LOG 35, Day 1

Last weekend was LOG 35. What’s that, you say?

Lotus Ltd is the national Lotus owners club. Every year they have a national meet – the Lotus Owners Gathering, or LOG. This year is LOG 35. People come from all over the country, some driving their classic cars, others flying in. Activities include a concours d’ elegance, banquets, and scenic drives. There’s always a panoramic group picture of the cars. There may be a track day or an autocross as well.

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Elite

Lotus Ltd handles various administrative tasks, but the majority of the work is done by volunteers, usually members of the local chapter that is hosting the event. This year Lotus Colorado hosted it in Colorado Springs.

These are major events. We basically took over a Marriott hotel and overflowed to another hotel nearby. We used all the hotel’s conference space – ballrooms, meeting rooms, a tent pavilion outside, and, obviously, the parking lot. We had a store on the premises. They even let us take down all the art they had in the common areas and display our own. The portrait of JW Marriott himself was about the only thing of theirs we left up.

To make one of these work, pretty much everybody in the club has to contribute. I volunteered (or was selected, it’s all a bit fuzzy) to be the autocross event chair. I think I had the easiest of the jobs. On the more difficult side you had people working with the hotel, obtaining sponsors, finding guest speakers, making trophies, making signs, running the concours, running the drivers school, and the list goes on.

As I said, I had one of the easier jobs. SCCA actually put on our event, all I had to do was liaise with them and make sure the entrants filled out the right paperwork. That said, when I took on the task I had never even attended an autocross.

I knew that an autocross is a competitive, timed event. A course is laid out on a parking lot using traffic cones. Cars run the course one at a time. Competitors are divided into classes based on size, horsepower, tires, and other factors. That was about all I knew. I fixed that by attending my first autocross back in March.

So that’s the background.

Friday, August 21

Let’s actually start Thursday evening. I flew in from Albuquerque, arriving at about seven. I didn’t have a window seat (I prefer the aisle) and the guy next to me kept the blind closed for the entire flight. I was surprised, then, to find that smoke from the wildfires in California and the Pacific northwest filled the air. Visibility was only about five miles and the sun was a dull red disk. When I got home, I pulled the dirty clothes out of the suitcase and repacked it with clean.

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S1 Elise

Friday morning Michael and I mounted the track tires on the car as I was doing both the autocross and the track day. I needed to wash the car as well, but there wasn’t time for that. The track wheels were clean, though, which went a long way to making the car presentable. When I backed the car out of the driveway the tires were rubbing something awful. Somehow we’d managed to mount the left rear wheel on the front. I’ll blame Michael, but it was silly of me not to see it right away. That remedied, I ran off to the barber to get myself presentable.

We packed all our stuff in Genae’s car. We had far too much to carry in the Lotus, but the real reason to take two cars was so she wouldn’t be stranded. I left the house a few minutes before she did. I mentioned to her that I’d avoid the interstate but didn’t think to mention how much longer my route might take. I w

ent through Sedalia and Palmer Lake; a much more scenic and relaxed drive than I-25.

By the time I got to the hotel, Genae had checked us in to our room. We made two or three trips carrying stuff from the car and when that was done we registered for LOG. It’s much like registering for a conference – go from table to table, signing forms, collecting a goody bag, getting a name tag. We even got signs for the parking lot so we’d be in the same spot all weekend.

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Westfield Eleven

We arranged to have people park by type of car. To get into Lotus parking you had to do the “Lotus limbo” – drive under a horizontal pole. This kept the riffraff out. The more rare classic cars were closer to the festivities, the newest and most common cars (Elises, natch) were the farthest away. Conveniently, though, the car wash we set up was in our area so I took advantage and had her bathed – she was cleaner than she’d been for two years.

Genae is a big fan of Godfathers Pizza. They make a taco pizza that’s her favorite. We’ve tried making them at home but haven’t come close. A bit of research told her there was a Godfathers on the Air Force Academy, so after the car was washed we headed that way.

Civilians and visitors have to use the north entrance. It used to be that you could just drive in, but now I’m guessing its SOP to stop every vehicle. When we pulled up we were about eighth in line. Some got waved right through, some took a bit longer. When we pulled up, the sentry asked for my ID and I gave it to him. He also said “I’m gonna have to ask you to pop the trunk.”

There’s no “popping the trunk”. I shut it off, got out, opened the boot. Nobody else had to open their trunk. “What’s a car like this cost?”

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Europas

Our GPS wanted us to take Parade Loop, but a sign indicated it was closed. I asked the sentry how to get to Godfathers and he said just to stay on this road. So we did. The road took us around the north side of the campus complex, past the practice fields and to a guest parking lot. No restaurant in sight.

The next turn on the road revealed the visitor center, so we stopped in there and asked for directions. “Drive your vehicle to the guest lot. There’s a glass front building there, that’s where you’re going.” These are not the best directions: all the buildings are glass front. Genae phoned Godfathers for about the fourth time and was told they were in Arnold Hall. (This, presumably, is named for General Hap Arnold, Chief of the Army Air Forces in WW II.)

We joked that this pizza better be worth all the effort it took to get here. The restaurant is part of a small food court along with a Subway and a wings place. It’s now the last Godfathers in Colorado.

The evening was spent socializing – drinks in the hotel bar, wandering around the parking lot seeing who drove which car from where, and then dinner in the pavilion. We had our choice of turkey or roast beef followed by a choice of desserts. After dark we even had a short laser light show back in the pavilion followed by announcements of the next days activities and schedule.

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Elans

Half Mtn Glacier Knob

It’s been a busy couple weeks. LOG 35 ended four days of activities yesterday with the driving school. Prior to that I was in Albuquerque on business. The day before I flew down there I hiked in the Park. Ten days, and this is my first opportunity to make a few notes and glance at the photos.

Saturday, August 15

I asked Ed if he wanted to take me to the top of the glacier knob attached to Half Mtn. This is knob #10 by his reckoning, He visited the top of all ten in one day a few years ago. This is my 4th, all with Ed’s guidance.

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Our route: Up in red, down in blue

I left the house before six, picked up Ed by six thirty; we were through the Park gates before they were manned and to Bear Lake parking lot by 7:30. The lot was already three quarters full. It was another beautiful summer day in the Park – bright sunshine and a brilliant blue cloudless sky.

