Shadow Mountain Tower

Sunday, October 16

Over beers last week I asked Chad if he wanted to go hiking. He agreed, and picked me up Sunday morning at seven.

The trail to the lookout tower starts at the East Shore Trailhead. This is my first hike from here. The trailhead is sited on the isthmus between Grand Lake and Shadow Mountain Lake. There is parking there for fifteen or twenty cars, bear-proof trash cans but no facilities.

We put boots on the trail at 9:30. I should say I put boots on the trail. Chad was wearing trainers. He was concerned they wouldn’t be adequate. I summitted Quandary in sneakers once and my feet were sore the next day. The trails on the west side of the park tend to have fewer rocks and roots than the east side, particularly at lower elevations. I figured he’d be okay.

The weather was pretty good. Denver’s forecast was for 80, sunny, and breezy so I figured 65 and windy at Grand Lake, so maybe 60 and windy at the tower. We passed through a cold inversion layer near Winter Park, upper thirties, but it was closer to fifty when we started. Skies clear but for some small, high, thin ones to the west. And it was windy. I wouldn’t say winds were fierce, but they were high and sustained. I was happy we’d be in the forest all day.

The first mile and a half of the hike is along the north-eastern shore of Shadow Mountain Lake. In a couple of places the trail is inches from the water. These spots were washed by breaking whitecaps today. The forest is mature – almost exclusively lodge pole pine, heavily beetle-killed. The tops of the trees were swaying through arcs of twelve or fifteen feet. We could hear them collide, making a sound like clapping two bowling balls together.

We made pretty good time to the trail junction, covering the 1.4 miles in half an hour. To get to the tower we take a left. The trail climbs to the top of a ridge. The forest on the eastern slope is younger. Mature trees are widely spaced and there is an abundance of smaller trees. I’m guessing a fire went through here half a century ago or so.

2016-10-16-12-01-54sThe tower isn’t on the summit of Shadow Mountain; it’s about a half mile to the west. It’s a stone tower with wooden stairs that wrap around it, leading to an observation deck. The building was built in 1932 and is in the National Register of Historic Places. The Foster guide says the observation deck “provides panoramic views of Shadow Mountain Lake, Grand Lake, and Lake Granby.” This is no longer true. Signs prohibit climbing the stairs due to structural concerns – rotted wood. A plastic ribbon hangs from the banister, no longer barring the way. I really wanted to go up to the deck but I was a good boy. Didn’t make it past the second step.

After our picnic break, we started back shortly after noon. The hike back was unremarkable, for the most part. Until we got back to the section along the lake shore. Dead trees cover forest floors everywhere, to some degree or another. On the Ypsilon Lake trail there’s a section where deadfall is like pick-up sticks. Not quite that bad here, but there are a lot of downed trees. And a lot of the standing trees are dead. I’m generally not concerned about falling trees. Certainly they fall all the time, but it’s a fairly infrequent event.

Of course, the trees don’t so much fall as get pushed over. We heard a lot of creaking wood as we walked down the trail. One dead tree right on the trail was leaning on a neighbor, splitting open at the base of the trunk. You could hear the wood complain as the wind worked on it. A bit later on we heard a crack and a short crash. I didn’t see it, but evidently one tree snapped and fell into the limbs of a neighbor. The crash would have had to be a few seconds longer had it fallen to the ground.

2016-10-16-13-28-49_stitch_resizeWe made it back to the car at two. Some sources say the hike is 4.8 miles each way. Foster has this at 5.4. My Fitbit recorded 22,761 steps for the round trip, so the Foster numbers look correct. With only a fifteen hundred foot net elevation gain it’s a fairly easy hike.

Chad survived without too much difficulty, although he said he wouldn’t have wanted to hike any farther in those shoes.

All in all, just another beautiful walk in the park.


Thursday, October 6

I’d been to the Great American Beer Festival before. That was at least twenty years ago. We bought tickets at the door. The tasting glass was actually glass. You could get as many samples of beer, one ounce at a time, as long as you had the glass. Sometimes people dropped the glasses – the sound of the breaking glass had a ringing quality that allowed it to be heard over the general hubbub of the crowd. People at the epicenter would call out an “Oooooh!” that rippled through the hall. No more beer for some poor guy. This occurred with increasing frequency as the night progressed, as you might imagine.

All they had was beer; there was no food. This was back in Currigan Hall. It was just a big open space (the world’s largest rigid space frame when it was built in 1969). There was a balcony that went all the way around the inside, just a wide corridor, really. Nowhere to sit, but you could lean on the railing take in the spectacle of the next dropped tasting glass. We found a vending machine up there, Funyuns and other long shelf life pseudo-food.

That was then. Things are different now. I haven’t even tried to get tickets as they sell out so fast. This year I’m told it took sixty-seven minutes. Sixty thousand people will taste nearly seventy-five hundred different beers. It’s the largest beer festival in the country, attended by people from all over the world.

