Them’s the Brakes

I’m quite tardy with this post.

Last Saturday was another Emich sponsored day at HPR. Usually I sign up for just the afternoon. You get four sessions, with fewer cars each session. And you can sleep in. This time, though, I signed up for the whole day. It would be a “maximum” day: seven sessions.


I used up the slicks a year ago and since then I’ve been pondering what tires to put on the track wheels. Not slicks again, as I can’t drive to and from the track on them. And slicks are so much harder on the car. Anyway, I’ve been looking at the various alternatives and haven’t come to a decision. Because I loaned the wheels to Kevin for use on the Lemons car, I didn’t need to come up with a decision yet.

Kevin has solved the problem for me. He just bought another set of wheels for his Lemons car, so he returned mine. “Have fun with the tires,” he said. We didn’t use them in the Noah’s Ark race in June and our overheating issues in the September race resulted in running only 40 laps on them. Thanks, Kevin. Much appreciated.

They’re Advan Neova AD07 LTS2. The LTS2 means made for Lotus. The fronts are smaller than I normally use, 175s instead of 195s. I was thinking they were 200 treadwear tires, but they’re 180s.

These tires come with a few questions: How fast can I go on these tires? How will the narrower front tires affect me? How long will they last?

Only time will tell as to how long they’ll last. If I only do two or three days a year, they could last a couple of years.

As to expected lap times, I pulled a number out my ass: 2:10.

In the movie Rush, Niki Lauda says, “God gave me an okay mind, but a really good ass, which can feel everything in a car.” I’m pretty sure God didn’t give me a really good ass. By putting these tires on the car, I’m changing two things: the grip of the rubber, and the width of the front tires. Which means I’m changing the grip in the front a different amount than I’m changing the grip in the rear. Is my ass good enough to sort that all out?

On the way to the track, I’m not in any hurry. I’ll drive fast at the track, I don’t feel the need to go fast on the Interstate. The first guy who passed me who was clearly going the same place I was, zipped by at about 130 in a Porsche. A few minutes later, a string of BMW M3s, followed by a McLaren and an Audi R8. I caught all but the Porsche at the gas station. I finally picked up a decent gas can, a Kawasaki green 5-gallon one. About four gallons went into the car, and I filled the new can. Depending on the day, I can get 4 sessions on a tank, so with the can I will get 6 and probably 7, if I cut a session or two short by a couple of laps.

The Laps

When I got my wristband, I asked about the car count. Fred said he limits the day to 75, but we had less than 40. I’m guessing that’s really 60 cars – something like 20 morning, 20 afternoon, and 20 all-day. Good for me, my group wouldn’t be more than 20 cars.

I didn’t get out right away for my first session. I took it easy on the out lap, as the car was cold. I was cold, too. It was probably only 50 degrees F (10 C). I had my t-shirt and flannel on under my driving suit and a hoodie over it. It’s chilly at 110mph with the top off.

The first session, I caught up to a black R8. He pointed me by, then managed to keep up to me. That’s a much faster car than mine, and I reeled him in pretty quickly, so I was a little surprised to kept up with me. I was faster in the turns, but he could always catch me on the straights. He was about the only interesting traffic I dealt with.

After the first session, my wheels were dirtier than I expected. I’ve been spoiled with the CL RC5+ pads I’ve been using for the last seven or eight years. They’re relatively dust-free, and the dust is more gray than black.

I really enjoyed the second session. Because of the low car count, I was able to run quite a few laps without any traffic. I was consistently running in the 2:11s, thinking I could easily manage a 2:10 by the end of the day.

When a session is ended, the worker at turn 1 picks a car to be the first to get the checker flag. The lights at each bunker will display the checker as this car approaches it. I’m pretty sure they picked me to be the first car to get the checker for the first two sessions. Woo hoo! I won!

I try to treat my in lap as a cool-down lap, and never use the brakes. So it wasn’t until I pulled into my spot in the paddock that I heard the noise my front brakes were now making. I’d used them up completely.

The brakes

Regular readers may recall that I just put these pads on after my Atlanta trip. I used OEM pads rather than my usual CL RC5+, which nobody had in stock at the time. I had used the OEM pads for years before I switched to the RC5+s and never had any abnormal wear. They weren’t as good as the Carbon Lorraine pads, but they weren’t bad.

I have less than a thousand street miles on these pads, and no track miles before this morning. The fronts are completely gone. I’m lucky they didn’t score the rotors.

Halfway through the session, I was passed by a BMW race car. The owner came over and chatted with me. He said he was sorry he didn’t have a camera on his car, because he had a nice view of the smoke coming off my brakes when I was under heavy braking. He thought at first I was bedding in new pads. He asked if I had changed rotors when I changed the pad compound. I hadn’t. He suggested that this was the cause of my abnormal wear. That there’s some transfer from the pads to the rotor and if the new pad doesn’t play well with whatever the old pad put on the rotor, this could be the result.

When I last ran the OEM pads, my front rotors were drilled. My current rotors are slotted. Other than driving faster now than I did then, that’s the only change that comes to mind. Perhaps that’s part of the story? I doubt it.

So that was a disappointing end to my day.

Now, about the tires.

Turn 7 is a right-hand uphill sweeper. On my hard street tires, I take this in third gear, shifting into fourth as it levels off. On slicks, I’m in fourth at the bottom of the hill, well onto the high cam. In the second session, I was trying to figure out which was better with these tires. In fourth, I was barely onto the high cam and couldn’t really accelerate up the hill. If I could have entered the turn just a little bit faster, just a few more RPMs, I’d have been able to accelerate. Here’s where I think I felt the narrower front tire. I was getting a bit of understeer, and maybe the wider tire would have made a difference.

In any event, I’m quite happy with the tires. I have no doubt I’ll be able to get under 2:10 with them.

Chat with Pettiford

My day done mid-morning, I took a tour of the paddock. Mike Pettiford was there – he’s always there on Emich days – so I chatted with him a bit. He’s a driving instructor/coach.

Naturally, we talked tires.

He says he drives to and from the track on slicks all the time, even on thousand mile trips. I’m skeptical. I might believe he doesn’t get too much wear on the streets to and from HPR. But a thousand miles of highway driving? The original equipment tires for my car were 60 treadwear with giant tread blocks. They were good for about 2,500 street miles for the rears and not a lot more for the fronts. I can’t imagine that slicks would last as long.

When I mentioned rain, he shrugged it off. “I just go slow.” I got caught in a nasty storm on my way home on my street tires. Twenty miles an hour was too fast. Slicks would have put me in a ditch, or worse.

He doesn’t think much of me and my 460 tires. “What’s the point of having slow tires?” Not his exact words, but close enough. The other two guys in the discussion nodded. Different strokes. For me, the enjoyment is in driving the car as close to the limit as I can. With soft, sticky tires, the limit is a lot faster and with faster speeds are higher consequences. So I can get at least as much enjoyment out of hard tires as soft.

One other exchange got me shaking my head a bit, too. I’d mentioned that my top speed wasn’t any better on slicks than on other tires. One might think that having a higher speed on the exit of the turn before the straight would allow for higher speed at the end of the straight. That was his thinking. It’s not my experience. He didn’t say he doubted my statement, but he wasn’t convinced. The fact of the matter, though, is that top speed is related to horsepower. Slicks don’t give me any more power, so they don’t increase my top speed.

I ran three cameras on the car for the second session, but none for the first. I was thinking I’d rather have video of later sessions than early ones and didn’t think I’d be able to keep them all charged, so missing the first session was no big deal. First time with three cameras running. It’s probably better for a highlight reel than a lap.

