Julian Lake

Having just tried this a month ago, it seemed to me that I might be able to start this blog entry where I dropped out last time. Yeah, right.

Thursday, July 23

The alarm woke me at 5:15. I was out the door by a quarter til. I went over Trail Ridge with the idea I could run both cameras and if traffic was light maybe make a nice video. I stopped at Deer Mountain and mounted the cameras. Traffic was light but what there was, was really slow. Often just fifteen miles an hour. I passed some of them over a double yellow line.

At about Iceberg Lake (or Lava Cliffs, if you prefer), the car was making a funny noise. Not an engine noise, not a transmission noise. I decided it was probably one of the wheelwell inserts and didn’t worry about it. When I parked at the trailhead, I took a quick look. It wasn’t an insert, it was the diffuser. I will need to take it off. I lack the proper wrench. This is not good.

I put boots on trail a few minutes before eight, pretty much the same time as last month. About fifteen minutes in, I met a group of three hikers coming the other way. We exchanged greetings. They said they saw two moose just a few yards up the trail. I kept an eye peeled, but saw no moose.

They’re doing a big construction project just before you reach the first bridge over Onahu Creek. Last month I thought they were nearly done. It looks like it’s going to be a much larger structure than I thought. It’s not a bridge; more of a boardwalk, but on a slope. Maybe a hundred feet long, with a bend. And it needs to be stout enough to handle horses.

I got to the second bridge in just over an hour. I easily found the walking stick from last month and set off up the unimproved trail. Which I lost at the same place as last time. Very quickly, though, my stick broke, getting a foot shorter. I found a replacement, almost identical to the first one. Not long after that, I crossed the creek. None of it looked familiar to me, other than the general chaos of this forest. It was never my intention to cross here; I was thinking I was crossing a tributary. In fact, I had crossed the tributary already but didn’t recognize it because it carried so much less water.

As to carrying water, my boots got that honor in the second grassy meadow of the day. It had rained last night, and everything was wet. The pine needles weren’t too bad, I could avoid them for the most part. But the wet thigh-deep grass I had to cross in that meadow did the trick. The ground was sometimes spongy, sometimes slowly flowing water. My feet got pretty wet. I had three days of that a couple of years ago, just on the other side of Mt. Ida from here.

It was somewhere about now that I started to get a bit discouraged. When I started out this morning, I had no doubt that I’d reach the lake. I thought I knew exactly what I was getting into, but my doubt as to exactly where I was and everything looking different than last time was bothering me. On this hike, when you can follow a game trail it’s a relatively easy walk. But when you lose the trail, the deadfall puts you into “a maze of twisty little passages, all alike.” I was finding it to be a most challenging hike, both physically and mentally.

Having crossed the river early, I came across unique terrain for this hike: a talus field. No giant boulders, not too steep. I decided this was the path of least resistance and a welcome change of pace. Halfway up I realized it was the talus field where I ate my lunch last time. My doubts evaporated.

I reached this point fifteen minutes earlier than last month. It’s always easier the second time, even if only a little. I followed a game trail through the next set of trees, about a hundred yards, without significant deadfall, and arrived at the edge of a large meadow, perhaps a third of a mile long and five hundred feet wide in spots. By skirting the edge of it, I was able to avoid getting any wetter.

A partial view of the largest meadow. Taken from near the north end, facing east.

From a distance, it didn’t look like a good plan to just go up the lake’s outlet stream; obviously too wet. I came across a well-traveled game trail that kept to higher, firmer ground. No maze of deadfall here. The trees were sparser, the gound rockier. The trail skirts three or four more smaller meadows, each thick with elephant’s heads.

Elephant’s heads

When I say I “dropped out” on my last hike here, I mean I paid the tuition but didn’t get the diploma. The misery of the deadfall is, by far, the worst part of this hike. That’s the tuition. The marshy meadows in that last mile and Julian Lake itself are the payoff, the diploma.

The final approach

Foster’s description of the lake says it’s above treeline, but there are trees above it. She also warns of some nasty willow on the way. Following the game trail, I encountered no willow. The trail deposited me onto the shore of the lake, right next to the outlet. The better view looked to be from the east, so I crossed the outlet and looked for a nice rock to sit on. I couldn’t help but notice all the moose prints in the mud near the outlet. I didn’t spot any moose today, but obviously they’re in the neighborhood.

