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.