Jason was kind enough to give me a ticket this year.

I don’t make it downtown very often. Last time was for the Bronco’s parade back in February. Genae and I took the bus, the Flatiron Flyer, to Union Station. That probably would have been the easiest thing to do tonight but Genae suggested I make an adventure of it and take the train instead. We have a few free passes, so what the heck.

After an early dinner I headed to the train station. I didn’t know exactly where it is, so I just punched the address into the phone and set off. Naturally, it took me to where they’re still building another parking lot, on the wrong side of the tracks from where I needed to be. Finally in the garage, I get a prime end spot next to the stairs. As I’m stepping out of the garage, I hear a train whistle. There’s the train, pulling into the station. Several minutes earlier than I expect. On reflection, it must have been sitting there the whole time as this station is at the end of the track (for now). It wasn’t pulling into the station from the east, full of commuters, it was coming from the west, empty.

I didn’t exactly run to the train, but I did pick up my pace a bit when a fellow ran past me. I needed to validate my free ticket. The guy who ran by me was working one of the credit card machines. I looked at the other but didn’t see anything about validation. I asked the other guy if he knew how to validate my pass but he didn’t. We got on the train, sat across the aisle from each other. How much trouble could I get into for not having my pass validated?

It’s a nice car, brand new. We sat a while before the doors closed and we departed. I never went through a turnstile so I assumed somebody would come by to check for tickets. I chatted with my fellow passenger. He, too, was headed to the festival. He’d spend the evening there with his son, then Uber home to Erie. Before long our conductor arrived. I told him I failed to validate my pass. He told me what I should look for next time and took my pass, which he immediately gave back to me.

When we got off the train we immediately met two women who asked us if we knew how to get to the beer fest. “We think we know where we’re going. You’re welcome to come with us.” On the train he had asked me where we needed to go. I said I thought it was 14th and Champa. We’d hop on the mall shuttle and head that way. Of course, half the people on the shuttle were going to GABF. Turns out I was off by a couple of blocks. The entrance is on 14th at California.

There was a line of people, four abreast, going through the glass doors. My train companion headed to will call and I went to get in line. At first I thought it was maybe fifty feet long. But it took a jog around a corner. Then underneath the building, past service entrances, along the single row of parking, almost to 12th Street. How many people in a line two and a half blocks long and four across? And the place has been open for about an hour, so how many people were there already?

Mercifully, the line moved pretty quickly. As we made our way toward the front a steady stream of people passed us on their way to the end. Lots of guys had necklaces made of pretzels. Take a bite of pretzel between samples to clear the palate. Judging by the number of pretzels, some of these guys were serious. Some were not so much necklaces as bandoliers, reaching from left shoulder to right waist.

Once inside I headed over to say hi to Jason. His team was pouring last year’s medal winners in the back corner of the entrance hall. I had my first sample right next door, the Bleidorf Kolsch from Periodic Brewing.

I downloaded the GABF app a few days ago but haven’t played around with it. I was thinking I’d be able to check off the beers I’d sampled. Instead, it gave me all sorts of sliders. I’d have been happy with a checkbox or a 1-5 star rating. It also wanted me to sign on to Facebook. Too much bother. Instead, I grabbed a pen from Port City Brewing and circled all the beers I tried in the 32 page beer list we got at the door.

My plan, more or less, was to stick to lighter beers for the most part, avoid standing in line, skip Colorado brewers and anything I can buy at the store, and walk every mile of the show. I also wanted to keep in mind the train schedule; my choices were 9:21 and 10:21.

I’m a lightweight. I sampled only a fraction of a percent of the available beers. I tried a variety of fruit beers: watermelon, black cherry, blueberry, peach. I like my fruit beer to be subtle. These were all pretty “in your face” except the blueberry. The only dark beer I tried was a chocolate chipotle – the chocolate was just undertones and the chipotle a smoldering aftertaste.

By the time I’d made a couple laps of the place I decided I’d had enough and made my way out. I arrived at 16th Street about sixty seconds too late to grab the shuttle. I expected to see another one soon; I expected one to pass me before I walked the length of the mall. This was optimistic: I never saw another shuttle. I made it to the train station at 9:24, missing the train by three minutes.

My free pass also works for the bus. When I texted Genae to tell her I’d be waiting nearly an hour for the train she suggested I take the Flatiron Flyer and she’d pick me up and shuttle me to the train station to fetch my car. Seemed like a lot of bother, and it kept her up after her bedtime, but in the end it saved me ten or fifteen minutes. And saved me pacing up and down the platform for an hour as I didn’t see any benches.

I enjoyed the evening. The beer festival isn’t something I need to do every year but it was fun and interesting.

Million Dollar Ride

Saturday, September 24

I spent my track day budget on my Laguna Seca trip so I didn’t register for CECA’s second track day at HPR. But it was a nice day and I decided I could postpone mowing the lawn and changing the oil in the Lotus so I could head out to the track and perhaps get a ride or two. I knew Scott would be there in his Miata, which I haven’t seen on track yet. And Ryan is generally there with his Exige, he might give me a ride.

