Mirror Lake

Before I started this blog I had been posting trip reports to a forum for lovers of Rocky Mountain National Park. This is one of those reports, with only minor edits for clarity.

Hike date: 12 August 2012 — Originally posted: 13 August 2012 – 11:25 PM

Sunday I hiked to Mirror Lake.

I don’t normally say anything about the drive to the trailhead, but I’ll make an exception this time. The Corral Creek trailhead is 8.5 miles up Long Draw Road from CO 14, which passes through Poudre canyon. The Poudre river and CO 14 were the battle lines on the north side of the recent High Park fire. I nearly wrote that this was my first time through the canyon since the fire, but that overstates it. I’ve lived in Colorado for something like 33 years and this was my first trip up this road. I’ve been on a number of other roads in the area, once with the Lotus club through Rist Canyon this spring. (I have video of that drive and intend to go there again soon. I’ll see if I can put together a before/after video of the fire damage) There are a number of “Thank You Fire Fighters!” signs still posted. Some mountains are completely burned but most places in the canyon are burned in a mosaic pattern. Burned areas are black – black tree trunks and black ground – and are surrounded by brown borders; trees that are clearly dead, baked by the fire. Undamaged forest is outside these brown borders.

Long Draw road is near mile marker 69, well west of the burn area. This is a dirt road, well maintained but a sign at the junction indicates it’s a “Level 6” road. That has something to do with how often it’s plowed in winter, but the sign is quite verbose and I didn’t bother to read it. I also missed the first sign that says the road will be closed indefinitely beginning August 14 due to logging operations. If you want to hike in this area, better find out if the road is open. For anybody in the Denver area planning to hike here, note that it’s a three hour drive from the northern suburbs. I can make it to trailheads on the west side of the park in about two hours, so this one is probably the longest drive from here. I’d hate do drive 3 hours only to find the road is closed.

The hike is about six miles from trailhead to lake, but only about a thousand feet of net elevation gain. I figured I’d be able to make pretty good time, being it’s a pretty level trail and guessed I could make the lake in three hours. Working back, that meant arriving at the trailhead by 8:30 or so, which meant a 5:30 departure from the house. Again, assuming a two mile per hour pace, I should be able to spend an hour at the lake and make it back to the car by 3:30 and home by 6:30. For once, I managed to keep pretty close to the plan.

The first mile of the trail is outside the park. From the trailhead, it descends about 300 feet to a spot near the confluence of the Poudre and Hague’s Creek. The area is comprised of wide, U-shaped valleys with large meadows with the trail running along the edge of the forest. The park boundary is right at the Cache la Poudre and the park boundary sign is nailed to the first tree on the park side of the bridge.

After a couple of miles and another bridge (crossing Hague’s Creek), the trail leaves the valley floor and climbs the side of a ridge. This middle third of the hike is where all the elevation gain is made. There are a couple of short sections which each climb about 400 feet. The final third of the hike is again more or less level. After the climb the trail meets the stream coming from Mirror Lake as it passes through its own series of meadows. Here the trail gets a little vague, I even lost it once or twice by the campgrounds. Shortly after the third Mirror Lake campground, you climb up some rocks and are deposited on the shore of the lake beside the outlet. The lake is bigger than I was anticipating. It lies beneath some unnamed mountains and if you look along the outlet stream you get a nice view of the Mummy range in the distance. The hike doesn’t really have any great views as it forested the whole way. The forest is fairly thin, with lots of green ground cover.

I encountered a park ranger and seven other hikers all day. And I ran into all of them on the short spur trail between the Mummy Pass trail and the lake; nobody at all the rest of the way. I was expecting to see moose but they were all elsewhere. The only wildlife I saw was a grouse that crossed the trail in front of me early in the morning. At least I think it was a grouse – he (she?) blew up some sacs in his throat and made a sort of bullfrog noise. Even though the forest here is fairly thin, there were still several trees that had fallen and blocked the trail. On the hike out, I was doing some calculations, trying to come up with the odds of having a tree fall on me. “If tree X is going to randomly fall over this month, what are the chances I’m walking by when it happens?” I’m figuring most dead trees fall over during storms, or when it’s windy and working through an estimation of the number of dead trees on any given mile of trail. As I’m working through this, on this nice calm day, I’m approaching a dead tree. There’s an odd noise and I look up to see a branch falling off! I easily jumped out of the way, but I have to say it was a bit freaky to have this happen given my train of thought.

