Upper Ouzel Creek

I don’t know what I was thinking. Obviously, I wasn’t. To think that I’d be able to reach Isolation or Frigid Lakes in early July is pure fantasy. So if you’re just curious what I found at either of those lakes, I’ll save you the trouble: I didn’t even make it to Bluebird Lake.

I ended up with a permit on this date because this site was already booked on the weekends later in July. For some reason, I fixated on doing one of my overnight trips in July, and only considered dates that included at least one weekend day. I could have had a date later in July had I been willing to do it in the middle of the week. Or, I could have had an August or September date had I been willing to make two trips in either of those months. But I was unwilling to take, or didn’t consider, those options.

But clearly taking a mid-week hike in July to try to bag Isolation and Frigid would have failed just the same. Certainly, this year. We had a very wet spring and there is still a lot of snow on the ground in the high country. That much is obvious from Denver.

The plan was to hike in to the Upper Ouzel Creek campsite, spend the night, explore whatever territory I could above Bluebird Lake for a day, spend a second night, then hike out on the third day. Even before setting out I knew it was unlikely I’d reach my goals. But so what? It’s a few days in the backcountry.

I filled the backpack with the usual stuff, then added more stuff. For these overnight trips I haven’t been taking the SLR. I decided to take it this time. I’ve been concerned about having my phone or GoPro batteries die, so I took along a battery that I could use to charge them. And, of course, the associated cables. And I knew I’d be trekking across a fair amount of snow so I included the micro-spikes.

Saturday began mostly overcast, but that changed as I approached Allenspark, where all skies to the west were a clear, clear blue. I wanted to arrive at the entrance a few minutes after eight. My permit was for 2 people in the party. I had asked Ed if he wanted to join me. He was in, until he was out, and a substitute could not be found. So I wanted to tell somebody that my party was just me.

At the gate at 8:10, they told me I might not get a parking spot. I was a bit concerned by this very thing; that’s why I wanted to be there pretty much as soon as the entry station was manned. Much later and the lot would be full for sure. When I got to the (first) bridge across the river I ran across a volunteer. She flagged me down. I told her I was backpacking and she said they generally save a spot or two for permit holders. But we happened to be in a radio dark spot and she couldn’t contact the other volunteers. She warned me that I might end up in the winter parking lot. Nothing like adding another mile to the trip!

At the trailhead lot I managed to shoehorn the car into a spot between a truck and an SUV. I had told the first volunteer at the lot that I had a permit, and asked where to park. He just told me to look for a spot. The second volunteer remarked that I’d parked where he didn’t know there was a spot, then said “You should have told me you have a permit. We have a couple spots saved!”

I was on the trail by a quarter to nine. That’s a bit later than I usually start on this trail, because on my day hikes I need to be six or eight miles in by noon. No such restriction today: I had all day to do about six miles. So I took my time.

Ouzel Falls

I’m using a backpack a friend gave me. This is my third trip with it. I’ve decided it’s too small. Other than that, I like it. Well, except that I can’t get my water bottle properly secured when I have the backpack on. I can get the water bottle out, but can’t put it back in properly. So, at least when I’m going solo, I have resigned myself to taking an extended break every time I want some water.

Then there was an additional break when I realized I’d packed my sunscreen in the bear vault. So much of this hike is in direct sunshine that the old SPF is in no way optional. It’s never optional for me, but especially so on this trail. So I stopped where the trail splits and Ouzel/Bluebird is to the left, Thunder/Lion to the right. And again along the top of the ridge where regrowth in the burn scar hasn’t blocked the view up the canyon. And again where the trail splits between Ouzel and Bluebird. Did I mention I was taking my time?

Big sky over the upper Ouzel drainage

I know people generally aren’t big fans of forest fires. I figure they’re a natural part of the life cycle of the forest and try to take the bad with the good. This area burned back in 1978. About ten years ago, along the top of the ridge above Ouzel Falls, you still had unimpeded views of all the surrounding terrain. But now the new growth is getting taller and thicker. Open views are still common and shade is sparse, but the forest is returning here.

Tree growth is considerably slower up higher, and by the time the trail is even with Ouzel Lake, it looks a lot like it looked in the first few years after the fire. The ground is covered only by grasses and a scattering of wildflowers. A few dead trunks stand upright over their fallen neighbors, and the trail is lined by raspberries for long stretches.

Along the way, I talked to a pair of twenty-something women and a thirty-something couple. It struck me that in both discussions we described the terrain in fundamentally different ways. They all oriented around peaks, I orient around lakes. I know the names of many of the mountains, but too many of the names are just names. I know Mahana Peak and Tanima Peak are around here, but it’s not important to me to know which ones are which. So there was some back-and-forth in these conversations translating geography: Hunters Creek to Mt. Orton, and the like.

When I got to about the end of the burn scar on the Bluebird trail, I ran into a guy in black shorts and no shirt that had motored past me earlier. “If you’re going to the lake, you may want to reconsider. I made it 95% of the way there, but had to turn back due to all the snow.” I asked if he made it to the campsite but he didn’t know. He showed me on his map how far he thought he’d gone.

I mounted the micro-spikes and continued. It was pretty easy going, but lots of big snow drifts to cross. Before long, it’s snow as often as not. Did he think this was too much snow, or that next stretch? Then I arrived at a place where I had to traverse high up on a steep snowbank. Even with traction, I didn’t like the looks of it. Without the backpack I’d have done it. It was an easy choice to descend a bit and climb some rocks rather than risk a fall.

As I started down, another couple caught up to me. She wanted to follow the tracks, but he thought my way was better. Turns out this is their third attempt to get to Bluebird Lake. First was in December. They snowshoed. They only made it to Ouzel Falls and the round trip was seven hours. Then in May they made it to “that boulder right there”. They swore they’d make it this time.

Snow-lily, Erythronium grandiflorum, all around my campsite

I pushed on a little farther, then took a breather. They took a breather then pushed on, and we happened to reach the spur to the campsite at the same time. They started up toward the campsite. I told them where they were going and pointed the other way. “See that log bridge over there? You go that way.” I’m absolutely certain they didn’t go much farther and will soon be making their fourth attempt.

Campsite

I was relieved to find the campsite free of snow. It was not exactly dry, though. It was pretty obvious that water had flowed here quite recently. Flowed here and puddled there. Luckily, the least wet spot was almost exactly the size of my tent. I got it set up then took a jacket and some water and headed up to Bluebird Lake. I quickly found myself at the bottom of the last steep bit to the lake. Later in the summer, this little section is one of my favorite fields of wildflowers. But right now it’s just snow.

So that’s where I stopped. In snow shoes, with an able companion, I’d have done it. With just the micro-spikes and solo, no way.