Upon arrival, I made my way out to the wall between pit lane and the track to watch the cars. It looked to be the usual variety of CECA entrants: mostly Porsches, Corvettes, and Mustangs leavened with others for variety: 2 Exiges, Scott’s Miata, a few Cobra replicas, a Pantera, a couple of Vipers. It looked like there were several interesting cars running without passengers, including a pretty red Ferrari 458.

Ferrari 458 Speciale

Ferrari 458 Speciale

I wandered around the paddock for a while, checking in with my track rat pals. As usual, Ryan had a covered spot. He was only a few spots away from that 458. I made my way down the row and introduced myself. The 458 was owned by John. I asked him if he wanted about 190lbs of ballast in his passenger seat. He didn’t get my meaning at first, but it clicked eventually: “Oh, you want a ride!”

When his group was up I grabbed my helmet and jumped into his car. He told me he wasn’t out to set a fast lap time and I told him it didn’t matter to me. Onto the track we went. We hauled ass onto the track; faster, by far, than I’ve ever entered the track. From the passenger seat I couldn’t see the speedometer but I did have the forethought to start the lap timer on my phone before we got started.

The 458 is quite the machine. The steering wheel has about as many controls as an F1 car. One of the dials is called a manettino. This is where the driver selects the mode: low grip, sport, race, and so on. I’m not sure whether John had it in sport or race. John told me he could put the transmission into auto but at the track prefers to use the paddle shifters. He allowed that auto might be faster, but he enjoyed doing the shifting.

The car is fast. John said he hit an indicated 145 mph (my phone said 135; the truth is probably in between). We ran about five laps but never managed to have a clean lap. My lap timer showed a best lap of 2:08 (for reference, I’ve managed a 2:09 in the Elise). He had a theoretical lap of 2:01 (that’s a lap made of the three best sector times). I have no doubt that several seconds could be trimmed from that time. I don’t think he’s had a lot of laps at HPR, and certainly not a lot in that car.

Braking is fantastic. The discs are huge and he’s running on large, sticky tires. The seats are very nice, do a good job in cornering. Still, CG-Locks on the seat belts would be helpful. Exiting the turns I could feel the car squirm just a bit as all the electronics worked to keep it pointed in the right direction. John was missing the occasional apex, and his line is quite a bit different than mine in a number of places. It felt much faster than the recorded lap times. Certainly, with a traffic-free lap John could set a very quick time indeed. It’s a seriously fast car.

In the spot next to John was another Ferrari, one of much older vintage. I introduced myself to Bill. I told him I don’t know my Ferraris so he told me a little about his 365 GTB/4. It’s a V-12 (the 458 is a V-8). It predates all the computer control of modern cars. In contrast to the silky smooth modern 458 the 365 snarls and growls, pops and sputters. It sounds incredible.

Ferrari Daytona 365 GTB/4

Ferrari Daytona 365 GTB/4

Bill agreed to give me a ride. His car is much more like a race car than John’s 458. It has a roll bar, five point harnesses, and an array of old-school switches and dials on the dash, including a dial to adjust the brake bias. Headroom is a bit cramped with the helmet on – if I sat up straight my head rubbed the top. Less headroom than the Elise with the top on, but quite a bit wider.

Like John, Bill said he wasn’t going to go fast. I used to talk this way. For a few years I told my passengers we’d be one of the slowest cars on the track. I think there’s a bit of expectation management in this. I didn’t really think I was one of the slowest cars on track, and I don’t think John and Bill weren’t trying to scoot.

The two cars are quite a contrast. The 458 seemed a bit like a video game. All the controls are on the wheel; a flick of a finger to shift up or down. (And a misplaced finger to start the windshield wipers. John had to come into the pits to shut them off – he doesn’t drive the car in the rain and had difficulties turning them off, even putting two wheels off at one point dealing with the distraction.) Bill was working much harder in the 365 – double clutching, blipping the throttle on downshifts. Dancing on the pedals and sawing at the wheel.

The lap timer gave Bill’s best lap as 2:13, with a theoretical best of 2:12. As with John we encountered a fair amount of traffic. Bill gave everybody lots of room. I have no doubt he could log a quick time on an open track. There was the occasional clumsy downshift, but he was hitting his apexes pretty consistently. The car is a real chore to drive. When we got back to the paddock his first remark was along the lines of “I can’t imagine driving a 24 hour race in one of these.”

I will admit here that I’m not a good passenger. Typically, my discomfort arises due to not being in control. I don’t like riding with most drivers; too many people don’t pay enough attention. It’s a mental discomfort. Today my issue was in my gut, not in my head. I never have problems with motion sickness when I’m behind the wheel but if we’d have stayed on the track much longer, I’d have been signalling my desire to get out of the car. I’ve seen videos of people puking in their helmets and I don’t want to go there. Particularly in a Daytona 365GTB/4. (This is certainly not a critique of either Bill or John.)

