Gem Lake

Rocky Mountain National Park's breeding ground for leeches

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We drove to Rocky Mountain National Park on Friday, July 2, 2016 to check off another hike out of our book, Best Boulder Region Hiking Trails by Bette Erickson. Our objective? Gem Lake in the Lumpy Ridge area just north of Estes Park. The hike was supposed to be about 4 miles round trip but according to my GPS we covered 4.82 miles and climbed 1050 feet. Nevertheless, the kids handled it just fine.

Olivia walked a good portion of the flat section and even climbed on and over a few small boulders along the trail. Izzie and Jack were a little more brave finding all kinds of rock to climb on.

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We hiked through a very lush forest of Aspen, Ponderosa Pine, and even saw a few specimens of the Rocky Mountain Maple (Acer glabrum) while we endured a light drizzle which curled Olivia’s hair into an adorable mess.


Gem Lake is a little shallow depression surrounded by granite slabs, rock mushrooms familiar to anyone who has seen lumpy ridge. We all leapt at the opportunity to climb to one of the high points above the lake, Marion and I taking turns with Olivia and the kids leading the way up these low angled problems on the north side of the lake. The showers subsided and the rock dried quickly so it felt pretty safe going up and coming down. I did wonder about some of the steeper routes in the area and thought it would be nice to return to the area with the kids and climbing gear to attempt some more traditional climbing.

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However, I don’t think that we will remember this trip because of the scramble up the rocks. While Caroline, Jack, Izzie and I were getting a better view from atop the cliffs behind the lake, Marion let Olivia play around in the very shallow water of the lake below. Once we returned, Marion wanted to get in on some of the action up top so Izzie and I took our turn watching Olivia.


The little water girl coaxed me to come in with her. At first I refused not wanting to get my shoes wet but later relented, took off my socks and shoes and waded in barefoot with her. Of course Izzie was game and had already been “surfing” on some floating drift wood. After about 20 minutes of cooling our toes in the lake, the others rejoined us. We decided it was time to dry off and head back to the car. I looked at my feet and noticed some brown spots on them. At first, I thought they were leaves or some other type of detritus but soon noticed that they were wiggling. We were covered in tiny leeches!

Marion was beside herself even though it Izzie and I were the ones whose feet were being sucked on. Olivia kept her shoes on so she was spared the worst of it but we still had to remove some from her as well. Izzie, ever the emotional one, screamed in horror. We spent the next 10 minutes removing the little blood suckers and thoroughly checking one another for stragglers. Of course Jack stuck his hand in the water to purposely pick up a few.

On the way down, as you might imagine we fielded so many leech related questions, especially from Izzie, that we decided that she could do a report on leeches this week and answer all of her questions. It was quite an experience and one we shall not soon forget. I doubt Izzie will ever go into a lake again.

Olivia is liking her carrier less and less these days but she still lacks the legs to hike over this kind of terrain. She wants to walk and fought us each time we tried to put her in. So, once I got her into the carrier, I headed to the car as fast as my legs would carry me. It always surprises me that she can fall asleep back there with all the jostling but she does.


Jack kept up with me but the girls lagged behind, stopping at the privy for a moment.

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I went there hoping to connect with nature and feel an inner peace. Because dogs aren’t allowed in the National Park, we rarely visit these days. I spoke to Jack and Izzie about their shrieking and yelling, saying that places like this were valuable for their beauty and that silence would be an appropriate and reverent response. This was a place to encounter the Creator in His Creation, I argued, a place to reflect and commune with God. However, the Inventor of the sense of humor Himself turned my piety into blood sucking leeches and plenty of laughs, shrieks and cries. But Jack, assured me back at the car that this day “was some accomplishment.”

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