Snow Lake

I’ve been wanting to do this hike for a few weeks. Although the hike neither starts nor ends inside the park, it’s in Foster’s guide. And we did make a short side trip to walk a few paces inside the park, so it goes on my list of RMNP lakes.

Saturday, July 15

The trailhead for this hike is up a dirt road a few miles on the west side of Cameron Pass. Google tells me it’s two and three-quarter hours from my house. It’s a fairly short hike, 3.9 miles to Snow Lake, so we didn’t have to leave too early. Not knowing what condition that dirt road is in, I arranged with Genae to take her car. But when Chad got here, he volunteered to drive. We hit the road in his Pilot at 6:30.

The hike is in the Colorado State Forest State Park. Yes, two “states”. It’s a fee area. There’s a box after we turned off the highway with a place for envelopes and a drop slot. You put your money in the envelope, take the carbon copy and deposit the envelope in the slot. But there were no envelopes, other than one that wouldn’t fit through the slot because it was full of quarters. So I Just chucked the money in the slot.

When we got to the parking lot we find another box, this one with a good supply of envelopes. I put the carbon in the window, scribbled “put cash in other box” on the envelope and put it in the slot.

The trail looks like it used to be an access road to the Michigan Ditch. It clearly hasn’t been used as such for quite a while, but it probably could still serve that need if required. I haven’t researched it, but I assume the Michigan Ditch is roughly the same vintage as the Grand Ditch a few miles south. The Michigan Ditch diverts water from the Agnes Lake drainage to the Cache le Poudre River.

We can assume the former access road the trail follows was built to provide access for the construction of the ditch. This would be roughly a century ago. I can’t help but wonder how big an operation it was. What sort of equipment did they have? How many men doing earthwork and how many more to support them in this remote area? How long did it take to build these ditches?

I’ve been to Grand Ditch twice. It was dry both times. Michigan Ditch was carrying quite a bit of water today; clear, clean, cold. Above the ditch, no longer an access road, the trail narrows and switches back a few times as it climbs. There are abundant open views of the surrounding mountains: all rounded and smooth, with no cliffs and very few rock outcroppings. The Rocky Mountains aren’t so rocky here.

There were a good number of vehicles at the trailhead, and a corresponding number of people on the trail. Being a state park, dogs are allowed, and the majority of hikers had dogs with them. When we arrived at lower Michigan lake, we met three hikers with a dog. They were sitting on the stone blocks that make the trail, stepping stones across the outlet instead of a bridge. They got up to let us pass, but the dog growled and barked at us, protecting the bridge from us.

Lower Michigan Lake

My map indicates the trail to Snow lake goes to the left, where it junctions with the trail to Thunder Pass and into the Park. So that’s where we went. We soon encountered a hiker who told us there is no junction, this trail goes over Thunder Pass. The map is old; today the trail to Snow Lake is on the other side of the lower lake.

Looking north from Thunder Pass

Knowing now that we’re on the trail to Thunder Pass, we make it a side trip. We cross a shallow trickle of a stream and about forty yards of snow. Signs at the top of the pass demarcate the Park boundary. The view to the south is quite nice, if unspectacular. With our backs to Michigan Lakes, all the mountains in sight are rounded tundra. The lower hairpins of Trail Ridge Road are visible in the middle distance. Longs Peak is not visible.

Rather than backtracking to the outlet of the lower lake for the trail to Snow Lake, we head cross country on a route that will take us gently up the slope to the top of the bench that holds the lake. I thought it was a pretty easy climb. I paused at one point to get my bearings and take in the view when I heard a noise at my feet. It’s typical to find marmots in these jumbles of rock. Usually they bark or chirp to sound the alarm then scamper under a rock. This guy came out onto the rock at my feet and posed for us.

We had to cross the outlet stream, but that wasn’t a problem. The water was mostly running underneath the rocks. Where it was on the surface, it was easily stepped across. There was no krummholz to deal with. The only willow in the area was only inches tall. Wildflowers were varied and abundant, but not particularly dense.

Just before cresting the bench we came across the trail from the lakes below. Here we found columbines covering the ground in front of us. There was a patch of white columbines. I’d heard of white ones, but had never seen any.