I’m guessing that, together, these two cars together are worth about a million bucks. They are truly exotic creatures. Most folks only see them on display – like animals at a zoo – at shows and auctions. I’m happy to have gotten a taste of them, running wild, on the track.

33rd Colorado English Motoring Conclave

Sunday, September 18

I’ve been to the Conclave as a spectator twice. Three years ago I registered the car but the floods caused a postponement and the rescheduled date didn’t work for me. I figured I was overdue for a return trip.

"What's it say?"

“What’s it say?”

When I got back from the Laguna Seca trip I decided to get track outlines for each track I’ve driven it on. I’d put them on the hardtop, which sits in its canvas bag on a shelf all the time. I’d like to build a wall mount for it, put it on display and free up some shelf space. I haven’t figured that out yet, but I can certainly mount the roof on the car for car shows. I have all the tracks except CSP, which should be available soon. In the mean time it’s nine tracks. I can’t remember when I last had the top on, it must be at least three years.

The car is pretty filthy. I need to get all the road grime and black marks removed. I didn’t even give it a good wash; I just rinsed it off, didn’t touch the wheels. It definitely looks like a road warrior and not a show car. I figured I might have the dirtiest car in the show.

I made up a picnic lunch, took water and sunscreen, threw a chair in the boot, and headed to Oak Park. Registration started at 7:30, I figured 8:00 would be good. Arrived at the planned time. I was the second Lotus. A couple cars ahead of me I saw a mid-fifties Chevy. What’s a Chevy doing at an English car show? Then I noticed it was right hand drive and thought that was the answer. But it was misdirection: the car isn’t English after all, it’s Aussie.

2016-09-18-12-33-56sThe other times I attended there were about fifteen Lotus, a third of which were skittle colored Eliges. I think we had two Evoras as well. Today there were no Exiges, no Evoras, and I was the only Elise. There was an Elite, an M100 Elan, two or three Europas and the rest were Esprits and Caterhams. One of the Esprits was shod in Giugiaro design tires. I had no idea such things existed. I heard dozens of people say “That’s the James Bond car” but never heard one Pretty Woman reference.

2016-09-18-12-17-11_stitch_scaleWhen we moved to Colorado fifty odd years ago, my Mom and Dad and brother and I drove two cars from Ohio. One was a 1962 Hillman Minx, light blue. I don’t have any vivid memories of the car, other than crossing Nebraska in the summer in that Hillman. Air conditioning wasn’t common and neither car had it, but Dad’s car had a radio. Mom’s Hillman didn’t. My brother and I took turns in each car, so we didn’t even have each other to pester. We sold it soon after we got here. Parts were impossible to find here.

2016-09-18-12-18-22sSo, of course, I always look for a Hillman. There was one the last time I was here, but not a Minx. It stood all alone in one corner of an area for miscellaneous marques. Today there were three: two Huskys and a Minx convertible. I chatted with the owner of the Minx. He has replaced the motor with a different English make. He also told me that in 1959 Hillman was the second most imported make. Funny, then, that by the mid-sixties parts would be so hard to find. When I first approached him, he was telling another gentleman, “It’s rare, but that doesn’t make it valuable!”

Powered by Lotus

Powered by Lotus

One of the Huskys is worth mentioning. It has a bunch of medallions on the grill. When I was walking up to it, I noticed that one of them was a Lotus roundel. I wondered what that was about, as to the best of my knowledge Lotus didn’t have anything to do with Hillman. Normally it doesn’t, but this fellow powers his Husky with a Lotus motor.

My track decals were a topic of conversation. One older gentleman asked me what it said. “I don’t recognize the language.” Another guy said he was thinking of buying an Elise. I had him sit in it; he didn’t say it, but I think he was concerned he was too tall. He was maybe an inch taller than me. He had a bit of trouble getting in and out. I know I did the first time I sat in one.

It was quite the enjoyable day. The weather was fine – sunny, clear, calm, a bit on the warm side but not hot. I talked to people who were interested in the car. I made a couple circuits of the place and saw at least one of damn near every British car make I’ve ever heard of. Yup, it was a good day.


Beyond Lost, Day 2

Sunday, September 11

I was awoken from a deep sleep by the wind. A gust came down on the tent, hitting it like a drum: boom! It was 12:30. The wind certainly didn’t die down at sunset. Listening to music, waiting for the stars to appear, I found a rock someone had placed next to a tree. It made a nice seat. Leaning up against the tree resulted in a rocking motion, the tree swaying considerably in the wind. The wind had mellowed a bit by the time I climbed into the tent but now there was nothing mellow about it.

