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.