I drove home trying not to use the brakes at all. Like a 70-mile cool-down lap. I didn’t need the brakes until I was a couple of blocks from the house, so I’ll call it a success. I found a set of pads (both axles) at Blackwatch and ordered them. I got a call from Fred at Blackwatch on Monday. “Your name is good and your phone number is good, we were just concerned about the email address. We didn’t want to send your order to Russian hackers.” He bumped me up to 2-day shipping.

I told Fred the story of my 18 lap brakes. He says the material transfer theory doesn’t work as the RC5+ are sintered and don’t transfer material the way other pads do. He said, “Maybe you’re driving faster now.”

I did the front passenger on Wednesday and the front driver on Thursday. I set a personal best on the time. Not a high bar, for sure.

The car is driveable now, but I can do the rears at my leisure.

It took me about an hour to clean the wheels. They’re much easier to clean when they’re not on the car, but they were the dirtiest they’ve ever been, not even close. And the dust was a deep black and didn’t always come off easily.

And, finally, the obligatory video. Sorry, I didn’t realize the OBD dongle in the car quit talking to my phone, so no data from the car.

The Pinky Story

Back nearly to the trailhead on my hike to Upper Diamond Lake on the 1st of September, I slipped and fell. It was a fairly hard fall, forward. Going down, I landed left knee, left hand, right hand, and left shoulder, in that order, before I came to a rest. The bruise on my shoulder took over three weeks to fade, the swelling just above my left knee was gone after a few days, and there was no bruise. The heel of my right hand was slightly bruised; tender for a week or so.

My left hand took the brunt. The heel was badly swollen, and it took on a tinge of yellow bruising. Pinky, ring finger, and middle finger were swollen and stiff. The pinky moved okay, so I thought I didn’t break it. The swelling in the middle and ring fingers slowly subsided and the soreness went away, but the pinky wasn’t getting much better.

After three weeks, I called the doctor. Earliest appointment was five days out.

The doctor I’ve been seeing for fifteen years retired and I’ve only been to this doctor twice.

He looked at it, pressed gently here and there. I showed him the range of motion, talked about the level of pain.

“Do you want me to take an x-ray? X-rays are expensive.”

“Do I need an x-ray?”

“It won’t change my advice to you. I’ll send you to an orthopedic doctor. You should put the finger in a splint.”

It’s five more days before I can get in.

The doctor is Dan, and he has his assistant Ann taking the notes. The first thing Dr. Dan asks is, “Why do you have a splint on it?”

“Because Juenemann told me to.” Clearly, this is a topic for further discussion next time I see him.

They take some pictures. The pinky is broken, and it’s pretty much already healed and everything is in the right place. When discussing how many times he’d need to see me, I couldn’t resist using my standard joke about doctors and boat payments. “Just kidding!” I said. It was not well received. A minute later, I felt compelled to pile on, and suggest instead of a boat, it was a Porsche. “Just kidding!” On the way out of the exam room, I couldn’t help but see a big picture of a guy on a racing kart. Not Dr. Dan.

“I’ll send you the the therapist upstairs.” That’s seven days later.

I’ve done physical therapy twice now, with one more scheduled. Each visit starts him measuring my range of motion with a sort of protractor. Then I put my hand in a bag of molten paraffin. It was hot not quite to the point of pain. He massaged my hand for a while and when I took my hand out of the bag, it came out clean. I’m sure a lot of people are familiar with the stuff, but I found it … unexpected. Next, he massaged the finger some more, without the unexpected paraffin, but with the expected lotion.

He gave me half a dozen exercises to do, five sets of ten each day. On the first visit, I got a yellow sponge to squeeze. He also gave me some compression tape to work on the swelling, but didn’t tell me when or how often to use it. I did it overnight because I was exercising the thing all day.

The second visit to the doctor, I saw Val rather than Dr. Dan. I told her my therapy regimen.”You really need to keep moving it. Don’t use the compression tape. And I’m concerned with its movement this way.

At the second therapy session, I mention Val’s concern about its movement this way. The swelling needs to go down further, he says. He measures my movement. I’ve improved everywhere, all is good.

“Did I give you a yellow sponge last time?”

“Yes, you did.”

“You get a pink one this time.” And he showed me a couple of different ways I should be squeezing it.

Then I get my first bill for the therapy.

Evidently, my health insurance company doesn’t think my pinky has anything to do with my health. The first therapy session, less than an hour, will cost me $553. Insurance covers none if it. There’s no discount. At the next therapy session, I’ll ask for another sponge and decline to make any further appointments.

The finger is much improved. Range of motion is getting better faster now than it was.

Runing through the exercies with the therapist, the exercises made sense to me: a systematic flexing of all the muscles in the finger. Left to my own devices, had I never had the therapy sessions, I’d have exercised the finger. But I’d have missed half of them and I’m pretty sure I’d not have done them as often as recommended. Would it have ever healed properly?

That insurance doesn’t cover therapy for a broken finger boggles my mind. “Your finger isn’t worth a plug nickel to us. We’re not paying for it.” Our healthcare system is badly broken.

At least I have a cool $1500 sponge collection.

Neva Lakes

Saturday, October 6

Two lakes sit due south of Mount Neva, a few yards east of the Continental Divide, at nearly 12,000′ above sea level. I’ve been wanting to hike there for a few weeks but couldn’t fit it into the schedule. It’s getting late enough in the season that if I don’t do it now, I won’t do it this year.

I talked Chad into going with me. The last time I took him off trail, we traversed a steep forested hillside that made him quite uncomfortable. And early in that hike, he tweaked his ankle a bit. He didn’t have a great time.

So I was pleasantly surprised he agreed to go on a hike I described as sunny but cold, with winds that might drive us from the lakes within minutes, and to get there, we’d have two hours off the trail over a route that ProTrails describes as marshy with a steep wall at the end.

We left my place at seven. I figured the trailhead wouldn’t be as busy as it is in August. It was a calculated risk, and I had no Plan B. Generally I reach the high school before the rangers are staffing their station. Today we arrived just as the ranger put out the “FULL” sign for the Fourth of July trailhead.

He told us that there may still be parking available there. The ranger up at the trailhead was now on her way down with a count of available parking. We were directed to park next to an orange cone in the school parking lot, first in line for any empty spots. We waited maybe fifteen minutes before being told to head on up. Next in line behind us was a big Audi sedan. It’s a rough road with lots of holes and exposed rocks. Three or four cars later was a BMW sedan. That those guys got those cars up there indicates you can drive damn near anything up there if you’re so inclined.

Before shutting off the car, I checked the temperature: 28 degrees F.

To reach the lakes, we headed up the Arapaho Pass trail to the derelict mine and the junction with the trail that climbs the flank of South Arapaho Peak. It’s a two-mile hike from the trailhead, rising about 1100′ at a fairly constant grade. It took us an hour. From the trail junction, we’d descend a couple hundred feet to the floor of the valley. Chad was glad to be done with the relentless trail.

We’re pretty much right at treeline when we leave the trail. The trees are in clumps, fairly easy to skirt. Any flat spaces between the trees and along the stream are normally boggy and marshy, but this late in the season, everything is dry. Well, almost everything. We do come across a few bogs, but it’ll never be any drier than it is today. We followed a number of game trails that appeared and faded out at the edge of a dry marsh or a small talus field. Regardless, navigation is as easy as it gets with these expansive views.

For about a mile above our stream crossing, we gain only about three hundred feet. It’s a pleasant, leisurely stroll. The sun is shining brightly in a deep cobalt sky with a gentle breeze. It has snowed here, lightly, a couple of times over the last several days. A thin dusting of snow clings to the high, steep, shady, northern mountainside. Where we’re walking, there are occasional spots of snow in the shade of a bush or rock. One pool we passed had a very thin sheet of ice on it. It was nearly invisible. I gently pushed on it. Not hard enough to crack it, but I did make some water rise through a few silver dollar-sized holes at the other end of the ice. Pretty cool.

