Edventure in Chaos

Wednesday, June 3

I reached out to Ed the other day and suggested a walk in the Park on the last day before timed entry permits are required. He thought it was a great idea, so we agreed to meet at Beaver Meadows at 7:30am.

For once, I actually made it to the rendezvous point before he did. I parked at the top of the parking lot. A few minutes later, I spied a white sedan turning into the parking lot. “Here comes Ed,” I said to myself. He drove right by. “And there goes Ed.” He parked, got out of his car, and ran walked quickly to the bathroom. With his urgent matter resolved, he found me and we headed into the Park.

I was sort of expecting that there’d be a fair number of visitors to the Park. There was only one car in line in front of us in the express lane and only a couple of cars that needed to pay. At the Bear Lake parking lot there were only a few dozen cars. I’m thinking I’ve seen more cars there in the past at 4am. I should have looked at the license plates. I’m guessing most everybody was local. This is the third most visited Park in the system. Can it be possible that, even restricting visitors to 60% or normal, I’ll have no difficulty spending my usual amount of time there?

Ed and I arrived here without a plan, so the first topic of discussion was, “Where are we going to go?” We quickly decided that either East Glacier Knob or West Glacier Knob would be the way to go. I had a set of microspikes with me. “Ed, should I take my microspikes?” He shook his head: “You won’t need them.” And off we went.

We abandoned the trail at the usual spot and arrived at the stream in no time. Ed found the log he uses as a bridge, but the stream was running unusually high, and the crossing looked pretty sketchy. So we wandered upstream a bit and made a crossing of Tyndall Creek a bit above its confluence with Chaos Creek.We took a short break here to deploy the Deet. The mosquitoes were out for blood!

We worked our way back to Chaos Creek, still with the idea we’d head to our chosen destination. After a few minutes heading upstream looking for a crossing, we scotched Plan A and developed Plan B: climb up the hill beside Chaos Cascades. Ed had pointed that route out to me earlier when they first came into sight. There was quite a bit of snow on the south (left) side of the stream but the right side looked clear. “It is a bit steep,” he said.

Climbing the cascades

We stopped a couple times to take in the view. Ed talked about a rockfall that occurred sometime perhaps a century ago. A large boulder crashed down the cascades, ultimately coming to rest on top of some burnt logs. So he know it was some time after the Bear Lake fire of 1900. It looks to have hit a number of substantial logs, splintering them in unusual ways.

Not long after reaching the top of the cascades, we made a bit of a circle to gain the top of one of the many glacial knobs in the area. Ed has numbered them 1 through 10. We went and sat on to of Knob 3. If I’m counting correctly, this would be the fifth one Ed has taken me to.

Knob 3 panorama

Being mostly granite, they don’t have many trees on their “summits”, so they all have nice, open views of the surrounding terrain. And those views are all different, but not that different. All have commanding views of the lowlands to the east: Bierstadt Moraine, Sprague Lake, and points east. This one features a clear view of Chaos Canyon, Hallett Peak, Otis Peak, Thatchtop, and, of course, Longs Peak.

Spot the hikers

You can also see parts of the park trail from Dream Lake to Lake Haiyaha. There’s an overlook on that trail. We spotted a couple of hikers taking a break there on a large boulder. That indicated to me that the trail from Dream Lake was passable. I’ve been on it when there was lots of snow. On that occasion, I had to abandon the trail to avoid the not quite sheer drops. I really don’t like traversing steep snow, particularly when it’s atop a two hundred foot drop.

After a short break, we continued on to Lake Haiyaha. By now we were mostly hiking across snow. It was fairly dense and we seldom postholed. (If I’d had my microspikes, I’d have put them on, but it wasn’t a big deal that I didn’t have them.) Somewhere in here, we came across a bit of fecal matter on the snow. Ed suggested perhaps it was cat poo. There weren’t any footprints; this poo may as well have come from the heavens. I will leave it to the feces experts to determine exactly what beast left it.

Who left this?

When we got to the crossing of the outlet stream, Ed realized he’d abandoned his sunglasses on the knob. He headed back to fetch them while I stayed by the bridges. Before long, he was back and we continued to the lake.

We didn’t achieve the lake, though. When the trail reaches a little pond we could see how high the water was. Ed managed to make it at least half way past here, but without poles (which I never carry) I knew I’d end up getting wet up to my knees so I played the “I’m a wienie” card and refused to go any farther. So we found a place there to have our lunches.

After a few minutes, the two hikers we’d spotted earlier were making their way back from the lake. He hopped from rock to rock without difficulty but had to coax her and eventually give her an assist. They told us the view was worth the effort. Perhaps if I’d never been there, I’d have put a bit more effort into it.

While we sat there, it started sprinkling a couple of times, with a bit of graupel thrown in for good measure. It never really started to rain, but the breeze picked up a bit and things started to look a bit threatening. For about two minutes. Having eaten and rested, we decided it was time to head back. “Which way should we go?” I asked. When we were thinking we’d do West Glacial Knob, we’d decided to exit along the fire trail. But that now seemed a bit out of the way. So Ed replied, “Let’s take the Park trail to Dream Lake. Hopefully there are no big snowdrifts” Knowing that the other hikers came that way, I agreed.

At about the easternmost part of the trail, where the hiker has a nice open view to the east, because it’s on a large slab of granite that falls steeply, and there are no trees, we encounter our first drift. It’s sketchy. My heart kicks up a notch. One slip here and you’re done for. I wasn’t feeling panicked, but I sure wished I’d brought my microspikes. After what seemed like a short eternity I had my boots on dry trail again and I felt quite a bit better. This was the place I was most worried about.

We caught up to the other hikers when we came to another drift. Again, we need to traverse the slope. It’s not as precarious a drop, but steeper, with a long drop to my right. There are some trees here, but I’m not sure I’d call it an improvement. We have to go maybe thirty feet, and about halfway or a bit past, we climb slightly to where the drift is broken by the bulging granite face towering above us. Underneath this overhang, the drift is shaped like a knife. At the very end, to put boots on the trail again, you must take a couple of large steps straight down.

This isn’t sketchy, it’s treacherous.

When we caught them, the woman was about halfway through her traverse. He had gone ahead of her and was calling out instructions. He told us he’d tried a lower route, but it wasn’t as good. I watched where Ed was placing his feet. He had the advantage of poles, but he was taking his time. I followed about ten feet behind him. I kept jamming the fingers of my left hand in the snow as an aid to balance and being very careful of my footing. I was happy to reach the knife-edge, where I could put most of my left arm around something.

Safely through this ordeal, Ed turns to me and says, “That was the one I was worried about.” He wins. That one was much worse.

We had a few more to deal with, but nothing as harrowing as either of the first two.

At Dream Lake, I asked Ed who had the bright idea to go that way.

We made it back to the car at about two. I can’t remember the last time I was at the Bear Lake parking lot in June at two and it wasn’t at least 90% full. Now, it might have been at 60%. (And I think most of those people were between Dream Lake and Bear Lake.)

All in all, a glorious and invigorating day. But, yeah, it was a bit of a mistake not to take the microspikes.

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