From 12:30 to 6:30 I didn’t get much sleep. The tent only drummed once more but the wind gusted and raged the rest of the night. At 6:30 I heard an odd noise. Sounded like a snort. At first I thought it was an odd noise for the tent to make in the wind. But it sure sounded like a snort. A few minutes later I heard a couple more snorts, farther away now. Elk, perhaps? I didn’t hurry and by the time I got out of the tent there were no critters in sight.

I had breakfast and took down the tent and packed everything but the bear vault into the pack. When I was done I stepped through the trees to the lake and met one of the guys in the big group. Yesterday, four or five of them went up the canyon all the way to Rowe Glacier, then summitted Mount Dunraven. Sounds like a great day to me. I told him I wanted to go as far as Scotch. He recommended taking the ramp I spotted yesterday.

While we’re talking he points to the marshy area I crossed to climb the hill. “There’s a moose.” He went off to get his long lens. I grabbed some water and started off the way I went yesterday. The moose had disappeared now, but I was heading that way so I kept on the lookout for him. Never did spot him again.

I retraced yesterdays route to the tundra slope south of Husted. The wind hadn’t died down much. At sunrise the sky was clear but as the morning progressed a wave cloud formed just to the east, putting the area in shadow.

I needed to get to the other side of the valley and it wasn’t clear to me which way to go. It’s a wet marshy area with a couple of ponds, lots of willow, lots of flowing water. I started working my way across, got in an area of long grass. Near a wildlife trail the grass was matted where a couple of elk may have bedded down.

In a particularly spongy area I had stopped and was looking for a good way to go. I saw some movement on the ground out of the corner of my eye. I wouldn’t have seen it if it had just stayed still but it took another hop away and I saw it. The frog was three or four inches long, matched the color of the muck pretty well. He was gone in a few seconds. First frog I’ve ever seen in the Park.

Ultimately I got stymied in here. I tried a couple of different routes with no luck. The clouds were getting bigger, the wind wasn’t getting better, I decided to abort. There’s obviously a way across, I just need to take another look at it. This is a pretty cool place and I have an excuse to come back again. So it goes.

I headed back toward Husted. I decided to go circumnavigate it. The southern shore of the lake is mostly tundra. The peninsula is big rock slabs. The northern shore is more talus. Standing at the outlet you have a nice view of Gibraltar, ‘Middle No Name’, and ‘Little No Name’.

I made two round trips up the slope between Husted and Lost. I passed a jawbone all four times. About eighty feet downhill and across the stream from it is an antler fragment, two points off a bigger rack. Likely the same animal.

2016-09-10-15-09-54sI was back to the camp by 9:30 and on the trail by 9:36. I immediately ran into another one of the guys from the other camp. He was off to look for Lost Falls. I’m pretty sure there’s a camp site there, but I believe it’s closed. I didn’t see any signs for the falls or the site and neither did he.

We chatted a bit as we walked. He told me they were “llama supported.” They hired an outfitter out of Estes who packed their gear in by llama and will return to fetch it tomorrow. They’re all carrying their day hiking gear instead of big backpacks. They hiked all the lakes and a few of the summits. And perhaps find Lost Falls. I wished him a good day and at that he was off, running.

A few minutes later I caught up to four more from that group. Two couples, one of each who had to work tomorrow so they’re on their way out. The first guy I met was here. I last saw him as he ran off to get his telephoto lens. He asked, “Did you see that moose move through your camp?” It was there when he got back with his lens. I was on my way up the hill by then. So this would be the second time a moose was in my camp and I didn’t see him. It was a moose that snorted outside my tent, not an elk.

We passed each other a few times as the day wore on. Next I met two young women headed to the lake. I gave them the scouting report and my map. After exiting the Park I started seeing more people. I was too early yesterday to see the day trippers, but they were in peak rush today.

Before now I haven’t given llamas much thought. There’s that sign on the campground shortcut to Thunder Lake: “No Livestock – Llamas excepted”. Llamas can carry something like eighty pounds. That means probably three llamas did a round trip on this trail Friday. Llamas are pretty low-impact pack animals. I saw absolutely no sign of the llamas except for one thing. I’ve been seeing llama shit on trails for years and never realized what it was.


Beyond Lost, Day 1

Saturday, September 10

I’m a hiker, not a backpacker. I’m working on changing that. On my Laguna Seca trip I spent five nights camping to see if I could deal with sleeping on the ground. I passed that test. Now it’s time to carry all my gear up a trail. A few weeks ago I made the rounds and borrowed a tent from John and a backpack from Jerry. I made my reservations that night. I snagged a spot at Lost Lake, 9.7 miles up the North Fork trail from the Dunraven trailhead.

I suppose I was under-prepared for the trip. I only assembled the tent once. I did one test pack of the backpack. I fiddled around with the backpack a bit but was never happy with the fit. But I get points for not forgetting to take everything I needed. When I did my first test pack (no food or water) the pack weighed in at 20.5 pounds. Final pack was 31 pounds but I tossed in the iPod and headphones before locking the car.