Being off-trail, I expected not to see any other hikers. Just before we came to ProTrails’ “steep wall” below the lakes, we spotted three hikers with a dog working their way up the valley, still on the other side of the stream. They passed us pretty quickly, they were moving at a pretty good clip. We had a brief chat as to the best route. This was their first trip to these lakes, too. I said we were going to try to make use of any grassy ramps a bit to the left of the lakes to avoid the steep talus. This would take us to the upper lake first, putting us on its southeastern shore.

We arrived at the upper lake pretty much on schedule. We found a nice spot for our picnic not too close to the other hikers, whose dog ran over to greet us when we appeared. We had a nice view of Mount Neva. There was still not a cloud in the sky, and the winds were about as calm as one can expect beneath the Divide. I brought beers. I had a blood orange blonde, Chad had the lager.

After the other group left, Chad spotted a couple of hikers descending a ravine from the ridgeline between Mount Neva and Mount Jasper. There’s a route from Arapaho Pass that summits Neva and comes down here. Not long after those two guys, wearing shorts and lightweight shoes, disappeared down the outlet of the lake we saw two more hikers mid-descent. Too steep for me, I think.

The upper lake looks to already have drained two feet below its high-water mark, judging from the bathtub ring. The outlet is high and dry. A few yards below the lake, following the dry outlet we came to running water: the upper lake is draining from here. It’s a pretty strong flow. I’d guess it’s eight or ten feet of elevation below the surface of the lake. This drain is surrounded by tufts of grass. The water flows gently to a small pond that then drains into the lower lake. The lower lake is still full.

Leaving the lower lake at its outlet, we were at the top of a large, steep talus field. The grassy ramps we came up on are quite a ways to our right. We worked our way down diagonally, crossing more talus than is to my liking.

Navigation back across the valley and up to the trail is, again, dead simple. The trail we’re heading toward is a plainly visible slash across the mountain ahead of us. Again, we gained and lost social trails. A few times, I saw the footprints of the hikers with the lightweight footwear.

After crossing the stream, we needed to climb about two hundred feet to gain the trail. Getting near the end, I found a faint game trail. We followed it for a short while, but I decided I wanted to climb faster and took a more direct route. We stopped for a short break when we got to the trail. I figured we were between the mine and the junction. We discussed whether we wanted to head up to the mine or not. We decided not.

This was a good choice. It turns out we were above the mine and didn’t need to make a side trip to get there. Had we made the side trip, we’d have gone the wrong way.

When I was here before, I wanted to get a picture of the vertical mine shaft. There was no barrier around it. I’m smart enough to go nowhere near the slippery-looking edge, but I could imagine coming across it in the dark or in bad weather. Today I have my GoPro on a stick. Perhaps I could get a video looking down into the black hole.

It was not to be. They have somehow managed to fill the hole with dirt and rocks. I imagine they must have had to somehow put a plug in it and cover the plug with dirt. This was a pretty deep shaft and filling it up is out of the question. This trail gets quite a bit of traffic. I’m surprised they didn’t plug the shaft before now.

It was a great hike. We couldn’t have had better weather. The views were fantastic

Lemons High Plains Drifter 2023

This is the second Lemons race this year at High Plains Raceway. This one is different than the one in June. This one is not only 24 hours of racing (the other was 14), this one is 24 hours straight. Like, as in, the 24 Hours of LeMans. Only with shitty homemade race cars instead of that state-of-the-art stuff the pros race.

This race starts at noon on Saturday and ends at noon on Sunday. Being the least important member of this team, my only responsibility is to drive the car. So I wasn’t involved in getting the car past its technical inspections – two this time, one of which is for the lights that are required for overnight racing, as the track has no illumination. The only inspection I had to worry about was for my protective clothing. Regular readers may recall that I had difficulty with this last time.

Most of the rest of the team were at the track on Friday, to “test and tune”. I let everybody know I’d be rolling into the paddock at a leisurely 9 am on Saturday. That should leave me plenty of time to pass tech and get up to speed on whatever drama was going on.

Kevin greeted me on my arrival, then promptly ran off. Next, Mike said “Good morning” and asked if Kevin had filled me in on what happened last night.

The guys made some considerable upgrades to the car. We had a new homemade dashboard and upgraded instruments. Last time, I couldn’t read any of the instruments due to the way they were mounted. All I could see was glare. The new dash and gauges looked like a big improvement. Anyway, Kevin put in some laps yesterday. I don’t know how many, but not as many as anyone had hoped. Kevin encountered a clutch problem.

Long story short: in order to change the clutch, they had to take the engine out of the car. All this work was done in the paddock, which is a giant unlit parking lot that is half paved, half stone. The guys worked until 2am, pulling the engine and transmission, replacing the clutch, and reinstalling the engine and transmission. They managed this in about seven hours. A Herculean effort.

At some point while the engine and transmission were not in the car, we had to get our lights inspected. They wanted us to drive the car to the inspection station. This was problematic, as the car was up on blocks, wheels off. Not entirely as a joke (this is Lemons, after all), they put the front bumper, with all the lights, onto our little wagon and wheeled it to inspection. Where the team was promptly informed that our lights were so weak there was no problem. We have the normal headlights and a couple of smaller ones mounted low in the fascia. Some other teams have the sorts of giant light bars you see on rally cars.

Everyone was pretty excited about our chances this time. Last time, we ran about 200 laps. The engine never worked properly, as we had no high cam (where all our power is generated). With a properly working engine and a dry track, we should be able to knock 15 or 20 seconds a lap off our previous times. If we managed to keep the car working, we’d have a real shot at victory. Last time, the judges put us in class A. This time, we would be in class B and have no penalty laps. We were psyched!

I put my driving suit on and borrowed a HANS device and headed to the pavilion. Since last time, I bought some Nomex fabric and Nomex thread and had a local seamstress make the repair. My only concern was my socks. The labels had been laundered off ages ago.

This time, the inspection was not nearly as rigorous as last time. I suspect I’d have passed inspection even without the repairs to my suit. The inspector verified that my helmet was not aged out, and noted the labels on my suit, underwear, and shoes. She asked about my socks. I said, “They’re Nomex, but the labels are long gone.” She said I was good to go and applied the sticker to my helmet indicating I was good to race.

Next, I was introduced to our guest crew member for the race. Chris is a Toyota engineer who flew out from Kentucky for this race. Kevin, Mike, and Dan had met him last year on the One Lap of America race. He told me he’s participated in about 25 Lemons races. The idea would be to pick his brain to the greatest extent we could, looking for tips, tricks, and best practices.

Also in attendance were Kevin’s parents, who flew in from Texas for the event.

I wasn’t too concerned when I’d get to drive. I probably have driven many more laps at HPR than the rest of the drivers combined. Chris has never been here before but did watch a couple of my videos and put in about 30 laps on his simulator. It would be good for him and Mike and Dan to get some laps in while it was still light. That works for me.

Kevin was first behind the wheel. After about half an hour, he radioed in complaining of issues. At first, I thought he said he was having a problem with the shifter. This was nothing I bothered worrying about. Being the least mechanically inclined crew member, the best way I could help would be to stay out of everyone’s way.

A few minutes later, our car was delivered to us on a tow line behind the tow truck. The guys jumped right in and diagnosed the problem. It didn’t have anything to do with the shifter. Instead, we had overheated the engine. (I didn’t make any recordings or notes of any of these technical discussions, so if I say something that is wrong or stupid, it’s entirely my fault.)