Ed had us off the trail and into the forest at his usual spot and visiting two officially unnamed ponds, “Zone Lake” and “Joyce’s Pond”. After crossing the main trail we had to cross Glacier Creek, which is fairly substantial here. We looked around for a few minutes before deciding to ford it. The water was cold and the rocks were slippery but it was an uneventful crossing. Once across we worked our way east to the base of a steep gully and to the bank of a small pond.

The base of the gully is a cone of talus. We took a short break at the top of the cone, where the route gets much steeper. Here we’re about two hundred feet above the valley floor and have a nice vista to the north. From here to nearly the top of the knob it’s a steep climb culminated with a scramble through a tunnel. We were on top of the knob by ten thirty.

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East Glacier Knob on the left and the Mummy Range in the distance

I often say there are two kinds of hikes: those to summits and those to lakes. On summits, the views are incredible but everything is miles away. At most lakes in the Park, the scenery is dramatic, and up close. These knobs are a sort of hybrid – wide vistas but not miles from away.

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Glacier Gorge

We relaxed until noon or so before heading down the western slope. It’s a series of shelves. Navigation is generally a matter of finding the ramps from one to the next; ramps which are sometimes clogged with obstacles. After another short break at Mills Lake, we kept to the trail as far as Glacier Gorge junction, where we cut through the woods.

It was a nice hike. I’ll definitely do it again. Rather than make the steep climb, I’d take the trail to Mills Lake and go up the way we came down. I could be to the summit in half the time, trading variety for speed. But that would let me sit up there for three or four hours if I wanted.

 

Cony Lake, Attempt #3

Saturday, August 8

Cony Lake sits lies at the upper end of the Cony Creek drainage, south of Mount Copeland at the southern edge of the Park. Starting at the Finch Lake trailhead, it’s a 9.2 mile hike climbing over 3,000 feet. If you start at the Allenspark trailhead instead, you save a mile each way and five hundred feet of elevation.

Two years ago I made it as far as Pear Lake. I took a break there to eat some fruit. After the break I hiked up the bench to the south where I came across a pond. Here I realized I’d abandoned the camera at Pear Lake, so I had to turn around. It was just as well – clouds rolled in from the east, just feet above the lake. Last year I got as far as Upper Hutcheson Lake. I struggled through a mass of willow only to see snow covered slopes on the other side of the lake. Between my lack of spikes in mid-July and losing time in the willow, it was an easy decision to stop there.

Third time’s a charm, right? Saving eleven percent of the distance and fifteen percent of the climb will make it easier. I’m going nearly a month later in the season this time, and I have a better idea of the lay of the land. I felt good about my prospects.

We’ve been having hot, clear weather lately but Saturday’s weather forecast degraded every day all week. It would be cool with a good chance for rain. I hit the road at 5:30, planning to be on the trail by 7:00. Low clouds obscured all the peaks. Meeker, Longs, and Pagoda were mostly clear, but everything to the south was in a layer of clouds with a ceiling not far above treeline. Above that, blue skies to the west and a layer of high clouds to the east.

IMG_8642sThis was my first visit to the Allenspark trailhead. I couldn’t see the parking lot on the satellite images, so I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to park. It’s a bit over a mile up a dirt road and if I couldn’t park there I’d have to use the Finch Lake trailhead. There’s room for a dozen cars in the trees, but the entrance has a giant rut. I pondered for a second and gave it a try. It was sketchy, but I made it in without scraping bottom.

I was on schedule: on the trail promptly at seven. Another solo hiker arrived in the parking lot after me; he passed me on the trail before I’d done a mile. I asked him where he was headed. He said “Pear for sure, maybe a bit farther.” I told him I was headed to Cony. He said perhaps we’d see each other again, but he was moving at a much quicker pace than I was managing.

From the trailhead to the Finch Lake trail junction just below the Ouzel burn scar is 1.8 miles. It’s been nearly forty years since the fire. It’s no longer an area of dead sentinels and wildflowers. The new trees are getting bigger, but it’s not forest yet so the spectacular view is relatively unobscured.

There were very few other hikers. In the six miles to Pear Lake, I ran into eight or ten folks hiking out and a few more who were still at the Pear Creek campsite. I did catch up to the other hiker, Jason, between Finch and Pear. He put the afterburners on after his break and he was quickly out of sight.

A cacophony of wildflowers

A cacophony of wildflowers

Foster says, at Pear Lake “follow the unimproved but recognizable trail”. The first time I tried Cony, I went on the other side of the lake. The second, I followed the trail along the shore until it faded out, then headed up. I was thinking this was the unimproved but recognizable trail. I found out on the way back that I wasn’t even close. Anyway, I’d been here before so it was no trouble to find Lower Hutcheson Lake.

According to Foster’s map, the route is to cross Cony Creek just above the lower lake, then recross at the outlet of the middle lake. The crossing at the lower lake was easy – the stream has split into two narrower channels. Up slope a ways I found myself blocked by krummholz and willow. After squeezing through one gap I noticed my water bottle was missing. It must have fallen out right here.

But no. A thoIMG_9691srough search yielded nothing. Clearly, I lost it earlier. I made my way back down, not exactly sure how I’d come up. I think I was backtracking correctly, but did I go on this side of this clump of bushes, or that side? Shortly before I was back to where I crossed the second portion of the creek I saw Jason on the opposite hillside. I hollered at him to hold up.

I made my way over to him, told him I’d lost my water. I’d have to turn back with no water. He kindly gave me a liter of water. He was going to keep going for a while so I got out my map for us to consult. I have it marked with Foster’s route. I told him I’d look for my water bottle a little while longer before giving up. I found it almost immediately, sitting on the bank of the creek.

Following Foster’s route we found ourselves back where was when I realized I’d lost my water. It didn’t take long for us to decide to switch back to the north side of the creek. A couple minutes after crossing we found a nice trail. This dumped us on to a series of rock slabs. We were able to follow a few cairns, but that was it. From here, it’s a good idea to climb upslope a bit to avoid the krummholz and willow. Above the middle lake, Jason called it quits. He’d told his wive he’d be back at a specific time, and this was all the farther he could go.