All in all, a wonderful day. The weather was excellent and the hike quite pleasant.

Keplinger Lake FAIL

Before I started this blog I had been posting trip reports to a forum for lovers of Rocky Mountain National Park. This is one of those reports, with only minor edits for clarity.

Hike date: 04 August 2012 — Originally posted: 05 August 2012 – 12:22 PM

Lewis W. Keplinger was a student of John Wesley Powell at Illinois State Normal University. Keplinger was a member of Powell’s expedition that first successfully climbed Long’s Peak in late August of 1868. The group first attempted the summit by starting near what is now Lake Powell. They climbed the sharp ridge that connects McHenry’s Peak with Chiefs Head and Pagoda Mtn. They found themselves cut off from their destination by “impassable chasms.” They retreated and made camp near Sandbeach Lake. The next day, Keplinger set off on his own to reconnoiter. He found a couloir winding up the south flank and managed to reach within several hundred feet of the summit before returning to camp after dark. On August 23, the group set off on Keplinger’s route at 7am. In a couple of hours they had attained his highest point where another member of the party remarked that no man could scale the point and live. By 10am, the party made the summit, led by Keplinger.

The hike to Keplinger Lake has been on my list for a couple of years, but I’ve been a bit afraid to attempt it. It’s something like 4 miles of hiking off-trail, and as none of my friends wants to hike with me, I’ve been thinking it’s too much off-trail for me to go solo. But I finally talked myself into it.

I hit the Sandbeach Lake trailhead at 7:30, about a half hour later than I had intended. The forecast was for cool weather, perhaps some rain, and the sky was overcast on the drive up from Denver. There was one little bit of clear, blue sky visible to the west and as I hiked the clouds evaporated leaving a pleasant sunny day with scattered fluffy clouds. The hike to Hunter’s Creek (about 3.2 miles) is pretty basic. The first section reminds me of the first part of the Lawn Lake trail – a fairly quick climb of about four hundred feet, then leveling out somewhat. I reached Hunter’s Creek at 9am.

A hiking report I found on another website said you head up the “faint” trail at Hunter’s Creek. This trail is quite easy to follow, except for the occasional spot where it is interrupted by recent deadfall. I’m guessing this trail is used mostly by folks climbing Long’s using Keplinger’s route, as to continue up Hunter’s Creek you must leave it where another stream meets the creek. From here on, there really isn’t any trail and the bushwhacking begins in earnest.

The forest thins out about this point and soon the hiker is presented with a nice view of Pagoda Mtn. The creek climbs steadily but not very steeply. I found it was often easier hiking to stay ten or twenty yards away from the creek. Before long a large snow bank becomes visible on the flank of Mt. Orton. The creek bends a bit to the right (north) and leads you into… not krummholz exactly, but the same sort of stuff – waist deep shrubbery. I found my way to an outcropping of rocks which put me on the southern shore of the unnamed lake lying about 11,200′. The view was incredible. By now it was 11:30. After a quick look around, I decided the best way to continue to Keplinger would be to back track a bit and cross Hunter’s Creek. I also decided it would take me another hour to reach my destination. Faced with another hour of hiking, or sitting here enjoying the view and eating my picnic lunch, I decided to save Keplinger Lake for another day.

Here’s a time lapse. It’s becoming clear to me that the GoPro isn’t up to the task. The automatic exposure control wreaks havoc on the results; whenever clouds shadowed the camera, it overexposed the view of Pagoda and Long’s. Oh well.