We were running with a tachometer, speedometer, fuel gauge, and a bunch of idiot lights. In this instance, for some reason, the coolant temperature idiot light never came on. Kevin had no idea the car was overheating until it was too late.

My first thought was, “Well, that’s it. We’re done after 17 laps.”

Then Mike had me help him pull a little trailer to the front of the car. We had a spare engine on the trailer! This engine came from our parts car (which I didn’t know we had). The engine had well over 200,000 miles on it, but it was a working engine. We’ll “just” swap the engine. (Again, to be clear in this context, “we” means “everybody but Dave”.)

From underneath the car, Mike yelled out “Start the clock!” It was 1:59 pm. Almost exactly five hours later, the car started. After another fifteen minutes of final preparation, we sent Chris out for some laps. I’d call it another super-human effort, but, as I often say, “It’s always easier the second time.” With a bit more practice, maybe they can get an engine swap down to three hours. (I kid. Hopefully, we won’t blow another engine very soon.)

Kevin ran through a bit more than half the fuel, so we had Chris do half a dozen laps and come into the pits for refueling. Before he came into the pits, he complained that our car number on the hood produced extreme glare on the windshield, so we should unplug it. The glare made right turns far too exciting. This was our first pit stop using refueling jugs that should make things faster, but it turns out the neck of the jug doesn’t fit. And the other jug we had was leaking. So we got perhaps a gallon of fuel into the car. Still, Chris should be able to run for an hour.

It was now dusk, more or less. Thirteen laps later, Chris called in: “The engine is blown.”

He said the car was smoking quite badly when it failed and he was concerned about fire. He had unbuckled himself and was a second or two away from flipping the switch for the fire suppression system when he decided it wasn’t a car-b-que, so he buckled himself back in and waited for the wrecker.

A quick look around the car gave us a good idea of the damage. There was a fair amount of oil in the engine compartment, and the exhaust pipe had a little puddle of oil and water in it.

Eight hours into our 24-hour event, we had managed to log a bit over an hour of racing, or about thirty laps. Mike, Dan, Eric, and I didn’t get to drive.

That’s racing!

Upper Diamond Lake

This is my second trip up this valley. Back in early July, I came up here thinking I’d be able to get to the upper lake, but there was too much snow. Yes, it was silly of me to think I’d be able to hike above 11,000′ that early in the season. One nice thing about not getting to where I wanted to go is that it’s a built-in excuse to make another trip.

Friday, September 1

Rather than repeat myself, I’ll begin at Diamond Lake. (There is no shuttle to the trailhead, so I’ll note that on a Friday before a holiday weekend, there were still a few parking spots available at 7:30 am.)

There are more like four Diamond Lakes than two. In addition to Diamond Lake (10,960′) and Upper Diamond Lake (11,732′), there are two more. One is at 11,359′ and a much shallower one lies at 11,518′. I’m reasonably certain this second one never dries out, but it’s a close call.

When I’m hiking on a well-maintained trail, I generally don’t use trek poles. I carry them with me, strapped to my daypack. When I got to Diamond Lake, I broke out the poles only to get hit with glitch number one of the day. One of the nuts on the cams had come off. I couldn’t extend the pole to anything like a usable length. Oh well. No poles today. I hope that’s not going to be a problem.

To get to Upper Diamond Lake from Diamond Lake, continue to follow the trail that skirts the lake on its northern shore. I followed it all the way to the inlet stream. The trail climbs steeply for a while beside the burbling stream on a grassy slope. After a bit, I reached a T intersection. This surprised me a bit. On the hike back down, I didn’t even see this intersection and ended up at Diamond Lake a fair distance farther east than where I left the lake.

At one point, the trail seems to terminate right up against a giant rock. I saw that some hikers had gone around the rock to the right, so that’s what I did. Circling above the rock, I found the trail again. At the foot of the rock, there’s a “crack” there that is easily climbed. I just didn’t look closely enough.

Not long after this, we get to the southernmost of the lakes. The trail goes right down to the water. This is ideal if you’re ending your hike here, but not so ideal if you are continuing to the upper lake. This is more or less the end of the trail.

We’re above treeline by now, so the lack of a trail isn’t that big of a deal. From here on out, it’s fairly easy to see where you need to go, and there is enough hiking traffic that occasionally you come across some grass that’s clearly been walked through. I also spotted a cairn here and there, but these cairns are more of a confirmation that I’m going in the right direction than they signal a clear route.

The final approach to the upper lake is across a mix of narrow grassy slopes and boulders/talus. The lake is stark – a drop of water at the head of a narrow, rocky canyon. I didn’t stay there long. The wind, while not fierce, was steady.

It was only 10:30 (so, a bit less than a three-hour hike from the trailhead) and I wasn’t yet ready for lunch. I had a quick snack and headed back down, thinking I could find a scenic spot for lunch back at the lake where the trail ends. This was a much shorter stay at my destination than usual. It wasn’t that I was rushed for time, or that I didn’t find the lake very scenic. I just didn’t feel like sitting in the wind for very long, and, frankly, I enjoyed the hike between the lakes as much as I did the lake itself.

I took another break at the lower lake to slurp down a tasty Palisade peach.

I hadn’t seen another hiker since I first arrived at the lower lake. On the hike out, there was quite a bit of traffic on the trail. A short distance before reaching the junction with the Arapaho Pass trail, hikers told me to be on the lookout for a moose. I can’t tell you how often hikers tell me to be on the lookout for moose that I never see. This time, though, I spotted her. She was sitting comfortably in the shade only about twenty feet off the trail, chewing her cud.

My second glitch of the day happened about ten minutes from the trailhead. I’m the first to admit I’m a bit of a clumsy oaf. Last week, I mentioned that I fell down four times. When I’m bushwhacking through dense forest, this doesn’t bother me much. It seems like tree limbs make a sport of grabbing my boots and pulling me off-balance. It goes with the territory.

On the trail, however, I expect to be able to keep on my feet. I don’t know what happened, but I took a mighty fall. I managed to break my fall with my hands, then sort of half-roll. I got a little bit of road rash on my left hand, which is annoying. But I landed on that hand pretty hard and it’s quite swollen and a bit discolored. I popped a couple of ibuprofen and continued back to the car. I have a couple of other bruises – my left upper arm just below the shoulder and my left leg, just above the knee.

This is the second time I’ve fallen on the trail. The first was about ten years ago. I scraped my arm pretty well and was covered in blood. I still carry about a six-inch scar from that one. Very little blood today. In addition to the sore, bruised, swollen left hand, I did a bit of damage to the GoPro. I carry it in the left front pocket of my pants. The selfie-stick/tripod it’s mounted on is a bit too long to fit in the pocket, so the camera sticks out. I landed right on top of the camera before my half-roll. No damage to the camera, but I did break the clear lens cap.

At least nobody witnessed my oafishness.

But for my clumsiness, it was an ideal day.

Spruce Canyon Addendum

In my write-up of last week’s backpacking trip, I somehow completely forgot to mention the toad.

As long as I’ve been hiking to Spruce Lake, they’ve had notices prominently posted that the wetlands on the east side of the lake are closed. That includes the shallow part of the lake where I saw the male and female moose sniffing each other and the marshy area from there to the trail. This area is closed to protect the breeding habitat for the boreal toad, which is classified as endangered by the state of Colorado.

I’ve never once seen nor heard any toads around here. I had no idea any toads or frogs lived in this part of the world, it being a few hundred feet short of 10,000′ above sea level and pretty much frozen solid a few months every year.

