Due to 2020 being generally shitty, this looks to be my only track day of the year. It could be argued that, if I had any sense, I wouldn’t even do this one day. A paranoid person might think that it is tempting fate: why give 2020 additional opportunities for mayhem?
The original plan was that I’d have a guest. For a while it looked like one of my track buddies would attend as well. None of that came to pass: my guest messed up his back last weekend and my track buddy decided to be a responsible parent and attend a parent-teacher conference. So it goes.
I arrived early because I wanted to be relaxed in my preparations. It seems whenever I have any time pressure, I mess something up. Never anything serious, but I prefer to have things go smoothly. So I had a bit of time to kill. If the food truck had been open, I’d have spent some of the time eating. I brought a snack with me, but not a meal.
We are typically split into fast and slow groups. I picked the slow group. When I signed in, I asked if we had enough cars to do this. It seems we did. However, during the drivers’ meeting, we were told that the number of entrants was marginal. We’d do fast/slow groups the first hour and after that, we could run as we pleased. Judging by wristbands at the meeting, I guessed there were more slow cars than fast ones.
I was the only Lotus.
The track’s website listed rules for COVID: only people in your own household could be passengers; social distancing should be maintained; masks are required when not wearing a helmet. It didn’t appear that these rules were being enforced. Few of my paddock neighbors wore masks, and some even attempted to shake my hand when introducing themselves.
The weather was ideal, unless you count the smoke from the forest fires, be they here in Colorado or on the west coast. There was no obvious smoke smell, but the haze was significant. The temperature was pleasant and there was no breeze to speak of.
The slow group was up first; we’d have a half hour, but by the time the meeting was over and I made it out on track it was more like 25 minutes.
This is the first time on track since the engine replacement, lighter flywheel, rear brake pads, and new diffuser. I didn’t notice any particular difference, but it has been nearly a year so it’s not a good side-by-side comparison.
I had some considerable traction issues that I’m blaming on tire pressures. (That said, I didn’t change pressure in any sort of attempt to correct the problem.) The real issue of the evening was my brakes. Midway through that first session, my brake pedal started getting long. Brake fluid level was okay. The problem is most likely old fluid. The brakes cooled down between sessions, so things were okay at the start of each session and I’d have increasing fade lap after lap. None of my sessions was very long, so this was an annoyance and something to be closely monitored rather than a significant problem. I can only think it would have been much worse on a regular summer track day when the ambient temperature is twenty or thirty degrees higher.
When I went out for my second session, the check engine light illuminated. I came back into the pits immediately and checked the codes. I had two: P0463 and P1302. P0463 is “Fuel Level Sensor Circuit High Input” which indicates a fuel level that exceeds the fuel tank’s capacity. I filled up in Byers but didn’t fill more than usual. Certainly, after 17 highway miles and 8 laps, I wouldn’t expect this code. I’ve had the P1302 (misfire) once or twice before. I cleared the codes and went back out. If they returned, I’d call it quits. They never did.
I ran a short third session. I would have liked to have gone longer, but was limited by my brake problem. I called it quits after that, as the sun had dropped below the horizon and I figured that by the time my brakes were sufficiently cooled, it would be too dark to put in any good times.
My best time was in the first session, 2:13.40, which I think is a decent time for the street tires. Not spectacular, and I won’t bother putting that lap up on YouTube. Today’s video is mercifully short. This time of year, the sun sets directly over the highway straight. This would normally be quite bothersome, but with the smoke it’s not an issue at all. The camera doesn’t do the scene justice.
And there are my two errors, both exiting the corkscrew. First, I’m too abrupt when pulling out to pass the M3 and I get quite a wobble. The second time, I hit the curb, unsettling the car and causing me to put two wheels off. (The guy behind me on that last one caught it on his camera, but hasn’t sent me a copy yet.)
At least my brake pads are quiet now. (These pads handle high heat, work when cold, are relatively dust-free, and quiet. Except when brand new, when they sound like a locomotive horn when coming to a stop. They need a track day to get quiet.)
Considering how few laps I ran, I was surprised at the physical toll. When I got home, I was quite fatigued and the next morning I had a few more aches and pains than I was expecting.
I arrived at the Sandbeach Lake trailhead a few minutes after seven. The skies were without a cloud, and compared to the last several weeks, it looked like there wasn’t any smoke. Now that it’s mid-September, it’s starting to get a bit cool. It looked to be another glorious day in the Park.
I’ve decided that the timed entry passes aren’t being checked here in Wild Basin. As usual, there was nobody at the entrance station before eight. And when I returned from my hike at about 3:30, there was still nobody there. Perhaps the thinking is that there is fairly limited parking in this part of the Park and therefore it can’t get overcrowded.
Anyway, I put boots on the trail by a quarter after seven. My plan, I told myself, was to hike to Keplinger Lake. This is my third trip up Hunters Creek, first time falling short of Keplinger, second time succeeding. On my way down on my successful trip, I thought I had a pretty nice route. I figured it would be fairly trivial to retrace my steps and given my starting time I expected to arrive there by something like 11:30.
Keplinger is about seven miles from the trailhead. Half of that is on the trail to Sandbeach Lake. It alternates between fairly steep climbs (for a pack trail) and level stretches unencumbered by roots or rocks. I kept seeing small hoof prints. These were much smaller than those made by a horse, but looked almost the same: perfect horseshoe shapes, just a few inches across.
I haven’t heard of anybody who likes my route. I just follow Hunters Creek, using a trail I believe to be frequented by people climbing Longs Peak from this side. The trail is not maintained but is quite easy to follow except for two places where some deadfall has blocked it. After about a mile and a quarter, a stream joins Hunters Creek from the north, while Hunters Creek turns to the west. I cross this unnamed tributary here and continue up Hunters Creek.
The forest isn’t very dense through here, allowing sunlight to dapple the ground. The trick is to cross Hunters Creek before it makes a turn to the north. If you continue following the creek, you’ll end up in the messy mass of willow that surrounds an unnamed pond at about 11,200′. There was the terminus of my first attempt to reach Keplinger.
Today, I crossed Hunters Creek fairly early. I figured it didn’t really make much difference. All I needed to do was work my way through some trees and I’d find a treeless gully I could follow up the slope to where the creek drains from another unnamed pond, this one at about 11,400′. From there, it’s maybe a third of a mile to the lake.
Getting to the top of the gully puts you back on the banks of the creek between the two ponds. I stopped here for a short break. At least, that was my plan. It was a very pleasant spot. Due north of me was Pagoda Mountain. An arm of the mountain reaches to the south, toward me. Just to the left of this arm, directly below the summit, lies Keplinger Lake. I could have made it there in twenty minutes or so. To the right of Pagoda are Longs and Meeker. From this angle, Meeker looks to be the highest and biggest, and Longs looks … unclimbable.
I decided I didn’t need to go any farther. It had been cool enough all morning that I never took off my hoodie. It wouldn’t be any warmer at Keplinger, a couple hundred feet higher. The view of Pagoda is much more dramatic there, but the other peaks are hidden. Keplinger is all rocks and water; vegetation is sparse. Here, there was almost no breeze. Directly above me, the sky was almost its usual brilliant blue but there was a noticeable smoky haze on the horizon.
From the time I started hiking until I stopped here for lunch, I’d watched a number of helicopters fly overhead. At first, I thought there were two choppers sporting similar livery. The first two passes overhead were in the same direction: from roughly the direction of Allenspark and passing between Pagoda and Longs to go over Glacier Gorge. There may have been just the one helicopter and I missed its return trip. I didn’t know what they were up to. My first thought was that they were dealing with the Cameron Peak fire somehow, but they weren’t carrying a bucket or any other obvious cargo. They stopped flying over at about 11:00.
I let the world go by for half an hour, ate my sandwich, drank my beer, and relaxed.
If I had brought a map with me, I probably would have tried an alternate route back. That would be everybody’s preferred route, which goes by Sandbeach Lake. Looking east, I’d stay out of the trees then head over the forested hump at the eastern end of Mount Orton, then descend to the lake. I’ll come back here again and give that route a shot.
I did stay out of the trees for a longer distance than on my way up. It was easy walking and I made good time. I kept thinking I should make my way to the creek but kept delaying it. I found a game and followed it. It snowed that fell last week, several inches of wet, heavy stuff. Sometimes it was hard to tell if it had been walked through or if it was just knocked down by the snow. I saw several places where it looked like elk had bedded down, but hadn’t seen any elk, deer, or moose all day. I finally did spot an elk for an instant: she heard me coming and ran away. I saw a flash of her backside as she fled through the trees.
When I got to the end of this series of treeless gullies I found myself at the top of an outcropping I wasn’t willing to descend, so I had to backtrack a bit and find a route that didn’t bother me. I came across a talus field I spotted on the way up. It wasn’t the greatest route, but the rocks weren’t too big for me to make my way down.
