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.

Lake Helene

I’ve developed a real appreciation for Lake Helene. It only recently made it on to my radar. I had hiked from Bear Lake to Fern Lake several times before venturing the couple hundred yards off the trail. The hike is a bit on the short side for me so I’ve been doing it either in winter or late spring, most recently last Sunday.

Jerry and I hiked it last year, a bit earlier in June. We hiked over quite a bit of snow, from not much after the Flattop trail junction all the way to the lake. This time there was not as much snow in spite of the cooler and wetter May. But I get ahead of myself.

As it’s a shorter hike, I didn’t need to get up at the crack of dawn. I left the house around seven and stopped in Boulder for breakfast. I arrived at the Bear Lake parking lot at about a quarter to nine. I was surprised none of the signs suggested I park at the shuttle parking lot. It was a near thing. I snagged one of the last few parking places in time to hear the rangers “call it” – the parking lot was full.

The forecast for Denver was a pleasant but warm day with a high in the mid-90’s. I was expecting the usual brilliant blue skies, but it’s been more humid than normal so visibility wasn’t as good as normal. Perhaps we’re also getting some smoke from the forest fires in California. Other than the haze, though, it was fairly clear.

I wanted to use the Fitbit to log the hike, but the Android app was wonky again so I just pushed the button on the wristband. I’d try the app again for the return trip. I had no intention of using it both directions, as my battery life has been poor lately and I suspect the Fitbit app makes it even worse.


Notchtop over Lake Helene

I arrived at Lake Helene a bit after ten and looked for a nice sunny spot to sit and watch the world go by. I made my way to a peninsula of talus surrounded by a sea of snow that stretched about a hundred yards in all directions. Mid-90’s in Denver and here I am, sitting in the pleasantly cool sun on a rock in the snow.

I set up the camera facing down the valley to the north and surveyed the sky. Although the mornings are often cloudless here beneath the divide, it’s typical to see clouds form by eleven or noon. You don’t need time lapse to see them move; they’re generally quite boisterous. Today, though, it was just a thin veil of high clouds with little apparent motion. That’s okay; variety is a good thing.

I spent about two hours not doing much. The snow is melting everywhere around me, just about everywhere I can see. The rocks on Notchtop are streaked dark with water. Lake Helene is brimming at its banks. The falls are too far away to hear, but there is a slight breeze whispering through the pines. Occasional gusts kicked up, painting ripples on the surface of the lake.

Being that there is no official trail to Lake Helene it doesn’t see many visitors. It’s obvious people come here; there is a faint trail and I found footprints in the snow. At this time there are probably fifty people at Emerald Lake, and on the trail there you’re never out of sight or ear-shot of other hikers. Here, I had the illusion of solitude. While I was there, a couple of hikers appeared at the outlet but they were far enough away I never heard them and between here and the Flattop trail junction I met fewer than a dozen other hikers.

According to the Fitbit app, it’s three and a quarter miles. The bracelet comes up with 3.8 miles, but it’s not using GPS. I suspect the shorter distance is more correct. Comparing the data in the two logs, I see pretty much what I’d expect. It took me fifteen minutes longer on the way up than the way back, and I was working harder, burning about 30% more calories.

Back at Bear Lake there was a steady stream of cars arriving at the parking lot. I guess most of these folks figured the signs saying the parking lot was full aren’t intended for them. Strangely, nobody waited for me to back out of my spot. The last guy to pass me waved me by. “Did you just leave that spot?” He thought he might back up and snag that spot, but he never stood a chance. Probably took me 10 minutes to get out of the parking lot. Very crowded.

On the way out of the park, the signs said all the parking lots were full and visitors should try again after 4pm. I’ve never seen any indication that all the parking lots were full before. I don’t recall seeing the shuttle parking lot more than half full. Busy day.

Emerald Lake

Sunday, May 31

The last weekend in May is my traditional jumping off point for the summer hiking season. Following tradition, I visited Emerald Lake.

As it’s a very short hike, I could enjoy a lazy morning. I left the house just after nine and had a pleasant drive in spite of the expected heavy traffic. Before I reached Boulder I realized I forgot to bring the spikes. I never had spikes until a few years ago, so I knew I’d have no problem getting to Emerald, but I’m much more comfortable hiking on snow when I have some traction. And it looks like Longs Peak has more snow now than is typical for this time of year – heck, more than is typical for any time of year – and after a very wet and cool May I was expecting to see more snow at Bear Lake than usual.

I arrived at the Bear Lake parking lot at about 10:45, late enough that I had to park near the bottom of the parking lot. There wasn’t as much snow at Bear Lake as I was expecting; clearly what’s been falling in recent weeks has been melting pretty quickly.

I recently bought a Fitbit Charge HR and this hike was the “shakedown cruise” for it. I played around with it on the Black Hills trip and for the Bolder Boulder, but the Android app crashed and I didn’t collect any useful data. I can use it with or without the phone app. If I don’t use the phone, it collects steps taken, flights of stairs climbed (1 for each 10′ gained), my heart rate, and exercise duration. Using the phone as well, I get a map of my hike. My concern is, if I use the phone, how long will the battery last?