Denver’s forecast for the weekend was low-80’s on Saturday, upper-80’s Sunday, clear and dry. I figured it would be different at 10,700′ and was anticipating clear skies, high winds, and near freezing temps by morning. My sleeping bag is quite old and I don’t know how well it handles the cold so I made sure to have plenty of layers.

I’ve never hiked in this part of the Park. The trailhead is in the Comanche Peaks Wilderness of the Roosevelt National Forest, a few miles from Drake. Drake was more or less erased by the floods three years and a day ago. I haven’t been through here since then. The road is better than ever, billiard table smooth. The dirt road to the trailhead is very good also.

As I said, the trail starts in NFS land. The first section of the trail drops down a gully to the river. The flood damage here doesn’t seem so bad, three years later. It’s obvious how big the river was at full flow – there is nothing but rocks and sand for several feet on each side of the river. Weeds haven’t even taken over. I saw only two man-made pieces of debris. The trail was washed out in a few places and has been moved or rebuilt robustly.

After a short stroll along the riverbank the trail crosses private property – Camp Cheley. Stables, corrals, a rodeo ground. Just before returning to NFS land there are concrete bridge abutments without a bridge. Not long after leaving Camp Cheley we leave the riverbank and work our way upslope. By the time we return to the river there is no sign that any flood occurred.

Most of the hike offers nothing to look at. The trail goes through mixed forest and has no outstanding views. No views at all, really, until nearly at your destination. Although the trail climbs steadily, I was feeling pretty good that I hadn’t come across one of those four hundred foot climbs in a kilometer. I didn’t get on the trail until a bit after eight and wasn’t keeping my usual pace. I hoped to have camp set up by two and figured to picnic well before getting that far.

There’s a campsite called Halfway. I had assumed the obvious, that it’s half way from the trailhead to the lake, a little over five miles. This is incorrect. It’s not half the distance, it’s half the climb. It’s closer to six miles. So from here to the lake will be, on average, about half again as steep as we’ve been doing.

Not far past Halfway the trail returns to the stream. I found a pleasant spot for a break. I was happy to shed the backpack for an extended time. I had been taking more breaks than normal, but all quite short. It felt good to take an extended rest. As it turns out, I took my break right at the bottom of a long, steep (by pack trail standards) section. It wasn’t quite as steep as four hundred feet in a kilometer, but it was more like two kilometers than one. And the trail, although well maintained, is more like the campground shortcut to Thunder Lake than the trail to Nokoni – no shortage of roots and rocks to step over. On this stretch my legs really felt the thirty extra pounds.

I’m going to Lost Lake, but everything in the area is Lost. There’s also Lost Falls. I didn’t find Lost Falls, but I wasn’t really trying. There’s a campsite called Happily Lost. And after the steep section of trail, after the trail crosses a rock outcropping and gives us our first view, the sight of miles of forested valley below us, behind us, we arrive at Lost Meadows. Now we finally catch a glimpse of the mountains ahead. Just a glimpse – the bare hulk of Mount Dunraven.

By now I’ve been hiking five and a half hours. I’ve run in to six people. At the trailhead there were only a few cars; all still had dew on them so I was the first arrival of the morning. As I was stepping onto the trail, a truck pulling a horse trailer arrived. It was two women riders, who passed me just after Camp Cheley. I asked them how far they were going. They said they didn’t know: as far as they could go. They were happy to see the trail finally open.

I met the occupants of both the Lower Lost Lake sites on their way out. First was two guys, my age, perhaps a few years older. They told me the Upper Lost Lake sites were taken by a big group (“They had llamas. A big Coleman stove, everything but the kitchen sink”). Of the two Lower sites they felt they had the best one, #1. The next couple, French accents, had stayed at #2. They said the wind wasn’t that bad, that it had mostly died down after sunset.

When I got to the lake I went to the Upper sites to see if the big group was still there. They were, although nobody was home. Two large tents were erected on one site and the Coleman stove sat on a table in the other. Their bear canister was off the trail below the camp. Their setup struck me as a pretty good one: a bedroom and a kitchen. No sign of any llamas, though.

On my side of the lake I headed to site #1 and dropped the pack there. Then I walked back to #2 to check it out. I preferred #1 as it had a view of the lake. This was probably not the best choice. The other site was farther back in the trees; I only had a few trees between me and open water.

2016-09-10-16-28-02sLost Lake, like Lawn Lake, Pear Lake, Sandbeach Lake, and others, used to be bigger. It was dammed in 1911 and reclaimed in 1985. It’s the lowest of a string of six lakes forming the headwaters of the North Fork of the Big Thompson River. Sugarloaf Mountain is a miles long wall on the north, Icefield Pass is at the western end. A side canyon runs south, ‘Little’ No Name, ‘Middle’ No Name and Gibraltar Mountain making up the western wall. Mount Dunraven is south of Lost Lake and also forms the eastern wall of the side canyon. Up this canyon are Lake Dunraven, ‘Whiskey’ Lake, and ‘Scotch’ Lake.