FeatherI had no fun in the willow along the north shore of Upper Hutcheson last year, so I decided I’d stay higher up on the slope and avoid it. Foster’s route was on the south shore, but her route below was wrong and I no longer trusted it. So off I went, climbing slowly but steadily up the slope of Mount Copeland as I worked my way west. It didn’t take long to realize I still had quite a way to climb to avoid the krummholz. I paused to assessed the situation.

The north shore is a longer route than the south shore, as I’d need to go south to get to Cony. There was much less willow on the south; it looked like I could go right along the water and avoid it. If I went straight downslope where I was, it was a pretty easy route. The willow weren’t too thick there.

On the south shore, at this time of year with the water low, it looked like I could hop across the rocks right at the waters edge and avoid the bushes. It almost worked – I made it quite a distance but right at the end the rocks were too far apart, and the water had gone from a few inches deep to well over boot height. So, another short backtrack.

I finally find myself at the south western end of Upper Hutcheson Lake, just a few tenths of a mile away, at the top of a four hundred feet climb. I find myself at the base of a vast sea of willow. I either have to backtrack to go over the outcropping on my left or wade through the willow. It’s 11:30. I clearly won’t make Cony by noon. The sky is blue to the west, but some of the clouds to the east might drop some rain. I decide to abort the assault on Cony Lake and have my picnic here.

I haven’t replaced the tripod yet, but I did remember to bring the shutter timer this time. I found a nice rock to use as a base and set the camera. I faced a bit of a dilemma. To the west,  small clouds were coming over the divide then boiling away but the foreground not interesting. To the east the clouds were higher and slower moving and the lake is in the foreground, Too bad I only had the one camera.

It was cool and windy. I was in sunlight for the most part but had little shelter from the wind. I sat in the lee of a small boulder and ate while the camera clicked away. After a short while I realized I didn’t hear the camera shutter. Was I too far, was the wind blowing the sound away from me? No, the camera had stopped with “Err 99″. I’ve had this happen occasionally. Just turn it off and back on and it’s cleared. It ran only for a few more minutes before getting the error again.

After restarting it the second time, I started to have second thoughts as to what I should be shooting. I let it run a while longer before switching it to the west. Then, of course, those clouds seemed to be going away. Have I made a mistake? Ah, well. You never know what you’re going to get.

IMG_9684sTaking an hour break gives you a lot of time to take in the surroundings. It was windy and the nearby willows not so much rustled as hissed, at times almost loud enough to drown out the sound of falling water. I wasn’t hearing the inlet in the willows but a waterfall on the canyon wall two hundred feet up. There was quite a bit of water coming down but the talus twenty feet below the bottom of the falls was dry. From the looks of it, it’s always dry, even in max flow.

The windbreaker was beginning to feel inadequate after an hour of lounging. It was time to pack up and get moving again. My next navigational problem was getting back to the other side of the creek. I wanted to avoid the willow as much as possible. Perhaps Foster’s route here on the south side was correct after all. Being above the landscape gives a much different perspective on things than being in the landscape, looking up.

There’s a small pond below the upper lake. With water levels so low, it’s easy to skirt the southern shore to a nice crossing to a grassy slope on the other side. Easy, peasy.

It was here that I started to reflect on the day so far. I lost my water bottle and had to backtrack to retrieve it. I made a few navigational errors and I didn’t achieve my objective. Instead, I sat at the edge of a beautiful alpine lake for an hour and watched the world go by. Okay, the camera futzed out a couple of times. But all in all, there’s nothing to complain about. It’s just another beautiful day in the neighborhood.

Above Pear Lake I managed to stumble upon the trail Foster mentions. It’s quite well defined here and going is easy. I soon see Pear Lake below me – I’m well above the shore. And yet the trail refuses to descend. How can this trail not go down to the lake? I cut cross-country. About halfway from the trail to the shore I come across a nice outcropping of rocks with a view and decide it’s time to take a break.

It’s peach season. Lots of people think of Georgia when they think of peaches, but I think the best peaches are grown on the western slope of Colorado. I have one of these Palisades peaches with me. This particular example is top rate: perfectly ripe and perfectly juicy; sweet and full of flavor. I always say food tastes better at alpine lakes, but this peach would be one of the finest peaches ever, even in my kitchen.

So I’m luxuriating in this wonderful peach, enjoying the now clear and brilliant blue skies above. What could be better than this? As I’m eating the peach, I spot an eagle soaring over the lake, fishing. She circled a few times then dove. The water erupted in a big splash and momentarily she arose, the silver of a fish clearly evident in her claws. Then she made a couple of wide circles above the lake, as if to show off her kill, before heading to the trees on the other side.

Bear left for Hutcheson

Bear left for Hutcheson

Break over, I got back on the move. There’s a hitching post where the trail arrives at the lake. It’s here that you get the trail to Hutcheson Lakes. This is the trail I was just on. I walked right by it at least twice without figuring it out.

My next stop was the stream crossing at the Pear Creek campsite. I needed to replenish the water supply. Not ten steps on the other side of the creek I stumbled over a rock on the trail. I do this countless times each hike; it’s never a big deal, I never lose my balance. This time I “went over the handlebars” as Michael might say. My left foot slipped, I went down on my left knee and put my hands out to stop my fall. My left hand slipped as well and I ended up on my elbow. This resulted in an ugly abrasion on my left forearm.

It stung, and it was bloody. At least the stream was right there. I had it washed off in no time and used one of my paper towels to stanch the flow. I basically lost the skin along the bony part of the forearm – five or six inches long and a quarter inch wide. I took a couple of ibuprofen and was back under locomotion ten minutes later.

Most of the day I’d been shrugging off all the minor mishaps – I was having a great time in spite of losing my water bottle, the camera acting flaky, minor navigational issues. I’m in a beautiful place and it’s hard not to enjoy it. But the gods wanted to test my limits and had that rock grab my toe.

Chief's Head and Pagoda

Chief’s Head and Pagoda. From left to right, see the chief’s forehead, nose, and chin. Pagoda would be his pointy bra.

I was back to the car by 5:20. Turns out there are two entrances to the parking lot; the southern one lacks obstacles and I was out without any additional drama. Even though it was nice and sunny, it wasn’t hot so I headed down the road topless. Traffic wasn’t bad and it was a pleasant drive home.