After about an hour I headed back down. I felt great all day, never particularly fatigued, and was making better time than normal at the end of the day. That ended when I got to that steep part just above the trail head. Dang big steps played havoc with my knees.

I didn’t make it to my intended destination, but I learned a few things. I know the route and know that it’s not as difficult as I had feared. The trip report I had read said it would take 8 hours at a fast pace. Clearly, it will take me a bit longer (I was on the trail 8.5 hours and fell a mile or so short) so maybe it’s more like 10 hours. If I can put boots on the trail by 7, I should be able to hit the lake by noon.

Frozen Lake

Before I started this blog I had been posting trip reports to a forum for lovers of Rocky Mountain National Park. This is one of those reports, with only minor edits for clarity.

Hike date: 14 July 2012 — Originally posted: 16 July 2012 – 09:40 AM

Blown down area [1]

Ed and I hiked to Frozen Lake on Saturday. The weather in the morning was quite nice but by the time we arrived at the lake storm clouds were promising a damp afternoon. We got sprinkled on a bit at the lake, then off and on until we got back down to Black Lake, where sprinkles turned into about an hour of rain.

Getting to Frozen Lake means I’ve now visited all 8 lakes in Glacier Gorge. Not a rare accomplishment, by any means, but satisfying nonetheless.

[An area between Black Lake and Mills Lake was hit by a micro-burst in late autumn of 2011. I first hiked through there in March of 2012.] The blown down area is much larger than I remember from when I

Blown down area [2]

hiked to Black Lake back on St. Patrick’s day.

I’m guessing it’s perhaps a mile long. A bit hard to tell the full extent of the damage as the dead trees are still fairly green. Many of the downed trees still have sizable chunks of earth attached to the roots. I’d say “root ball” but that overstates the amount of soil. More like “root disk” as many of these are only a few inches thick. In some cases, a six or eight foot section of the trail is now standing vertical next to bare rock.

Clearly, many hours were spent cutting trees from the trail. Also, clearly, trees are still falling over. as there are a couple of places where trees are blocking the trail. The downed trees aren’t uniformly

Blown down area [3]

pointing the same direction; many trees survived the initial winds but have been knocked over subsequently.

There was quite a bit of traffic to and from Frozen Lake. We took a short break when we arrived at Black Lake and within a few minutes there were more than a dozen people with us. Later, we chatted with several groups of climbers who summited the Spearpoint. And one couple recognized Ed. They had run into him on an earlier hike.

When we got to the top of the climb above Black Lake, we ran into a hiker coming down from Frozen. He went up closer to the Spearhead but descended

Frozen Lake panorama

Blue Lake in the distance

farther to the west and recommended this route as somewhat easier. We followed his suggestion. I have no basis for comparison, so I can’t say for sure it was an easier way, but on the way down we did get down quite a bit faster than two pairs of climbers who went the other way.



Here’s the time lapse. Cloud motion here is subtle compared to most of the others I’ve done. It starts to sprinkle half way through and you can see the raindrops hit the lens, then dry out.


Bluebird Lake

Before I started this blog I had been posting trip reports to a forum for lovers of Rocky Mountain National Park. This is one of those reports, with only minor edits for clarity.

Hike date: 23 June 2012 — Originally posted: 26 June 2012 – 09:54 AM

Much of this trail passes through the Ouzel fire burn area and thus has no shade, so it’s not clear to me that Bluebird Lake was the best place to hike on one of the hottest days of the year. I’ve decided to avoid the construction on Bear Lake road for a while longer, and my last hike was from Lawn Lake so I figured Wild Basin was the place to be. I could just as easily have selected Lion Lake but I’ve been there a couple of times and never made it to Bluebird Lake.

Last spring I attempted Bluebird but stopped at the avalanche debris field. I probably could have wandered around and found the trail, but there was still quite a bit of snow and I thought it the debris field was quite interesting so I sat there and had my picnic, listening to the melt water cascade down the slope under the snow and seeing things settle while I sat there.