Back in the woods I slowly worked my way to the creek. I came across a small pond I didn’t expect to find. It’s not on my map, but I did later find it on the satellite image. Back at the creek, I found an easy crossing and was back on ground I’d navigated before. I didn’t bother sticking too close to the creek. I can roam anywhere I want, as long as I head downhill. Eventually, I’ll run into the tributary I crossed when I left the climbers trail or I’d be back to Hunters Creek.
Staying away from the creek made for easier walking. The forest is sparse enough that there’s no deadfall to speak of and it’s late enough in the season that everything is dry. In July, I’d certainly be running into various trickles of water and marshy/grassy leas, and route finding would be more challenging. I shortly reached the tributary and crossed it to regain the climbers’ trail. I was only about fifty yards upstream of where I crossed on my way up.
I took a short break when I got back to the trail to Sandbeach Lake. I refilled my water bottle and ate the last of my fruit. I considered making the side trip to the lake, figuring it would take me an hour or a bit more. I was up for it physically, but I didn’t want to take more than an hour and figured it wasn’t worth making the trip if I couldn’t relax for a while at the lake. So I headed back to the car.
When I started hiking again, I heard another helicopter. I paid more attention to them now, noting the times they flew over and which direction they were going. They passed very close to the west side of Longs Peak. I’m sure anybody on the summit got a good look down on them.
The first flight of the afternoon was headed towards Glacier Gorge and it flew over me on its way back twenty minutes later. Twenty minutes after that, it was headed back to Glacier Gorge. This chopper made two round trips. Then a different one came from Glacier Gorge. It was a different model of aircraft, candy apple red instead of the orange and white of the earlier one. Instead of flying away, it descended into the valley below me. It took me a while to spot it through the trees. After a few minutes, it took off on its way back to Glacier Gorge. It made this trip twice.
I made it back to the trailhead by 3:30. I was curious to know what the helicopters were up to. I’d have asked the ranger at the entrance station, had there been a ranger there. There was a group of motorcyclists there, taking a break and using the restrooms. So I asked the bikers if they knew anything. They hadn’t been there very long, and the red chopper never flew over here, stopping a bit west of Copeland Lake. They didn’t know anything about the choppers.
I was a bit surprised when one of them asked me what was on my hat. I’m always wearing my hat from Autobahn Country Club. The guy who asked was thinking my hat was from a track in New Jersey. I gave him points for knowing it was a track and told him it was Autobahn, in Illinois. He said he’d driven that track. I didn’t quiz him, but he did mention running laps at a few California tracks, so maybe he’s been to as many tracks as I have. I neglected to ask him whether he tracked a bike or a car.
He did ask me what I drove. He expressed surprise that I could fit in an Elise. And he was pretty well acquainted with Lotus. He asked if I’d “added any lightness” to it. “As a matter of fact, I have!” We chatted about track days for a bit.
It was another beautiful day in the neighborhood. I hiked about thirteen miles, climbing about 3100′. The weather was ideal. I saw only one person from 7:15 to 3:30 and didn’t see him until after 2:30. I’ve never had such solitude before. It doesn’t get much better than that.
Searching the news when I got home, I see that teams were out searching for a missing hiker. His car was found at the Glacier Gorge parking lot and he was assumed to be attempting the Glacier Gorge Traverse. That’s a “difficult 19 mile route” that crosses eleven summits. It seems they found his body today (Tuesday). The article I read says that they flew his body to a landing zone in Wild Basin. I can’t help but wonder if the article has the timing a bit wrong. Were they taking him out on the last helicopter I saw? How unfortunate. He was my son’s age.
Every government has its secret service branch. America, CIA; France, Deuxième Bureau; England, MI5. NATO also has its own. A messy job? Well that’s when they usually call on me or someone like me. Oh yes, my name is Drake, John Drake.
Called Secret Agent when it was broadcast in the USA, Danger Man stars Patrick McGoohan as John Drake.
From September of 1960 to January of 1962 the 39 episodes were made for a half-hour time slot. Drake was an agent for NATO, based out of Washington, D.C. The show was cancelled when American financing could not be obtained. Over the next two years, Danger Man had been resold in markets around the world, James Bond had become popular, as well as shows like The Avengers.
It returned in 1964 with double the running time and a transplant to London, where Drake now worked for “M9” doing the same sort of work. These one hour black and white shows aired from October, 1964 to April, 1966. After another gap, two final episodes were aired in January, 1968. These final two episodes were in color.
I preferred the theme song and incidental music from the first season over the rest. For the hour long shows, they changed to a main theme that sounds to me like a harpsichord. Over time, though, the theme grew on me, particularly the horn section in the middle. But the harpsichord sound always seemed odd to me.
I was familiar with McGoohan from The Prisoner, which was made after Danger Man. When I was about half way through viewing this series, I did a bit of reading about McGoohan. I didn’t realize that he was one of the actors considered for the role of James Bond in Dr. No. He was also offered the part of Simon Templar in The Saint, which he turned down. He again was offered James Bond in Live and Let Die, and again turned it down. Roger Moore took both these roles.
I’m having a hard time imagining McGoohan as either Templar or Bond. It’s not that I think he wouldn’t have done a fine job; it’s more a failure of my imagination. John Drake is not very much like either Templar or Bond. Drake is neither a womanizer nor a fan of guns. He’s serious, wholly lacking the humor Roger Moore brought to both Templar and Bond.
The series was developed by Ralph Smart, who remained involved with it for the entire run. Smart wrote or co-wrote 37 of the episodes and directed two others. McGoohan directed three episodes himself.
Like The Saint, John Drake is a multi-talented guy. Fisticuffs are a regular occurrence for characters of this nature, so Drake is an able fighter, often needing to outfight multiple foes who are typically armed. Drake can fly a plane and pick locks but, unlike Simon Templar, he cannot crack a safe.
His main talent is role playing. Simon Templar was a notorious public figure: everybody knew him. Drake is an undercover agent and relies on anonymity. As such, he goes on his missions with a cover. On multiple occasions he’s been a journalist or a lawyer. He’s been a butler twice, a disc jockey once and a radio reporter once, a mining engineer, traveling salesman, recently released ex-convict (twice), a merchant sailor, an artist, and so on.
Some of these identities require a certain amount of specialized knowledge and abilities. This implies that Drake regularly undergoes some extensive training. When posing as an artist, he bought the entire output of a painter because, presumably, Drake wasn’t much of an artist. But he passed as a highly competent butler and could work all the equipment when he was masquerading as a DJ. He once posed as a code-breaker, and while undercover was expected to build and configure a code breaking machine, which he accomplished.
He’s also quite competent at the usual tasks of the secret agent: breaking into homes, apartments, and offices; working radios, including sending and receiving Morse code; conducting surveillance.
And, as every other television character of the day, he smokes and drinks like there’s no tomorrow.
The influence of James Bond on the show is evident as time went on. In the beginning, Drake had no special gadgets. By the end, he had an entire electronics store concealed in his bed in his apartment: radio receivers, tape recorders, decoders, video monitors. None of this served the plot in any way; it seems it was thrown in just because it was expected.
Drake did make regular use of a number of handy gadgets. He often used an electric shaver that concealed a miniature reel-to-reel tape recorder. My favorite was a cigarette lighter that was a camera. These devices all looked to me like they could really exist in the time the story took place, unlike many of the things Q supplied James Bond.
I don’t think Drake ever failed in his job, but that doesn’t mean things always turned out “right”. For example, he was once told to bring a man in and that the man wouldn’t be arrested. He made this promise to the man and the man’s wife, but the man was arrested, angering Drake.
I found the entire run of shows entertaining, except for the last two episodes. I wouldn’t say that Danger Man ever “jumped the shark”, but those last two episodes were a mistake.
Although it would be natural for me to watch The Prisoner next (was #6 John Drake?), I’ll instead move on to Peter Gunn.
Last year, Gordon and I spent two nights camping at Lost Lake with the intention of hiking up to Rowe Glacier. I stopped at Scotch Lake but Gordon continued. For a short while, he thought he’d made it to the glacier but finally decided that he, too, had fallen short. When I opened discussion of our next backpacking trip he casually said that he was thinking of visiting Rowe Glacier as a day hike.
I have little doubt that he is capable of doing in one day what I failed to do in three, but I wasn’t sure he was serious. I told him there’s a shorter route, one that would get him to the summit of Hagues Peak as well. I told him, “I happen to have a timed entry pass for 9/5. We could hike together to Lawn Lake, then you could blaze ahead while I hang around at Crystal or Lawn. I could theoretically do the saddle instead of Crystal, but I wouldn’t want to slow you down.”
And, so, we more or less had a plan.