Lake Nanita

Friday, July 17

This hike has been on my list for three years. I decided this spring that I would finally go there. I’ve been psyching myself up for this one for about two weeks. This would be the longest hike I’ve ever attempted – 11.1 miles each way according to Foster. I’m struggling to come up with the right words to describe my feelings. I wasn’t exactly anxious (as in filled with anxiety). Intimidated isn’t the right word either.

I hiked a portion of the North Inlet trail a few years ago when I visited Bench Lake. You go nearly seven miles up that trail to Ptarmigan Creek before heading straight up the slope. Those first seven miles are fairly mellow – you gain only about a thousand feet of elevation. The last few miles to Lakes Nokoni and Nanita are steeper, but the net climb for the eleven miles is only about 2400′.

So even though it’s quite a long hike I expected to be able to make good time. My plan was to arrive at the trailhead by seven and I guessed I could make it to Nanita in five hours. Allow an hour of lounging at the lakes and I should be back to the car by six. The drive to the trailhead is a bit over two hours (I-70 and Berthoud Pass) and the trip home another two and a half hours (over Trail Ridge Road) and it would be a very full day – leave the house before five and return at eight thirty. That was the plan, anyway.

I was out the door at 4:30. Traffic was very light and I made good time, jetting over Berthoud Pass. The sun was beginning to light the sky; the mountains to the north were still in silhouette but the wispy banners of clouds above them were lit pink and periwinkle. It was still fairly chilly and I had the heater on. The Fraser valley was blanketed with a layer of ground fog.

I made the trailhead by 6:30 and was on the trail at 6:40. It was cool enough I could have worn a light jacket but I expected to work into a lather fairly quickly. The first mile or so is more a dirt road than a trail – this provides access to a private cabin that’s on Park land. I started working the math in my head. If I manage the first three miles in an hour (a very quick pace for hiking), I would only need to average two miles an hour for the rest of the hike to maintain my schedule. I couldn’t help but recall than I failed to maintain that rate on my last three hikes.

I passed Cascade Falls in exactly an hour, and was at Big Pool in ninety minutes. I was thinking that Big Pool was five miles in, but that couldn’t be right. That would mean I was averaging well over three miles per hour. (Big Pool is 4.8 miles from the trailhead.) After two and a quarter hours I crossed Ptarmigan Creek. I was making very good time. The trail was every bit as easy as I remembered it.

My hike to Bench Lake was not the most pleasant hike. All was going well until I began my descent from the lake. I have difficulty with steep descents and this one was no exception. At my moment of greatest unease, one of my water bottles came out of its pocket and tumbled out of sight, lost. Of course it was the full bottle and not the half full one. So I had to manage my water on a warm day. Then, back on the trail, my ankle started to hurt. I thought perhaps I had an insect or spider bite. It was swollen and red, but I hadn’t twisted it. So the hike out was warm, thirsty, and somewhat painful.

But that was then.

Passing Ptarmigan Creek I was finally on new trail. From here to the Lake Nanita trail spur the trail remains fairly flat. It’s about a mile from Ptarmigan Creek to the junction. From there the trail descends a bit to cross the stream at North Inlet Falls. It is here that the (modest) climb to the lakes begins.

After about another mile the trail begins a series of widely spaced switchbacks. The slope is quite steep but the trail makes the ascent fairly painless. Up to this point, the hike has been through forest or alongside meadows and featured no views to speak of. About three quarters of a mile before Lake Nokoni, the trail traverses the top of this steep slope and the trees have thinned out considerably, opening the rich vistas of the Continental Divide to the east. Below lies the upper North Inlet valley, one of the more remote areas of the park.

It’s easy to concentrate on the majestic views to the east and overlook the profusion of wildflowers on both sides of the trail.

Lake Nokoni

Ptarmigan Mountain pops into view at Nokoni Lake. The trail runs alongside a large slab of rock ten or fifteen feet high. On the other side of this rock lies Nokoni. According to the map, I figured it would be a bit farther away, but it’s right there. The lake is bigger than I expected; it’s a substantial body of water.

Lake Nanita is another 1.1 miles along. The trail crosses a saddle between Ptarmigan Mountain and point 11218. It zig-zags up the slope, mostly clear of trees, with a nice view of Nokoni below. Here I noticed it was a bit breezy. It is exposed here, and the wind gets an unobstructed run across the lake. The tree tops were swaying six or eight feet.

This is the last two hundred feet of climbing, reaching perhaps 11,050′ of elevation. Both Nanita and Nokoni are just below 10,800′. On the other side of this saddle, the trail descends alongside an open meadow and affords an unobstructed view of the western face of Ptarmigan Mountain. It is the better part of a thousand feet straight up. On the topo map you can’t make out the intervals – it’s a solid brown bar.

Unlike the other side of the saddle, where Nokoni was on full display, here you get only glimpses of Nanita. Only upon arriving at the shores of the lake do you get a good view. Foster says, “Lake Nanita is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful tarns in RMNP.” It is difficult to argue otherwise, but it must be noted that there are many lakes in the area that would easily feature on the list of “most beautiful”.

Lake Nanita, too, is a large lake. It’s bigger than Nokoni. I’m left wondering just how many lakes in the park are bigger. That would be a short list.

It took me four hours forty minutes to arrive here from the trailhead. I exceeded my expectations, and that included a ten minute break for a snack part way up the hill to Nokoni.

I plopped myself down on a rock and tucked in to my lunch. I didn’t bring the tripod, as the mount is broken, but considered making a time lapse by setting the camera on a rock. Unfortunately, the shutter timer is in the tripod’s carrying case, so that was a no go. It was a moot point anyway – the sky was absolutely cloudless. I was about 40 minutes ahead of schedule, and it’s typical that clouds don’t feature in the skies until about noon.

‘Ptarmigan Towers’

I sat there for an hour, enjoying my lunch and watching the world go by. A large bird (an eagle? too far away to identify) soared over the south end of the lake for a while. Fish were active within a few yards of my rock.

The sky was so clear that jets weren’t leaving contrails. A four engine jet flew over, each engine leaving a trail only for a couple of degrees of arc; the plane like the tip of a white spear. It was on a path that would take it between two of the spires of Ptarmigan Towers; it might make an interesting picture. I fumbled the lens cap when I went to take it off. I grabbed for it as it fell, missed it twice before it landed and bounced off the rock, down four feet into the lake. It was lying under four inches of water, but well out of reach. I missed the shot and lost the cap.