From there, it was just a few hundred feet to the lake. The lake sits in a rocky bowl, some snow still draping the rocks on the southern shore. The rocks on this side were two to six feet across, with many that might make nice picnic spots. We worked our way a short distance from the top of the trail where the other hikers tended to congregate.

We stayed at the lake for about an hour. Chad spotted a marmot maybe a hundred yards down the shore. The marmot soon started on his way toward us. He made pretty good time. He was on a mission. It wasn’t until he got fairly close before he worried about staying out of sight.

Two hikers arrived at the lake a minute before us and four or five came and left while we were there, the last leaving just a few minutes before us. We followed the trail down to the lower lake. Or, tried to, anyway. We lost the trail coming down the steep slope. This was pretty much straight up and down the slope; I much preferred the way we went up. I think we lost the trail after wading through waist deep willow. Approaching upper Michigan lake, we cross a talus field. Here, it turns out, the trail splits to a high road and a low road. We took the high road, not really noticing. We were on a trail that went along the top of a ridge line; the other path went beside the lake shore.

Below the lakes we came across three women standing on the trail. They’d spotted a cow moose. We paused briefly and when we continued slowly down the trail the moose was working her way parallel to us a ways off the trail. When we got a bit ahead of her she bolted the opposite way. The three women were behind us, one asking “Was that a moose?”

Back near the ditch we encountered some bicyclists. They had been riding the service road beside the ditch and evidently decided to take a little side trip. Their gear and clothing all looked brand new and they seemed out of place to me. I suspect they didn’t get far up the trail before turning around. I suspect they were much more comfortable along the ditch.

We were back to Ft. Collins by five, where we tracked down first some beers, then tacos. It was a most pleasant day.

Lake Haiyaha

Saturday, July 1

It has been a while since I visited Lake Haiyaha in the summer. I have been there many times, and the last three or four visits were in winter. For me, winter and summer trips to are so different that they may as well not have been the same place.

In winter, I follow a route that I’ve proven I’m unable to find on my own. I’ve successfully navigated to ninety lakes in the park, and I’ve spent a lot of time around Bear Lake. It doesn’t bother me that I haven’t been able to get there without a guide. On the contrary, it makes a common hike unusual. On these winter Haiyaha hikes we don’t encounter many other hikers, which is unusual for so close to Bear Lake.

And, of course, in winter the landscape is totally different. Some gullies get filled in, some drifts are twenty feet deep. You take different routes. In winter, at Haiyaha, the water level drops so much, massive shards of ice make volcano shapes around large no-longer-submerged boulders. So although I’ve been there four or five times in the last ten years, it’s been maybe ten years since I’ve been there in summer. It is time to face the crowds and go in summer.

It’s a short hike, so I didn’t need to be early. I’d park at the park and ride and shuttle to Bear Lake. The line for the bus was the longest I’ve ever seen it, but the wait wasn’t too bad. I was on the trail by 9:15. The route I always take is Bear Lake to Nymph and Dream, then to Haiyaha. The return is down to the Loch Vale trail junction, then either the Fire Trail or by Alberta Falls to the Glacier Gorge bus stop.

Between Bear Lake and the trail junction at Dream Lake, a distance of 1.1 miles, I passed over a hundred people. This is people were standing or sitting trailside or hiking in my direction. Not many people going the other way. Conga-line hiking.

From Dream to the bridge over the outlet of Haiyaha it was much better. I could still hear the voices of people on the trail below. My original plan was to go above Haiyaha a little way up Chaos Canyon. Michael and I did that last time we came here. You get a nice view of the lake, but eastern views are not the most dramatic here. With that in mind, I came across a family sitting on a log, taking selfies. They were right next to a fairly obvious trail, which I followed.

The trail petered out after a while, but I easily traversed a small ridge and made my way to the northern shore of Lake Haiyaha. I’d never been on this side before. The trail dumps you into a large pile of boulders. There’s no shore. Here there are many places one could dip their feet into the water, and there is shade, if you want it. I worked my way a bit farther to the west and found a nice spot with a view of Long’s Peak, a much more interesting horizon than up the canyon above the lake. And, best of all, no neighbors.

Spiders construct substantial webs between the boulders. Sometimes they can be hard to spot. One day, traversing a large talus field, the light was just right. I could spot them from several feet away, and see the spider scramble from the center to safety on the rock as I approached. To say that Lake Haiyaha features a rich insect life might be to understate it. Here, today, the spider webs were easy to spot – they all had dozens of captured insects.