Saturday, September 5
On my trip to Crystal Lake back in July, I arrived at the trailhead a few minutes before seven. That was a weekday and the lot was nearly full. Assuming that on a weekend there might be more people on the trail, we agreed we’d need to start at about the same time. So Gordon arrived at my place to pick me up a few minutes before five-thirty. He brought Eric, one of his co-workers, to join us.
Both Eric and Gordon are fitter than I am, but for the hike to Lawn Lake, they let me set the pace. In July, it took me 2:45 to get from the trailhead to Lawn Lake. Today, I was just a slight bit faster: 2:39. I’ll admit that that made me a bit proud. It’s not exactly a metronomic pace, but it is nice and consistent.
I didn’t stop, or even pause, really, until a bit past Lawn Lake. I wanted to use my first break to apply some SPF and I figured a nice place to do that was sitting on a rock with a view of Lawn Lake below me. I did pause, very briefly, a few minutes earlier to try to get a picture of a bull moose that was a few yards off the trail. He was shy. I got a picture of his backside, but he kept foliage between his head and me. Perhaps he was thinking I couldn’t see him if he couldn’t see me. A further few yards up the trail, we came across a group of deer: a doe and three spotted yearlings.
My break finished, I insisted both Gordon and Eric go ahead of me. It’s steeper here, and where I stopped was about 11,200′ in elevation. The air is getting noticeably thin. There’s no way I can keep up my earlier pace, and I don’t even try.
This is my third time up here, and the first two times I always followed the spur trail to Crystal Lake. This time I continued up toward The Saddle. Not long after this junction, the trail crosses a stream. This is not the outlet from Crystal Lake. Although there’s almost no snow left in the area, the stream still has a significant flow. I couldn’t help but wonder where all the water was coming from. It’s just an indication of how much water the grassy/marshy landscape holds.
Eric was well ahead of Gordon, and Gordon was just thirty or forty yards ahead of me. He pointed out a herd of sheep browsing along the stream. We weren’t very close, and the only camera I had was the cell phone. And the phone isn’t particularly good for telephoto shots. But at least the subjects didn’t go to great pains to hide their heads from me. I wasn’t entirely sure, but I figured they were bighorn sheep, even though I didn’t see any rams with horns that curved all the way around. I’m now thinking they were some combination of ewes and yearlings. I’m pretty sure this is the first time in my adult life that I’ve spotted bighorn sheep in the Park.
Several minutes later, I caught up with Eric. He had tweaked his knee last Sunday hiking Mt. Evans. He was feeling pretty good when we started, but by now he figured if he kept going he might be in a bit more pain than he was willing to put up with. So he decided not to go any further. We weren’t that far from The Saddle. I was hoping to make it that far, just to look over the other side, but I decided it wasn’t that important. I told him there’s a nice spot a bit below us where we could sit on a rock and look down on Crystal Lake. It seemed like an ideal place for a picnic.
I didn’t pay particular attention to how long we sat on that rock. It was at least half an hour. We had a good view of the lakes below and the spur trail, but I didn’t see anybody down there. On my first visit to Crystal Lake, many years ago, I was the only one there. But two months ago the place was crowded, and that was a weekday. So I was a bit surprised nobody was there today.
Eric started back to the car. He wanted to take his time and didn’t want to slow us down. After a few minutes I decided to make a quick visit to Crystal Lake. It looked to me like it should be easy to cross the little isthmus between the two lakes to find a spot on the north shore of the lake to get a slightly different view.
I didn’t go all the way back to the trail junction, but struck off cross-country, saving me maybe three-tenths of a mile. It all looked so simple from above, but on the ground it was a bit more complicated. Then again, I didn’t spend a lot of time looking for a route. I was guessing Gordon was making quick time of things, and I didn’t want him to pass me on the way out. So my exploration was cursory, and I’ll save a more thorough attempt for my next visit.
I was getting low on water but didn’t replenish my supply at Lawn Lake. I was thinking that I’d have a chance to refill at one of the switchbacks, where I’d be close to Roaring River. This was poor thinking. The river isn’t convenient to the trail until a few yards above the junction to Ypsilon Lake. I made it that far (now not much more than thirty minutes from the trailhead) and stopped. I rummaged through my pack but couldn’t find my Steri-Pen. I would have sworn I had it. I just replaced the batteries in it. But perhaps I neglected to return it to the pack.
A bit below the Ypsilon turnoff, I ran into a couple headed up. They asked if I’d made it to any of the lakes. We chatted a bit. It was nearly four now. I told them it took me nearly three hours to get to Lawn Lake, that Ypsilon was a bit closer, but perhaps a bit steeper. While we were chatting, a group of four hikers passed us in great haste, heading down.
“See that cloud? It’s not a cloud. There’s a fire just over the ridge!” That wasn’t a very good description. I asked them where they were hiking from. They said they’d been to Ypsilon. In any event, I wasn’t certain what I was seeing was smoke instead of clouds, and what did they mean by “just over the ridge”? They didn’t stick around to provide any more details.
Continuing our discussion, I suggested to the couple that they go as far as the river crossing on the Ypsilon trail. They were unlikely to make any lake and get back out before dark. Then they asked for suggestions for tomorrow. Hopefully, they’ll be happy with my guidance.
I made it back to the trailhead at 4:18. I asked Eric how long he’d been waiting; he said he wasn’t waiting long and that he’d gotten a nice little nap. During our chat, I related the tale of my missing Steri-Pen, which I now easily found in the pack. How could I have missed it?
Gordon arrived about an hour later. By now, there was no doubt that what was above us was smoke and not cloud.
When I was applying my sunscreen above Lawn Lake, we all noted how clear the skies were. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky, and the smoke we’d been seeing (and smelling) for much of the last month was gone. While waiting for Gordon, Eric and I talked about how folks in the backcountry would never know about a new fire: they’d only know what they saw. We wondered what Gordon may have seen.
He showed us a couple of pictures he took from the summit of Hagues Peak. From his description of the direction and distance, I guessed that this was the Cameron Peak fire, which I haven’t heard about in several days.
Well, it’s in the news again. The smoke plume over our heads was, indeed, from the Cameron Peak fire. This plume went up 36,000′ and as I write this the fire has expanded to more than 34,000 acres (an increase of 10,000 acres Saturday alone) and is dumping ash on Greeley. It has now crossed into the Park and several trails and roads have been closed.
Every hike I take, I have some goal in mind. Today, it was to reach The Saddle and look over the other side. I didn’t make it. Falling short of my hiking goals just serves as an excuse for another attempt at a later date. Still on the table here are The Saddle and a bit of exploration of the isthmus between Little Crystal Lake and Crystal Lake. And, just a mile up the Black Canyon trail is a body of water called Potts Puddle. So there are still a few new sights for me in this area.
Imagine a verdant shelf set high on a stately mountainside above an unspoiled, heavenly creek valley. Add a series of lovely lakes to ornament the shelf and place it in a location so remote that few humans would ever have the ambition to go there. Put it all together and you’ve got Ten Lake Park.
— Lisa Foster
I studied the map of the terrain between Lake Verna and Ten Lake Park for quite some time. The first thing I noticed is that there aren’t ten lakes in Ten Lake Park. My map shows only five. And three of those look more like puddles than lakes. Regardless, it looked to me that I might be able to reach the place. I know that a forty-foot contour interval on a map can hide a multitude of terrain that might give me difficulties. But half or a bit less of the way was in forest so route finding should be simple for much of the way.
Tuesday, August 18
We had another leisurely morning. I slept until nearly 7 and we took our time with breakfast. We started off at about 9:30. The smoke cleared considerably overnight.
The obvious route from Lake Verna to Ten Lake Park is to follow an unnamed creek up the eastern flank of Mount Craig. Once out of the trees, look for the pass between the two prominent points east of Mount Craig. Cross the pass and descend into Ten Lake Park.
Rather than backtrack the quarter-mile to the creek, we crossed East Inlet west of the creek and went up the slope toward the creek at an angle. It was fairly steep for my taste, but there wasn’t much deadfall. Still, it was slow going. We came to a bit of a cliff that we bypassed by crossing the creek. After crossing the stream again, there was a big section of slick rock we had to cross that bothered me. I knew I’d be able to go down it but I also knew it would have my heart rate up.
We often looked back at where we’d just been, making sure we got a good look at the route from this vantage. Ed stacked up some cairns as bread crumbs. He used a couple chunks of wood as a marker where no stones were available.
As we climbed, the forest thinned and receded from the creek, which ran through a grassy meadow filled with wildflowers. Most were still blooming nicely, but the Elephant Heads were past their prime.