I hit the trail at 8am, the parking lot about half full. It was a pleasant morning and I only encountered a few people on the crowded part of the trail from the parking lot to Ouzel Falls. While passing through the burned areas below the falls I was thinking that in perhaps another 20 years you wouldn’t know there was a fire there. I made pretty good time, reaching the falls in just over an hour. I stopped there for a few minutes to slather on some SPF 3000 before navigating the next section of trail where there’s no shade.

I arrived at the spur trail to Ouzel Lake at 10am. My earlier thought that 20 more years would erase much of the fire damage may be true lower down, but here it will likely be another century. It may be my feeble memory, but I’m thinking the aspen on the top of the ridge here have grown noticeably in the last year, but on the slopes above the trail there’s still nothing but grass and dead tree trunks after 34 years.

A few minutes later I passed through last year’s avalanche debris. If I hadn’t known it was there I wouldn’t have noticed it. There was “fresh” sawdust where a couple of tree trunks were cut to clear the trail, but that’s about it.

There was almost no snow left on the trail, only about a hundred yards of it to cross just below the outlet of the lake. From Ouzel Falls to the lake, I only met four other people on the trail, not bad for a weekend. Two guys passed me going up, headed to summit either Copeland or Isolation (they hadn’t decided) and two solo women on their way down from Bluebird. Both noted that it was quite windy at the lake.

I reached Bluebird Lake at 11:30 and stayed nearly an hour. I set up the GoPro for a time lapse. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky in any direction. I heard the occasional jetliner pass overhead but even those left no contrails. (So there’s nothing to see in the resulting time lapse video.) It was quite breezy, but that’s more or less to be expected. There was also a rich insect life in evidence – swarms of gnats and mosquitoes. I had the choice of sitting out of the wind in a swarm of insects or out of the insects in the wind. I chose the wind.
On the way out the trail was much busier. Between the lake and the Ouzel trail spur I passed maybe 20 people, and obviously the lower sections of the trail were quite busy with folks wearing flip flops and carrying little or no water.

I never saw any smoke from either the fire in Estes (which I didn’t learn about until later) or the High Park fire. And not a cloud in the sky all day.

I was to meet my brother for a beer at Oskar Blues in Lyons but my wife had called him to tell him about the fire on High Drive. Neither of them knew exactly where the fire was, but they’d heard the south entrance to the park was closed so he headed up there to look for me. I always tell my wife where I’m hiking, but I’ve never thought to tell her where I’m driving. So I had to sit and drink beer for a while before my brother arrived.

Ypsilon Lake

Before I started this blog I had been posting trip reports to a forum for lovers of Rocky Mountain National Park. This is one of those reports, with only minor edits for clarity.

Hike date: 30 May 2012 — Originally posted: 01 June 2012 – 01:00 PM

Looks like I won’t have a chance for any more weekday hikes for a few months, so I had to get one more in. I didn’t want to deal with Bear Lake road so I decided Ypsilon Lake was a good choice. I wasn’t sure how far I wanted to go – perhaps I’d head up to Chiquita Lake or scout the route to Spectacle Lakes.

There was no snow on the trail until about Chipmunk Lake. From there on, there wasn’t a lot of snow but what was there was rotten. Many times I stepped where it looked like it had supported many hikers before me only to posthole to mid-thigh. Not a big deal, but it made for a few surprises. The weather was pretty good, mostly sunny and not too cool or too warm but the wind was fairly annoying. Once to Ypsilon I sat for a while to do a time lapse. After that I headed to the inlet. Quite a bit more snow there so I decided not to go any further. Back at Chipmunk I did another time lapse.

Every time I try one of these I learn a little bit more. My last few hikes I’ve carried a small tripod. It gives a bit more flexibility on camera placement and keeps the camera from moving. As long as I make sure to anchor the tripod properly in the wind. The camera is automatic everything so I’m a bit stuck. I’ve noticed issues with the exposure before, but nothing too extreme. This time there are definitely some overexposed frames. I’m wondering it will work better if the camera is in the shade. In any event, I really don’t want to manually edit the exposure on dozens of pictures.