Well, this trip I finally spotted one. It wasn’t anywhere near the closure, but on one of the few stretches of bushwhacking we did on our way up to Loomis Lake when we lost the trail. The little guy (or gal) hopped right in front of me. I snapped a couple of photos, but he didn’t stand still for his portrait and none of them turned out. Still, it’s not every day one gets to see an endangered species in the wild.

Return to Spruce Canyon

Back in August of 2019, I made an attempt to reach the four lakes at the head of Spruce Canyon: Hourglass Lake, Rainbow Lake, Lake Irene, and Sprague Tarn. I made it to only the first of those. It was a fairly miserable hike.

Last year, I visited Spruce Lake (which, curiously, is not in Spruce Canyon). The idea on that hike was to see more of the East Troublesome burn scar. Much of the trail passes through forest that was thoroughly burned. It seemed to me that a motivated hiker might be able to bushwhack up Spruce Canyon a lot easier now. I know the trees and deadfall don’t burn to ashes, but judging by much of what I saw, the underbrush should be pretty much gone, and with nothing but burned trunks standing, visibility for route-finding should be much improved.

So I decided to make a return trip.

Tuesday, August 22

Reckoning that it’s only a three-hour hike to the campsite at Spruce Lake, we decided on a relatively late start and lunch in Estes before setting out. We decided on Smokin’ Dave’s BBQ. There’s nothing like over-eating a bunch of barbecue before setting off on a hot day, carrying a 34 lb backpack. Probably not the best lunch choice.

It seems I’m always playing a mental game of “what did I forget” or “what will go wrong”. I don’t think I’m particularly pessimistic about things in general. I often forget things (in spite of constantly making checklists) and nothing ever goes perfectly. I always hope that if I forget something, it’ll be something that’s not mission-critical. And that if anything goes wrong, it’s something minor.

So let’s get this out of the way right off the bat. My checklists served their purpose and nothing was forgotten. But a couple of minor things did go wrong. When backpacking, I carry two water bottles and a Steri-Pen to purify more water. I only need two bottles in camp and on the hike in or out, only one of them is full. Getting out of Gordon’s truck, I managed to drop my full bottle, which pretty much shattered when it hit the ground. The second mishap is that the batteries in my Steri-Pen died after two uses. So, for pretty much the whole trip I was hounding Gordon to filter some more water for me.

The hike to Spruce Lake was uneventful. It took us just a few minutes less than the three hours I anticipated. There are two campsites at Spruce Lake. Neither was occupied when we arrived, and we took the one closer to the lake (and further from the privy). I’ve always been under the impression that the backcountry campsites get sold out for the year in the first few days of March. I was a bit surprised, then, that nobody ever camped at the other site. On our previous trip a few weeks ago, the second campsite went empty one night. That’s a 37% vacancy rate. Do that many people make reservations but never show up?

When I picked up the permit last month, I was warned that there was a curious moose in the area. And when we entered the park, the ranger said to watch out for the large moose at Spruce Lake. I couldn’t help but wonder, then, if we were to be on the lookout for a large curious moose, or a large moose and a curious one.

After setting up camp, we sat on the shore of the lake to relax. We immediately spotted a bull moose on the far shore. We heard a loud splash a few minutes later and saw a cow moose wading or swimming out into the lake. My first thought was that it was swimming, but it could be that where she crossed it wasn’t all that deep. She was making good progress. Gordon wondered aloud if we should be concerned that she was heading straight for us.

She got out of the water 20 or 30 feet from us, then circled around us to get back into the water more toward the outlet. Meanwhile, the bull was working his way toward the outlet area as well. In 2019, we saw a cow here with a calf. This might be the same cow, and the bull might be the calf. On the other hand, these could be different moose entirely. He was a bit smaller than she. I’m not up on my moose behavior: they’re solitary beasts, and not territorial, but do they tolerate one another?

  • cow moose and bull moose
  • moonset over Gabletop Mountain
  • greenback cutthroat trout
  • Loomis Lake
  • Spruce Lake
  • doe deer

I went back to the camp to have dinner. Before long, the cow traipsed into camp. Not so much into camp as around it. She kept an eye on me as she made her orbit. Was she the curious moose we were warned about?

Wednesday, August 23

To get to the head of Spruce Canyon from Spruce Lake, the idea is to contour around Castle Rock, converging with Spruce Creek without losing any elevation. As I said earlier, I hoped the fire would allow for better route-finding and somewhat easier passage.

We were on the fringes of the burn scar, sometimes in badly burned areas, sometimes in a living forest. Visibility was somewhat better, but the bushwhacking was still grueling. Last time, we only managed half a mile an hour. I don’t think we were moving any faster today. We contoured around a fairly steep section. Where it was burned and steep, the footing was a bit treacherous. By the end of the morning, I’d fallen on my ass four times. Check that – it was three times on my ass, once on my face.

Each time I fell, I’d end up with my hands in the dirt. Each time, ash and soot and soil stuck to my sweating hands. The soil came off easily enough, but the soot and ash clung tenaciously to my fingernails.

Two hours into our expedition I could see ahead to where we were going and back to where we’d come from. I made the executive decision to abort the mission. I do these hikes to have fun. I was wrong that it would be easier this time. Soot stained my hands and pants and dealing with the deadfall was exhausting. I hauled out Plan B: hike to Loomis Lake after a lunch break back at Spruce Lake. Gordon didn’t seem too disappointed to turn around.

After lunch and a bit of moose-watching, we headed to Loomis Lake. I’ve been there twice before and I don’t recall it being particularly challenging. So I was surprised and disappointed that it was much more difficult than I recalled. As it turned out, on the way up to Loomis Lake, we lost the trail four times. starting right at Spruce Lake. Two other times we lost the trail going around deadfall that blocked the way. For a short while, I felt like I was back in Spruce Canyon.

About two-thirds of the way from Spruce Lake to Loomis Lake, you pass by a pond. There’s a big boulder that in the wettest time of the year is an island but is usually a peninsula. On that rock, clings a fairly good-sized tree. There is no soil, just a few cracks in the granite. That a tree of that size has managed to grow there for decades amazes me. The tenacity of life.

If you manage to follow the trail, it really isn’t a difficult hike. Unfortunately for me, every time I’ve been to Loomis, it’s been overcast. I still don’t have a decent picture of the place. It’s one of those “stark beauty” sorts of places, surrounded by imposing rock walls. The gray clouds and diffused light make it a bit gloomy. I’d like to see it in bright sunlight.

On the way down, we easily followed the trail. It started to sprinkle a bit, threatening rain. Usually, I have to put the raincoat on to make the rain stop; today all I had to do was tell Gordon I might need to stop to put on the coat. Once I said it, it pretty much stopped right away.

We were back to Spruce Lake and camp for dinner and more moose-watching. This evening, it was two bulls. They stayed on the opposite side of the lake, so I didn’t get a great look at them.

I climbed into the sack not long after dark. I’m generally up until well after 11, but I nodded off pretty quickly. At 9:30 it started raining. It really came down for a while, but moderated before long. I don’t know how long it lasted, but it was more than an hour. A good soaking. The tent’s rain cover did its job, keeping everything inside the tent and the little atrium dry.

Thursday, August 24

We awoke to mostly sunny skies – a pleasant morning.

The hike out was just under three hours. We came across a doe that insisted on grazing right next to the trail, not at all concerned about our presence.

My dad always used to say, “I was wrong once. I thought I made a mistake!”

That’s my story with Spruce Canyon. I thought I made a mistake saying I’d never make it to Rainbow Lake, Irene Lake, and Sprague Glacier, but I was wrong!

The other route to those destinations would be from Flattop. It’s not in my day-hike range from there, at well over 8 miles each way and a big climb. And I’ll not make the attempt via Spruce Canyon again, as I said after my first attempt.