I might be tempted to say Lake Louise is the side canyon, as it’s much shorter. But the canyon where Lake Dunraven sits hangs about four hundred feet above Lake Louise’s outlet stream. There are a couple of unnamed ponds where the two streams find confluence. If you continue past ‘Scotch’ you end up at the foot of Rowe Glacier, a bit over 13,000′.

I had camp set up shortly before three, nearly an hour off my estimate. No worries; that still leaves me plenty of time. The goal for the afternoon is to visit both Lake Husted and Lake Louise. The trail ends here at Lost Lake. The Foster guide says to go up the hill from the other camp but it looked easier on my side. It’s a bit marshy near the lake. The water flowing from the top of the hill makes no obvious course here; it is distributed across a wide area making the whole area spongy.

The slope is easily climbed. Near the top, continuing to follow the small stream leads to thick willow; it’s easier to pass through a narrow strip of sparse trees to the left, south. Then it’s around a rock outcropping before emerging onto gently sloping tundra. The view here is spectacular. Lake Husted is now to my right, one more hump to cross. It’s a fairly substantial lake, shaped like an open cartoon mouth: the uvula hanging from west to east. Lake Louise, which is farther up the canyon, is actually slightly downhill from here.

I spent a bit of time studying the other side of the valley, looking for the best route to Lake Dunraven. Foster suggests bushwhacking up the stream, working through thick willow. It looks to me, though, that there is a nice wide ramp a bit to the east. This will take you slightly above the lake but looks to be pretty easy. I will go that way tomorrow. I headed over to Lake Louise. I didn’t stay for long as the wind was picking up. Back at Husted I went to the end of the peninsula before retracing my footsteps back to camp.

I had dinner and listened to some music as the sun set. Here, though, it doesn’t really set. It falls behind the mountain well before sunset. We’re in shadow a long time before it gets dark. The sky is still bright and cloudless. Passing jetliners are brightly lit and look like comets. The air is so dry their contrails evaporate in a few degrees of arc.

The moon is fairly bright; no Milky Way for me tonight.

Pettingell Lake fail

Sunday, September 4

Last year, crossing back over the ridge that separates Lake Nokoni from Lake Nanita, I saw what looked to be a fairly well-defined trail crossing the ridge between Lake Nokoni and Pettingell Lake. Having successfully done the 22.2 mile round trip to Nanita and knowing that Pettingell is the same distance, it seemed like I should be able to bag Pettingell.

The weather forecast for Denver predicted a high of 91 with mostly sunny skies and only a slight chance of rain. I probably should have checked the forecast for Grand Lake. Between Granby and Grand Lake the road was wet. I might have thought it had rained in the pre-dawn hours but there was so much standing water it would probably be more accurate to say the rain had just stopped falling. But the rain had stopped, and that’s what counts.

I planned for a 7:30 start, which means leaving the house at 5:30. I was pretty much on schedule, putting boots on the trail at 7:37. Two guys started hiking while I was changing my shoes and I caught them shortly before the first campsite at Summerland. They looked to be traveling oddly light, carrying only a plastic bag containing a couple of rolls of toilet paper. I chatted briefly with them. They spent the night in camp there but managed to forget one important item, thus their early morning trip. They were visiting from Mississippi and had just spent the first of several nights in the park. I expected to see them later in the day as they said they’d be heading to Nanita.

Not long after leaving them at their camp I saw some moose tracks on the trail. I always expect to see moose in these parts but tracks are all I saw. There were these fresh tracks on the trail, still very distinct so I guessed they were put down after the rain stopped. Just moments after seeing these tracks it started raining. Just sprinkles at first, but before long I had to don my rain jacket.

It rained for two hours. It wasn’t a hard rain but enough to cause rivulets of water to run down the trail. Rain drops would hang on the brim of my hat, dance back and forth with my gait for a few steps, then fall to my feet. The rain pattered softly on my hoodie while occasional larger drops falling from the trees made louder plops.

As the morning wore on, I passed several groups of backpackers making their way out. The weather wasn’t exactly conducive to stopping and talking, so we just exchanged greetings. I did ask most of them where they were hiking from; all were in camps along the North Inlet.

It stopped raining after I passed Ptarmigan Creek. About here the trail finally starts gaining some elevation. The first six or seven miles are pretty flat, passing through some wider sections of U-shaped valley where the river meanders in big loops and the occasional pond lies near the trail. After Ptarmigan Creek the trail starts working its way up the side of the valley.

I arrived at the trail junction as quickly as I made it last year. I make a right turn to head to Nokoni whereas most traffic goes on the trail to the left, towards Flattop and Bear Lake. One of these days I’ll have to arrange logistics such that I can hike from Bear Lake to Grand Lake. It’s well over twenty miles, but I no longer have any doubt I’m capable of it.

