Cony Lake

Sunday, August 14

Cony Lake sits on a bench 11,512′ above sea level, surrounded by Mount Copeland, Ogalalla Peak, and Elk Tooth. It also sits on the southern boundary of RMNP. To get there, you must first get to Pear Lake, which is six or seven miles from the trailhead (depending on where you start). At Pear Lake, follow the trail by the hitchrack. This trail passes a small pond where it crosses the park boundary.

Lower and Middle Hutcheson Lakes are in Roosevelt National Forest. The faint trail leads to the lower lake before heading uphill on the northern bank of Cony Creek. The trail gets fainter and eventually disappears. Route finding from here to Upper Hutcheson can be difficult over terrain of rock benches, grassy ramps, and bands of dense willow and krummholz.

This is the fourth year in a row I’ve set off for Cony Lake. It doesn’t bother me to fall short when hiking in the Park. I’ve almost never had a bad day hiking. Each of the other times I tried Cony were memorable. The first time I had to stop at Pear Lake but got to watch clouds roll in just feet off the surface of the water. The second time I saw a bear sitting on the trail in front of me. Last year I watched an eagle catch a fish.

I started from the Allenspark trailhead rather than the Finch Lake trailhead. It saves a little distance and elevation. I wanted to drive the Chrysler because the parking lot is not Lotus friendly but it was in the shop. It was drive the Lotus or stay home, and I wasn’t about to stay home. There are two entrances to the parking lot at the trailhead. The first one features several large craters but the second is not so bad. I was able to get in and out without scraping.

The weather was ideal. Clear, cloudless sky, a brilliant blue all morning and only a slight breeze, even above treeline.

Over the last few days I’ve spent some time visualizing the hike, mainly the approach to Upper Hutcheson. I saw myself working my way uphill without getting into the willows. I could see the ramp you descend to cross the creek right below the lake. Last year I made it as far as the inlet to Upper Hutcheson and was stymied there. I had stayed along the shore and intended to ascend alongside the creek. It’s not a good route. This time I’d start climbing almost as soon as I got on the other side of the lake, traverse the slope to above the obstructions.

Just as I saw it in my mind, I made my way up without getting stuck in the willows. I crossed the stream right at the outlet of Upper Hutcheson. This is easy to do this time of year when the water level is down somewhat. It’s probably not a good route in July. There’s a nice grassy ramp right down to the water, a few stepping stones and you’re across. I made it the rest of the way without hitting any willow. Instead, it was a lot of rock hopping. Perhaps an excessive amount of rock hopping; I was certainly tired of it by the time I was done with it.

IMG_9704route

My approximate route (drawn on a 2015 photo)

I spent an hour at the lake. I was happy with my pace all the way up. I put boots on the trail at 7:30 and dropped my pack on a rock at the lake at 12:15. It took me fifteen minutes longer going back down, but that includes a stop to refill the water bottle. I didn’t get back to the car until after six, the latest finish I can recall.

The lake is bigger than I was expecting. I sat on a giant rectangular boulder the size of a bedroom, got the GoPro running and tucked into my lunch. There were no squirrels in this boulder field, and there were no birds. A few mosquitoes buzzed me and a few flies were somehow attracted to the camera. It was quite calm, which is unusual along the divide. Some clouds were attempting to cross but were never more than incipient. They got more energetic shortly after I left Cony, some white puffs drifted over Elk Tooth, diffusing the shadows and taking the edge of the bright sunshine.

Coming down from below Upper Hutcheson I ended up in a maze of krummholz and willow. I found myself in a few of the same spots I was in last year, or the year before. I went one way, back tracked, tried another. And another, and another. Eventually I dove through a particularly nasty clump of krummholz and from then on was in the clear, but I’m disappointed I wasn’t able to retrace my steps.

I’m wearing my hiking shoes, not the boots. On the way up I hit my right ankle on a rock, tore a flap of skin. This was situated right above the shoe and when I little toe was uphill of my big toe, that flap rubbed on the shoe. About half my steps when rock hopping had my foot situated that way. By the time I was back on the trail my ankle had gone from irritating to annoyingly painful.

I was surprised at how few people I encountered. On the way up, I exchanged hellos with a group of three and a group of five. I had a brief chat with a fellow from Luxembourg. He hiked Mt. Idea a couple weeks ago, then camped in the Grand Tetons. Then it was the Badlands and a stop in Nebraska before returning to RMNP. His plan today was to lunch in Estes, then drive to the Great Sand Dunes. A pretty cool trip. I met him just below Pear a few minutes before ten.

I didn’t see another person until I was nearly back to Finch, almost six and a half hours later. I’m usually the one asking people where they’re headed, or where they’ve been. Today, though, I was the one being surveyed. After passing Finch Lake, I saw only six people. One young guy coming the other way asked “Finch or Pear?” I told him “Cony.” He hadn’t even slowed down to ask the question, but my answer stopped him in his tracks. “Way to go, buddy!” It was deja vu just after the big trail junction. A guy passing me asked “Finch or Pear?” “Cony.” “Wow”.

It’s been my habit to say something along the lines of “I felt great when I got back to the car.” That would be a fib today. I was pretty fatigued and the ankle didn’t help. It’s not the longest hike I’ve done, or the biggest climb. But I’d say it’s one of the most difficult. It’s a long hike to Pear, then miles of no trail and challenging route finding.

Timetable

Up Down
Trailhead 07:30 AM 06:10 PM
Trail Jct 08:10 AM 05:26 PM
Finch Lake 09:05 AM 04:26 PM
Pear Lake 10:05 AM 03:20 PM
Lower Hutcheson 10:40 AM 02:50 PM
Middle Hutcheson 11:00 AM 02:35 PM
Upper Hutcheson 11:25 AM 02:10 PM
Cony Lake 12:15 PM 01:10 PM

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