Chaos Canyon

Sunday, July 15

Lake Haiyaha sits at the entrance to Chaos Canyon. The canyon stretches roughly a mile and a half above the lake, ending at a couple of glaciers hanging below the saddle between Hallett Peak and Otis Peak. I’ve been to the lake many times but have never ventured very far up the canyon. The lake sits in a boulder field and this setting is emblematic of the terrain in the entire canyon. The few times I’ve attempted to get anywhere in the canyon ended with a nice view of the lake, but only a few hundred yards up.

On a recent hike with Ed he talked about visiting the small unnamed pond about two-thirds of the way up the canyon. He has named it “Quaint Pond” because there aren’t any bodies of water in the park having names starting with the letter Q and because he finds the pond… quaint.

I wonder about why some features in the park get named while others don’t. Quaint Pond may technically be better called Chaos Tarn but in any event it is officially unnamed. It isn’t because of its size: in the next canyon to the north, above Emerald Lake, there’s a similarly sized pond called Pool of Jade. An even smaller one in the canyon to the south, above The Loch, is called Embryo Lake. Ed suggests that many remain unnamed so people will be less inclined to visit them.

I knew from experience that I wouldn’t be able to make it to Chaos Tarn on my own, so I asked Ed if he’d take me up there. He promptly assented. We first planned on going Saturday but due to other obligations Ed wanted to switch to Sunday. I’d picked Saturday because it had a more favorable weather forecast, but the threat of rain and cooler temperatures on Sunday didn’t particularly bother me. In any event, if I wanted Ed to take me up there, Sunday was it.

We agreed I’d meet him at his place no later than six. I had a couple minor problems doing this. First, I got a few blocks from the house before realizing I forgot my phone. Then I ran into an unexpected construction detour in Boulder. So I kept Ed waiting for a few minutes. He wanted to make sure we got a parking spot at Bear Lake. We arrived by his target time of seven and found plenty of open parking spaces.

As expected, it was fairly cool. Also as expected, the skies were overcast with some of the clouds looking a bit threatening. We had a brief chat with one of the park volunteers who told us the forecast called for a band of rain starting maybe around one. That would clear but be followed by a heavier round. We were not deterred.

I didn’t check the times when we left Bear Lake and arrived at Haiyaha, but we made pretty good time. We took the shortcut from Bear to Nymph, avoiding some traffic. We were early enough that there were very few hikers between Dream and Haiyaha.

White columbine

The hike really begins here at Haiyaha. We stuck to the south side of the canyon, the north slope of the long eastern ridge of Otis Peak. Where there is soil there’s a sort of trail. Actually, there is a choice of trails. That’s because from here all the way up to the tarn we’re mostly rock hopping. It’s about a mile from the lake to the tarn and perhaps a couple hundred yards of that isn’t on the rocks. And this stuff isn’t the usual talus where you can easily step from one rock to the next. In many cases the rocks are quite large, and there are significant holes below you.

At four or five places we came across large snow fields. It didn’t occur to me to bring the microspikes, but they’d have been handy. Crossing the snow rather than the rocks would make things easier, but the edges of the snow weren’t so much snow as solid ice. It was quite treacherous around the edges. When we did cross the snow, we pretty much stuck to the edges as a slip and fall would end in a negative outcome.

Ed has been up this way a number of times. Although the destination is well-known (“We want to go just to the right of that snow field there“), there’s still quite a challenge with route finding. Along the way he’d point out sub-optimal routes: “Went up that gully once, it’s not a good way to go!”

By the time we caught sight of the pond, the clouds had closed in and obscured the peaks around us. Mist hung off the south flank of Hallett, and the divide – half a mile to the west and a thousand feet above – was totally obscured. Before we found a place to sit it had begun to rain. I was skeptical that I’d get any interesting footage for the time lapse video, but I set up the camera anyway.

Chaos Tarn -or- “Quaint Pond”

We didn’t dilly-dally. We tucked into our lunches and before long were ready to begin our trek out of the canyon. We were there only about twenty minutes. One of our concerns now was the rain making the rocks slippery. Bare rock wasn’t too bad, but when wet the lichen can make rock hopping treacherous. Lucky for us, the lichen isn’t as abundant at 11,000′ as it is at 9.000′.

The clouds followed us down the canyon. Occasionally we’d see brighter spots scooting down the opposite wall giving a bit of variety to the gray. About when we got back to Haiyaha, the ceiling had dropped below us: we were in fog. At one of the overlooks where we’d typically have a nice view of Long’s, we couldn’t see more than a hundred yards. But there it more or less stopped. When we descended toward Dream Lake, we emerged from the clouds.

Fog near Haiyaha

It had more or less stopped raining before we got back to Haiyaha, and from then on out to the parking lot we had only occasional sprinkles. It would be easy to complain about getting rained on, but, frankly, the weather was an interesting variation. In spite of the rain, there’s no denying it was still a beautiful day in the park.

Long’s Peak-less overlook

I include the time lapse in spite of its brevity, and the occasional raindrop on the lens. And an insect makes an appearance; the camera moved slightly, but I don’t think I can blame the bug! Although it wasn’t so obvious in real time, you can clearly see the ceiling coming down.

We stopped in Estes for a refreshing beer. By the time we left the brewery it was raining in earnest. Although the bit of rain we had didn’t bother me too much, I was happy that we missed the heavier rain that followed us all the way back to Lyons and home.

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