Upper Forest Lake

Back in June, I made my first hike in the James Peak Wilderness with the goal of reaching both Forest Lakes. There was a bit more snow than I was expecting, which gave us minor navigational difficulties and we stopped at the lower lake.

Tuesday, August 31

Guessing that the parking lot at the East Portal trailhead wouldn’t be terribly crowded on a weekday late in the season, I opted for a leisurely start and didn’t leave the house until nearly 7 am, arriving at the trailhead a bit after 8. There was plenty of parking.

The day was cloudless, but not clear: we’re still getting quite a bit of haze from the wildfires on the west coast. Looking straight up, the sky was the usual vivid blue, but visibility toward the horizon was quite limited – hillsides just a mile or so distant were noticeably obscured.

The hike into the upper lake was quite pleasant. I passed one hiker not far from the trailhead and didn’t see anybody else until I was ready to leave the upper lake more than three hours later. I timed it perfectly for my purposes – my visit to the lake coincided with solitude. I had gotten it into my mind that all the trails here were crowded, except for the trails that have been closed for several years.

Upper Forest Lake is, I think, the most scenic of the lakes I’ve so far visited from this trailhead. This lake sits in a bowl beneath a 12,000′ high ridge of the Continental Divide. The slopes are a combination of sparse forest, grassy ramps, and rock outcroppings. There may be a trail around the lake, but if there isn’t, it looks like it is an easy lake to circumnavigate.

The summer season is nearing its end here. All the snow from last winter has melted, with the exception of the last vestiges of a couple of snow cornices. There is very little water flowing into the lake. One or two streambeds are visible due to the dark brown staining from the water that is now a trickle rather than a cascade. Only a few wildflowers survive: quite a few fireweed and the occasional queens crown, but the rest have all lost their petals or turned brown.

Sitting by the lake, I was wondering if there were any fish. The water looked… dead. No aquatic plants, very few insects buzzing above the surface of the water. Finally, I did spot a ten- or twelve-inch greenback cutthroat trout swimming about.

I’ve recently been better about carrying a telephoto zoom lens in case I encounter any wildlife. I decided that as long as I have the lens with me, I won’t spot any game. So I left the lens at home. That didn’t help – wildlife was nowhere to be seen. I continue to carry the GoPro in order to get a timelapse, but yet again the sky was cloudless, making a timelapse pointless. If these are my two biggest problems (and they were), it’s a good hike indeed.

I think I’d like to return here again, early in the season. I’m willing to give another mid-June hike a shot now that I have a better idea of the terrain. Even if I lose the trail, I think I can make it to the lake. (On our June hike, we reached the lower lake quite some distance from where the trail reaches the lake.)

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