We saw only a few small lingering drifts of snow. Earlier in summer, these grassy areas are filled with water; big spongy masses. But now that the snow has melted and we’ve had about half the normal precipitation this year, things are dry. Judging by the watermarked rocks, the creek was running at a small fraction of its spring flow.
Not long after coming out into the open, we came to a gully on our left that climbed quite a way. I suggested that what we saw was the pass we were looking for. This proved to be a … well, not a false summit but a false pass. We weren’t so much looking for a gully as a grassy ramp. When we got to the top of our false pass we spotted the real thing.
Or, more accurately, a choice of passes. We could continue up and left, climbing a wide grassy area or a slightly steeper, narrower, rockier one a bit to the right. It looked like the one to the right was a bit lower and would be a few steps shorter, so that’s where we headed. It didn’t take us long to reach the top and take in the view of the other side.
I knew going into this that there aren’t actually ten lakes in Ten Lake Park. And I know that these sorts of places can look considerably different in, say, June than in mid-August in an abnormally dry year. A little trickle of water emerged from a nearby spring, making a narrow band of green across an increasingly brown expanse. Below us, we could see a couple of small lakes and ponds, along with two dry lake beds.
In an ideal world, we’d have taken some time to enjoy the place, but it was approaching 1:30 pm, and assuming it would take about as long to return as it did to get here, we’d be back in camp well after 5. So, after a quick reconnaissance of the upper reaches of the park we turned around and climbed back to the pass.
The descent down the slopes and gullies was fairly quick and painless and once back into the upper reaches of the forested slope below us, we came upon the first of the cairns we’d set up earlier. We successfully found our route in, and Ed knocked down the cairn as we passed it.
Approaching the top of the slick rock we crossed on the way up, we made a change to our route. On the way up we saw a game trail at the top of this rock. Deer and elk won’t often cross rock like this and we figured it was worth a shot at following the game trail. As often happens with these things, it looked good for a while before petering out. But we continued to go down the steepening slope, climbing over the occasional dead tree trunk, regaining and re-losing game trails on the way.
It sometimes seemed these game trails haven’t seen much use lately, but there is game in the vicinity. We came across some deer in the upper meadows and here in the forest we came across a cow elk with two or three calves still in spots. We didn’t spy any moose, but there was ample evidence of their passage, and I don’t mean footprints.
Ed is a big fan of glacial knobs. At one point in our descent we had a very nice view of the opposite slope, which is the southern exposure of Andrews Peak. To Ed it must have looked like glacial knob heaven.
As on our way up, we crossed to the west side of the stream on the way down. This time we didn’t recross it and stayed to the west. The slope was not quite as steep here, and we had a relatively easy time of it. Before long, we saw the East Inlet just below us. The stream is wide and shallow here and Ed just headed straight across. I’d have followed, but I don’t hike with poles and without poles I’d have undoubtedly slipped so I went upstream to find a crossing more to my liking.
Our return trip was quite a bit faster, taking only two and a half hours. In retrospect, we could have spent a bit longer at Ten Lake Park. But the future is hard to predict, and we did start getting rained on a bit on the lower portion of our descent. I’m not at all unhappy with our little hike.
I found the upper area of this unnamed valley beneath the eastern flank of Mount Craig quite beautiful. Add a small lake here and it might even be ideal, but I’m a big fan of alpine lakes so I admit my bias.
It should come as no surprise that we encountered no other people on our little trek. In fact, we saw no sign that people had ever walked here before us. At some of my more remote destinations, I wonder how many other hikers make the trip in a year. I often see cairns or bootprints and surmise dozens or maybe a hundred. Here, perhaps only a handful of people come through here each year.
Because we were back in camp a little earlier than planned, we had a bit of an extended evening. Although the smoke from the wildfires was quite mild in the morning, it had steadily increased throughout the day. Now it was quite thick. I couldn’t taste it yet, but the odor was very noticeable.
The late afternoon saw a succession of rain storms. That overstates it a bit: we got sprinkled on several times. The smoke made it nearly impossible to tell if clouds were overhead, but we were still seeing our shadows, so we kept telling ourselves that the rain wouldn’t last. It never did, and the little rain had no effect on the smoke.
In fact, it might have been tempting to think that our sprinkles of rain had somehow turned to a light sprinkling of snow. But it wasn’t snow, it was ash. Each little particle of ash was rectangular, rather than the hexagonal shape of an individual snowflake. Like snow, sometimes the individual rectangular ashes clung together making larger bits of ash.
The big fires that I was blaming for the smoky air are well to the west of us. The nearer fires are north and south. And so I was quite surprised to note that the ash was falling on us from the east. I’m guessing that this was ash from the Cameron Peak fire, which is the nearest one, and so the complex winds along the Continental Divide carried this payload east, then south, then west.
The ash fell all evening, but the smoke thankfully never got much worse.
We nearly went the entire day without seeing or hearing another person. Sitting in camp chatting, we heard nearby voices. I climbed to the top of a rock where I could see the trail along the shore of Lake Verna and spotted one hiker. Unless she was talking to herself, there was at least one more hiker. Nonetheless, I can’t think of a day in the Park when I saw so few other people.
As the sky darkened and the stars started to appear, we could tell that all the clouds were gone now, we would get no more sprinkles, and if ash was still falling we could at least no longer see it.
Wednesday, August 19
We awoke to another beautiful RMNP morning. Like yesterday, the smoke was much reduced. And no more ash was falling.
We were packed up and on the trail not long after eight. We made somewhat better time on the way out and were back to the trailhead at about 2:30. In all my years of hiking the Park, I can probably count on one hand the number of times I’ve seen horses on the trail. I see lots of road apples, but not many horses. In addition to the two horses we met while on our break on Devil’s Ladder on Monday, today we were passed by two park rangers on horseback, leading two pack horses. And closer to the trailhead another pair of riders. I think Ed was trying to work out how big of a bribe it would take to ride out rather than to walk.
At the trailhead, there was a ranger picking up litter. It’s sad that this is a part of anybody’s job. Why do people go looking for wilderness and then promptly pollute it?
Another ranger was at the trailhead checking timed entry passes. This trailhead isn’t outside the Park, but you don’t have to go through an entrance station to get here. When we arrived on Monday there was nobody performing this check.
Ed stopped in Grand Lake for some ice cream before we re-entered the Park for the drive over Trail Ridge. Approaching the entrance station, Ed’s ice cream cone suffered containment failure and he nearly wore the last few bites.
To the north were the smoke plumes from the Cameron Peak fire. The smoke blew to the east, and when we descended down the east side of the Divide we drove down into quite a thick soup. Some rain clouds made it look even darker but a look over our shoulders when we passed Deer Mountain showed us that the smoke here was much, much worse than we dealt with on our hike.
I’ve hiked the East Inlet Trail three times now, once as a day hike, once with a one-night stay, and now with a two-night stay. I’ve visited all the places along this trail that interest me with the exception of Adams Falls, which is the easiest feature to visit on this trail.
In general, the valley of the East Inlet is a beautiful place to visit and worth the effort of climbing all those stairs. And Devil’s Ladder is a dramatic piece of trail offering an expansive view of the Grand Lake area.
More specifically, our visit to Ten Lake Park was a bit of a challenge but, I think, well worth the calories burned.
My second backpacking trip of the year is a two-night stay at the Lake Verna campsite. This is very similar to my trip two years ago when Gordon and I stayed one night at the Upper East Inlet campsite with the goal of bagging Fifth Lake. That was the trip where I learned I need to spend two nights in camp instead of one. One day to hike in, a day to visit whatever the real goal of the trip is, and a day to hike out.
In that earlier trip report I went on a bit about the condition of the trail. Specifically, that there are an almost uncountable number of stair steps to negotiate and there are quite a few impressive retaining walls and bridge abutments. It’s what I would call a “highly engineered trail”. Rather than repeat that, I’ll go into some of the trail’s history. Much of this info comes from an application the Park made to get the trail into the National Register of Historic Places.
Unlike the North Inlet and Tonahutu Creek, the East Inlet doesn’t offer any sort of easy route from Grand Lake over the Continental Divide. Which is to say that before about a century ago there were no existing trails through the valley. According to Charles Edwin Hewes, a local who wrote about his tramp through the valley, no feasible trail existed there in 1913. That summer, the Estes Park Trail (before it was the Estes Park Trail Gazette, I guess) said that “a new trail was made from Grand Lake to a chain of lakes six miles east of Grand Lake.” It would seem that this could only be describing the East Inlet.
The Trail does not name a trail builder, but in those days trails were often made by lodge keepers, guides, or other locals. Just because Hewes didn’t find a trail doesn’t mean one didn’t exist. It could mean that the trail was a more casual, less permanent style of trail that Hewes and his hiking group could have missed. Lodge keepers weren’t professional trail builders and didn’t have the resources for developing sustainable trails.
