that as soon as I entered the high country my problems seemed to melt away; I felt lighter.  I remembered those sentiments I shared with him and made it a priority to get out and enjoy the unseasonably spring like January weekend.  Since Dustin worked on Saturday, we chose Sunday to play.
Glancing at my stack of books on the way out the door, a pang of guilt stabbed my side.  Heading out with all this to do is so frivolous, I told myself.  I should study.  Then I felt all the tension in my shoulders and the strong taste of resent threatening to taint my mouth.  Time to get the heck out of here. 
Gem Lake is a place that I have wanted to get to for quite some time.  I love the rock formations found in Lumpy Ridge, but I also know I would never commit to go to Gem Lake in the summer because the lake itself is barren.  There are no fish to catch.  Although we encountered a fellow hiker armed with his fly rod…good luck.  Since the lake lacked fish, it was always shuffled to the winter destination pile.  This past weekend Gem Lake finally found its way to the “been there, done that” pile. 
The trail is easy enough to find; it is right off Devil’s Gulch Road.  The Twin Owls and Black Canyon can also be reached from the Lumpy Ridge Trailhead.  There is no entry fee for this area, but a backcountry camping permit is required during the summer season.  Due to the lack of entry fee and length of the trail, I would guess this would be extremely busy during the summer.  Heck, it was busy on a January day. 
At just shy of two miles, it proved to be a great family hike.  Eager to test out his trail legs, Drake demanded “walking, walking” about a quarter of a mile into the hike.  This gave Dustin and I a glimpse at what this coming backpacking season will look like.  Drake walked almost half the way up the trail.  Last summer he was content to sit snug and cozy in his pack, but fast forward six months and he demanded to walk.  The trail is not steep in the least, but there are some steps to navigate.  Drake did extremely well.  Ice, steps, bumpy rocks…he tackled them all, successfully, for the most part.  Ever curious, Drake stopped to examine different rocks and pine cones.  He identified water, ice and snow.  At one particular vantage point, Lake Estes sprawls out in the valley below.  He pointed to the water and said “fishies”.  The kid loves his fish.
We hiked on January 26th and encountered quite a few spots of ice.  A couple of times I thought about stopping to put on my spikes, but decided it was more adventurous to slip and slide.  When we started hitting ice patch after ice patch, we put Drake back in the pack for safe keeping.  He was none to happy about this, but once I got out of sight and held my tongue for a bit, he nodded off to sleep.
At the last stretch, maybe mile 1.6, we happened upon a privy.  The presence of the outhouse confirmed my assumption of the traffic the trail sees during the summer.  There is also a campsite about .2 miles past the lake; perhaps it is the privy for that site, I can’t be certain.  Either way, I would say be prepared for a lot of company if this is a hike you plan to do during the warmer season.  
A frozen lake framed with a beach and a “lumpy” rock cirque make for a tranquil sight.  Luckily enough, we were all alone at the lake.  I love when that happens.  Dustin commented that it would be a great place to bring Drake in the summer to splash around.  Due to the shallow depth and the easy access, I must say I agree.  Perhaps we will have to forego fishing for a day and take Drake to wet his feet in a high mountain lake.  In fact, I have made a tentative plan in my mind to do just that, then hike up hit Black Canyon and eventually end up at Lawn Lake.  Sounds like a nice 3-4 day trip, doesn’t it? 
On the way down, Drake stayed asleep in the pack until we happened upon some exuberant hikers.  It always surprises me how shocked people are to see Drake. “Oh wow!  Look it is a baby!”  All their revelry makes you think they had just seen a Big Horn Sheep.  Needless to say, he didn’t survive all the boisterous conversation.  After that, he wanted his mommy.  We came well prepared.  The day pack went into the seat of the Osprey, and Drake went in the Ergo on my back.  He was asleep again in no time.  The way down was peaceful, but a little part of missed watching Drake navigate the trail on those little legs of his. 
What made this hike spectacular, besides it being Drake’s first “hike”, were the sweeping views of the Estes Valley, Longs Peak and the Continental Divide.  As if nature intended it, rock outcroppings with breathtaking views were spaced perfectly along the trail.  Most stops had rocks you could climb, flat rocks for sitting or having a bite to eat, and even places for Drake to explore.  Dustin remarked that my parents should do this trail.  The ease of the trail and the views make it a winner, in our book, for all ages.
Unfortunately, my respite from “real” life had to end.  Thankfully, it was just enough to blow some fresh air into my lungs, but more importantly my mind became quiet and I found peace in my soul. 
Until next time,

Written by Stephanie Mullins

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