And that’s when I decided I didn’t need to stay two nights up here.

I sat for a while beside the stream, the outlet from Bluebird. The water was running fast and clear; a distinct blue. It cascades out of a tunnel it’s bored through the bottom of a huge drift of snow. The sound of the water was, in a way, intense. It is unwavering. It’s not as loud as nearby thunder, but it is certainly louder than the wind through the trees. It’s quite loud.

Front porch view of Copeland Mtn

By about six I made my way back to camp. It’s a nice camp. The view from the pad itself is nice, but it’s atop a large rock outcropping. A few feet down a gentle slope is a half log, seats two. Twenty feet below is the trail. I sat here after dinner and watched the shadow of the setting sun climb the flank of Copeland Mtn.

Although I’m a fair distance from the stream, the sound of rushing water is a dull roar, louder than any airliners passing overhead. I can’t see my stream, but across the canyon I can see six significant water falls. There’s still so much snow here, water is flowing everywhere, (except, thankfully, for my campsite).

By eight it was time to turn in. There wasn’t anything to watch for a while, and I knew I’d fall asleep before I’d get a good look at the night sky so I set an alarm for ten. Had to use the phone because the Fitbit wouldn’t sync with my phone without internet access. At ten, there were some scattered clouds. The crescent moon had set, or at least fallen behind out of sight beyond the divide.

I was awake again at 3:30 for a comfort break. The clouds had cleared and the Milky Way was spilled across the sky. I rarely see the Milky Way. Seems like few times I get to experience a dark sky, the moon is always shining brightly.

Surprisingly, I was able to sleep almost until seven. I took my time breaking camp and was on the trail by a quarter to nine. I hadn’t seen any big mammals on the hike in, but did see a solo deer in the evening and three more in the morning, below my porch.

Morning visitors

I was not exactly looking forward to putting that backpack on. Because it’s too small, almost none of the weight is on my hips; it’s all on my shoulders. My shoulders are sore, it it would be nice to have a day off. My one adjustment is to put (clean) socks between my shoulders and the straps. This worked better than anticipated. The discomfort was much reduced and I didn’t feel the need to stop as often. It took me more than six hours to go up, but not much over four on the way down.

Although I didn’t get to where I wanted to go, and I spent one night instead of two, I still had a good time. Any day in the Park is a good day.

No time lapse this trip. But there’s this, instead.

Lake Irene

Note that I’m talking here of Lake Irene, just down the road from Poudre Lake, not Irene Lake, near the base of Sprague Glacier. I hope to write about Irene Lake before summer is over.

Last of the low-hanging fruit, perhaps?

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve driven the section of Trail Ridge Road west of the Alpine Visitor Center. But I can tell you, before today, how many times I’ve stopped at the parking lot for Lake Irene: zero.

It’s a small parking lot that will hold about a dozen cars. There are a couple of picnic tables and an improved trail of not much more than a hundred yards to small Lake Irene. There’s not much to recommend here, other than it’s easy to get to. I am fortunate to be able to make long hikes to the many beautiful lakes in the park. I probably take that for granted. But I do know that not everybody can hike like I do, and it’s good that there are some places that are more accessible. That said, it’s not ADA compliant. But it is relatively low effort.

Of course, I didn’t make the trip up here just to visit this lake. My real reason was to stop by the back country office to pick up my permit for next week’s hike. So we made a day of it, stopping in Estes for lunch then heading over Trail Ridge Road and returning to Denver via Winter Park and Berthoud Pass.

I would have liked to have taken Old Fall River Road up to the AVC, but that road isn’t open yet. And the snowbanks at the AVC are still something like ten feet deep. Lake Irene sits at about 10,600′ and there’s still snow on the ground there. Trail Ridge was so crowded we weren’t able to stop at the Rock Cut, but a brief glance at the Gorge Lakes told me they’re still well frozen.

My backpacking trip next week may be much more challenging than I was hoping. I’ll be staying at Upper Ouzel Creek. I don’t know exactly the elevation there, but it’s somewhere close to that of Lake Irene so I’m guessing there will be snow at the campsite. And my hope is to reach both Isolation Lake (11,985′) and Frigid Lake (11,824′). Frigid Lake will be, not doubt, still quite frigid.

At least it will be interesting.

Emerald Lake and Bierstadt Lake

Sunday, June 16

I think it has been four months since my last visit to the Park. That’s way too long. But it’s too early to do a nice long hike because that generally means a decent elevation gain, and from down here in the big city it looks like there’s still quite a bit of snow on the ground in the high country. So I figured I’d do a short hike to get a sense of how much snow there really is.

Lacking any good ideas, I resorted to an old standby: Emerald Lake. For nearly twenty years, I managed to drag a rotating group of friends up to Emerald on Memorial Day weekend. It’s a bit past that time now, but close enough. I was hoping to make it around the lake and gain some elevation on the west side of it for a change of pace.

I arrived at the Bear Lake parking lot a bit before nine. There were only a few empty parking spaces left. I probably should have grabbed the first one I saw, but hoping for a closer spot I found myself up at the top. There, one of the volunteers said, “Hey! We know that car!” Doc and I exchanged greetings; he wanted me to tell him about the car after I got parked. Well, Ed’s usual spot was empty, so I parked there. Before I was out of the car, another volunteer parked next to me. So I answered all of Doc’s questions and chatted with the both of them before hitting the trail.

Emerald Lake

Just before getting to Emerald I met a guy who had just skied down one of the couloirs from near the top of Flattop. Being a non-skier, this sort of thing strikes me as pretty hard-core.

At Emerald, I worked my way around the norther shore far enough to get out of the ever present crowd, but I didn’t try too hard to continue west to higher ground. Having failed to execute my original plan, it occurred to me that this hike is so short there isn’t any reason I can’t add another short hike to the day. When I recently redid my online photo gallery I noticed that I didn’t have any pictures of Lake Bierstadt. Why not make a side trip to Bierstadt and rectify that oversight?

Having arrived at the lake a few minutes before ten it was too early for lunch, so I just relaxed and took in the views. I couldn’t help but notice a bunch of debris on the ice over on the west side. There was an avalanche here back in early May. This debris is likely from that event. How else would a bunch of pieces of pine tree be on the ice in the middle of Emerald Lake?

Avalanche debris on the lake

The hike back to Bear Lake was at times painfully slow. This is what I call “conga line hiking”. There were so many people around the end of the trail at Emerald that it sounded like a high school cafeteria. On the way down, the only places I could make my way past long lines of people was on the snow: I had my micro spikes but most others were in sneakers. I would have taken the shortcut from Nymph to Bear, but I’ll only do that when nobody is watching – don’t want to let the general populace know about the shortcut. No chance of stealth today, so I took the long way.