So I’ve been twice unsuccessful in reaching three of the four points of interest in Spruce Canyon. I am not disappointed. Both times it was a bit miserable, but a miserable day in the forest is still a good day. I failed to reach my goal, but I’m okay with that. If you always reach your goals, you’re doing it wrong.

Willow Lakes and Salmon Lake

I’m a little bit ashamed to admit how much of my life is spent on autopilot. We all have a tendency to let ourselves get stuck in ruts: “I’m doing this because I’ve done this before and I’m used to it.” That sort of thing. I think a good portion of my choices of where to hike has been out of laziness. I continue to hike in Rocky Mountain National Park because I’m comfortable there. It’s close, I know my way around the Park, I have a first-rate guide, and so on. It only takes me an hour and a half or so to get to any east-side trailhead and about two hours for a west-side hike.

I started getting away from the Park when they instituted their timed entry pass system. I climbed out of my rut and looked around. The Indian Peaks Wilderness is close – just south of RMNP. And James Peak is adjacent to IPW. Again, trailheads for IPW and JPW are close and can be reached in about an hour and a half.

Climbing further from my rut, I finally realized just how many hiking trails I can reach in no more time than it takes to reach a west side trailhead in RMNP.

One of those trailheads is the Willowbrook trailhead in a residential area of Silverthorne. This trailhead can be used to reach Salmon Lake and Willow Lakes, in southeastern Eagles Nest Wilderness. These lakes are surrounded by the dramatic cliffs of a number of 13ers: Rain Peak, East Thorn, and Red Peak.

I don’t have a good guidebook for this area, so I’m doing my research online. I’ve been around the internet long enough to know that not everything I read there is true. I don’t generally think this is much of an issue when it comes to researching hikes, but it’s a good thing to keep in mind. For example, two resources I commonly use are AllTrails and ProTrails (those links go to their respective Salmon Lake route descriptions). AllTrails says it’s a 9.8-mile round trip to Salmon Lake but ProTrails says it’s 15.3. ProTrails would have us start at a different trailhead. I use CalTopo maps and the distances given there match AllTrails.

A couple of notes before we start. First, the parking lot here holds only about a dozen cars but there is a shuttle available. Arrive early or find the shuttle. Second, there is a large network of trails in the area and there is a series of trail junctions. For hikes where I’m not going off-trail, I don’t always carry a map. Bring a map for this one.

Thursday, August 17

I arrived at the trailhead a bit before 7:30. There were only a few cars in the parking lot, and I’m guessing those belong to backpackers who spent the night at one of the lakes. CalTopo shows trails starting at two points near the parking lot, perhaps a hundred feet apart. This is incorrect. There is only one trail from here. There’s a place to register for overnight stays in the Wilderness. There is no fee, and no registration is required for day hikes.

The trail starts in a residential area and passes through Summit County open space before reaching the Eagles Nest boundary about three-quarters of a mile. CalTopo shows four trail junctions before the boundary, but there are only two. The forest is sparse enough to allow views of Silverthorne and Dillon Reservoir and dam. Alongside the lower sections of trail, beetle-kill trees are stacked in pyramids ready for burning when there’s snow on the ground.

Shortly after entering the Wilderness, the trail meets the Gore Range Trail. For the next mile and a half, the trail passes through an interesting section of forest. At first, it reminded me of the area around Ouzel Falls about ten or fifteen years after the fire. All the big trees were dead, the living trees are no more than ten or twelve feet tall. With no big trees, the views open up.

Here, there are no signs of fire in the last century. Hiking up the trail I didn’t notice it, but on the way down you can see that all the dead trees are lined up in the same direction. Why are all the dead trees lined up so nicely?

This area was greatly affected by beetle kill quite a while ago. It was one of the first places I recall seeing beetle-kill forest. The beetles burrow into mature trees, all with trunks at least ten inches in diameter. So all the big trees die, but beetle-kill trees take a while to fall over. They go from reddish-brown to gray and finally get knocked over randomly by wind or snow over the years. And they’d fall over in all sorts of directions.

I think this area was hit by a microburst. Two or three or four minutes of very high winds. Even live trees can’t stand up to the force; this dead forest never had a chance. Any creature unfortunate to be in the area was unlikely to survive. The dead trees are so densely packed, that getting through this area without a trail would be impossible. You just can’t bushwhack through it, you’d have to detour. Truly impassable without a trail.

Because the deadfall was so dense, I couldn’t see too many stumps. But I don’t think there were as many stumps as trees. Most of the trunks looked to be snapped off at the roots.

The next trail junction is the Willow Lake trail. Here the trail starts climbing steadily and relentlessly. It’s not terribly steep, but it goes on and on at a constant rate. On the way down, even knowing how long it went on, I was surprised at how long it went on. Above the top of this grade, though, the trail mellows considerably, climbing no more than two hundred feet a mile (with one exception).

After the big climb, the trail traverses a steep valley wall and reaches the final trail junction of the hike: the Salmon Lake trail. My plan is to visit both Salmon Lake and Upper Willow Lake (and lay eyes on the other various Willow Lakes). By my reckoning, it’s 5.8 miles to Upper Willow Lake with a one-mile round-trip side trip to Salmon for a total of 12.6 miles and maybe 2,800 vertical feet.

I would do Upper Willow Lake first, and if I didn’t feel like doing Salmon it would be a good excuse to come back. Alternatively, it would make a good single-night backpacking trip.

Continuing toward Upper Willow Lake after the Salmon junction, the forest thins again, revealing the dramatic faces of the mountains and ridges containing the valley: the flank of Red Peak to the south, Capricorn, Gemini Twins, and Sagittarius to the west, and East Thorn to the north. The trail meanders along a stream and among and along four or five lakes and ponds before reaching its final destination.

I stayed at the upper lake for forty-five minutes. I had my picnic lunch first. Instead, I should have taken a bunch of pictures first. By the time I was done eating, the few puffy clouds of earlier had grown big and gray. So it goes. After lunch, I explored for a few minutes before heading back down.

Back at the junction, still feeling fresh, I headed up to Salmon Lake. This is the exception to the generally mellow nature of the trail above the big climb. Here we are on a section reminiscent of the big climb. It is mercifully shorter, but at first seems almost malicious: we have climbed a hundred feet or more above Salmon Lake.

  • hiking trail with pyramids of beetle-kill
  • view of East Thorn mountain
  • two 14ers in the distance
  • one of the several Willow Lakes
  • one of the several Willow Lakes
  • Upper Willow Lake
  • Upper Willow Lake and Zodiac Ridge
  • Dillon Lake and dam in teh distance
  • first glimpse of Salmon Lake
  • Salmon Lake

Salmon Lake, I think, is not as scenic as Upper Willow Lake. True, that’s not a low bar. The trail skirts north of the lake, avoiding a giant boulder field, dumping the hiker at the willow-choked western end. Half, or more, of the shore is talus.

By counting the number of hikers I encountered all day, I doubt the parking lot ever filled up. There were only two cars there in addition to mine when I got back to the trailhead. I didn’t meet more than a dozen hikers and backpackers.

On the hike out, I got sprinkled on a bit, just enough for me to put the raincoat on. There was a thunderstorm across the valley to the east, the thunder distinct but not nearby. I got a big dose of the solitude I enjoy. Not a bad way to spend the day.

Due to the generally sparse forest for much of the hike, the views are above average. There’s only one section of trail I found difficult. It’s certainly worthy of a return visit.


Not an out-and-back, this hike was a Y. The stem is the base of the Y.