Anyway, here’s the end result:

Castle Lake

Before I started this blog I had been posting trip reports to a forum for lovers of Rocky Mountain National Park. This is one of those reports, with only minor edits for clarity.

Hike date: 15 October 2011 — Originally posted: 16 October 2011 – 09:18 PM

My latest hike was to Castle Lake. I went Saturday (10/15) and the weather was fabulous. To get to Castle Lake, the Foster guide says to go to Lion Lake #1 and contour around a prominent bench. I was thinking it should be pretty easy to get to Castle Lake by striking northeast from the trail, rather than going all the way to Lion Lake #1. Without GPS it’s not that simple. Although the lake is only 500-600 feet from the trail, there’s just no way to know where to leave the trail unless you’ve been there before. This is another lake I could easily imagine hasn’t been visited before. No trail, no cairns.

Castle Lake has no inlet streams and no outlet stream. At this time of year, the water level is quite low. It has also begun to ice over, even though it hasn’t been particularly cold yet. There is some snow on the ground – I first came across it on the trail at perhaps 10,000 feet. Seldom more than a few inches deep it didn’t cause any navigational issues. At the lake, I found a few “drifts” that were perhaps a foot deep. I didn’t see any large wildlife, but I did follow some deer tracks through the snow on my way back to the trail.

This time I carried a small GoPro HD video camera with me. Turns out it’s not a particularly good tool for landscape photography, as it has a very wide angle lens. The only useable footage was when I played with the time lapse feature while I was eating my lunch. Here’s 22 minutes compressed to 22 seconds:

This was only my second time up the Lion Lake trail. I really like this trail, at least the part from the Thunder Lake trail to Lion Lake. The forest isn’t dense, so you sometimes get glimpses of the surrounding mountains. Very pretty.

Chiquita Lake

Before I started this blog I had been posting trip reports to a forum for lovers of Rocky Mountain National Park. This is one of those reports, with only minor edits for clarity.

Hike date: 30 September 2011 — Originally posted: 01 October 2011 – 07:23 PM

Yesterday I hiked to Chiquita Lake. The weather was glorious – clear blue skies, not even a hint of afternoon showers. It was a bit breezy in the morning but mellowed out nicely before I got out of the trees. It was my first hike to Chiquita and my navigation was a bit off. After enjoying the falls just above Ypsilon’s inlet I managed to find a rock outcropping with the only view I got of Ypsilon Lake. I found a couple of log bridges over the stream but I stayed on the left side, or at least I thought I did. Before long I reached a pretty falls on the right side of the valley. In retrospect, I think this must be the stream from Spectacle Lakes, but at the time I thought I was well beyond where that stream should have been. By now I had climbed a fair bit from the valley floor, so I traversed the slope toward the top of the valley.

Only near Ypsilon did I find anything remotely resembling a trail. I didn’t see any cairns the whole way. But it was fairly easy hiking at this time of year. The ground cover had been knocked down (don’t know what kind of plants – I’m not a plant guy, but they’d probably have been waist deep had they not all been bent over).

I hit the trail a few minutes before 8am, was at Ypsilon by 10:30, and at Chiquita by 12:15. That last 8/10’s of a mile was a bit slow, but very enjoyable. It only took me an hour to get back to Ypsilon as I went a more direct route. The outlet of Chiquita was interesting – I couldn’t see the stream at all. It flows under a jumble of rocks for a few hundred yards. I could hear the water the whole time, but it wasn’t a visible stream until back in the trees.

Chiquita Lake

When I got back to Roaring River, I couldn’t help but notice the freakishly tall aspen trees there. These things must be 50′ tall, with no limbs until 30′ above ground. Here’s a vertical panorama (is that an oxymoron?) that doesn’t do them justice:

Tall Aspen