Lake Bierstadt is named for Albert Bierstadt, a painter known for his landscapes of the American West. I saw a few of his paintings when I visited the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. They’re big paintings of dramatic landscapes. So I find it a bit ironic that, in a Park with so many stunning lakes, the one with his name on it is, shall we say, not that impressive.

The hike from Bear Lake to Bierstadt Lake is about two miles. The first section is along the Flattop Mtn trail. This section of trail climbs a bit, and after the trail junction it continues to go up for a short distance. After that, it’s all flat or slightly downhill. It’s a forest hike with no views at all, except for a very short glimpse of Halleck and Flattop on a few yards of trail that goes west. The walking is very easy, with few roots or rocks to deal with. I was able to keep up what I call a “sidewalk pace”.

There were a lot fewer hikers here than at Emerald. Between Bear Lake and Bierstadt I ran into about two dozen other people. I made my way to a rock on the southwestern shore of the lake and ate my picnic lunch. I was joined in lunch by a duck who was working his way back and forth through the grasses nibbling as he went. And not far away I was somewhat surprised to hear the almost constant croaking of frogs. I know there are frogs in the park, but I’ve never seen any, and until now hadn’t heard them either.

Up to now, the weather had been quite pleasant. But to the north, some ominous clouds had formed and a chill breeze had picked up. I’d wanted to circumnavigate the lake, but with the threat of rain I packed up and headed down the trail to the Bierstadt trailhead.

Threatening clouds

So I still don’t have any pictures of the best views of Bierstadt.

The trail from the lake to the trailhead climbs something like 600′ in a mile. It switches back and forth across the mostly treeless slope on its way. I’ve made that climb a few times, but the last couple passages on this trail have been downhill only, like today. Just when I started down, I ran into a family coming up. They were only a few yards from the top. I couldn’t resist: I said, “Only another mile to go!” and waited a beat before adding “Just kidding.”

Winterlude

It has been three months since I visited RMNP. Well, I was at the back country office last week, but that doesn’t count. I didn’t actually get into the park, let alone do any hiking. I tried back in January, but that was during the government shutdown. More recently I’ve had to schedule things around work on the car, so I haven’t had much opportunity. I finally made it happen today.

I was afraid it wasn’t going to come together. Due to the recent heavy snows, I was pretty sure I wouldn’t be able to get there in the Chrysler so I’d have to find somebody to go with who was willing to drive. Luckily, Ed stepped forward and volunteered to join me for a walk in the Park.

When we arrived at the entrance station, we couldn’t help but notice that the express lane was closed. And when Ed proffered his park pass the ranger asked if his car was four wheel drive. “We really discourage continuing unless you have four wheel drive.” We pressed on, undaunted.

The road was pretty slick right away, with ice just a few yards after turning onto Bear Lake Road. We took it easy, going slower than some 4WD trucks which Ed waved by us, and made it to the parking lot without any drama.

The plan was to take Ed’s route to Lake Haiyaha. This one never gets old for me. As I’ve said before, I’m somehow unable to navigate this route on my own. I keep thinking that I should be able to find my own way, and I recognize many landmarks along the way, but I can’t mentally string it together. Eventually, though, (I keep telling myself) I’ll get it figured out.

First stream crossing.

As I’ve mentioned, the Park as gotten quite a lot of snow over recent weeks. Even though Ed has broken this route many times this season, there is little to no trace of his trail. In the depths of the forested parts, I could make out a slight depression indicating his route. But in the clearings, where the wind works full time, there’s nothing. Ed tried pointing out the signs to me on occasion – “see that slight depression there?” – it was far from obvious anybody had ever been through here.

Deep drifts

My snowshoe experience is fairly limited. I make it out only once or twice a year. So I couldn’t help but tell Ed that this was by far the deepest snow I’ve gone through. He responded that it doesn’t get much deeper. Even on snowshoes, we were often sinking knee deep. We went through a few drifts that were waist deep, and on the steeper uphill sections it was tough going. Of course, Ed was in the lead, so he was doing much more work than I was.

It was cold and windy, but that describes most winter days here beneath the Divide. At lower elevations, it was clear blue skies, but here clouds flew above the mountaintops and snow flew along the ground. It wasn’t so overcast that the sun didn’t make shadows, but it was overcast enough that the sun seemed small and distant. Surprisingly, given the amount of wind, the trees were laden with an amazing amount of snow.

In the end we didn’t make it to the lake. I needed to be back to Lyons by 3:30 or 4:00pm, and our progress was slower than usual. And, frankly, it was a fair amount of work plowing our way up the hillside. When we finally stopped, Ed guessed we had maybe another half hour at the rate we were going. Sure, I’d have liked to visited Haiyaha for a quick look at the always interesting ice there, but I’m not bothered we didn’t press on.

It was yet another beautiful day in the Park.

Mills Lake

Saturday, December 15

Chad and I hiked to Mills Lake. He drove. He didn’t want to make the trip on my summer tires in spite of my assurance that it would only be the last mile that’s dicey. We got to the Glacier Gorge parking lot around 8:30. It was about half full. In the summer, it takes me almost exactly an hour to get to the lake from the parking lot, but today it took an hour and a half.

We took the fire trail. When I came down it after visiting Ed’s igloo the tracks followed the summer trail but now it’s switched to it’s snowy winter route, up the gully. An outcropping of rock was covered with large icicles fifteen or twenty feet high.

There was a good crowd at the lake. It was pretty windy, but we stood in the lee of a small stand of pine. Even though it was out of the wind, I had a pretty nice view up the gorge. The sun is about as low in the sky as it will get as we’re just a few days from the solstice.

The view of the gorge as you near the lake is one of the most impressive views in the park. Today when we arrived there, clouds hung in giant curls from eastern flank of Thatchtop. Longs Peak  plowed the wind, leaving a wake of condensation. The wind whipped through at high speed, kicking up clouds of snow up throughout the gorge. The low sun backlit the blowing snow, showing the wind’s form; its flows and eddies.

We were there for nearly an hour. I thought we’d be doing good if we to stayed much over half an hour, but our spot was comfortably out of the wind and I managed to blather on about something or other until I sufficiently bored Chad and he suggested we make our way back to the car.

A Visit to Ed’s Igloo

Friday, November 23

Several days ago I reached out to Ed to see if he’d be interested in hiking with me today. His plans were more ambitious than mine: he said he would be going to the igloo he made the other day and spending Friday and Saturday nights there. He asked if I’d like to join him. I quickly declined, but agreed to spend the day with him. My excuse is that my sleeping bag isn’t sufficient for a November night at 10,500′ in a structure made of snow.