Hike InHike Out
Trailhead7:32 am4:54 pm
North Willow Creek jct7:50 am4:36 pm
Three Peaks jct8:06 am4:18 pm
ENW Boundary8:09 am4:15 pm
Gore Range jct8:16 am4:06 pm
Maryland Creek jct9:08 am3:03 pm
Salmon Lake jct10:13 am2:02 pm
Upper Willow Lake
Salmon Lake jct10:13 am12:55 pm
Upper Willow Lake11:13 am11:59 am
Salmon Lake
Salmon Lake jct12:55 pm2:02 pm
Salmon Lake1:15 pm1:45 pm

A few more photos are available here and here.

Pitkin Lake

This is my first hike in Eagles Nest Wilderness and the Gore range. The Gore range towers above the western side of Colorado Highway 9 between Dillon Reservoir and Green Mountain Reservoir. Vail is nearly due west from Dillon, but I-70 travels nearly twice the distance to get there, heading southwest to Copper Mountain before turning northwest towards Vail to go around the southern end of the Gore range. Pitkin Lake is reached from the western boundary of Eagles Nest Wilderness near East Vail.

Pitkin Lake is situated at 11,351′ above sea level immediately south of the ridge that connects East Partner Peak and West Partner Peak (both above 13,000′) and immediately east of the ridge that connects West Partner Peak and Outpost Peak. To the east of the lake are the rugged peaks of Mount Solitude and Climbers Point.

To reach Pitkin Lake, take exit 180 from I-70 and head east on Fall Line Drive to the parking lot at the end of the road. It holds only about a dozen cars. An alternative to parking there is to take the shuttle bus from Vail which serves both the Pitkin Lake trailhead and the Booth Lake trailhead.

Pitkin Lake and Pitkin Creek are presumably both named for Frederick Pitkin, who was the second governor of Colorado. When searching for places named for Frederick Pitkin, I find a town, a county, and several streets in various Colorado cities and towns but this lake and creek are not mentioned. It seems a six-block-long street in Saguache is more notable than this lake and creek. I disagree.

When researching this hike, I found that ProTrails lists the distance as 8.9 miles round trip and AllTrails has it at 9.6 miles. I find that a non-trivial distance. After hiking it, I can’t help but wonder if it might even clock in at 10 miles. In any case, the trailhead is at about 8,425′ and the lake is at 11,351′ for a net elevation gain of about 2,925′.

Saturday, August 12

When I planned this hike, I didn’t know there was a shuttle bus that served this trailhead, so, of course, my parking paranoia was in high gear. I was happy to learn, then, that my son wanted to ride his downhill bike at Vail so I asked if I could get him to drop me off at the trailhead and pick me up when he was done biking. He agreed. He deposited me at the trailhead at 9:20 and said he’d be able to pick me up at 5:30 or 5:45. This seemed like an ideal plan. It should only take me about six hours to make the hike, giving me two or two and a half hours of free time. I would have a leisurely day!

Given that the trail climbs about three thousand feet in four and a half or five miles, I’d say this trail is, overall, a fairly steep trail. It’s not uniformly steep, of course. There are three or four stretches I’d call “steep”, connected by mellower sections of trail. The steepest of the steep sections is the first half mile of the trail, climbing six hundred feet above I-70 to where the roar of the highway can no longer be heard.

The trail passes through mixed forests of pine and spruce, wide grassy meadows, and groves of aspen. The meadows are filled with a rainbow of wildflowers and the buzzing of bees. The meadows provide open views of the surrounding terrain. The forest sections are seldom very dense, with forest floors carpeted with lush greenery. The trail is generally quite narrow and in some places passes through foliage that is shoulder-high.

I started my hike at almost the same time as a couple with a black dog. We passed each other three or four times over the first half of the hike. Each time we’d pass, the dog would bark and growl at me. We exchanged a few words each time we passed. Once, they said they weren’t liking the looks of the sky. On the drive up, Michael and I mentioned it too: it was mostly overcast. We hoped it would clear up as the day progressed.

On my last passing the couple and dog, it had just started raining. I said, “Time to put the raincoat on!” Their response was, “We’re turning around!” I continued up the trail, the rain increasing in intensity. It wasn’t long before the crack of thunder shook creation. I didn’t see the lightning, but it was clearly in my immediate vicinity.

Given the extent of the cloud cover, I had no sense that this squall would be short-lived. It could rain all day for all I knew. I’d been hiking a bit over two hours, so it would take me two hours or so to get back to the trailhead. If Michael was getting rained on, I didn’t know if he’d be wanting to call it quits or not. After a few more thunderbolts I decided to turn back.

This seemed like the correct choice. It was raining so hard, the trail was often a river. My hiking pants aren’t waterproof and although my raincoat kept my torso, arms, and head dry, I was soaked below the waist. Under the partial cover of a tree, I checked the phone. I had service! I texted Michael and gave him a situation report. He told me it wasn’t raining where he was. Trying to send a couple of text messages, I discovered how poorly phones work in the rain: I couldn’t unlock the phone with my fingerprint, and the touchscreen doesn’t handle water very well. The phone also helpfully informed me that “water or debris is in the USB port”.

After backtracking for about half an hour, and losing significant elevation, the rain lightened and finally stopped. I was in a large meadow that had a nice view to the south. I decided to have my picnic lunch here, sitting on a wet rock in a wet meadow. While I was there, I was passed by a number of hikers making their way down the trail. Some turned around before reaching the lake, others said they’d turned around within minutes of getting there.

While I ate, I pondered my situation. It had stopped raining but was still overcast. Would the rain return? Two hikers I chatted with told me about the shuttle. If I went back to the trailhead, I could take the shuttle into town and Michael’s day would be unaffected by mine. On the other hand, I was already halfway to the lake. Should I turn around again in an attempt to reach it?

I decided to try for the lake. I reckoned it would take me three hours to get from the lake back to the trailhead. If Michael was going to be there at 5:30, that meant I could leave the lake as late as 2:30. It was about 12:45. By 1:15 I was back to where I originally gave up. Surely I would be able to reach the lake in another hour.

By a bit after 1:30, I was catching up to a couple who had passed me when I was having my lunch. He was leading the way; she was slower. He’d stop and wait until she caught up to him, then start again, not giving her any breaks. I was just marginally faster than she was and it took me quite a while before I passed them. Along the way, I’d hear her asking him variations of “Are we there yet?” His answer was always a variation of “It won’t be long now.”

When I finally did pass them, at about 2:10, I asked him if he thought we’d reach the lake by 2:30, as that was when I figured I’d have to turn around. “Oh, yeah. It’s not more than 10 minutes away.” I think he had no real idea how much longer it would take and the “10 more minutes” was to reassure her. I’m not sure it worked.

I arrived at the lake at 2:29. Aargh! Time to go already. It had begun sprinkling again in the last few minutes before getting to the lake. I didn’t have time to take even a short break. I was heading back down the trail after staying there only nine minutes. The couple arrived just as I was leaving. It took them half an hour to hike the stretch he said it’d only take ten minutes to do.

A few minutes below the lake, I was passed by two hikers I’d briefly chatted with when I was eating my lunch. When I first met them, I told them that I’d given up due to the thunderstorm. Passing me leaving the lake, they recognized me. “Glad you decided to make it to the lake after all!” I didn’t tell them how short a time I was actually there.

On the hike out, the sprinkling turned into full-on rain. It rained for a bit more than the first hour of my hike down. It wasn’t raining hard enough to turn the trail into a river, but it did make many of the water crossings more entertaining. The rain came and went, sometimes going away long enough for my pants to dry again. Then, I’d get to one of those narrow spots where the trail passed through shoulder-high vegetation and I’d get soaked again from all the water on the leaves.