In 1919, Roger Toll, who would later become a superintendent of RMNP, recommended that mountaineers who wanted to get up the valley should just follow the waterway rather than to find a trail. In 1922, when he was superintendent, Toll reported that the trail was blocked by a rockslide near Lone Pine Lake. One would think that he wouldn’t report a trail closure unless there was a trail there. Park records don’t mention any trail construction there between 1919 and 1922.
By 1923, the East Inlet Trail had gained some popularity with the tourists. It also gained a bit of a reputation for being dangerous among local guides. The section called “Devil’s Ladder” was notoriously tricky for horses. Fred McLaren, in his first year as ranger, watched his horse slide over Devil’s Ladder and down the hill. I’m guessing it wasn’t one of the steeper bits, as the horse was just a little spooked. McLaren went to the superintendent (Toll, I believe) and suggested that if the Park supplied the food, locals would volunteer to do the work. In 1924 and 1925 such a crew built a new trail through the Devil’s Ladder area and made a handrail out of pipe. That handrail is long gone but the careful observer will note a couple remnants of it today.
In spite of McLaren’s efforts to build a sturdy, sustainable trail all the way to Lake Verna, in 1931 the entire trail was considered “poor”. In 1931 and 1934, trail workers redeveloped the section between Lone Pine Lake and Lake Verna. I don’t know how much of the work was done in 1931 as opposed to 1934, but I suspect the bulk of the work was done in 1934. This section is remarkable today for it’s extensive dry-rock walls and intricate bridge abutments. In the summer of 1934, Roosevelt’s Public Works Administration funded two shifts a day to make these improvements.
In 1935, there was some interest in connecting the East Inlet Trail to the North Inlet Trail. This would have been accomplished by a route over the saddle between Mt. Alice and Andrews Peak. A survey was completed, but given the great distance from both trailheads, it’s not surprising that this was never done as it would get very little traffic.
Another big improvement project was completed in 1940 when the Civilian Conservation Corps worked on the section between Adams Falls and the Devil’s Ladder. Then in 1970, another $70,000 project was implemented. This was mainly for improved sustainability rather than any realignment of the trail. Many older rock walls still remain, although the pipe handrail at Devil’s Ladder was removed at this time.
The official Park trail ends at Lake Verna, but an unimproved and unmaintained “fisherman’s” trail continues on to Spirit Lake, Fourth Lake, and Fifth Lake.
Which brings us to…
Monday, August 17
I reached out to Ed a couple of weeks in advance. I talked him into meeting at his place and having him drive to the trailhead. I said that because we had all day we didn’t need to get too early of a start. So I told him I’d be there at 8 am. He said that would be okay, but pointed out we’d be hiking in the heat of the day.
The other concern had to do with smoke. Specifically, from either the Cameron Peak fire, burning just north of the Park, or the Williams Fork fire, which is a bit farther from the Park and to the southwest. The prevailing winds blow from west to east, so I didn’t expect smoke from those fires, but I did expect smoke from the larger, more distant fires at Grizzly Creek and Pine Gulch. I may have been a bit cavalier about the smoke: I suggested that if it was too bad, we’d just cut our trip short.
We were on the trail just a few minutes after 10 am. The weather was sunny and warm, with isolated clouds. The smoke wasn’t too bad. It was much worse in Denver on Friday, where visibility was quite limited and I could taste the smoke when I was in my back yard. Today I couldn’t smell it, let alone taste it. But it certainly didn’t look good.
Having all day, we made a leisurely time of it. We stopped for a lunch break halfway up Devil’s Ladder. We were in a relatively wide spot. Most of that section is quite narrow, particularly in these days of COVID. But we found a spot with a view that was wide enough to not cause a problem. And we put that to the test when two horses came up the trail. They were able to pass us with no difficulty. We took another break at Lone Pine Lake and even spent a few minutes admiring the stonework on the walls and bridges above Lone Pine Lake.
It was about 6 pm when we arrived at Lake Verna. There, we met two young men lounging by the water. They asked if we were staying the night and volunteered that they were camping at the Lake Verna campsite. “That’s our camp,” I told them. Ed and I went up to the campsite where we found their hammocks and gear all set up. There is only one campsite here, and it’s ours. When they came up from the lake I asked them if I could see their permit.They were supposed to be at Upper East Inlet.
We chatted a bit while they packed up. I felt a bit bad, but not that bad. It only took them a few minutes to get their stuff together. While they were packing they told us they’d just graduated from college and were making their way across the West. After RMNP they’d visit Flaming Gorge and Yellowstone. They had no reservations, but would take whatever was available when they arrived. That’s how they got Upper East Inlet. I’m a bit surprised it was available. I’m pretty sure it wasn’t available when I made the Lake Verna reservations back on March 2nd. Somebody probably cancelled due to COVID and these gents benefited.
In spite of our relaxed pace on the hike in, we were both pretty tuckered out. I managed to remain conscious quite some time after sunset. There’s not much sunset to see from here, being obscured by mountains and trees, but through some of the trees we could see the decidedly orange tint of the sunset. Until the stars began to shine, I wasn’t sure whether we had “clear” skies or clouds. Once the stars started coming out, we could tell there were no clouds. The stars directly above us twinkled normally, but those just above the nearby mountains were tinted orange from the smoke.
I’ve had more than the usual amount of free time lately. Somehow I decided to watch The Saint, the British TV series from the sixties starring Roger Moore. They made 118 episodes between 1962 and 1969, the first two-thirds in B&W and the rest in color. I found them quite entertaining.
The Saint was a literary character created by Leslie Charteris. He wrote the first Simon Templar story in 1928 and cranked them out as short stories, novellas, and novels for the next 35 years. Almost all of the black and white episodes had scripts based on Charteris stories, while only a few of the color ones were.
I love the character. Simon Templar is famously known as The Saint. Everywhere he goes, somebody recognizes him. In fact, it’s built in to each script: the cold open always ends with somebody ending a sentence with “Simon Templar”, at which point a halo is put on screen above Templar’s head. He often looks up at it.
During the cold open, Templar gives us a few words. In the black and white episodes, he breaks the fourth wall and addresses us directly. His eye will catch the camera and he’ll give a half-nod or beckon us with his eyes and the camera moves in to a closeup. And then he talks to us. In the color episodes he no longer does this; but he still gives his little monologue as a voice-over.
Templar has no job, no visible means of support. The police in every major city of Europe know who he is, and often threaten to jail him under the slightest pretext. They often have an officer tail him. And Templar often buys said officer a nice dinner, or drinks, or takes him to a party. The police all agree he’s a jewel thief, but we never see him steal anything from the thing’s rightful owner, and always on behalf of some wronged individual, although he sometimes gets a reward and occasionally gets a cut.
He is an expert safe-cracker and picklock. He’s an excellent fighter and can take a few punches. That is to say, the fights are pretty hokey, but The Saint almost always prevails over one or two or even three assailants, even if he is unarmed and they have knives or guns or even swords. I love that in about half the fight scenes (particularly in the early episodes), they manage to break every stick of furniture in the room. He’s so good at boxing that in one episode he got in the ring with a championship contender and won.
I like his car, a Volvo P1800, a sporty white two-seater hardtop with red interior (in some later episodes it’s a black interior, but it switches back to red). He’s an excellent driver, which should be no surprise. He’s so good, in fact, that he can drive a Grand Prix car against championship drivers and lead the race. It’s not just Grand Prix cars: he drove (and won, of course) a rally. When he’s not needed to compete in the race, he volunteers to help with the setup of the car: “Do you want me to find the vibration?”
Our hero is also a pilot. To be specific, he can fly a helicopter, a single-engine prop plane, and with a little help flew a Harrier jump-jet in the first year it was in service. (They called it an Osprey, not a Harrier. But it was definitely a Harrier. I’m amused that the US now has a VTOL plane called the Osprey.)
He’s a snappy dresser. He sports a tuxedo or a suit and is almost never casually dressed. He’s able to scale walls and fences and break into mansions, apartments, and hotel rooms while dressed to the nines. I love that when Templar breaks into somebody’s residence and conducts a search, he helps himself to a drink. In one episode he stole cigars instead of drinks, then later smoked one of these cigars in front of the man he stole them from.
He travels to Europe, the USA, South America, and even Australia. Beautiful women are attracted to him. He’s conversant in French, Spanish, German, and Italian. He can spot fake jewels quickly, but isn’t so keen a judge of paintings. He’s a witty conversationalist.
The production, particularly in the black and white episodes, is a bit on the cheap side. That could be due to the truly staggering amount of cigarettes that are consumed. If the alcohol was real, they wouldn’t have been able to afford film. Templar prefers whiskey and soda (dispensed from a seltzer bottle, natch) but will consume a wide variety of potent potables. I’d say the characters are always drinking, but that would be an exaggeration. They don’t drink when they’re in cars, or during fight scenes (although it’s not uncommon for someone to get hit over the head with a bottle of wine).