Earlier in the week, the forecast for the day looked pretty good. It would be mid-50’s in Denver, but windy. I don’t know why I keep mentioning the Denver forecast when I’m heading to the Park. In the summer I can count on my time in the Park being much the same as Denver, but cooler. In the winter it may as well be a different planet.

Ed wanted to meet at the Bear Lake parking lot at 7:30. That seemed a bit early for me, so I talked him into 8:00. Lately it has been taking me an hour and forty-five minutes to get to the parking lot, and when I add a few minutes to grab breakfast in Boulder and a few minutes cushion in case I run a bit late, I could leave at 6:00 to meet Ed at 8:00. As it turned out, I left promptly at 6:00 and didn’t have any traffic, so I arrived at Bear Lake at Ed’s preferred time. Which meant I had to wait.

According to the weather report, the forecast for the northern mountains was snow overnight Thursday, clearing up for most of the day, then snow again starting late afternoon or early evening. As of 7:30, the first part of that was more or less accurate. The skies were clear on my drive all the way up to the Bierstadt trailhead, just a few miles from Bear Lake. From there on, it was snowing, but not windy. Here I should mention that the Chrysler isn’t equipped for driving in snow: I have ultra-high performance summer tires on her. They’re fantastic for dry pavement, excellent in the rain, but there are few tires that are worse in the snow.

I’ll also add that the road to Bear Lake was in the worst condition I’ve ever seen. But that’s fairly meaningless, for three reasons. First, I only go to Bear Lake in the winter a few times a year. Second, I’m a fair-weather winter hiker and most times I’ve gone, I could easily take the Lotus (which is worse in the snow than the Chrysler). Third, the park service does a good job of keeping the road clear. So I made it to the parking lot without problem, but made sure to park so I didn’t have to go uphill on my way out, anticipating that conditions wouldn’t get any better.

Ed had posted a few pictures of the igloo on Facebook, but I didn’t have a great idea where it was other than the top of a little ridge with a great view. Given Ed’s range, even restricting it to within a few miles of Bear Lake, that doesn’t narrow it down much. Perhaps I should have asked him before we started, or before I agreed to go with him, but I waited until we were on our way. We stopped for a few minutes and he used his trek pole to make a diagram in the snow.

This is the fourth or fifth time I’ve followed Ed through the snow. He’s led me to Lake Haiyaha a few times and I still don’t think I could get there on his route without his guidance. I think I’m figuring it out. I think I could do it in the summer, but for some reason the terrain looks totally different to me when it’s covered with snow.

Ed leads the way

My inability to follow his route isn’t because he’s not a good guide. He is constantly pointing out terrain features. Today perhaps he was trying to show me too much. I felt it was a bit of information overload. But that may have been because I was a bit preoccupied. You see, this was a one-way trek with Ed. Because he’d be spending two nights in the igloo, I’d have to find my own way back to the car.

We spent a lot of time turning around and looking back the way we came. “Through the trees here our trail should be fairly clear. But in this clearing it will drift over. You’ll want to avoid the bottom of the gully here. Stay to the left of that log there.” That sort of thing. You see, it was snowing pretty good. The wind wasn’t as bad as it often is here so close to the Divide. But it would be hours before I came back this way.

Yours truly. This is a smile, not a grimace. Look closely: the snow is falling sideways.

Where our route crossed the trail from Lake Haiyaha to the junction with the trail to Mills Lake and the Loch, we walked back and forth along that trail so that “tourists” wouldn’t be tempted to follow our tracks. Here we discussed one of my options. I could either follow our tracks, or take the official trail. It didn’t look like the official trail was very well traveled, so I was thinking following our own tracks would be the best bet.

From here our route started getting steep. Our destination was a glacial knob at the eastern end of Otis Peak, immediately north of The Loch, and about 300′ above it. Ed knows I’m not a big fan of the steep stuff, so he gave me a bit of a pep talk. The final approach to the igloo would be quite steep. He compared it to the descent we made from the ridge on the south side of Dream Lake back in the spring. It would be that steep, but not that long, and broken into short segments.

On that final approach there was only one spot that had me bothered. It was a bit tough climbing it, as the snow seemed to want to give way under my weight. I had to be very careful to put my weight directly above the balls of my feet, which I found a bit of a challenge. At one point, I was almost crawling up the snow.

“Come stand out here on this precipice and check out the view!”

The igloo is sited atop a rock outcropping, with clear views to the east and south. Or, it would have clear views if the weather was clear. When we arrived, we could see a bit down the Bear Lake road and we had a view of Half Mountain. A cliff face of Otis was just a few yards away to the northwest, and the northern flank of Thatchtop was prominent to the south. After a quick look at the surroundings, we retreated to the shelter of the igloo for lunch.

Click on the picture to see it full-sized.

We ate and chatted for about forty-five minutes. My soda was nice and cold, but my water was colder: it was starting to freeze. This should not have surprised me, but it was a bit distressing to have to knock a plug of ice out of the mouth before I could take a sip. We set my water bottle beside Ed’s little furnace. Although it was nice and cozy inside, it wasn’t warm enough to melt the ice. Standing up, though, I found that the air was close to fifty degrees at the top, while it was more like freezing down at the level of the door.

Igloo at center; Thatchtop in background.

After lunch it was time for me to head back. When we popped out of the igloo, it was quite obvious how the conditions had changed. Visibility was just a few hundred yards. Ed kindly escorted me down the steep bits and I was soon on my way, retracing our steps from the morning. These steps, of course, were our most recent. So they had had the least amount of snow, either freshly fallen or wind-blown, obscuring them. In the trees it was quite easy to follow them. I was feeling pretty good, in spite of the degraded conditions.

Wind-sculpted pillows of snow.

The first challenging part was around a small unnamed body of water that Ed likes to call “Beautiful Lake Marv”. We had walked through an open area where the wind gets an unimpeded run. Our track was completely erased. Ed’s advice was to stay to the left and don’t go down into the gully. It took me a few minutes, but I eventually did spot our trail below me. I was able to follow it all the way down to the trail from Haiyaha.

On the way up, we didn’t just cross directly over it. After reaching it, we went along it for maybe a hundred yards, then left it. I thought I’d easily find where we gained the trail, but I had no luck. Some other hikers had come through; I followed their tracks off the trail, but they just made a short excursion to look at the stream. After a couple times up and down the trail looking for my way, I decided that the tracks along the official trail were my best bet, so off I went.