I found a nice spot to relax, a seat in the shade and three feet away a seat in the sun with the flank of Otis Peak front and center, the top of the canyon to the right, capped with heavy cornices of snow, and the erect nipple of Long’s Peak to the left. There was a cloud of gnats not far to my left, but they stayed where they were and didn’t annoy me. The occasional horse fly or curious bee made a visit, but no mosquitoes.

I brought both GoPros with me and the cell phone but not the SLR. I tried to get a picture of the laden spider webs but the cell phone isn’t up to it. I was game to get some nice time lapse footage but there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. Pretty blue skies, but just a shade on the hazy side due to wildfires in Utah. But it was clearly particulate matter and not water – passing jetliners’ contrails spanned fingers only a few inches apart, held at arms length.

I reached my spot at 10:10. I didn’t have any other plans for the day, so in theory I could sit here for something like four hours and still get home by 5:00. Surely in the next hour or hour and a half, some clouds would start bubbling up along the divide.

There was nobody on my side of the lake, but twenty or thirty at any given time on the other side. When the wind was calm, or a light breeze blew across the lake to me, I could hear snippets of their conversations. They were a chatty bunch.

At 11:30 I saw a tiny wisp of cloud above Half Mountain so I started up one of the cameras. This little wisp struggled only a short while, lived only a few minutes. I let the camera run, in case it might make a comeback. Alas, it was the only cloud I saw until I was off the trail at 1:45.

Shortly after noon I decided it was time to pack up. Nothing was happening in the sky. Normally, I sit at a lake for thirty minutes to an hour. I’d been here two hours and enjoyed every minute of it. But now I was hearing voices on my side of the lake, somewhere to my east.

On the way to the trail I found the people I’d heard a few minutes before. I surprised them when I greeted them on my way out. As usual, I headed out the back way toward the Loch Vale trail junction. I wasn’t sure yet whether I’d go by Alberta Falls or take the shortcut. I had this section of trail, from the lake to the junction, all to myself. My solitude ended as soon as I hit the main trail again. Any doubt I had as to my way back evaporated like that tiny wisp of cloud. I’d take the shortcut and avoid the hundreds of people on the trail.

I’m happy that I can hike to a place I’ve been to many times before and still get some pleasure out of it. I’m reluctant to take these shorter hikes in summer because of the crowds. Today was probably one of the busiest days of the year. On my way out of the park, the line of cars at the entrance station stretched to just a few yards short of the Beaver Meadows visitor center. Cars were parked illegally along long stretches of Bear Lake Road, and all the parking lots and pullouts were full. And yet, I was able to find a few yards of quiet trail in the busiest part of the park.

Just another beautiful day in the park.

Bluebird Lake, Almost

Sometime last year my Eagle/Box trip got a few dozen hits in just a couple of days from a MeetUp group, the Grey Wolves. So I joined. I figured if there was a group that went to Eagle Lake, they’d likely go somewhere new for me.

Sunday, June 18

The original plan was that Chad and I would head to American/Michigan Lakes near Cameron Pass. His plans changed. Then I saw an invite from the Grey Wolves for a Bluebird Lake hike. Bluebird Lake isn’t new for me, but could make for a good test drive for joining the group. I’ve been there a couple of times, and will need to go again to collect my last two Wild Basin lakes: Junco and Isolation.

The first time I tried to get to Bluebird was in mid-June of a snowy year. I didn’t make it much past Ouzel. I walked into an avalanche debris field. The avalanche could have happened two days before or two weeks before, I had no idea. The snow was like a giant pine sno-cone. Trees were reduced to their elements – tree trunks, snapped like toothpicks, with no limbs and all the bark stripped off. Branches and twigs of all sizes. All mixed up. The entire forest smelled like a lumber mill. Water coursed down the slope, everywhere, audible under the mass of snow and rubble. It was almost alive. Over the course of eating my picnic, the debris pile visibly settled.

A once in a lifetime experience, no doubt.