I shouldn’t make fun of the production. It was above average for its time. The entire run was shot on film. Many sixties shows that were shot on video tape were lost because the tapes got reused. And film transfers to digital better, having much higher resolution.
They shot establishing shots on location, but without Roger Moore. These were always long shots and used a lookalike. Anything close up was shot in the studio. The interiors were obviously designed like those for the stage: there are no interior 90 degree corners. Walls on the left side are not parallel to those on the right side. The actors are often blocked such that they don’t face each other when giving dialog.
They often repeated these exterior shots. For the episodes where The Saint is in Spain or Latin America, they always showed the same hotel: La Perla. Another generic looking building got repeat screen time as a number of different generic hotels. The studio lot evidently wasn’t very big, as we kept seeing the same building exteriors over and over, but with different names painted on them.
We probably also saw the majority of the contents of their props warehouse. I noticed the same suit of armor show up in an English castle, a French chateau, a Spanish villa, and a German lodge. We repeatedly see a series of framed drawings of antique cars. And there are the framed photos of birds. In one episode, Templar asks a woman “did you take this?” and we see the same photo on the wall of a bar a few episodes later. I might not have noticed it if they hadn’t pointed it out the first time.
All that said, I found that the stories were very efficiently told. That is, they packed quite a bit of plot into the 49 minute running times. Harry Junkin was the script supervisor for the entire series. He also wrote a number of the screenplays. Another writer of several early episodes was Terry Nation, who wrote many early Doctor Who episodes and created the Daleks.
On the whole, the black and white episodes were quite good. Primarily, they were detective stories. Templar must figure out who the bad guy (or gal) is, get them to confess, and recover the stolen goods, if goods were stolen. Sometimes it’s a murder mystery: too often, one of Templar’s “good friends” is the victim. (It really wasn’t healthy to be a “good friend” of Simon Templar, given how many of them are killed.)
When they started doing shows in color, they changed the main title music (but didn’t update any of the incidental music). The opening title sequence was changed and lengthened. Originally, it was just the title of the show and the only names were Leslie Charteris and Roger Moore. In the last two seasons, they moved producer and script supervisor to the opening credit sequence. For the final season, they changed the main title music again, and not for the better.
Some guest stars showed up in more than one episode. “Guest star” may not be the best term, as I can’t say that any of them were stars. Bert Kwouk, best known as Cato in the Pink Panther movies, shows up in three episodes (as three different characters). I always liked the Cato character, so when I saw Kwouk playing a Chinese Colonel or a hotel desk clerk, I noticed him immediately. An actress called Dawn Addams showed up in three episodes. I don’t think I’d heard of her before, certainly didn’t think, “Hey, that’s Dawn Addams!” But when she showed up in a second (and third) episode, I thought “she looks familiar.”
Another “gee, that’s familiar” moment was when I watched an episode that involved voodoo. Some of the situations and even little snippets of dialog from this story ended up in Live and Let Die, with Roger Moore playing James Bond.
The stories in the last two seasons were a bit uneven. Only one or two were based on stories by Charteris. The last of the Charteris stories was when The Saint jumped the shark. The story was called The House on Dragon’s Rock. Clearly, after cranking out more than a hundred stories they were finished. This one was a poor rip-off of the movie Them! Templar is reduced to fighting a giant ant. The last season also featured a Terry Nation script. Another dud.
To wrap things up, I watched the 1997 movie starring Val Kilmer. This is definitely not The Saint. They used the character name, and the name of Scotland Yard’s Claude Eustice Teal. But neither of these characters has any resemblance to Leslie Charteris’ Saint. In the TV show, as I said, he was well known by the police. In the movie, he was an unknown, a master of disguises, a wanted man. He used technology to crack safes. He was a crook, only in it for the money. Not at all the same character. It wasn’t necessarily a bad movie, just not The Saint.
Based on how quickly the Bear Lake parking lot filled up the last time I went hiking (on a weekday), I figured we’d need to arrive at the Wild Basin parking lot very early if we wanted to get a parking spot on a Saturday. I told Chad to pick me up at about a quarter to six. He arrived a bit early and we were easily on the road by our appointed time.
With the timed entry passes in effect, I was assuming the entrance station at Wild Basin would be manned starting at six, but there appears to be no change here. In the past, whenever I arrived before eight there was nobody to show my pass to. And, today, there was nobody here to present my timed entry pass to. So it looks like if you want to hike in Wild Basin you won’t need a timed entry reservation if you arrive before eight. I could be wrong on that, as we arrived a bit before seven. Still, the parking lot for Sandbeach Lake right there at the entrance station was already full. Not a good sign.
I was now worried that we’d arrived too late. My Plan B was to hike to Keplinger Lake, and that hike starts at the Sandbeach Lake trailhead. With that lot already full, Plan B was a no-go. I really wasn’t that interested in visiting Finch Lake and Pear Lake, but there were a few empty spots at the parking area for that trailhead, so at least we had a fallback position.
Arriving at the end of the road and the Wild Basin parking lot, it didn’t look good. I think all the parking places were full, but there was room for two cars to parallel park on the road at the far western end, where it turns around. We parked there and got ready for our little walk. We put boots on the trail at 7:05.
It was going to be a hot day, but at seven it was still cool. The skies were clear, a brilliant blue overhead, but looking toward the horizon it was quite hazy. And we could smell smoke. The haze and smell dissipated before long, though. Neither of us had paid much attention to the local news, so we didn’t know the wildfire situation. I’m reasonably sure that this smoke was the product of the Pine Gulch fire near Grand Junction.
Wild Basin holds many beautiful scenes but it takes a bit more effort to find them than, say, in the Bear Lake area. Our route today starts with about 1.4 miles of trail along North Saint Vrain Creek. We take the Campsite Cutoff, making a right turn. If you are so disposed, you can stay on the main trail, which crosses the creek before heading steeply uphill to visit Calypso Cascades and Ouzel Falls. The main trail eventually meets up with the other end of the Campsite Cutoff. You just need to decide whether a visit to these two water features is worth the extra half mile or so.
We had plenty of miles in front of us, so we took the shortcut. The trail is a bit steeper and has more rocks and roots to step over. The shortcut doesn’t stray too far from the banks of the creek; we can hear it much of the time, but can only see it once or twice. About 1.3 miles later and something like a 600′ climb, we arrive back on the trail to Thunder Lake. Another 1.3 miles or so and five or six hundred vertical feet brings you to the spur trail to Lion Lake #1.
The trail to Thunder Lake is a pack trail, but no stock are allowed on the trail to Lion Lake #1, not even llamas. It’s about two miles from this junction to the lake, and almost exactly a thousand feet of elevation gain. Overall, not very steep, but it does have a couple of short sections that are steep enough to be breathtaking. The forest is not very dense through here, which allows for the occasional views of the surrounding peaks. At one point, Pagoda Mountain makes an appearance over the ridge that runs between Chiefs Head Peak and Mount Orton.
We found ourselves taking in the view of Lion Lake #1 and Mt. Alice a few minutes short of three hours after hitting the trail. Depending on how you look at it, these lakes sit in one or two high valleys, sparsely forested, with nice open views over wide, grassy meadows dotted with wildflowers.
It’s a relatively simple matter to reach Lion Lake #2 and Snowbank Lake from here. The trail is indistinct at times, either crossing rock slabs or just fading into the grass, but there are numerous small cairns to aid you. Even now, in August, there are still a couple of snowfields but these are easily skirted. Along the way is Trio Falls. It’s much more impressive in July than in August; it’s better with more water. After a short half-mile that climbs about four hundred feet, you arrive at Lion Lake #2.
The inlet to Lion Lake #2 passes under a nearly permanent snow field. Today, the stream has nearly eaten its way through and just a small, fragile looking snow bridge connects the snow on either side of it.
Snowbank Lake lies just a couple hundred yards farther, about a hundred feet uphill. The lake is surrounded by rock and snow and krummholz. Even on a mild day like today the wind can be a bit discouraging. We made it here in good time, just four hours from the car. This meant it was a little early to break for lunch. That was a good thing: there really wasn’t any convenient place to relax that overlooked the lake and was out of the breeze. Had we decided to spend much time there, I’d have had to don my jacket.
We worked our way back down to a nice spot between the two Lion Lakes and found a place to sit on a rock in the sun and with a nice view. This was not difficult to do: we had plenty of places to choose from.
When I first proposed this hike to Chad, I said we could get these three lakes plus Castle Lake, which is a short distance off-trail. Chad thought that a four lake hike sounded like “a serious challenge” that he was interested in taking on. It later occurred to me that we could bag Thunder Falls quite easily as well, as those falls are not very far off the trail in the opposite direction from Castle Lake. It would involve a bit of backtracking, but it shouldn’t be out of the question.