Although a bit longer, it was an easy hike out. I arrived at the trial junction in good time and ran into a few hikers. Two guys asked me how it was the way I came. I told them I didn’t go all that far. They told me they’d come up the Fire Trail and that it was pretty clear. So that’s the way I went. A few minutes later they passed me, one on skies, the other booting it. They went at a pretty good clip, the one in boots running.

By now the wind was getting pretty fierce. Even in the wooded sections, the trail was getting harder to follow. Those guys were just a few minutes ahead of me and their tracks were indistinct. Then a few minutes later another pair of hikers passed me, and shortly after that the trail was sufficiently out of the wind that it was quite obvious.

I was back to the car by 2:45. There were surprisingly few cars in the parking lot. My car was the closest to the top of the hill, and was pretty well covered by snow. By 3:00 I was on my way. I practically crawled along the road, ABS engaging quite a bit. My doors don’t lock until I reach 13mph. They didn’t lock until I passed the Glacier Gorge lot. Even going so slow, I managed to catch two other cars, who pulled over to let me by. The road was pretty treacherous, with blowing snow creating blizzard-like conditions, until about Hollowell Park. At Moraine Park, a ranger had his truck, lights flashing, blocking up-bound traffic. Clearly, they weren’t letting people go any farther. That explains why there were so few cars at Bear Lake.

So, to recap: I walked through sometimes blizzard-like conditions, up and down sometimes incredibly steep terrain, sometimes trying to follow my own vanishing tracks in the snow, then drove my car on summer tires through more blizzard conditions. Through all that, I was warm and dry. What can I say? It was another beautiful day in the neighborhood.

Loch Vale

Monday, October 29

Things are a bit on the slow side at work, and I have a few vacation days I haven’t used. So with the weather looking good for today, I took advantage of the opportunity and headed up to the Park for a short hike. I figured I’d try something similar to my last hike – that is, a short hike to a familiar destination but try to get a different perspective by gaining a little elevation. So I headed up to the Loch, with the intention of finding a nice rock outcropping with a view of the lake and the valley in which it sits.

I wanted to park at the Glacier Gorge parking lot, so I left a bit earlier than last time. This had the side-effect of missing the worst of rush-hour traffic going into Boulder. Between Boulder and Lyons I was treated to a beautiful sunrise, which is always a nice way to start the day.

There was relatively little traffic on US 36 and now that it’s off-season, I skipped my usual detour by the hospital and actually went through downtown Estes Park. Approaching the RMNP entrance station, I saw a few temporary signs indicating that there was a chance of fog or smoke. I thought it was odd, as the weather was fine and the skies were mostly clear. In Moraine Park their electronic sign told me that the Bear Lake parking lot was already full. I wondered how that could be, given that it was 8:30am on the last Monday of October. How can there possibly be that many people there already? If the Bear Lake lot is already full, there’s no way I’ll get a spot at Glacier Gorge.

When I arrived at Glacier Gorge parking lot there were about eight cars there. Clearly the sign in Moraine Park was in error. Two of the eight cars had just arrived moments before I did. Two guys got out of one of the cars, looked at each other, decided it was too windy and got back in their car. I told them it wouldn’t be windy on the trail, but they weren’t convinced. And, actually, I didn’t think it was very windy at all, compared to what I’ve found there in the past.

Andrews Glacier barely visible

Although I’m quite comfortable deciding what to wear and what to carry on my summer hikes, I’m not that experienced in autumn or winter. I think part of my problem is my lumbar pack. It’s sufficient for my summer day hikes but doesn’t allow me to carry what I might need on a colder weather hike. Today I wore my thermal (light or medium, I forget) underwear, hiking pants, Hawaiian shirt, hoodie, and windbreaker. I had a woolen hat and gloves, and I had my rain jacket as well. I brought my microspikes and gaiters, but ended up leaving the microspikes in the car. I figured I probably wouldn’t need them, but once I got off the trail there might be enough snow I’d want the gaiters. In the end, I didn’t use them.

The day was quite pleasant. On the trail, the wind was not an issue and I didn’t think about it until I got near my destination. There was very little snow on the ground for my entire hike, while the trail had icy stretches that became longer and more common as I gained elevation. The ice was only in the shady bits, starting about halfway up the fire trail. About half way between the Mills Lake trail junction and the Loch I encountered a hiker on his way out. He was trying for Sky Pond but turned around at Timberline Falls. All he had was microspikes and that wasn’t enough for him. He was the only person I met since the parking lot.

Shortly after arriving at the Loch I started looking for a place to start climbing. As it turns out, I started climbing too soon. But it didn’t take long to run into the talus field that’s on the south side of the lake. It runs at an angle. If I’d kept to the trail for a little longer I’d have come across it and had an easier way up.

Picnic view

In planning the hike, I had considered following this talus field all the way up to one of Ed’s glacial knobs. But I found a nice place with a view of the valley that was in the sun and out of the wind. I was perhaps two-thirds of the way up the talus. There was a bit of snow here, but I easily avoided it. I didn’t want to step on some snow only to find out that there’s nothing beneath it but a giant hole.

Interesting grain, a little burned around the edges

In the talus there’s a fair amount of dead wood. Not a lot: it’s a talus field so more or less by definition there aren’t any trees. But there are a few ribs of soil here and there and over the few hundred yards of talus I maneuvered I came across quite a few pieces of deadwood. Each one showed signs of being burned. Some were subtly discolored, just a touch of brown. Others were deeply charred. I assume all these were the result of the Bear Lake Fire of 1900. Burned bits of tree can be found throughout the area, but they’re move obvious here as no trees have grown here in the intervening century.

About two-thirds of the way to the top of the talus field I found a spot with a nice view. As a bonus, it had full sun and was not particularly windy. I fully expected that any place I found that was in the sun and wasn’t surrounded by trees obstructing the vista would be blustery, but my little spot was close to ideal. It may very well be that it wasn’t as windy as it normally is in the cooler months this close to the Divide. But it wasn’t exactly calm. The small clump of trees thirty or forty yards above me sang a bit when the heavier gusts blew by.

Interesting textures

While I let the camera run, and after my picnic, I explored the immediate neighborhood. This meant hopping from rock to rock through the talus. On my way to a spot where I could get a bit of a view of Andrews Glacier, I hopped on a rock that looked to be about three feet on a side. It was a “wobbler”. I’m often concerned that some of the smaller rocks I step on will move, but haven’t had that happen with a boulder this size. Frankly, it kind of spooked me. This one had to be three quarters of a ton or so. I had a quick mental image of it moving a large area of talus; not something I want to be in the middle of. From then on, until I got back to the trail, it seemed like every rock I stepped on moved a bit. I know it was my imagination, but it had me being very careful.

