I’ve been planning this backpacking trip for several years now. The idea is to reach both Isolation Lake and Frigid Lake. It may be possible that I could reach Isolation Lake on a day hike, but after my visit to Eagle and Box Lakes (reached from Thunder Lake), I decided that Foster’s route to Frigid Lake would not work for me. The answer, I decided, was to camp at Upper Ouzel Creek and try to reach both lakes from there.
In fact, I made the attempt a few years ago. It was not well thought out. I somehow decided that a trip in the first week of July would work just fine. There was so much snow. I was able to pitch my tent on dry ground, but the campsite featured several snowdrifts. I didn’t even make it to Bluebird Lake that time, let alone another thousand feet of elevation to Isolation. Needless to say, I took a bit more care in choosing when to make another attempt.
I keep telling myself that, on one of these trips, I’ll try to get a photo of the night sky: the Milky Way. When selecting my dates, though, I don’t give any consideration to the lunar calendar. This time I got a bit lucky. The moon would be in the first quarter and would set not long after the sun. So for this trip, I’ll bring the tripod. It’s an extra four pounds. And, while I’m adding extra weight, why not bring the critter cam? What’s one more pound?
Wednesday, August 3
Gordon decided to join me on this trip and I managed to talk him into driving. I told him that our first day’s hike wasn’t long so we didn’t need to get an early start, but I was concerned about getting a parking spot at the trailhead. The timed-entry passes are in effect for Wild Basin, but only after 9 am. However, I’m sure the parking lot fills up well before then. So it was an early start nonetheless. We arrived a bit before 7:30 to find plenty of available parking.
I’ve described the route to Bluebird Lake in earlier posts, so I won’t repeat myself.
I think I first hiked this trail back in 2008 or so. That would have been thirty years after the Ouzel fire. There’s a section of trail that runs along the top of a ridge above Ouzel Falls to the junction with the spur trail to Ouzel Lake. This section of trail was a bit of a two-edged sword: with no trees, the open views of all the surrounding mountains are impressive, but with no shade, the hiker is subject to the merciless sun.
Today, though, I was struck by how much the trees have grown in the last few years. The once open view is getting closed in. The vast majority of young pine trees are more than six feet tall now. Our two-edged sword is no more: the trees block the views but don’t provide any shade. So it goes.
The Upper Ouzel Creek campsite, by my reckoning, is about a third of a mile below Bluebird Lake. The trail signs indicate it’s farther. It’s a steep third of a mile, though, gaining nearly four hundred feet. I think my favorite part of the trail to Bluebird is a steep section just above the campsite. Maps of the area don’t indicate any switchbacks, probably because they’re too close together to show. Those switchbacks carry the hiker up a slope carpeted with wildflowers. The whole rainbow is represented: yellow flowers make up the majority, but there are red, orange, blue, indigo, and violet flowers, too.
We arrived at our campsite just as the prior occupants were packing up. They were there to fish; they stayed two nights and dipped their lines in both Bluebird and Ouzel, but no luck at Bluebird.
Having arrived at our destination before noon, we had plenty of time to kill. We were done setting up camp and eating lunch by 1 pm and so headed up to Bluebird to sit and relax and watch the world go by.
I was a bit surprised to see several hikers reach the lake after we did. One group, a family of four, stayed at Bluebird until about 4 pm. I guess because I have an hour-and-a-half drive home after my hikes, I want to be back to the car no later than 5 or 5:30. Those folks, if they kept up a good hiking pace, wouldn’t be back to the trailhead until 8 pm.
We hung out at the lake for nearly four hours. The weather seemed to be threatening: the white, puffy clouds grew bigger and darker but we never got more than a few sprinkles. Down the valley, though, it looked at times to be raining heavily. Without wind, it would have been comfortable in shirtsleeves, but it was breezy enough to warrant putting on a jacket.
I’m generally at these alpine lakes for no more than an hour, generally around noon. Being there a bit later and for an extended time I enjoyed watching the shadows change on the surrounding mountains. I ran the GoPro from two different positions, watched a little pika navigate through and around the rocks trying to avoid us humans, and investigated the nearby flora.
Gordon found some remnants of the dam that used to be here. I told him that I’d read about the removal of concrete. I was thinking I’d heard that 1,100 tons of concrete had been removed but was unsure of the number. It’s actually five million pounds of concrete and rebar. That’s 2,500 tons. They airlifted it out in 1989 and 1990 (well before my first visit here). I can’t help but wonder how they got that much material up here. There’s nothing like a road, or the remains of a road, and the dams in the area were all built around the turn of the twentieth century. The material sure wasn’t airlifted in. More on this topic later in another post.
Had I given it any thought, I might have taken my dinner with me to the lake. As no forethought was involved, we had to return to camp for dinner. The breeze we had at the lake was absent at camp. Normally, this is a good thing. But not tonight. We were besieged by mosquitoes.
I sprayed a liberal dose of repellent on all my exposed skin. This was only a partial solution. Before long, I applied a second coat and sprayed my clothes as well. These measures made it so the little buggers didn’t land on me, but it didn’t keep them away from me. From our arrival back at camp until dark, when I retreated to the tent, there were never less than a couple of dozen mosquitoes buzzing within twelve or fifteen inches of my head. While eating, I had to be careful not to ingest one accidentally. These mosquitoes were relentless.
Today’s beer was a Colorado Native Palisade Peach tart ale. Delicious.
Until dark, I kept a close monitor on the cloud situation. Several times it seemed like the clouds were finally breaking up, only to have another batch of them appear over the divide. By dark, I decided that the sky would soon enough be cloud-free, so I set an alarm for 11:30. I figured the quarter moon would be down by then, the skies would be clear, and I’d be able to try my hand at astrophotography.
I was in luck: the skies had cleared. At least, I think they did. There may have been some high, thin clouds in the east. I had a couple of suggestions for exposure settings. I tried them, and a few others. It took only a few minutes, and I was back in the sack before midnight.
But I never really got back to sleep.
Finally, here’s the first timelapse of the trip:
I’ve been recording how long it takes me to hike from point A to point B for quite a while. I share the timetables so somebody else might be able to get a clue how long it might take them. In the table below, for example, someone who has gone to Ouzel Falls but not to Ouzel Lake can compare how long it took them to reach the falls to my time. Whether they were faster or slower to the Falls, they can extrapolate a time for the hike to the lake. Also, next time I hike any of these sections of trail, I’ll have a good idea of how long it’ll take.
|Campsite shortcut||8:00 am|
|Calypso Cascade||8:14 am|
|Ouzel Falls||8:45 am||9:09 am|
|Bluebird/Ouzel trail jct||9:21 am|
|Ouzel trail jct||10:12 am|
It didn’t really occur to me that I could use times from one hike and forecast how long it might take me to do another hike. Certainly, there are many factors. How steep is the trail? Am I carrying a backpack or a day pack? What’s the elevation? Am I on a trail or bushwhacking? How long was I hiking prior to a specific section – how fatigued am I?
|Start||End||Distance (Miles)||Slope (Ft/Mile)||Elapsed Time||Miles per Hour|
|Campsite shortcut||Calypso Cascade||0.4||625||:14||1.3|
|Calypso Cascade||Ouzel Falls||0.8||350||:31||1.5|
|Ouzel Falls||Bluebird/Ouzel trail jct||0.4||0||:12||2.0|
|Bluebird/Ouzel trail jct||Ouzel trail jct||1.4||425||:51||1.6|
|Ouzel trail jct||Campsite||1.5||460||1:28||1.0|