So, fortified with lunch, we renewed our hike. The idea is, you go just a few hundred yards off the trail eastward from the southern end of Lion Lake #1 and you’ll run into Castle Lake. I found it easily enough seven or eight years ago. I recall it as not requiring much of a bushwhack. This time I took us off the trail a bit farther south and we had a little deadfall to deal with instead of the grassy ramp I remembered from last time. After a few minutes, we checked our elevation and decided we needed to climb about forty feet. So we headed uphill and to the north and we came to the southern shore of the lake.
The money view at this lake is found on the east side of the lake, where you have a straight-on view of the sheer face of Mt. Alice. We were on the other side, where it’s not so interesting. We took another quick break here but didn’t put in the effort to find the view. This hike is my third visit to Lion Lake #1. The first time, I went to Lion Lake #2 and Snowbank Lake. The second time was to come here, to Castle Lake. Both those times I didn’t see another hiker after leaving the Thunder Lake trail. Today, we encountered ten other hikers at and above Lion Lake #1. Castle Lake provides much the same view as Lion Lake #1, but I suspect very few people visit it in spite of it being so close to the trail. Even on a busy day, solitude can be had here.
We left Castle Lake, descending a small gully. The last time I was here was later in the season, and no water flowed out of the lake. Today there was a little trickle of water. This flowed into the little meadows below the lake. I picked a route around these, thinking they might still be a bit marshy. We regained the trail a short while later.
I had completely forgotten about our possible side trip to Thunder Falls until a while later when Chad brought it up: “Is it okay if we just head back now?” He told me he was happy that I decided to skip the falls. I didn’t tell him I’d forgotten all about going there. By now we were well on our way back to the junction with the Thunder Lake trail.
While our hike in along this part of the trail this morning was pleasantly cool, in mid-afternoon it was on the warm side. And we started to see a lot more traffic. And Chad was no longer having much fun – his feet were getting quite sore. In retrospect, I should have told him how far we were going. I did say we’d be hiking for more than eight hours, but I should have been more specific. I guess he got his challenge.
We were back to the car about four-thirty, so nine and a half hours total. It was a beautiful day for a hike, even if it was a bit toasty at the end. The area around Lion Lake #1 is gorgeous and well worth the visit. Perhaps I’ll make a return trip soon, at least to Castle Lake, and make that side trip to Thunder Falls.
As I’ve demonstrated many, many times, not all my hiking plans come to fruition. But I’m okay with that, as the only important part of my hiking plans is the hiking itself: I’m fortunate that I’m in reasonable proximity to the Park and I’m healthy enough to take advantage of it.
The original plan for this hike was to arrive at the Bear Lake parking lot early enough to get a spot there and head off toward the western flank of Joe Mills Mountain in search of Marigold Lake. Marigold Lake is a small puddle on a forested bench pretty much due east of and upslope from Odessa Lake. It is not to be confused with Marigold Pond, which is pretty much the same size but lies a few yards east of Two Rivers Lake.
I think it’s some sort of joke that the folks who assigned names to bodies of water in the Park have given names to such insignificant puddles such as Marigold Lake but much larger “lakes” are not worthy of being named. I mean, I’m guessing no more people make the trip to Marigold Lake than to either of the ponds on Hunters Creek on the way to Keplinger Lake. Both those unnamed ponds are much bigger than Marigold Lake (or Embryo Lake, and a few others).
I tried to find Marigold Lake last year, along with Round Pond. Round Pond I found, Marigold Lake I didn’t. Near the end of that hike, I decided it would be much easier to locate Marigold by coming off the Odessa Lake trail rather than coming from Round Pond. Time to put that theory to the test.
Wednesday, July 29
I had the alarm set for 5:30, but work up on my own at 5:15. I was out the door promptly at 6:00 and at the Bear Lake parking lot at close to 7:30. So was everybody else. The signs all told me that the lot was full but I had to check it out for myself. It was, indeed, full. I lacked a plan B, and I won’t be riding the shuttle bus until there’s a vaccine for COVID-19. My solution in this case was to make the hike directly from the Park and Ride.
Foster lists the distance from Bear Lake to Marigold Lake as 3.9 miles, with a net elevation gain of 770′. Doing it from the Park and Ride adds about 3 miles and something like 800′ of climbing. It also adds a visit to Bierstadt Lake, so that’s a bonus, I guess.
The skies were clear, but it was fairly windy. Most of the hike would be in the forest, so the wind wouldn’t be terribly annoying.
I’ve never hiked from the Park and Ride before. The hike from here to Bierstadt Lake is a bit longer and a bit more of a climb than from the Bierstadt trailhead, so I don’t know that I’d recommend it over either of the other routes. In the morning, I went around the south side of Bierstadt. It’s only about a tenth of a mile difference, and I figured I’d take the slightly shorter route in the afternoon.
I met a couple who were visiting from California. They asked me if I’d ever seen a bear while hiking and if there were grizzlies in the Park. I’ve seen a bear (and I’ve seen lots of bear poop), but there are no grizzlies here. That answer elicited a further question from them: what does bear poop look like?
Standing on the eastern shore of Bierstadt, I could (sort of) see where I was going. Joe Mills Mountain is the low, tree-covered mountain to the right of Flattop, in the middle right of the photo. Marigold Lake is on the other side of Joe Mills, a bit north of the summit.
I arrived at the trail junction to Bear Lake in less than an hour and a half, a bit after nine. A few minutes later I passed the trail to Flattop. I felt I was making pretty good time and now could expect to see fewer other hikers. Fewer, but not none. I didn’t run into anybody hiking back; all the traffic was going my way. Between the Flattop junction and starting the descent towards Odessa lake, I passed three groups of hikers and nobody passed me.
In this photo, the Fern Lake fire scar is visible in the distance. A giant talus field (bigger than the nearer one) starts at about the center of the picture and goes up and to the right, bordered by lines of trees. It tops out about where the upper line of trees ends. My plan was to leave the trail when I got to the giant talus field. Traverse that, gaining a bit of elevation as I go, and approach Marigold Lake from above. I was reasonably certain that I passed below the lake when I tried to get there from Round Pond. I didn’t want to end up below it again.
No longer in the forest, I got a better sense of just how windy it was. It wasn’t extreme, but it was unrelenting. It was borderline as to whether I wanted to put on my jacket. At the top of the talus I paused to search for my destination. I couldn’t see it. By now I was toying with the idea that Marigold Lake is a myth; a conspiracy between map makers and trail guide writers to get me out in the middle of the forest searching for a non-existent puddle of water.
I worked my way to the next pile of talus. Finally, I could see the lake. Or part of it, at least. It’s not much more than a water stain. It’s barely visible in this photo, just below center, above the rocks. It was a little lower than I expected, or I was a little higher. The route finding looked fairly straightforward. But it looked to be choked with a combination of krummholz and willow. I decided I didn’t want to deal with that. Given that there’d be no view while at the lake, and with the wind, I decided my best bet for a place to eat lunch would be Two Rivers Lake. So I turned around and headed back to the trail. Knowing now its exact location, I’m happy to make a return trip starting at Bear Lake rather than three miles farther away.
Given that Two Rivers Lake is less than a hundred yards from the trail, I’m always somewhat surprised that it can’t be seen from the trail. And, given its close proximity to the trail, I’m always a bit surprised that it’s such a pain in the ass to get to from the trail. There is a little trail that goes to the north shore of the lake, and I followed it. But there wasn’t a suitable place for lunch there, so I worked my way to the east.
I couldn’t stay very close to the shore, and as I worked east, the separation got larger. I finally had to force my way through some krummholz to get back to the shore. At the eastern end of the lake, there are a few rocks that would make suitable seats. I was looking for a rock in the sun but out of the wind. There was no such thing anywhere I could see. So I gave up and started back to the trail.
Returning to the trail along a different route, I almost immediately found myself on the edge of a small pond, almost attached to the lake. I was out of the wind here. The view was not as dramatic as Notchtop, but it was worth it to get out of the wind. I sat there long enough to eat and no longer.
On the way back, I didn’t go fifteen minutes without running into other hikers. Often, they were resting. None of them bothered to get off the trail to do this, and some of them picked the narrowest parts of the trail to do it on. I thought this showed a lack of situational awareness in this time of pandemic. It would be really easy to stay far enough apart that nobody would need to put on a mask, but so many people don’t give it any thought.
I took a short break where I had a view to the east. Probably every time I hike this trail, in either direction, I pause here for a sip of water or just to take in the view. This time, I sat for a few minutes and munched on some trail mix. Bierstadt moraine stretches before me, with the lake clearly visible, the reverse view of my picture taken from the shores of Bierstadt Lake this morning. I’d be hiking along there soon, just to the left of the lake and then dropping off the eastern end of it to return to my car.