After about an hour of watching the world go by, I packed up and headed back down to the trail. Along the way I came across a large upended stump. Its color matched all the other dead wood nearby, except that it had no obvious signs of burn. What it did have was a rock that the roots had grown around. I took a few pictures of it from various angles; didn’t get one that shows it very well, but so it goes.

Rock encased in wood

Back on the trail I started encountering other hikers. One couple asked if they’d passed Sky Pond. I told them that they hadn’t, and that they weren’t likely to make it past Timberline Falls given that they lacked any kind of traction devices. The next couple I came across said they were properly equipped, and I wished them luck. They looked to be fit, but it seemed to me they wouldn’t be getting up there until fairly late in the day.

The Loch

I briefly considered taking the long way back to the car and spending a few minutes at Alberta Falls. Maybe I was feeling lazy, maybe I preferred the solitude of the fire trail, and in the end took the shortcut. As I hiked out, I shed my layers ending up in shirtsleeves. The forecast high for Denver was in the mid-70’s, while NOAA predicted a high in the mid-40’s for Loch Vale. No doubt, it was warmer than the mid-40’s where I had my picnic.

Leaving the park I saw why they had signs up warning of smoke or fog: they were doing a prescribed burn on the north side of the road, covering the whole distance between the entrance station and the Beaver Meadows visitor center. By now all the excitement seemed to be over: I saw a fair amount of smoke but no flames.

Prescribed burn

Timetable

There Back
Trailhead 08:55 AM 01:22 PM
Mills/Loch Jct 09:35 AM 12:45 PM
The Loch 10:05 AM 12:24 PM
Picnic spot 10:43 AM 11:45 AM

40° 18′ 25″ N, 109° 39′ 37″ W, or Thereabouts

Things have been a bit on the slow side at work lately. With summer hiking season winding down, I figured I could pick a day with a favorable weather forecast to take some PTO and hit the trails. The weather wonks in the Denver area have been missing their forecasts lately, predicting warmer weather than we’ve actually been getting, so this added a bit of variability. They told me Wednesday would be the warmest day for the foreseeable future so Tuesday afternoon I asked for Wednesday off.

Wednesday, October 3

I planned on a rather short hike, which meant I didn’t need to leave the house before sunrise. But a later start also meant I’d be facing morning rush hour traffic. As I work from home I almost never have to deal with traffic, so getting out in it once in a while is a good reminder as to how spoiled I am.

The Chrysler is getting old, and it sitting outside isn’t helping much. She’s getting senile. I can’t use the automatic headlights because every now and then they start flashing randomly. And the intermittent wiper often gives two or three wipes at a time. And so, when I saw the outside temperature reading at 73° on the approach to Estes I figured that was wrong, but the thermometer doesn’t yet seem to be demented. It did cool back down dramatically as I got closer to the Park.

On the way through town I spotted what I thought of as a clear-sky rainbow. I know that you don’t get rainbows without rain, but this one looked to be situated well away from any clouds. It was clear above, and the only clouds in sight were draped across the Continental Divide. Well, “socked in” more adequately describes it. Nothing above about 11,000′ was visible.

I was a bit surprised by how many people were in the park, given that it’s a weekday. The Bear Lake parking lot wasn’t yet full (but it was full when I left a bit after 1:00pm). This time of year I expect mostly locals, but there were still quite a few cars with Illinois, Minnesota, Texas, and California plates.

When I got out of the car it wasn’t particularly chilly, but it was (surprise, surprise!) fairly windy. By now I treat “windy” as the default state of things along the Divide, unless it’s mid-Summer, and sometimes even then. I wasn’t going very far, and I wasn’t exactly going to visit a lake; my intention was to spend my time surrounded by trees, so I didn’t let the wind bother me. But I didn’t put too much thought into exactly where those trees would be. My destination was the ridge that separates Dream Lake from Lake Haiyaha.

I took the shortcut from Bear Lake to Nymph Lake not so much to shorten the walk as to avoid the crowds. Rather than hustle up the Haiyaha trail, I followed the trail the few yards to the shore of Dream Lake. The clouds were impenetrable over the divide but the fierce winds that carried them east also tore them apart. To the east the skies were clear, and in the zone in between, the sun was able to play “now you see me, now you don’t” with the lakes. A few minutes patience allowed me a view of a sunny Dream Lake with clouds above.

After another quick pause to take in the views to the east, I left the trail before crossing Haiyaha’s outlet stream. There’s a bit of a trail here that gets used by the rock climbers that lasts until you reach talus. Once in the rocks I started heading uphill. It’s not too steep and there isn’t much to hinder progress – little deadfall and no rock outcroppings – and found myself at the top of the ridge in no time.

I sat up there for about an hour, letting the cameras run. I tried to stay out of the wind, but here at 10,472′ (according to GPS) it was a challenge. I found a place that wasn’t too bad. I kept an eye on the lake. For the last year or a bit more it has a distinctly glacial color to it. There was a slide a while back up the canyon and the snowmelt that passes over and through the slide has carried some sediment to the lake that gives it a turquoise color when viewed from above in sunlight. But every time the sun illuminated the lake it was over before I could capture that nice color. That just gives me an excuse to revisit this spot next summer, even though the color is already fading.

I made it back to the car pretty early so I decided to make a stop at Sprague Lake. I can’t help but notice that it hasn’t been on my list of lakes I’ve visited. Thinking about that oversight it occurs to me that I certainly haven’t been there in at least thirty years. That makes me wonder if I’ve ever actually been there. I’ve got to believe we were there as a family when I was a kid. Right? How can I have spent so much time in the Park, driven by the place hundreds of times, and never been there?

I took my time at Sprague. I let the camera run again for another half hour or so. The wind was not any less here than on the ridge above Haiyaha, particularly on the windward side. I was surprised the wind didn’t jostle my camera, as it was enough to kick up spray from the lake’s surface and unbalance the unwary pedestrian. The clouds were no longer obscuring the peaks but it wasn’t clearing up. If anything, they looked more threatening. Until you turned around and faced east, where it remained sunny.

The weather forecast turned out to be spot on. At roughly 3:30 I was mired in Boulder’s afternoon rush hour in balmy 83° sunshine.

I was hoping for better results on the time lapse. The Sprague Lake portion came out fine, with the possible exception of some spray hitting the lens. But the ridgetop sections don’t show any of the details of the clouds. The GoPro is just too wide-angle, and with the auto exposure it doesn’t handle changing light well at all. I haven’t been using the SLR since the cheap little tripod I was using broke. I guess I need to find a new tripod.

Fifth Lake – Day 2

Sunday, September 2

We were up and shortly after 6:30. In theory, as neither of us planned on a hot breakfast, we should have been able to start our journey to Fifth Lake well before eight. In practice, it wasn’t until 8:30 that we put boots on trail. We packed everything up into our packs which we left at the campsite partially covered by a log in case it rained.