I launched the app at 10:52, right at the car, and started walking. I followed the summer route as there wasn’t enough snow to take the winter route. According to the Fitbit, it was 1.82 miles from the car to Emerald Lake. It took me 48 minutes and I gained 818 feet of elevation.


One of the reasons I wanted this particular model of Fitbit is to collect a log of my heart rate. I’ve talked to people using older ones, and you need to use a chest strap to get a log of your heart rate, or stop every now and then and query the device to get your current pulse. Here’s what my heart did on this short hike:

fitbit_heartThis was just the hike to the lake. I stopped the app there and restarted it for the return trip. Oddly, I had a higher peak heart rate going down than I did going up. I don’t expect to get similar results on my much longer and more strenuous hikes. Unfortunately, when I got back to the car I managed to plug the phone into the charger without noting how low the battery was, so I still have no idea how well it will work for an all-day hike. I’m guessing I’ll be able to use the app on the hike to where ever I’m going, and not use the app on the way out.

There were fewer hikers than I was expecting. I guess the snow had most of them turning around at Nymph Lake. I did overhear a few amusing snippets of conversation. Near Dream Lake: “Where does all the water come from? Snow melt?” Keep in mind, they hiked half the way here over snow. At Emerald Lake as I was leaving, a young couple arrived, looked around for a few seconds, took a picture to prove they’d been there, and turned around to leave. The young woman calls out to a friend, not yet to the lake, “Hardly worth the trouble, it’s not very scenic.” I have several complaints about hiking to Emerald Lake but lack of scenery isn’t one of them.

I had the SLR up and running for the time lapse by 11:52. Readers of the Black Hills posts will recall that the GoPro was a casualty of that trip, so I only had the one camera. I managed to forget to put the lens hood on it, so when it started sprinkling I stopped and packed up as the lens would get wet right away. This turned out to be a good thing, as the graupel started falling almost immediately.

I beat the squall to Dream Lake and figured I’d set up the camera to continue the time lapse. Unfortunately, I ran into some unknown technical difficulty. The timer wasn’t working. It was counting down properly: “0:02… 0:01…” but no shutter release. Very frustrating. I reset it several times to no avail and by the time I gave up, the graupel started falling here. I had planned to snack on my berries while the camera ran for a while, but so it goes.

IMG_2698sThere’s a nice open view of Glacier Gorge and the Longs Peak complex from the trail below Dream Lake, so I stopped there and ate my blackberries and raspberries. There were squalls over Longs, just as when I paused here on the way up. Very scenic. The weather didn’t follow me past Dream Lake – from my rock with a view to the car, no more precipitation.

I had a lazy drive down the mountain in an unbroken string of traffic from Estes to Lyons.

The time lapse is a bit on the short side this time, but so it goes.

Delahaye Type 145

IMG_2068sToday Jerry and I went on a tour of the Bugatti restoration shop in Berthoud. This was my third time to the shop. Of course, it’s not the shop that’s the attraction, but the cars. Today there were a handful of Bugattis there, along with a fairly modern Ferrari and a couple of Lotus. The Bugattis are always interesting, but the draw today was the Delahaye Type 145.

Emile Delahaye started building cars in Tours, France in 1894. In 1896 he entered two cars in the Paris-Marseille-Paris race, finishing 8th and averaging 12.5 miles per hour. These nineteenth century cars weren’t very powerful – one model had a 2.2 liter engine pumping out four and a half horsepower.

The state of the art had improved somewhat by 1937, when this car was built. In those days, IMG_2051sthe racing scene was dominated by government sponsored Mercedes-Benz and Auto Union. In an effort to get French auto makers to develop race cars capable of beating the Nazis, the leftist alliance Front populaire (which included, among others, the French Communist Party and Radical and Socialist Party) sponsored the ‘Prix du Million’.

The race was held at the notorious Autodrome de Montlhéry, site of Alberto Ascari’s death a dozen years before. Actually a time trial, each car was required to drive 16 laps (120 miles) and average 91 mph from a standing start. The prize was a million francs, which was a bit over $40,000 at the time but would be close to a million US dollars today.

IMG_2062sDelahaye’s answer was the Type 145, chassis 48771 specifically. The car had a 4.5 liter V-12 engine pumping out 220 horsepower. To make the engine as light as possible, the cylinder heads were made of an aluminum alloy and the block was cast in a magnesium alloy. Capable of 160mph, this car took the win driven by Rene Dreyfus.

In addition to winning that race, this car also finished 1st in 1938 Grand Prix de Cork Ireland and Grand Prix dePau, France, as well as 4th at the 1938 Mille Miglia.

This car is worth in the neighborhood of $20 million.

IMG_2065sThanks much to Victor for sharing his shop with us and to Skip for organizing the event.