I fully realize that my desire to visit to Marigold Lake is simply to tick a box: been there, done that. It has no particularly interesting attributes. It’s for the completist. I didn’t tick that box today, but I’ll be back, fully understanding that the pleasure in the achievement is much smaller than is warranted by the expenditure of the effort to get there. Particularly if it takes three tries!
Having just tried this a month ago, it seemed to me that I might be able to start this blog entry where I dropped out last time. Yeah, right.
Thursday, July 23
The alarm woke me at 5:15. I was out the door by a quarter til. I went over Trail Ridge with the idea I could run both cameras and if traffic was light maybe make a nice video. I stopped at Deer Mountain and mounted the cameras. Traffic was light but what there was, was really slow. Often just fifteen miles an hour. I passed some of them over a double yellow line.
At about Iceberg Lake (or Lava Cliffs, if you prefer), the car was making a funny noise. Not an engine noise, not a transmission noise. I decided it was probably one of the wheelwell inserts and didn’t worry about it. When I parked at the trailhead, I took a quick look. It wasn’t an insert, it was the diffuser. I will need to take it off. I lack the proper wrench. This is not good.
I put boots on trail a few minutes before eight, pretty much the same time as last month. About fifteen minutes in, I met a group of three hikers coming the other way. We exchanged greetings. They said they saw two moose just a few yards up the trail. I kept an eye peeled, but saw no moose.
They’re doing a big construction project just before you reach the first bridge over Onahu Creek. Last month I thought they were nearly done. It looks like it’s going to be a much larger structure than I thought. It’s not a bridge; more of a boardwalk, but on a slope. Maybe a hundred feet long, with a bend. And it needs to be stout enough to handle horses.
I got to the second bridge in just over an hour. I easily found the walking stick from last month and set off up the unimproved trail. Which I lost at the same place as last time. Very quickly, though, my stick broke, getting a foot shorter. I found a replacement, almost identical to the first one. Not long after that, I crossed the creek. None of it looked familiar to me, other than the general chaos of this forest. It was never my intention to cross here; I was thinking I was crossing a tributary. In fact, I had crossed the tributary already but didn’t recognize it because it carried so much less water.
As to carrying water, my boots got that honor in the second grassy meadow of the day. It had rained last night, and everything was wet. The pine needles weren’t too bad, I could avoid them for the most part. But the wet thigh-deep grass I had to cross in that meadow did the trick. The ground was sometimes spongy, sometimes slowly flowing water. My feet got pretty wet. I had three days of that a couple of years ago, just on the other side of Mt. Ida from here.
It was somewhere about now that I started to get a bit discouraged. When I started out this morning, I had no doubt that I’d reach the lake. I thought I knew exactly what I was getting into, but my doubt as to exactly where I was and everything looking different than last time was bothering me. On this hike, when you can follow a game trail it’s a relatively easy walk. But when you lose the trail, the deadfall puts you into “a maze of twisty little passages, all alike.” I was finding it to be a most challenging hike, both physically and mentally.
Having crossed the river early, I came across unique terrain for this hike: a talus field. No giant boulders, not too steep. I decided this was the path of least resistance and a welcome change of pace. Halfway up I realized it was the talus field where I ate my lunch last time. My doubts evaporated.
I reached this point fifteen minutes earlier than last month. It’s always easier the second time, even if only a little. I followed a game trail through the next set of trees, about a hundred yards, without significant deadfall, and arrived at the edge of a large meadow, perhaps a third of a mile long and five hundred feet wide in spots. By skirting the edge of it, I was able to avoid getting any wetter.
From a distance, it didn’t look like a good plan to just go up the lake’s outlet stream; obviously too wet. I came across a well-traveled game trail that kept to higher, firmer ground. No maze of deadfall here. The trees were sparser, the gound rockier. The trail skirts three or four more smaller meadows, each thick with elephant’s heads.
When I say I “dropped out” on my last hike here, I mean I paid the tuition but didn’t get the diploma. The misery of the deadfall is, by far, the worst part of this hike. That’s the tuition. The marshy meadows in that last mile and Julian Lake itself are the payoff, the diploma.
Foster’s description of the lake says it’s above treeline, but there are trees above it. She also warns of some nasty willow on the way. Following the game trail, I encountered no willow. The trail deposited me onto the shore of the lake, right next to the outlet. The better view looked to be from the east, so I crossed the outlet and looked for a nice rock to sit on. I couldn’t help but notice all the moose prints in the mud near the outlet. I didn’t spot any moose today, but obviously they’re in the neighborhood.
Foster says an alternate route would be to climb the saddle between Julian and Timber Lake. She says to “descend southeast over steep scree.” From my seat, it was clearly too steep for this kid. So if I want to return here, it’s back to the “demanding bushwhack.”
I was hoping to sit in the sun, take off my boots, and dry my feet and socks. As it was, there was only a small patch of clear blue sky to the west and overhead only the bottoms of gray clouds. I took off the boots and did manage to get the socks almost dry. But the boots never stood a chance, so feet and socks were wet again as soon as I put the boots back on.
I stayed only a short while. It started sprinkling, and the breeze picked up. I decided the only way to stay warm would be to put on the raincoat or to start hiking. I started hiking. The clear blue spot in the west was getting bigger; any rain would be light and short-lived. Or so I told myself. Fifteen minutes later, after a solitary drum-roll of thunder, I donned the raincoat and put up the hood. It wasn’t a hard rain; it didn’t totally obstruct the vision of the surrounding mountains, but I was happy to put on the jacket.
It rained for not quite an hour. I can’t help but wonder if the weather is always bad around Mt. Ida. That’s been the case for me. My day hike attempt at Gorge Lakes featured a thunderstorm that was the start of the 2013 floods. On my Gorge Lakes backpacking trip it rained every day and my feet were always wet.
Passing back through the largest meadow, I saw two deer about halfway across. They had spotted me first, and from this distance they might as well have been statues. They stared at me the whole time they were in my sight, rooted to their places.
I went down from my dropout spot the same way as last time. Or so I intended. I lost the trail in the dead zone and struggled. I found short, faint game trails, littered with a bit of poo, so I was sort of on the right track, but these all petered out. I’d like to see how elk make it through here. Maybe the place is such a mess that there are no game trails through this bit.
I kept losing the trail (or, more correctly, not finding the trail) at each meadow crossing. More demanding bushwhack. I found the trail for the last time, returned to the main trail (where I dropped my stick), and crossed the bridge a good twenty minutes before I expected to. I refilled my water, ate a plum, and resumed the hike.
A few minutes before reaching the trailhead, I encountered only the second hikers I’d seen all day, this time a couple. They asked if it was my Lotus in the lot and said “at least you’ll have a fun drive home!” I replied, “Maybe not” and asked if they had any pliers. They couldn’t help. She liked seeing my car. She drives a Fiat Abarth. She says with what folks say about Fiats, she’s afraid to drive it in the mountains. I told her she should enjoy her car.
I will say that the demanding bushwhack kept my mind off my diffuser problem. But now it was the immediate problem and It was now very much on my mind.
The diffuser was being held on by six small screws, all along the back edge. The large screws that do the heavy lifting were gone, and so the diffuser hung down in front with the rear panel acting as a hinge. It’s now not so much a diffuser as a scoop that opens when you’re driving. On the road, I quickly learned that the scoop will deploy all the way to the pavement at about 18 miles per hour.
I limped into Grand Lake to search for somebody with some tools. I stopped at the ATV rental place. All she had was a pair of channel-lock pliers. I gave them a shot. After some wrestling and a bit of cursing, I had half the screws out and all but one of the other half loosened. But I was beginning to round off the head of that last bugger. When the ATV rental lady closed up, she suggested I try a Polaris place down the road a couple of miles. So that’s what I did.
Just after getting back on US 34 (at 18 mph, with 4-way flashers on), a couple in a Geo Tracker pulled over to help me. They’d seen me on the ground in front of the ATV place when they were on their way to the Conoco station. When I passed that station, they hurried to come after me. He asked if there was anything he could do to help. I said what I really needed was an 8mm socket. He said, “I have one!”
We got the thing off, and it fits in the passenger seat (on a towel) and the top even fits. Which is a good thing, as I would surely be encountering rain. I was very happy for their help. They told me they couldn’t bear to see me crawling along the shoulder. She has a Corvette and was curious about the car. I said she could sit in the driver’s seat if she wanted; she declined. But she did take a couple of pictures.
The drive home was uneventful. The diffuser didn’t obscure my right side mirror, but there was very little visibility out that window. It rained a little. There wasn’t much traffic and I was home before eight.