Iceberg Lake

Saturday, September 26

The first Saturday of autumn dawned clear and cloudless and looked to be another beautiful day. I didn’t have any plans.

Some time ago, I was browsing Foster’s guide looking for lakes I haven’t visited that aren’t found at the end of long hikes. Iceberg Lake jumped out at me – it’s only two tenths of a mile from the Lava Cliffs parking area on Trail Ridge Road. As Foster puts it, “millions of people view this lake” but very few visit it because there’s no trail. Today would be an ideal day to go there.

After breakfast I called Jerry. He also had no plans, so he agreed to go with me. As the journey to Iceberg Lake hardly qualifies as a hike, the outing would be more of a drive to view the turning of the aspen.

All the local news channels have been touting the aspen for the last few days, so I expected quite a bit of traffic. I wasn’t disappointed – the roads were packed. On the way to Estes Park, we seldom were anywhere near the speed limit. Arriving in Estes, traffic was backed up all the way across the lake. As we were headed to Trail Ridge instead of Bear Lake, I made the mistake of actually going through town. I was thinking I’d take US 34, but traffic that way was pretty bad so we went right through the center of town.

The lines into the Park on 36 weren’t too bad; we were third in line in the express lane. The card reader there was acting a bit wonky and each driver had to swipe their card multiple times to get the gate to go up. While I was struggling with it, a woman from the car behind us ran up: “Mind if I get a picture of your car?”

There aren’t really that many aspen on the way to Estes or in the Park, so I suspect folks were out more for a pleasant drive than to see the autumn colors. Signs at the junction with the Bear Lake road indicated that, not only was the Bear Lake parking lot full, but the park-and-ride lot was full as well.

From the entrance to the Park all the way up to Rainbow Curve, traffic moved pretty slowly, which was okay with us. The weather was as close to perfect as you could ask – clear, calm, sunny, and not hot. Our only concern was that all the parking areas were packed and had people waiting for parking spots. Of course, Lava Cliffs is well above treeline and there aren’t any aspen reasonably visible from there and we had our choice of parking spots.

Before I could get my boots on, an SUV pulled into the empty spot next to us. A guy wearing a Wisconsin Badgers cap on got out and said “Somebody’s a Packer’s fan!” My normal retort to this is “Puck the Fackers”, but I was relatively polite instead and just shook my head and gave an emphatic “No!”

The descent to the lake is pretty straight-forward. We worked our way to a steep grassy ramp, avoiding the worst of the loose footing. The ramp leads down to a pile of loose volcanic rocks. We zig-zagged our way down this talus to the lake and found a spot on the shore of the lake, out of sight from the parking area above. From the looks of things, I expect show covers our picnic spot until quite late in the summer.

To our surprise, although we were quite close to the road we could hear no traffic noise. We sat there for over an hour, watching the world go by. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky, so I didn’t bother running the camera for a time lapse. It’s too bad I didn’t have this calm weather last week, but so it goes.

Given the amount of traffic we faced on the way up, I was expecting to crawl all the way back to Lyons. Evidently, our stay was brief compared to most other folks and we were in traffic that moved more or less at the speed limit all the way down..

It was a nice leisurely day – no need to be on the road before dawn, a hike that was less than a thousand paces each direction, and a pleasant drive to view the aspen.