Before I started this blog I had been posting trip reports to a forum for lovers of Rocky Mountain National Park. This is one of those reports, with only minor edits for clarity.
Hike date: 12 August 2012 — Originally posted: 13 August 2012 – 11:25 PM
Sunday I hiked to Mirror Lake.
I don’t normally say anything about the drive to the trailhead, but I’ll make an exception this time. The Corral Creek trailhead is 8.5 miles up Long Draw Road from CO 14, which passes through Poudre canyon. The Poudre river and CO 14 were the battle lines on the north side of the recent High Park fire. I nearly wrote that this was my first time through the canyon since the fire, but that overstates it. I’ve lived in Colorado for something like 33 years and this was my first trip up this road. I’ve been on a number of other roads in the area, once with the Lotus club through Rist Canyon this spring. (I have video of that drive and intend to go there again soon. I’ll see if I can put together a before/after video of the fire damage) There are a number of “Thank You Fire Fighters!” signs still posted. Some mountains are completely burned but most places in the canyon are burned in a mosaic pattern. Burned areas are black – black tree trunks and black ground – and are surrounded by brown borders; trees that are clearly dead, baked by the fire. Undamaged forest is outside these brown borders.
Long Draw road is near mile marker 69, well west of the burn area. This is a dirt road, well maintained but a sign at the junction indicates it’s a “Level 6” road. That has something to do with how often it’s plowed in winter, but the sign is quite verbose and I didn’t bother to read it. I also missed the first sign that says the road will be closed indefinitely beginning August 14 due to logging operations. If you want to hike in this area, better find out if the road is open. For anybody in the Denver area planning to hike here, note that it’s a three hour drive from the northern suburbs. I can make it to trailheads on the west side of the park in about two hours, so this one is probably the longest drive from here. I’d hate do drive 3 hours only to find the road is closed.
The hike is about six miles from trailhead to lake, but only about a thousand feet of net elevation gain. I figured I’d be able to make pretty good time, being it’s a pretty level trail and guessed I could make the lake in three hours. Working back, that meant arriving at the trailhead by 8:30 or so, which meant a 5:30 departure from the house. Again, assuming a two mile per hour pace, I should be able to spend an hour at the lake and make it back to the car by 3:30 and home by 6:30. For once, I managed to keep pretty close to the plan.
The first mile of the trail is outside the park. From the trailhead, it descends about 300 feet to a spot near the confluence of the Poudre and Hague’s Creek. The area is comprised of wide, U-shaped valleys with large meadows with the trail running along the edge of the forest. The park boundary is right at the Cache la Poudre and the park boundary sign is nailed to the first tree on the park side of the bridge.
After a couple of miles and another bridge (crossing Hague’s Creek), the trail leaves the valley floor and climbs the side of a ridge. This middle third of the hike is where all the elevation gain is made. There are a couple of short sections which each climb about 400 feet. The final third of the hike is again more or less level. After the climb the trail meets the stream coming from Mirror Lake as it passes through its own series of meadows. Here the trail gets a little vague, I even lost it once or twice by the campgrounds. Shortly after the third Mirror Lake campground, you climb up some rocks and are deposited on the shore of the lake beside the outlet. The lake is bigger than I was anticipating. It lies beneath some unnamed mountains and if you look along the outlet stream you get a nice view of the Mummy range in the distance. The hike doesn’t really have any great views as it forested the whole way. The forest is fairly thin, with lots of green ground cover.
I encountered a park ranger and seven other hikers all day. And I ran into all of them on the short spur trail between the Mummy Pass trail and the lake; nobody at all the rest of the way. I was expecting to see moose but they were all elsewhere. The only wildlife I saw was a grouse that crossed the trail in front of me early in the morning. At least I think it was a grouse – he (she?) blew up some sacs in his throat and made a sort of bullfrog noise. Even though the forest here is fairly thin, there were still several trees that had fallen and blocked the trail. On the hike out, I was doing some calculations, trying to come up with the odds of having a tree fall on me. “If tree X is going to randomly fall over this month, what are the chances I’m walking by when it happens?” I’m figuring most dead trees fall over during storms, or when it’s windy and working through an estimation of the number of dead trees on any given mile of trail. As I’m working through this, on this nice calm day, I’m approaching a dead tree. There’s an odd noise and I look up to see a branch falling off! I easily jumped out of the way, but I have to say it was a bit freaky to have this happen given my train of thought.
All in all, a wonderful day. The weather was excellent and the hike quite pleasant.