I did manage to find a way to clamber down and get it. It required hanging on to the branch of a bush. Had that branch broken, I’d have fallen into the water and been awarded the trifecta: cold, wet, and miserable. The retrieval was successful; a small drama.

Clouds began bubbling up at noon. I was packed up on on the trail by 12:20. After an hour of inertia, I was glad the climb up the saddle between the lakes was not so steep on this side. Once I had sight of Lake Nokoni, I knew that it was all downhill from here. Looking at the hillside above the north shore of Nokoni I could see a trail. This would be the route to Pettingell Lake on the other side of the ridge. Pettingell is the same distance from Nokoni as Nanita, and the route looks to be clear of trees so it shouldn’t be much more difficult than Nanita. It should be doable.

Back at Nokoni Lake I chatted with a group of four. They were the first people I’d seen since about 9:15. I asked if they were going to Nanita. “We were just there.” They must have been very quiet, as I never saw nor heard them, and I sat right where the trail dumps you on the shore of the lake.

Upper North Inlet valley

I took my time over the next section of trail, where there were nice vistas to the east, taking in the view before rejoining the forest. After this it wasn’t long before I began encountering more hikers. Several folks asked me where I was staying. I was the only day-tripper out there.

I stopped just above North Inlet Falls, refilled my water bottle and ate some fruit. I stopped on the bridge to snap a photo of the falls. I never get a falls picture I like, but I’ll keep trying. At this moment it started to sprinkle. I was standing in bright sunshine but a gray cloud was immediately to the west, with blue skies beyond.

It didn’t look like it would rain hard or for long. I have a poncho, of course, but I didn’t want to mess with it for sprinkles. The cloud was small, and we were moving in opposite directions. I could manage a few drops. About a mile later it was no longer a light sprinkle, and the clouds looked distinctly bigger. Most of the oncoming hikers had donned their rain gear. At Ptarmigan Creek I put the poncho on. A minute later I was thinking it was the right choice – the rain was now mixed with graupel. Another minute later it stopped.

I took another break at Big Pool. Ate more fruit and put the poncho away. It had taken me ninety minutes to get here in the morning; even though I’d been hiking for nearly eight of the last nine hours, I felt pretty good. It was easily twenty degrees cooler in the morning, and I was fresh then, but I felt like I could match that time. I did.

I’ve never hiked so far before, but I’ve certainly done more strenuous hikes. Clearly, it’s all about the elevation gain. But I’m still a little amazed I hiked over twenty two miles in a day.

Chasm Lake

Saturday, July 11

I just about had myself talked into trying my longest hike ever – Lake Nanita. It’s over eleven miles each way and I should be able to bag three new lakes. But that will have to wait. Last Saturday we had lunch with Bob in Loveland and I managed to leave my credit card there. The place is an hour drive away, so if I was to just run up there some evening it would be a two hour trip. Instead, Genae suggested I swing by to get my credit card after a hike. That means an east side hike. Lake Nanita is on the west side.

It was about Wednesday when I decided to visit Chasm Lake. It’s much like the last two hikes – about five miles each way and about a 2400′ climb. My only question was how early I would need to arrive at the trailhead to get a parking space. Once the parking lot fills up, people start parking along the road. But that basically means parking in a ditch, so that’s out. If I was smart, I’d have a backup plan.

I left the house at six with no backup plan. I arrived at the trailhead by a quarter to eight. There were thirty or forty cars parked along the side of the road. Not good. I could have turned around as soon as I hit the parking lot but decided to go all the way to the southern end anyway. At that end of the lot I thought I found an empty spot, but there was a sign there, “No Parking” with an arrow to the right. On the fence at the end was another no parking sign, arrows pointing both ways. On the other fence, on the right side, another no parking sign, with an arrow to the left.

That sign was maybe ten feet from the end. At the other end of the fence, a giant SUV had parallel parked. Behind him there was room for four or five more cars. Why was nobody parked there? The sign clearly only prohibits parking at the end. So I arrived late and scored a parking space anyway.

I put on my boots, strapped on the fanny pack, tripod, and camera and looked for a ranger. I asked if it was okay to park there and described the signs. It was his second shift on the job and didn’t know. He found the other ranger there who said “Fred says it’s okay to park there but Bill says it’s not.” I told him I believed the sign instead of Bill and started up the mountain.

Although this was only my second trip to Chasm Lake, I’ve been on the trail here many times. From the trailhead to somewhat above treeline, there’s not much to see. Above treeline you get a nice view of Twin Sisters and the prominent landslide from the 2013 floods. Once you can see the summit of Longs, it dominates the view to the west.

For me, the view doesn’t really get interesting until you take the trail spur to Chasm Lake. Here you crest Mills Moraine and get the first good look at the giant bowl formed by Mt. Meeker, Longs Peak, and Mount Lady Washington directly ahead. The granite walls of Mt. Meeker form giant amphitheaters two thousand feet high. Below lies the valley of the Roaring Fork – Peacock Pool and Columbine Falls. (Yes, “Roaring Fork” seems to be a common name – I hiked along a different Roaring Fork last week.)

Two landslides from the September, 2013 flooding.

In September of 2013, every stream in the area flooded. Somehow, highway 7 didn’t get washed out. It was a near thing where the road crosses Cabin Creek, at Camp St. Malo. The embankment there caused debris to pile up badly. I don’t know that the Roaring Fork presented a problem near the highway, but here above treeline there were two “small” landslides that deposited alluvial fans on the high valley floor. These landslides are narrow, but something on the order of 500′ high.

My first visit to Chasm Lake was a week later in July. The trail crossed a very steep snow slope. Because Longs has gotten so much late spring snow, I figured there was a good chance of seeing snow there again. I brought my microspikes for just such an occasion, but they were not necessary. The little patch of snow today was only two feet across.

Same view as the flooded section.

On the way up, my gaze was focused on the slow above the trail. I was a bit disappointed that there weren’t many columbines there; I recalled there being many more. On the way back I was paying more attention. The slope below the trail is where the action is. This is the largest field of columbines I’ve ever seen. I paused several times through here on the hike out just to drink in all the sights.