On last month’s trip I packed my day pack in the backpack. After posting that trip report, Ed mentioned that he had a Kelty pack that had a day pack incorporated into it. After playing around with mine I discovered that mine did as well. I don’t like the little day pack bit as much as my lumbar pack, but I’d certainly give it a try. Not having to carry the extra equipment would save me some space and weight.

So in the little pack I carried a bottle of water, some food, and my rain jacket. Somehow I neglected to put the GoPro in it. I was a bit disappointed in my forgetfulness, but I didn’t want to turn around to get it.

Lake Verna pano

When I see pictures my other hiking friends post online I’ll admit I’m a bit jealous that they get so many shots of lakes with mirror-smooth surfaces. As a day-hiker, I’m never at any lakes early enough to see them before there’s any breeze. So I was quite pleased to see Lake Verna and Spirit Lake in such calm conditions. This is definitely an advantage that offsets carrying a heavy pack and sleeping on the ground.

Gordon on the beach at Lake Verna

Another distinct but mistaken memory I have is of the trail between Spirit Lake and Fourth Lake. I vividly recall coming to a split in the trail and having to choose whether to step across the stream and cross a meadow or stay to the left. I went right and ended up in a bit of a marsh. I navigated to higher ground, then found another game trail that deposited me in another marshy meadow. Today I came across no such split in the trail, and where I expected to find two or three meadows found only one.

Spirit Lake and ‘Aiguille de Fleur’

That is not to say that there weren’t any splits in the trail. As one progresses farther west from Spirit Lake the trail often becomes braided. Part of this is due to the many downed trees to be negotiated. In a number of places I took one fork of trail and Gordon took the other. We always came back together after a few dozen yards. So although the trail becomes indistinct and braided, it doesn’t really seem to matter.

Spirit Lake

After Fourth Lake, East Inlet makes a turn to the south. Or, rather, flowing down a steep hill, the stream turns from flowing north to flowing west. The trail is quite faint after Fourth Lake but not terribly difficult to follow. For quite a while it continues east and goes straight up the slope. A fair way up the hill we decided it was time to strike off the trail and back towards the stream.

Fourth Lake

Route finding was simple and we found ourselves hopping from rock to rock until we arrived at the stream itself. Although it’s called East Inlet, here I want to call it the outlet, as it’s the outlet of Fifth Lake. In early September the flow is quite diminished but based on the color of the rocks you can tell that the stream often flows much higher. We arrived on the shore of Fifth Lake by about 10:15.

The morning sky was still almost cloudless, so had I not forgotten the GoPro I wouldn’t have had a very interesting time-lapse. A few jetliners crossed the sky leaving contrails that dispersed into fat white ribbons and a half moon floated above the opposite ridge. Much of the lake was still in the shadow of the spectacular ridge of the Continental Divide. As the sun rose, it didn’t so much climb above the ridge as traverse it, moving behind first one peak then another, putting us alternately in shade, then sun, then shade again.

Fifth Lake

We weren’t the only ones there. A lone fisherman was working his way around the lake, casting his line in several different places. After about half an hour we headed back down. Arriving at Fourth Lake we spotted two moose wading across the lake. We kept an eye on them and they kept an eye on us. Gordon suggested they might be the same two moose we saw yesterday. If we made it here, they certainly could have too. I have my doubts that they’re the same moose but who knows.

Gordon scanned the opposite shore with is binoculars and spotted a bull moose in the trees. If Gordon hadn’t pointed him out to me I’d have never seen him. I could see him but any picture I took with the cell phone wouldn’t show him. The moose worked their way to the outlet stream and we found our paths converging.

Moose wading in Fourth Lake

Here we met a couple guys hiking up. They left the trailhead at seven this morning, arriving here at Fourth Lake at 11:40. They didn’t realize where they were. Their goal was Spirit Lake. I told them they were at Fourth Lake, gave them my map, and suggested they try to get to Fifth Lake. I somewhat expected to see them again on our hike out as they were moving quite a bit faster than us, but we never did see them again so I don’t know if they made it.

Pika

We were back at the campsite a bit before 1:00. This is somewhat later than I was hoping but not a concern. It took us about five hours to get here yesterday, and I typically don’t hike out any faster than I hike in. That could mean we don’t get back to the car until six. But we make it to Lone Pine Lake in half an hour and don’t take any breaks until we crossed the bridge over the river another half hour below Lone Pine. We stopped there for more water.

About ten minutes before reaching the bridge I heard quite a loud noise somewhere below us. I can’t really describe it, and at the time I had no idea what it was. My first thought was that it was man-made, but I couldn’t imagine how it was made. I didn’t give it any more thought until a couple hundred yards down the trail from our break at the bridge. A dead tree had fallen across the river, landing on a large rock slab that the trail crossed. The trunk had been burned, was black. Where it hit the rock it was broken in a couple places. Broken but not quite shattered. This, obviously, was the source of the noise.

I was a bit surprised at the number of hikers on the trail. My last visit I only saw a handful of people. But that was a weekday and this is a holiday weekend. Still, the number of people hiking up toward Lone Pine Lake this late in the day was unexpected. Closer to the trailhead, one couple asked me how far to the lake. I told them we’d been hiking for about two hours; they turned right around. Another woman passed us asking if the moose was still there. Last moose we saw was at Fourth Lake.

Yours truly, crossing a bridge just above Lone Pine Lake

We finally made it back to the car at around 4:30, maybe a little later. It felt like a long day. I won’t say the last two miles were agony, but I really struggled. But every worthwhile thing has a cost. The valley of upper East Inlet is gorgeous: large, beautiful lakes beneath stunning peaks. We couldn’t have had much better weather. We had some threatening clouds but never got rained on, and when it was sunny it wasn’t hot.

Just another beautiful day (or two) in the neighborhood.

Fifth Lake – Day 1

East Inlet is a stream that flows roughly ten miles from the northern flank of Isolation Peak to the eastern shores of Grand Lake. There are five lakes along this stream, like beads on a string: Lone Pine Lake, Lake Verna, Spirit Lake, Fourth Lake, and Fifth Lake. They ran out of names.

I tried to get to Fifth Lake back in 2009. That was the first year that I kept a log of my hikes, but before I was blogging. I attempted it as a day hike, hitting the trail at 7:30 and reaching Fourth Lake at noon. As that was my “bingo” time, I stopped there, ate my picnic, then headed back. I returned to the car a bit before 5:00. Given that it might take about an hour to get to Fifth Lake from Fourth Lake, I figured it was out of range for me for a day hike.

