Lake Helene

Last Saturday Jerry and I hiked to Lake Helene. This was Plan B. Plan A was to hike from Bear Lake to Tourmaline Lake. I hiked to Tourmaline last year, from the Fern Lake trailhead. That’s the longer route, but I wanted to walk through the fire area. I wanted to return because the weather that day wasn’t very good for photography.

US 36 was closed for construction the last two times I headed to the park so this was my first look at any road repairs. For the time being, this is not a good route for the fun car. Both canyon sections are dirt. They’ve done a lot of blasting and it looks like there will either be very wide shoulders or an extra lane. I’ll be surprised if they don’t put in a left turn lane just before where the first passing lane starts.

My park pass expired in April so we didn’t get to use the express lane. By this late hour, the lower parking lot was full and the Bear Lake lot was about two-thirds full. We hit the trail a few minutes before nine.

We made fairly good time on the lower section of the trail. A half hour to the Flattop/Odessa trail junction. Up to here, there was little snow on the ground. From about a quarter mile past the trail junction all the way to Lake Helene there was quite a bit of snow. We brought microspikes with us, but I wasn’t expecting to install them so soon. By the end of the day, we’d passed dozens of other hikers but none had spikes. A few wore sneakers without socks, but at least I didn’t see anybody in sandals.

Following the trail was a pretty straight-forward exercise, for the most part. The snow lay on the ground in big ridges, sometimes across the trail but sometimes also along the trail, big drifts four feet deep or more. Seldom did the snow obscure the trail more than twenty yards, and in these areas there were blazes on the trees.

By the time we got to where the trail makes the hairpin turn and descends to Odessa Lake, the blazes led us up the slopes of Joe Mills Mountain. We ran into a couple who intended hiking to the Fern Lake trailhead. I knew we were no longer on the trail, but they didn’t. After taking in the view of Odessa Lake below, I got us down to the trail, showed them where it goes, and Jerry and I headed to Helene. The snow was slowing us down; we wouldn’t make it to Tourmaline by noon and Jerry was getting pretty tired. So Plan B it was, and we headed to Helene and searched for someplace not covered in snow to have our lunches.

We spent about an hour and a half relaxing over lunch. The day had started off quite reminiscent of last year – a solid, undifferentiated bank of clouds. For a while on the trail it seemed we’d end up with bright, sunny skies. In the end, it was more cloudy than not, and by the time we decided to head back things were looking decidedly threatening. We never did get rained on, but it was probably a close thing. There was a bit of lightning a short distance to the north.

When we got back to the car we ran in to the couple we ran into on the trail. They didn’t make it much past where I put them back on the trail. The snow was too deep for them so they turned around.

By now the parking lot was full. To keep folks from clogging up the parking lot, they have several rangers directing traffic. “No, you can’t wait for them to leave. There are spots on the other side. If you don’t find one, go around again. Keep moving.” I think I chatted briefly with each ranger. “People sure take a lot of pictures of your car!”