Above Columbine Falls the terrain flattens out before dumping you at the base of a two hundred foot scramble up to the bench holding the lake.

Given the small size of the parking lot and the number of people who attempt to summit the mountain, I’m surprised at how many people are here at the lake. There were dozens of hikers on the spur trail, many more already at the lake, and a number of climbers on the various rock faces. A group of climbers were working their way up the sheer wall to my left; I could hear them calling out to each other as they worked their way up. I should have brought the telephoto lens.

When setting up the camera for the time lapse, I saw that the piece that mounts on the base of the camera is broken. That’s why the last few videos have been jerky – even a slight breeze moves the camera even though the tripod is secure. Oh well.

On the hike out I chatted with several hikers who tried to summit. One group hiked to the boulder field last night. They got there at 9:30 in total darkness and had lost the route. While setting up camp, it began to rain and hail. They got fairly wet and had a less than comfortable night. In the morning they went to the keyhole and decided it was too icy for them to go any farther. I told them I’d only summited once but made the keyhole four times. I never attempted that hike before August.

Hiking out, there was a steady stream of people on their way up. It was far too late in the day for day trippers; they all were planning a night on the mountain. I kept wondering where everybody parks. When I drove away, the answer was clear: now cars were parked alongside the road about half the way to CO 7. Folks arriving late (after 6am?) have an extra half mile (or more) added to their hikes.

I have no plans on summiting Longs Peak again, but I may hike to the keyhole again. The views from there are fantastic. Another possibility is climbing Mount Lady Washington. It’s about a thousand feet lower than Longs and not nearly as treacherous.

Watanga Lake

Friday, July 3

Last week when musing on the difficulties of bagging new lakes, I broke the challenges down into longer hikes, more bushwhacking, and more remote trailheads. This week I pulled Watanga Lake out of the Foster guide. It is reached from the Roaring Fork trailhead which is situated on Arapaho Bay, the southwestern extreme of Lake Granby. I would put it in the “remote trailhead” category. It’s not any farther than the other jumping off points on the west side of the park but it’s at the end of a ten mile dirt road. The road supports quite a bit of RV traffic and is quite smooth, but it is covered with stones. The speed limit is 25, but I probably never topped 15.

Watanga Lake is in the Indian Peaks Wilderness Area, about two tenths of a mile south of the RMNP boundary. There’s a self service permit kiosk just off US 34, at the end of the pavement. Day use is $5. About ten miles up the road, make a left turn towards the Roaring Fork campground. The trailhead is on the right.

The first couple hundred yards of trail are forested and flat. There’s a sign here announcing your entrance to the IPWA. Immediately the trail starts climbing steeply. It looks to me like a fire burned through here a few decades ago; many dead trees are standing, but there are aspen and some young pine with a smattering of mature pine. The trail is sunny, but the views of Lake Granby are still somewhat obscured.

The trail just keeps going up and up. When the trail bends to the northwest it looks to me like the trees have gone from dead by fire to dead by beetle. The ascent moderates a bit, but continues to climb. About a mile in we’ve climbed nine hundred feet and reach the first river crossing.

The first bridge is in the best condition…

I would call this an unimproved trail. It is just a path, well traveled, but a path. No bars to divert flowing water, no rocks line the trail, nothing resembling a stair step. There are sawn log bridges, but no milled lumber anywhere. The Roaring Fork river is too wide here to be crossed with a log. Here is the only structure that could be called an improvement. In the middle of the river is a triangular log pier that supports two spans of logs. It’s a unique bridge in my experience. It was the first of what turned out to be nine water crossings, where each bridge was sketchier than the last, until the stream was small enough for me to leap across.

After this first crossing, the trail mellows out quite a bit. The next two miles only climb another seven hundred feet with the Roaring Fork river audible much of the time. Just before the confluence of Watanga Creek and the Roaring Fork there’s a trail junction. Watanga Lake is to the left. I passed a couple of hikers on the climb who were going to more distant lakes on the Roaring Fork trail.

Shortly after the trail junction, we make our sixth or seventh river crossing. We went from a double span to a long single span, two logs wide, to a single log, to a single broken log (still quite serviceable) and finally to a broken log replaced with a skinny limb. I arrived there at the same time a group of four hikers and a dog arrived on the other side.

I waited patiently and watched their crossing operation. They had a short length of white cord. They tied it onto a tree and the first guy kept it under tension to aid the crossing. I don’t think he stood a chance of making it without the cord. He was in full-cowboy attire: cowboy hat, blue jeans (with a circle worn in one back pocket), and cowboy boots, missing only the shirt with snaps. Using the cord, he crossed without incident, as did the next guy.

The third guy, wearing trail running shoes, lost his balance and went in the drink getting soaked nearly up to his knees. The last guy on the other side tied the cord to the dog’s harness and the second guy pulled the dog across. The dog looked terrified during the act and quite happy afterwards. Then they tied the cord to a tree on this side and tossed the free end to the last hiker, who then crossed without incident.

In the middle of this operation they asked if I wanted to use the cord, but I figured I wouldn’t do any better than the guy who soaked both his feet so I declined. I had decided to take boots and socks off and ford the stream as that’s what I’d need to do when returning.

The water was almost knee deep, moving quickly, and quite cold. The rocks were slippery but I had no problem making my way across. I did it a lot quicker than they did, and one of them had wet feet for the rest of his hike.

Before we parted, I asked, “How far to the lake? Two miles or so?” They said that was about right, but one of them also said they’d left the lake a half hour ago so I thought it was probably less. But they also said it felt like it took them three hours to get there from this point. I didn’t take that seriously.

A short distance past the ford the trail crosses the river again then begins to climb steeply. The last mile or so climbs another seven hundred feet. I generally don’t sit down before reaching my destination. I’ll often pause for a breather; take a sip of water or snap a photo, chat with other hikers. But I don’t sit down. This final climb took me off my feet. Part of the climb is on a hillside in full sunshine. After several switchbacks I sat in a little patch of shade and ate some fruit.

Somewhat refreshed, I pushed on, vanquished the final climb and arrived at Watanga Lake. The hike in took me three hours. This was a bit longer than I expected. Of course, there was the delay at the ford. But more annoying was that the trail was much steeper than I expected. Last week I said that the trail to Timber Lake climbed a bit more than the typical five mile hike. This trail is shorter but climbs five hundred feet more. I clearly didn’t pay any attention to that statistic when planning the hike.