Julian Lake, presided over by Mt. Ida (with the weather) and Chief Cheley Peak

Foster says an alternate route would be to climb the saddle between Julian and Timber Lake. She says to “descend southeast over steep scree.” From my seat, it was clearly too steep for this kid. So if I want to return here, it’s back to the “demanding bushwhack.”

Timber Lake is on the other side of the saddle near the right

I was hoping to sit in the sun, take off my boots, and dry my feet and socks. As it was, there was only a small patch of clear blue sky to the west and overhead only the bottoms of gray clouds. I took off the boots and did manage to get the socks almost dry. But the boots never stood a chance, so feet and socks were wet again as soon as I put the boots back on.

I stayed only a short while. It started sprinkling, and the breeze picked up. I decided the only way to stay warm would be to put on the raincoat or to start hiking. I started hiking. The clear blue spot in the west was getting bigger; any rain would be light and short-lived. Or so I told myself. Fifteen minutes later, after a solitary drum-roll of thunder, I donned the raincoat and put up the hood. It wasn’t a hard rain; it didn’t totally obstruct the vision of the surrounding mountains, but I was happy to put on the jacket.

It rained for not quite an hour. I can’t help but wonder if the weather is always bad around Mt. Ida. That’s been the case for me. My day hike attempt at Gorge Lakes featured a thunderstorm that was the start of the 2013 floods. On my Gorge Lakes backpacking trip it rained every day and my feet were always wet.

Passing back through the largest meadow, I saw two deer about halfway across. They had spotted me first, and from this distance they might as well have been statues. They stared at me the whole time they were in my sight, rooted to their places.

I went down from my dropout spot the same way as last time. Or so I intended. I lost the trail in the dead zone and struggled. I found short, faint game trails, littered with a bit of poo, so I was sort of on the right track, but these all petered out. I’d like to see how elk make it through here. Maybe the place is such a mess that there are no game trails through this bit.

I kept losing the trail (or, more correctly, not finding the trail) at each meadow crossing. More demanding bushwhack. I found the trail for the last time, returned to the main trail (where I dropped my stick), and crossed the bridge a good twenty minutes before I expected to. I refilled my water, ate a plum, and resumed the hike.

A few minutes before reaching the trailhead, I encountered only the second hikers I’d seen all day, this time a couple. They asked if it was my Lotus in the lot and said “at least you’ll have a fun drive home!” I replied, “Maybe not” and asked if they had any pliers. They couldn’t help. She liked seeing my car. She drives a Fiat Abarth. She says with what folks say about Fiats, she’s afraid to drive it in the mountains. I told her she should enjoy her car.

I will say that the demanding bushwhack kept my mind off my diffuser problem. But now it was the immediate problem and It was now very much on my mind.

The diffuser was being held on by six small screws, all along the back edge. The large screws that do the heavy lifting were gone, and so the diffuser hung down in front with the rear panel acting as a hinge. It’s now not so much a diffuser as a scoop that opens when you’re driving. On the road, I quickly learned that the scoop will deploy all the way to the pavement at about 18 miles per hour.

I limped into Grand Lake to search for somebody with some tools. I stopped at the ATV rental place. All she had was a pair of channel-lock pliers. I gave them a shot. After some wrestling and a bit of cursing, I had half the screws out and all but one of the other half loosened. But I was beginning to round off the head of that last bugger. When the ATV rental lady closed up, she suggested I try a Polaris place down the road a couple of miles. So that’s what I did.

Just after getting back on US 34 (at 18 mph, with 4-way flashers on), a couple in a Geo Tracker pulled over to help me. They’d seen me on the ground in front of the ATV place when they were on their way to the Conoco station. When I passed that station, they hurried to come after me. He asked if there was anything he could do to help. I said what I really needed was an 8mm socket. He said, “I have one!”

We got the thing off, and it fits in the passenger seat (on a towel) and the top even fits. Which is a good thing, as I would surely be encountering rain. I was very happy for their help. They told me they couldn’t bear to see me crawling along the shoulder. She has a Corvette and was curious about the car. I said she could sit in the driver’s seat if she wanted; she declined. But she did take a couple of pictures.

The drive home was uneventful. The diffuser didn’t obscure my right side mirror, but there was very little visibility out that window. It rained a little. There wasn’t much traffic and I was home before eight.

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