Emerald Lake

Saturday, January 23

Back in my misspent youth, I organized a hike to Emerald Lake every year around the Memorial Day weekend. I didn’t keep track of when I started this, or how long it went on, but at one point I considered making a few t-shirts that said, “Umpteenth Annual Emerald Lake Hike”. This was my traditional first hike of the season. It was early enough that we were always hiking across snow, and both Dream and Emerald were still frozen, although not frozen enough to hike across.

Although I’m not generally a big fan of crowds when I hike, I still make it to Emerald Lake at least once a year. This time, I dragged Scott along. This was his first hike to Emerald.

As is usual, the weather along the Divide was much different than the surrounding area. It wasn’t exactly clear in Estes, but it wasn’t bad. The roads were dry until about a mile from the parking lot at Bear Lake, where we entered a snowstorm and the road became snowpacked. The Glacier Gorge lot was full, and I was a bit concerned that we’d find a full lot at the end of the road. I needn’t have worried – it was only about 2/3 full.

I was considering two different destinations: Emerald Lake and Two Rivers Lake. For a time, the trail to Odessa Lake was closed at the Flattop Mtn trail junction due to the fire last autumn. It’s open now, but the volunteers told me it has been getting very little traffic. Little enough, that is, that we’d need snowshoes rather than microspikes. I was feeling a bit on the lazy side, and there’s always enough traffic to Emerald that snowshoes aren’t needed.

To Scott, I described the hike as a “conga-line” hike. Not everybody who parked here at Bear Lake was going to Emerald, but most of them were. I guessed we might see fifty people when we got there.

At Nymph Lake, I generally try to follow the winter route rather than the summer route. I found some footprints and we followed them for a few yards, but this was not the “beaten path” and after we postholed a few times we retreated back to Nymph and opted for the summer route.

The ice at Dream Lake was covered by a few inches of freshly fallen snow. Typically, the wind keeps the ice clear, but it was quite calm today.

As has been usual lately, I’m often amused by the navigation questions I get from other hikers. I think the map at the trailhead is pretty clear. Either quite a few people can’t read maps, or choose not to. Everybody is just following somebody else up the trail, not terribly concerned with where they’re going. “How much farther to Gem Lake?” and “Is this Lake Haiyaha?” were my favorites from today. Also, standing on the ice at Emerald Lake, “Is there another lake above this one?”

A common problem with a January hike to Emerald Lake is, where to sit to take a break? Generally, if a rock here doesn’t have snow on it, it’s because of the harsh winds. It was calm and snowing, so no rocks were clear. We headed towards the western shore in search of something better than closer to the trail and came upon two young women taking pictures of each other. They had stripped down to their sports bras. Instagram culture.

We never did find a nice place to relax, so we ate our snacks standing up. Naturally, this limits the length of our break.

After our break, while we were still crossing the ice, I counted thirty-two people. Not quite the fifty I predicted, but it very well could be that eighteen people had come and gone while we were there.

On the way down, the winter route from Dream back to Nymph had gotten more traffic, so we went that way. We stopped a couple of times and I attempted to describe the nearby topography to Scott, but I didn’t do a very good job: visibility was better than when we started, but everything beyond the two large glacial knobs was obscured by snow. At one of these pauses, I spotted what looked like a brown disk at my feet. It was the bottom of a water bottle somebody had dropped. I meant to leave it at the trailhead but forgot about it. It’s a nice metal REI bottle.

Some hours later, Scott sent me a couple of Strava screen shots. It says we went 4.50 miles, which I think overstates it by a mile. It also says we averaged 1.8 mph. I really don’t think we were going that fast: I kept stopping to chat. I recall mentioning that I’m sometimes hiking with people who never stop talking, and today it was me who never stopped talking. Pot, meet kettle.

I don’t think I scared Scott off yet. He says he’s interested in going to Haiyaha this winter and wants to go on a longer summer hike, or maybe even a backpacking trip.

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