Dogs were common hiking companions on this trail. Only myself and one couple lacked a canine. At the lake was a guy with three dogs. He fished, they ranged over a wide area. The dogs were small, smaller, and smallest.

The lake is scenic, but not dramatic. It’s small and shallow, with a large marshy area to the west. On my way out I ventured that way looking for another picture but there was no better view than where I sat and ate. Found a few nice flat rocks next to a handy snowbank to chill my beverage. It never ceases to amaze me how much better food tastes when enjoyed in a beautiful setting after three hours of hiking.

On the way down realized how fast the trail climbed. The guy at the lake complained about it, but I think he was complaining more about the sixty pound pack and herding the dogs. Hefting an extra sixty pounds, yeesh. That’s why I ‘m a day tripper. It took me three hours to get to the lake, but that includes probably twenty minutes watching those four guys cross the stream.

As I approached the ford, I was thinking how much more efficiently I crossed than they did. It took them quite a while and one went in the drink. But on my second crossing, I tossed one boot short and bounced into a puddle. Dang. It was standing upright, but it landed on its side. Maybe it didn’t get wet inside. Alas, it was pretty well soaked.

I sopped as much as I could with a paper towel, but it still felt pretty wet. I opened the tongue wide and set it down with as much sun shining in as I could. I took a short break and ate my cherries. Resigned to a wet foot for the remainder of the day I packed up and put the boots back on. For about thirty seconds my foot felt wet but after that it felt normal.

I made it back to the car shortly before four. No shade at the car, toasty, a bit dusty. Between the hot sun and the slow dusty drive to the highway I elected to keep the top on. I almost always return over Trail Ridge but figured the traffic there would be very bad so I drove back the way I came.

I stopped for a cold soda in Granby. There was a couple in a Polaris. Technically, they rode their Polaris; legally it’s a motorcycle and of course they get wet when it rains. Everybody was so busy asking them questions they didn’t notice me. It’s not often my car isn’t the center of attention.

Traffic moved pretty well, pretty much the speed limit all the way to Winter Park. I dispatched some slower cars going up the pass. People moved at a reasonable speed on the down side and before long we’re to I-70. The westbound traffic was horrendous. It only appeared to be stop-and-go in short blips, but it never moved fast, all the way to the bottom of Floyd Hill. And I’m sure it was that way all the way to the Eisenhower tunnel. Quite the contrast from what it was in the morning.

Fitbit app (GPS) says 4.51 miles, wristband recorded 5.97 miles with only 80 more paces on the way out. Foster says 4.8. Just a tad short of 25,000 paces for the round trip. Depending on how often the app queries the satellite, the GPS may read short on all the switchbacks. But I wouldn’t expect three tenths short, so I’ll assume the lower number is the most accurate.

Timber Lake

I’ve been aching to hike to lakes I haven’t been to yet. It’s been a long time since I bagged a new lake. No, that’s wrong. On the contrary, it was as recent as October, and half my hikes last year were new. Is going to new places getting to be an obsession for me? “My name is Dave, and I’m an addict.”

Unfortunately, my hunger for bagging another lake is getting harder to sate. I’ve picked all the low hanging fruit and to get to new lakes I have to go farther afield. The remaining ones are farther away, with more bushwhacking, and longer drives to the trailheads. This year I’m planning an 18 mile hike and a 22 mile hike. But it’s too early to try either of those; there is still too much snow on the ground for me to attempt either. If I can’t have a new item from the menu, what haven’t I had for a while?

After giving the question some thought I decided on Timber Lake. I was there once before, thirty odd years ago with my brother. Just that one visit, half a lifetime ago, and I somehow didn’t take a camera. It’s the only lake I’ve visited only once and last visited more than six years ago. This lake will look about as new to me as one I haven’t been to.

Foster lists the hike to to Timber Lake at 5.0 miles and a 2,000 foot climb. The sign at the trailhead indicates 5.3 miles, and from the topo maps it appears closer to 2,100′. Either way, it’s a greater than average climb for a five mile hike.

It’s a west side hike, the last trailhead before the switchbacks on Trail Ridge Road. I figured if I hit the trail by nine I could be at the lake easily by noon, so I didn’t need to hit the road too early. I made a leisurely start, leaving the house a few minutes before seven. I took my time on the drive; top off and a jacket on, a bit on the cool side at 70mph, but not uncomfortable. It looked to be another beautiful day. As I went farther north, though, it became a bit overcast.

Being a west side hike, I figure two hours to reach the trailhead. I went the speed limit the whole way with the possible exception of Berthoud Pass. And as it’s a few more miles into the park than the other trailheads I didn’t get on the trail until nearly 9:30.

IMG_5035sAt the trailhead there was a notice of a detour on the trail due to a landslide, more damage from the floods of nearly two years ago. I was in this vicinity when it started raining then, traversing the ridge immediately to the north of Timber Lake, to and from the Gorge Lakes. I will never forget that one – above treeline for an eternity with lightning striking on the other side of Trail Ridge Road.

The Timber Lake trail doesn’t start climbing until you’ve gone nearly a mile through a mixed forest of pine and aspen. The trees are widely spaced and the ground is covered with grass. You can hear the cars on Trail Ridge until the trail finds the crease made by Beaver Creek and the rushing water drowns out the noise.

After crossing Beaver Creek the trail starts climbing. There are many trails that will climb 400 feet in a kilometer. (Yes, I know. Mixing my units.) For most improved trails, that’s a typical steep section; you may have one or two of these separated by level or nearly level sections. Here it’s twice that – you climb about 900 feet in the two kilometers after crossing Beaver Creek.

The detour was marked with this tape

The detour was marked with this tape

That’s when you arrive at the detour. On my way to this point I pondered what the damage would look like. I was picturing something like the landslide on Twin Sisters but I decided it wouldn’t be like that. On Twin Sisters you cross the landslide area, you don’t detour around it. On Twin Sisters a couple of switchbacks were washed away; you hike along the trail, then climb straight up the slope until you retain the trail; repeat until above the slide.