The roughly two and a half miles of trail from North Inlet Falls to Lake Nokoni is quite the feat of trail making. Last year I didn’t pay particular attention to the trail itself. I took in the views and was always concerned with my progress. More relaxed this time, I couldn’t help but notice how the trail facilitates quick travel.

This is a pack trail, so it is constructed according to whatever codes apply – minimum width, maximum grade, and so on. But the thing that stands out on this section is the absolute absence roots, rocks, and stairs that interfere with your gait. And although I’ve seen many pack trails that have sections that climb four hundred feet in a kilometer, this trail has no steep parts.

But what amazes me about this trail is that it does all this while traversing some incredibly steep terrain. In the mile below Lake Nokoni there are several sections where the trail is literally carved out of the rock. Words and pictures don’t do it justice. These two and a half miles are perhaps the easiest two and a half miles of hiking in the entire park. That, in conjunction with the relative lack of incline on the first six or seven miles make this ten miles of trail easier than many trails half the distance.

I had no sooner stood on the rock shelf along the east side of Lake Nokoni than I heard somebody coming up the trail behind me. It was a solo hiker, a trail runner, and the only person I encountered all day who was older than me. He started where I did, at about eight. His pace was only a couple of minutes per mile faster than mine which was quite the ego boost for me: I’d covered the ten miles in 3:47, or about 2.6 miles per hour.

Now I confess that I forgot to bring a map. I wasn’t concerned, though, because as I said, I saw the trail last year. All I needed to do was find the trail and I’d be on my way. I figured I couldn’t miss it if I just started working my way up the slope. So that’s what I did. The slop turned out to be a bit steeper than I anticipated. I did eventually find a trail of sorts. But it’s loose gravel and I wasn’t happy using it. My footing was much better without the trail. And it’s not really a trail – it fades into nothingness on both ends.

Without a map I was expecting to be able to see the lake when I topped the ridge. So I was a bit disappointed that my target wasn’t in sight. I decided that it must be farther to my left and that I’d need to cross a talus slope. By now it was noon, which is my “bingo” time. I want to be at my destination, or in sight of my destination, by noon. No lake in sight, so I pondered my options.

I could continue, expecting to arrive at the lake within another half hour. That’s not so bad, but it puts my return to the car an hour behind schedule. The rain had stopped, but the sky was still threatening. The only blue sky I could see was a thin ribbon along the divide. The “mostly sunny” forecast looked to be true, if you were east of the divide. Here, it looked like it might rain again. Finally, I’d managed to keep my feet mostly dry until I headed off trail. Once I was walking through grass my pants were wet below the knee and my feet were thoroughly wet. And today I wore my hiking shoes, not the boots. With the boots my feet probably would have stayed dry. And I’d certainly be happier in boots when crossing this talus field. (New rule: wear the boots if the hike goes off trail.)

So I decided to turn around.

You may have noticed that the panoramas I’ve been posting to the blog are sized quite small. They certainly lose most of their impact when they’re tiny. I’m playing around with a couple of options to improve the experience. For this entry I’ve uploaded the panos to Photosynth. First, press the “Click to View” button. You may have to activate Silverlight. Then, for the full effect, press the little tool on the right (expand/contract viewer) to make it full screen. Then you can pan and zoom all you want.

No big deal. I can get to Pettingell if I decide I like camping. Or, if I hit the trail at 7:00 instead of 7:40. And wearing boots and carrying a map. (It looks like I didn’t need to cross the talus field after all. That would have been the hard way.)

I cautiously worked my way down the slope back to Nokoni, where I selected a large flat boulder to sit on and eat my lunch. By now the clouds had broken up a little bit, providing alternating sunshine and shadow. I took off my shoes and socks, wrung out the socks, and set them on the rock to dry. But the sunshine was fleeting and a breeze kicked up and my socks never had a chance to dry out. I wasn’t looking forward to hiking ten miles with wet feet.

The weather did clear up quite a bit. Back in the valley, once I got below the lake, I was in sunshine again. The clouds were just hanging around the peaks. About half way back to North Inlet Falls I was finally able to take off my rain jacket for the first time in five hours.

Upper North Inlet valley

Upper North Inlet valley

On the way out I took a couple of short breaks. The Upper North Inlet valley is one of the remotest areas in the park and the steep terrain below Nokoni means the view is often unobstructed by trees. I paused several times to take in this view. I also took a short break at Big Pool to eat some fruit. I was back to the car shortly after five. I was happy to put on dry shoes and socks and surprised that the wet-footed hike out wasn’t the least bit uncomfortable.


Up Down
Trailhead 07:37 AM 05:11 PM
Cascade Falls 08:40 AM 04:02 PM
Big Pool 09:09 AM 02:41 PM
Ptarmigan Creek 09:51 AM 02:20 PM
Lake Nokoni 11:24 AM 01:01 PM