Hutcheson Lakes

About a week ago I decided it was time to hike to Cony Lake. Last time I tried to hike to Cony I took a break at Pear Lake where I managed to leave my the SLR and tripod. Although the mission was aborted, I enjoyed a long lunch at Pear.

It’s 9.2 miles to Cony. I’d forgotten how long it was until I checked the Foster guide for a refresher. I wasn’t sure I was ready for an eighteen and a half mile hike. I spent a couple days telling myself I could do it. By Friday morning, there was no wavering. All systems go for a 6am departure, boots on the trail by 7:30. Last year it took me three hours to get to Pear. It’s 2.2 miles from Pear to Cony, so that shouldn’t be more than an hour and a half. Two hours tops. Lunch at Cony by 12:30, half hour lunch, back to the car by 6pm.

Saturday dawned cool and cloudless but a bit hazy – smoke from the fires in Washington and Oregon? I hit the road a few minutes behind schedule but traffic was light and I put boots on the trail promptly at 7:30. I brought micro spikes with me, but at the last moment decided not to carry them.

The trail climbs steeply from the parking lot to the top of the first ridge, about six hundred feet in a bit over a half mile. The climb ends with a hairpin; turning west the trail borders a meadow then enters an aspen grove. At the junction with Allenspark trail, another long climb begins – six hundred more feet in a half mile. Shortly after the junction we enter the eastern end of the burn area from 1978. Nice views of Meeker, Longs, Pagoda, and Chiefs Head can still be had, but the trees are getting big enough the view will not be do open for long. From this vantage point, it’s clear how Chiefs Head got its name.

From here the trail flattens out again before a short descent to Finch Lake. We are five miles and 1400 vertical feet from the car in a shade under two hours. Finch Lake isn’t much to my taste – what it lacks in a nice view it makes up for with an abundance of mosquitoes. To now I’d only encountered a few hikers. Here I met a large family. They spent the night here and asked me about the trail to Pear.

From Finch to Pear is two miles and seven hundred vertical feet. Two short steep parts with an interlude in between. The east buttress of Mt. Copeland rises from the forest on the right as we pass a small pond on the left.

Pear Lake was a reservoir for most of the 20th century. There’s still a visible bathtub ring, but the vegetation is slowly overcoming that. Even another thirty years won’t erase all evidence; a large boulder on the northwest shore will be two toned for some time to come. I made it in three hours almost on the dot.

Last year I went around Pear lake to the right. I followed Foster’s route and took the vague trail on the left side. This petered out pretty quickly and by the time I started climbing I was on my own. A short distance away were some folks getting situated on a large rock overlooking Pear Lake. By now I’d seen only about a dozen people.

A small stream feeds Pear here, not a large amount of water, but in several small courses braided up the hillside. I went up the east side, far enough away to avoid the marshy spots. There are a couple of unnamed ponds showing on the map here, and perhaps a couple more that aren’t on the map. After passing one of these I came to the top of the ridge and saw Middle Hutcheson Lake below me.

I headed down the hill a bit to Cony Creek. According to the map in Foster’s guide, I should cross to the south side of the creek about here. It runs in two or three major channels and I could cross it fairly easily. But after having a good look around I decide to stay on the north side. After climbing a hundred feet or so, I saw another hiker on an outcropping below me, on the south side. I don’t know that he saw me; it didn’t look like he was climbing any further.

I didn’t want to deal with the krummholz and willow, so I tended to be higher on the slope. Just below Upper Hutcheson Lake I saw an older couple headed the other way. The were a bit upslope of me and said that was the better route. A few minutes later I arrived at the ponds immediately below Upper Hutcheson and saw another couple. They had been to Cony before and thought it was too early in the season to continue to Cony. There was too much snow. I followed them through a couple patches of willow and to the shore of the lake.

It was 12:15. From here, I’d have to cross the talus slopes above Upper Hutcheson to the inlet, then up two hundred feet to the ledge that hold Cony. I quickly decided to stop here and put Cony on the to-do list for some August or September. Even had I brought the spikes, I was still at least a half hour from Cony. Next time I try this, I think I can save at least fifteen minutes between Pear and Upper Hutcheson having now scouted the route.

I set up the cameras and ate my lunch. The clouds building over the divide were darkening and at 12:40 it started to sprinkle. I packed up and started down. The couple were fishing and decided to wait out the squall. It took me an hour and a half to hike up from Pear but only an hour down. I considered stopping here for a fruit break. The few sprinkles had stopped pretty quickly, but now it was starting up again with bigger raindrops.

By the Pear Creek campsite the sun was shinning again. Here I met a back country ranger. We chatted for five or ten minutes. I learned that much of the park is designated wilderness. I thought it was just a park, but everything a mile from any trail is wilderness. I refilled the water bottle from the creek and headed to Finch. To my chagrin, my knees started getting a bit sore on the steeper downhill sections.

I polished off half my remaining fruit but didn’t dally long. The mosquitoes made a snack of me. I carry some mosquito repellant wipes in the pack, but the seal had broken and they were dried out. Oh well.

On the uphill section immediately after Finch Lake, I came across a couple who had spent the night at Pear Creek. As it was mid afternoon by now, I asked what they did all morning. They had hiked to Cony Lake. Somehow I didn’t see them, but they must have passed me while I was eating lunch. They described their route and said it wasn’t difficult even with the snow.

After this point, my progress slowed considerably. Every downhill stretch gave me a fair amount of pain in the knees. This sometimes happens, but not often. In my ignorance, I will blame it on taking such a long hike without getting in proper hiking shape. I don’t normally tackle the longer hikes until I’ve done a few intermediate length ones first.

By the last mile, fatigue had set in as well. Too tired to properly pick my feet up, I was now stumbling over roots and rocks. This added to the discomfort. The first couple times I rested, my knees felt better for a while, but for the last couple of miles rest did not aid. I made it to the car promptly at six; were it not for the pain I would have finished 30 or 45 minutes earlier. So it goes.

Timetable

Up Down
Trailhead 07:30 AM 06:00 PM
Allenspark Trail Jct 08:05 AM 04:55 PM
Calypso Trail Jct 08:30 AM 04:25 PM
Finch Lake 09:25 AM 03:05 PM
Pear Lake 10:35 AM 01:45 PM
Upper Hutcheson Lake 12:10 PM 12:50 PM

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