When I returned to my earlier picnic location, I’d been hiking non-stop for about four hours. Okay, technically I stood still for about 30 seconds to take pictures. I stopped here for a short break and ate my peach. I don’t know what it is about eating a peach on a hike, but they always seem to taste so much better on the trail than in my house.

Michael texted me about this time asking for my ETA to the trailhead. I made a guess, but I wasn’t very confident about it. By now, the lifts had ceased operating and he had a little time to kill. I tried to pick up my pace.

Then I came across the nude guy. At first, I thought I was imagining. Did I really see a nude guy cross the trail ahead of me? A few yards later, there he was. Standing on the side of the trail, clutching his undershorts in both hands in front of him, covering his privates. Out of self-defense, I kept eye contact with him until I passed him. In spite of his nudity, he attempted conversation: “Did you get caught by the rain?” Normally, I’d stop and chat; tell him my story of the thunderstorm and my turning around, then being rained on for an hour on the hike out. Now, though? I answered him, “Sure did,” without slowing down.

A few minutes later, I-70 came into sight. I stopped to text Michael that I’d be at the trailhead in 15 minutes or so. Before I could get the phone out of my pocket, nude guy was right behind me. He wasn’t nude anymore, but I thought it was a bit creepy that he followed me so closely. I’d love to know what nude guy’s story was, but there was no way I was going to ask him.

I ended up back at the trailhead on the original schedule – between 5:30 and 5:45. Along the way, I managed to convert a hike with plenty of spare time into one where I had to hustle to be on schedule and changed a 9 or 10-mile hike into more like 12 or 13 miles. Oh well.

I really like this trail. I bet it’s beautiful when the aspen are turning. Heck, I’m sure it’s beautiful anytime it’s not raining! I wouldn’t rule out a return to this lake.

Cars and Photos

It has been a while since I went to a Cars & Coffee event. I generally go to the one in Lafayette, once or twice a year. After a while, though, it gets a bit repetitious. There are many interesting cars there, but I feel like I’ve seen most of them several times. So, time for a change of venue. This time I went to the one down south at Lone Tree.

A few cars of note:

  • Datsun 2000 Fairlady Roadster
  • Alpina – a performance version of a BMW
  • Nissan Skyline GT-R
  • Ford Escort Mk1
  • K-1 Attack

The K-1 Attack caught my eye right away. I chatted with the owner. He says 60 were made and 19 were sold in the USA. It seems it’s available now as a kit car. It was built in Slovakia.

Photo Gallery update

Regular readers may recall I have an online photo gallery. Many but not all photos in that gallery have appeared here on the blog, and not all photos in the blog are in the gallery. Anyway, as I keep expanding my horizons when it comes to hiking to alpine lakes, I realized I needed to reorganize things a bit. It’s still a bit of a work in progress, but feel free to browse around the Colorado pages.

Helms Lake

Immediately south of the summit of Mount Evans, on either side of the ridge between Mount Bierstadt and Mount Bierstadt Southeast Peak are two high alpine valleys. The northernmost of these valleys holds Abyss Lake. There’s a trail to Abyss Lake from a parking lot about six miles from the southern end of Guanella Pass. The parking lot at the trailhead has a capacity of about two dozen cars.

The hike to Abyss Lake is about 17 miles round trip. ProTrails says it’s 17.1 miles, AllTrails has it at 16.9. Regardless of the precise distance, it’s a three-thousand-foot climb. I’ve been pondering this hike for some time, but right from the start, it seemed to me that I’d be more interested in cutting the hike short and stopping at Helms Lake (either 11.7 or 12.3 miles round trip, about 2400′ vertical).

I’ve done many day hikes in the 17-mile range, but given the average elevation on this one, I’m not sure I want to make a “maximum effort” hike without knowing more about the trail. So it was a fairly easy decision to venture forth to Helms Lake and check out the terrain.

Friday, August 4

I pulled into the parking lot at the trailhead at about 8:20, roughly half an hour after my planned arrival. I was a bit concerned about the parking situation, particularly as this lot is on the small side. When I got there, there were only six or eight cars there to my surprise.

At the trailhead, there’s a box with registration forms. One person from each party is to fill out a wilderness use permit. It’s a two-part form, one part goes in the slot and the hiker keeps the other, which has the wilderness regulations on the back. There is no fee. Permits must be filled out whether for day hikes or overnight camping.

The trail starts out climbing slowly through lodgepole pine forest. After about a mile. the trail levels off such that it’s almost level. The forest transitions from lodgepole pine to aspen. Entire mountainsides are covered with aspen, with nearly two miles of trail cutting through the grove. The trip reports I read were written in the autumn and all said it’s a great place for leaf-peeping.

About halfway through the hike, the trail has climbed only about a third of the total elevation gain. The next couple of miles are considerably steeper than the lower section of trail. What was a wide, rock- and root-free trail with almost no slope has turned into a narrow, rocky, somewhat steep climb. Even with this steeper section, the overall slope of the hike is mellow, as the last mile to Helms Lake doesn’t climb much.

On my way up to Helms Lake, I was thinking about how I should describe it. I kept wanting to call it a “pedestrian” hike but thought that might sound too clever. Rolling it around in my brain, I finally decided on “unremarkable”. It’s a forest hike with very few views.

I made it to Helms Lake at 11:45, having hiked non-stop for three and a quarter hours. Helms Lake is surrounded on three sides by high mountains, but on the spectrum from gentle slopes to dramatic vertical cliffs, the mountains around Helms are definitely more on the gentle slopes end. We’re above treeline here, and the shores of the lake are not quite beachlike, with willow set back several yards from the water. There are occasional rocks along the “beach” that make nice places for a picnic.

There is a fair amount of camping here, and campfires are allowed. Wandering around the lake it’s easy to spot the many places people have made their fires. If I were to camp in this vicinity, I’d probably backtrack down the trail a short distance and try to find a spot with a bit of shelter. I have little doubt the winds here can be fierce.

What I didn’t notice about this trail until I started back, when I was thinking it was unremarkable, is the expansive view. On my typical hike to an alpine lake, the surrounding terrain is close. Valleys tend to be narrow, and the mountains around the lakes rise steeply above the water. As the Abyss Lake trail climbs the last mile or so to Helms Lake, it navigates through sparse forest and willow, with the ratio of forest to willow decreasing as the trail rises. Hiking up to the lake, I was focused on the trail ahead of me. I want to get to my destination. If a view isn’t right in front of me, I can miss it.

On the return trip, on that mile below Helms Lake, the views are front and center. The valleys are wide, and with few trees to block the view, we can see quite a bit farther than the mile or two I’m accustomed to. I’m not sure exactly how far one can see from here, but a good chunk of South Park is visible. Boreas Mountain, near Hoosier Pass and just a tad over 13,000′, is clearly visible. That’s about 20 miles.

I saw fewer than a dozen people all day, although two of them complained that the trail was crowded. On the hike out, I went hours at a time without seeing anyone. From the map, I’d have expected to be able to hear cars on the road to the top of Mount Evans, but I could hear no road noise. Airliners did pass overhead every several minutes.

One more note: I didn’t see any game on the hike, but did see quite the menagerie on the way over Guanella Pass – goats, moose, and deer. During the hike, it was just squirrels, birds, and mosquitoes.

I can say with confidence that I’ll be back for more on this trail. It’s possible, given an early enough start, that I could day hike to Abyss Lake. But it may be more likely that I come back for a night of camping in the vicinity of Helms Lake. An overnight stay would make reaching Abyss Lake a trivial undertaking. But I’m intrigued by the possibility of making my way to Frozen Lake, which sits at 12,934′ above sea level, a bit over a mile away. I believe that makes it about 500′ higher than the highest lake in RMNP and higher than all but 19 or 20 summits in the Park.