Sunday, June 5
For the first hike of the year, my latest first hike in eight years, I headed toward Lake Helene. Either Helene or Two Rivers. I figured this would be an unremarkable hike. This is the third or fourth year in a row I’ve hiked this way at this time of year. Familiar territory and conditions.
It’s a short hike, probably the shortest I’ll take all year. That meant I could have a leisurely morning and didn’t need to arrive at the Bear Lake parking lot until about 9:30. I arrived pretty much on schedule to a nearly full lot. I parked in the third or fourth spot from the bottom of the lot. I was on the trail by 9:45.
My first encounter with other hikers was a bit of foreshadowing. Four young women were at the trail sign at the start of the Flattop/Odessa trail. Their discussion sounded a bit confused. I asked if they had things figured out. They didn’t. They were looking to go to Nymph Lake. I showed them Nymph on the map and told them how to get there, as that trail wasn’t on this map. They had no idea where they were and couldn’t make sense of the map.
Shortly after ten I arrived at the Flattop-Odessa trail junction. I stopped and put the spikes on. There was more snow here than any of the last few springs. About the only snowless patch from the junction on up is at a rock outcropping with a view of Bierstadt. Not far past that there’s a meadow. On winter hikes I’ve sometimes had trouble finding the route – the blowing snow erases most of the footprints. Plenty of steps to follow today, and here’s where we deviated from the summer route.
The summer trail crosses over to the flank of Joe Mills Mountain but the snow trail stayed on Flattop side. I soon caught up to three hikers: mom, college aged daughter, junior high son. Mom was in sneakers, none had spikes.
The daughter told me, “We’re going almost to Odessa. I was there yesterday and dropped something. We’re going to look for it.”
“You don’t have spikes? You made it to Odessa? I won’t go to Odessa this time of year even with spikes. Too steep.”
She confirmed that she’d been to Odessa.
A short while later I met a young couple coming down the trail. They didn’t have spikes and also said they made it to Odessa. The next hikers, two guys, said they wanted to go to Odessa but when they got to an overlook decided “no way.” They didn’t have spikes, either.
Continuing to follow the steps in the snow I soon arrived at the outlet of Two Rivers Lake. The trail stopped here in the rocks that will probably be under water in a matter of days. A few skiers had traversed the slope on the south side of the lake, and there were a couple sets of footprints, but this was the end of the line.
It finally clicked – all those people who said they went to Odessa had no idea that they’d only been to Two Rivers. No official trails go to Two Rivers or Helene; they’re not on any signs. The only lake on any of the signs they’d seen was Odessa. Of course they thought they were at Odessa. Only about a third of the people I’d met had the slightest idea where they really were.
I managed to take only a handful of photos with the SLR before the battery died. I was disappointed, but not surprised. It’s been a while since I used the camera. It was breakfast before I thought to charge the batteries. I only charged one battery for a short time. But it’s not like I don’t already have pictures of place, no big deal.
I found a nice log to sit on, got comfortable, tucked into lunch, and proceeded to watch the world go by. Before long, a small bird arrived on a branch very nearby. Small, gray with a white head and black collar. Black stripes on the eyes, not horizontal like a raccoon but vertical. I don’t know my birds; I think this was a White-throated Sparrow. She sat on this limb and fluffed and preened. Spread our her feathers, rearranged a few with her beak. Birds never pose that nicely for me when I have a working camera. She flew off after a while but did come back later. She spent a lot of time on the ground looking for food.
Also notable was the mated pair of ducks that were feeding in the shallows. They motored past me to the outlet where they ran their beaks back and forth under the surface and occasionally went deep, putting their butts up in the air. They were the only two ducks at the lake.They eventually worked their way back past me, occasionally bobbing their tails up.
I stayed at the lake for forty minutes, had the place all to myself. The weather was great, bright sunshine, scattered clouds, calm. As the clouds moved eastward they darkened a bit, incipient scattered showers.
When I started back, I found it easy to exactly retrace my steps. I saw no other hiker using spikes, so my prints were obvious. That lasted until I met a couple hiking up. They were “just going to the lake”, Odessa presumably. Between the two of them, they only obscured about a third of my footprints. Then I met the hikers who had spikes.
As expected, I crossed paths with more people as I progressed down the trail. At the clearing, where our route regained the path of summer trail, a group of snowshoers were just leaving the trail and beginning to head up the side of Flattop. Just before seeing them I passed a couple of women who were switching to hiking boots, one from skis the other from snowboard.
I stopped and enjoyed my plum at the Bierstadt overlook. The plum was nearly perfect – skin still crisp, the flesh at maximum juiciness. Sweet and flavorful.
A group of five young guys approached the Flattop trail junction from Bear Lake as I got there from Two Rivers. They turned to go up Flattop wearing flat soled canvas shoes. “You’ll be hiking on snow from here on, and you’re a long way from any kind of view!” But they were undeterred. I wonder how far they went before they turned around.
In the end, I didn’t get the expected “unremarkable” hike. It was another beautiful day in the park. Even though I’ve been through this area repeatedly, the snow cover and altered route breathed freshness into this visit. I found solitude after a short, easy hike and enjoyed watching the birds.