So I wasn’t surprised to see that the detour takes us straight up the slope. The footing isn’t great; I bet it’s treacherous when it’s wet. The detour goes straight up the slope gaining another 200 feet before contouring along the slope for a while. At the top there’s one spot where the soil has slipped several inches but is still somewhat held together by roots – the top of the landslide. At this point the detour falls straight down the slope a hundred and fifty feet or so and regains the trail.

Prior to the detour, the trail was pretty much free of roots and rocks making it easy to maintain a steady stride. This eased the steep climb somewhat. After the detour the trail features a more typical number of rocks and roots, slowing my pace a bit. All this time the trail has been rising along the side of the valley, a couple hundred feet above Timber Creek. About four miles in, the stream has climbed to meet the trail.

The trail rises steeply again, another two hundred feet in a series of switchbacks, before depositing us at the base of a high, dog-leg valley. The final mile and a quarter to Timber Lake only climbs another 400 feet, skirting the north side of wide open meadows. Timber Creek meanders here in places. But, to me, “meander” connotes slow. The water here is not slow.

The lake is about three times longer than it is wide, and lies more or less north-south in its valley. I arrived at the lake a few minutes before noon. On the way up, I encountered a half dozen or so hikers who were going down but saw no others going my way. I figured I’d stay about an hour and guessed that a handful of other hikers would arrive during that time. I want to maximize my personal space, so I made my way along the western shore to the north end.

The clouds looked to be more dramatic to the south over the mountains, but I didn’t want to shoot directly into the sun. I set the camera up facing the lake’s outlet and the valley beyond. A few feet above the south west shore of Timber Lake is a shallow pond. It has a nice view; I waved “hello” to a pair of hikers who were there enjoying it. By the time I packed up, three other pairs of hikers had spread out on the north east side of Timber Lake where the trail deposited them.

After eating my lunch I watched a large bird soar high above me. It was too far away to be sure, but it was a big bird so I’m guessing an Eagle. He was expending very little energy, gliding back and forth high about the ridge to my east. It amazes me that they can see their prey from such a height.

I began my hike out by continuing around the lake to the eastern shore. Circumnavigating the lake is fairly easy; no trees to speak of, and very little willow. There is some talus at the southern end, but it’s mostly covered with snow right now. The portions that weren’t snow covered were like saturates sponges. It was this way all the way around the lake. Right now, it would be misleading to identify the inlet for Timber Lake. There are a number of trickles that will remain when the snow is all gone, but until then the entire shoreline feeds the lake.

On the way down I decided I’d investigate the landslide area. You’re not supposed to continue down the trail past the detour but curiosity overcame me. By now I was thinking perhaps it would be more like where the Lawn Lake flood undercut that trail. That would certainly call for a detour. There’s a traffic cone block the trail. A short distance beyond it I arrived at the landslide area.

It wasn’t nearly as dramatic as I had envisioned. If I didn’t know it was a landslide, it might have taken me a minute to figure it out. There’s no view; it’s in the middle of forest and it’s not at all like Twin Sisters or Roaring River. Nothing has been washed away. The trees and bushes and grass is still there, but the trees are mostly uprooted, lying at odd angles. The ground didn’t wash away in the flood, it just lost cohesion and slid a short way downhill.

IMG_6364sThere is a small stream here, if you want to call it that. What channel may have existed before isn’t there any more, and the water has spread itself out – over and among and through. What might it take to make things slip some more? It’s hard to say how wide the slide is – twenty or thirty feet perhaps. But I wouldn’t want to be on it were it to let go. This one is tiny compared to the landslides that have been in the news in recent years, but think of the results if this thing let go. It’s about five hundred feet from the the top of the slide down to Timber Creek.

Managing the detour on the way out was not fun. but it was all downhill after that. Between refilling my water supply, the side trip to see the landslide, and chatting with a group from Oregon it took me a half hour longer on the way out than the way in. I was back to the car by four.

I used the app for the Fitbit on the way up. It drained my phone battery to 32% in the two and a half hours it took to reach the lake. At the lake, I put the phone on airplane mode and when I powered it up back at the car it magically was back to 39% charged. Odd. But clearly I won’t be able to use the app on any hikes longer than three hours. (I have a charger in the car, so it was 100% when I hit the trail.)

I would like to use the app another time or two to get a better sense of how well the wristband measures distance. The app, using GPS, said the hike up was 5.6 miles. That compares well to the 5.3 miles indicated on the sign plus going to the far end of the lake. It was just short of fourteen thousand steps. The wristband game me a distance of 7.1 miles on the way out. That was 14,825 steps, so using the same number of steps per mile as the ascent would put it at more like 5.95 miles.

It credited me with climbing 283 flights of stairs. Around the house, it tends to undercount stairs slightly. They count a ten foot rise as a flight, so that 283 isn’t far off. Net elevation gain to the lake would be something like 210 flights. Every trail has its ups and downs. Throw in the detour and 283 sounds reasonable.

The Fitbit says I burned about 1,800 calories on the way up, another 1,700 on the way down, and a total for the day of nearly 5,900. Typically it shows me burning about 2,600 a day.

As to my heart rate, it breaks my activity into three categories: fat burning, cardio, and peak. They determine these by calculating max heart rate as 220 minus my age. Fat burning is more than 50% of max, cardio is more than 70% of max, and peak is more than 85% of max which for me is about 140. It recorded me in the peak category for 70 minutes on the way up and 15 minutes on the way down. I was in the cardio zone 74 and 126 minutes, and fat burning 15 and 37 minutes.

Okay, enough of that.

By the time I was back to the car, the weather was starting to turn. I heard thunder rumble once just before reaching the car and the clouds over Trail Ridge looked a bit threatening. I elected to leave the top on the car for the drive home.

Traffic on Trail Ridge was sometimes painfully slow. A large herd of elk was grazing right next to the road near the lava cliffs so everybody slowed to a walk. I saw a few lightning strikes over the CCY area but only got sprinkled on. It took an hour to get from the parking lot to the eastern gates of the park.  From Estes Park to Lyons we went nearly the speed limit, and sped up again between Lyons and Boulder. Then I ran into a jam – they were carrying the torch for the Special Olympics. I caught them between Jay Road and the Diagonal. That was another ten or fifteen minutes.

All in all, not a bad way to spend the day.

https://youtu.be/U0KGUJvOJPE