If I can’t do it in one day, perhaps I should try it in two. So when March 1 rolled around I went online to make a reservation for one night at the Lake Verna campsite. I didn’t get my request but when I visited the back country office to make my reservation for zone camping for my Gorge Lakes hike, I managed to negotiate a good alternative. The Lake Verna campsite was booked up on all the dates I was interested in, but Upper East Inlet was available for September first. It’s just a couple tenths of a mile below Lake Verna so there’s no real functional difference.

The plan was to hike in to the campsite on day one, rise early on day two to get up to Fifth Lake and back to the campsite around noon, then hike back to the car. When I made the reservation, I didn’t have anybody lined up to accompany me but I booked it for two people anyway. About a week ago Gordon volunteered to go.

Saturday, September 1

Because we essentially had all day to get to Lake Verna we made a leisurely start, putting boots on the trail at about 10:00am.

It has been nine years since I hiked this trail but I have a few very distinct memories of it. I remember encountering a bull moose just below Lake Verna with a lame left front leg. I remember it being on a section of trail that traversed a rather steep treeless slope. There is no such section of trail. I’m the first to admit my memory isn’t the best, but in this case it’s a pretty disappointing mismatch. As to the rest of the trail, only a couple of short sections of that hike stayed with me. So in a sense, much of it was somewhat like being on a trail I’d never hiked before.

On that hike long ago, I found a moose in the marshy meadow quite near the trailhead. Today we found two moose even closer to the start. They were quite near the trail. Almost too close for comfort when I realized it was a cow and yearling calf. I probably have that nomenclature wrong. It was a young moose, but now nearly fully grown. I know moose can be unpredictable and wouldn’t want to get between mother and calf.

These two were quite calm, probably used to being in the presence of people. The only other time I’ve been this close to a moose was that earlier encounter on this trail with the lame one. We quietly watched them for a few minutes and took a few pictures. As they slowly worked their way into the trees and away from the trail, the cow let out an odd little moan, then pooped. I realized I’ve never knowingly seen moose poo before. Last year I learned that much of what I’ve taken for years to be deer poo is actually llama poo. This year I learned that moose poo looks a lot like horse poo.

Lone Pine Lake is the first lake in the chain, 5.3 miles and 1500 vertical feet from the trailhead. The first two miles or so follow the stream as it meanders through a broad marshy valley and gains only about a hundred feet. After that easy first two miles, the trail climbs about 1400 feet in just over three miles. This section of trail goes through some fairly rugged country, and the trail between here and just above Lone Pine Lake is what I’d call “highly engineered”. There are a number of stretches where you climb rather a long series of stone stairs.

When we got to the campsite it seemed to me like we’d climbed a thousand of these stairs. That’s a ridiculous number, obviously. When we got to the first of these on the way down I asked Gordon how many he thought there were. “I don’t know. 232?” I said it seemed like a thousand, even though that was an exaggeration. I said that I didn’t intend to count them, but then went ahead and counted anyway. I lost track a couple of times, but by the time we got back to the car I’d counted 725. The actual number is probably between 700 and 750. Those are just the obviously engineered stairs and doesn’t include the many rocks that naturally lie on the trail or are set to divert rain water off the trail.

In addition to the many stairs, there are long lengths of trail that lie on top of carefully built stone walls. There are also some spots where the trail was laid on a ledge that was carved out of large rock outcroppings. Some serious work went into constructing this trail. I really appreciate it, as when looking at the terrain from below it doesn’t look like the kind of country I would be willing to cross without a trail.

I don’t know the fire history of this area. None of it has burned since 2000, but there’s a pretty good section that looks to me as if it has recently burned. There aren’t any large swaths of dead trees, but the tree trunks for quite a stretch of trail look like they’ve seen some fire. There’s one stretch of stone stairs that I recall quite well from before and through here it seemed to me that there were quite a few more downed trees now than then.

We stopped for a rest perhaps half way up the climb to Lone Pine Lake. That’s not half the trail distance, but half the climb, so maybe three and a half miles in. To that point I thought we were making pretty good time. But carrying the pack was starting to wear me out. We took another break at Lone Pine Lake. I really struggled to get there, as I wanted to stop about half an hour earlier. But Gordon took the lead for a while and convinced me to continue until we arrived at the lake.

Lone Pine Lake

It was nearly 2:00 when we got to the lake, and we paused for about fifteen minutes. The weather forecast for the area called for a 60% chance of rain in the afternoon, with some snow possible overnight (with “little to no accumulation of snow”). The skies by now were clearly threatening, with the occasional rumble of thunder. So we didn’t delay too long.

It’s just over a mile and a half from Lone Pine Lake to Lake Verna, and our campsite is a couple tenths below Verna, so we didn’t have much farther to go. Verna, Spirit, and Fourth lakes lie in a valley that hangs above Lone Pine. There’s not much elevation between those three lakes, but the trail climbs a bit over two hundred feet in the next half mile or so. This is another highly engineered stretch of trail that includes a few bridges and a rather large retaining wall. The trail tops out on a rock outcropping with a nice view of Lone Pine Lake.

Above Lone Pine Lake

From here to the campsite it’s pretty easy walking; a nearly straight line for about two thirds of a mile. The campsite itself is a few yards north of the trail, up another thirty or forty feet. It looks like a number of rather large dead trees have recently toppled, their thin disks of soil and roots standing upright. The large trees were dead, but in toppling they took with them some young, live trees. These were still green, so they haven’t been down for very long. I’m sure that if anybody was in the campsite when the trees came down it was quite thrilling.

Upper East Inlet campsite

After we set up camp we headed to Lake Verna. On last month’s trip, I carried two full bottles of water. This time I carried both bottles but only one was full. I figured we’d never be far from a water source so I didn’t need to carry the extra weight, but at camp I’d probably want to have more than one bottle of water, given I’d use something like half a bottle to cook my meal. After I filled my bottle, we sat there and watched the world go by for a little while.

Lake Verna, early evening

Back in camp Gordon surprised me by pulling a couple cans of beer out of his pack: Left Hand Brewing Traveling Light Kolsch. Much the way that I find a peach always seems to taste best when on the shores of an alpine lake, I was quite satisfied with this tasty little Kolsch, even though it was warm.

By sunset the clouds had cleared and by the time I turned in, the first stars in the night sky were shining brightly above us. Had I tried to stay up long enough, I might have seen a little sliver of the Milky Way as the moon wouldn’t rise for a few hours yet. I was happy that the 60% chance of rain hadn’t materialized, other than a few sprinkles when we sat at Lake Verna. With no clouds overhead at sunset, I was confident we wouldn’t get rain (or snow!) overnight.