Prior to the debris field hike, I attempted Ouzel in mid-June. That time, the section from the Thunder Lake/Ouzel Lake trail junction to the top of the ridge was snow, and the entire meadow below Ouzel was a complex of drifts. So I had a pretty good idea we’d have to hike four or five miles of snow, given the heavy late spring snows this year. Anyway, Bluebird sounded like a nice hike for a June day.

We met at Lyons and carpooled to the trailhead. Got there just in time, as we got the last few parking spaces. We were on the trail at 8. We maintained a nice pace on the trail, although we stopped more than I generally stop. We went through the little bypass for Copeland Falls, which I normally skip. But that’s okay, it’s a pleasant day. The water was running very high. Not the highest I’ve ever seen it, but close.

The lower part of the hike follows the river closely. The sheer volume of water demands attention. It roars. The amount of water was truly remarkable. We leave the river for a while when we cross it at Ouzel Falls. This is the first time I’ve been here since the 2013 floods. The bridge was out for a long time. I’m not sure when it got reopened, but it’s open now. They moved it a few yards downstream. And based on how high the old bridge was, I tried to visualize how high the water had to be to carry it off.

The new bridge is obscured by trees. The old bridge was sited to the left of the tree stump and the trail ran on this side of the log on the right.

We didn’t get to snow until we arrived in the area of my avalanche debris field. Somehow I was in the lead after we all deployed our micro spikes. Shortly thereafter, we arrived at a large rock outcropping. Water was cascading off it. Waterfalls everywhere. The sound of water was ubiquitous, torrents flowing beneath the banks of snow. Watch where you step in the low spots – snow melts from the bottom, often making delicate bridges.

In a few short weeks this area will be a riot of blue and yellow and red and white wildflowers. There are only yellow ones now, though, in bloom inches away from the snowbanks.

Leaving the outcropping we climb a gully to a large talus field. I’d forgotten about it and was thinking we were already approaching the lake. We had one more gully to climb. This final one is narrower and steeper. There is snow in it even into August. Today it’s a wall of snow maybe sixty feet high. I’ve been to the lake before, so I didn’t feel compelled to climb up it.

A few went up, but most of us had our picnics here. The narrow, steep gully on the right leads to Bluebird. The broader, shallow gully to the left leads to Junco. It’s still not clear to me the best route to Junco and this view of the terrain wasn’t terribly helpful, as it all looks so different with the snow.

After lunch we split up. Larry stayed at our picnic spot to wait for those who went all the way. I was in the early group to head back. Around Ouzel I kept my eyes peeled for moose. On the way up, hikers coming the other way reported moose nearby, but I don’t think any of us saw them. I was thinking there’s be a good chance they were still in the neighborhood. I didn’t spot them, but some of the others did.

I had both GoPros with me, but didn’t bother setting them up. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky until after 3pm. There weren’t even any jetliner contrails. The sun was brilliant but even on the exposed ridge wasn’t harsh, as it was still a cool, spring day.

I thoroughly enjoyed the day. I don’t normally do the same trail twice in a season, but I’m thinking I should try to get to Junco this summer. I’m thinking that the talus field below Bluebird Lake might be a good place to leave the trail and look for a route to Junco.

 

Lake Haiyaha

April 8, 2017

I don’t hike to very many places during the winter. Lake Haiyaha is one I’d like to visit more, but I can’t seem to figure out the route on my own. I used the summer route once, but I didn’t like it and won’t go that way again. So, until I get it figured out, I need navigational assistance. Thus far, that means I have Ed show me the way. This time, it was with a group of internet friends who get together once a year for just this purpose.

I went with the group a couple of years ago. It wasn’t the same group, really, but a different subset of the group. This time I got to meet for the first time a few of the folks I’ve known for a while online.

I find Haiyaha to be one of the more interesting lakes in the area during winter. The water level for all the lakes is reduced compared to summer, but the difference between summer and winter is greater here than any of the other lakes I visit, measured in feet rather than inches.

It was windy at the lake, as is expected this time of year, so we didn’t spend much time there. I set up the camera and we retreated back down the trail a bit for a sheltered picnic spot. When done eating, everybody started back down the trail. I went back to get the camera and caught up to them. I had to backtrack again. I wanted a sip of water and found that I had dropped my water bottle somewhere along the way, so I had to go back up the hill a way to find it.

The route isn’t well-traveled like most of the other places I go in winter. I don’t really care for snow shoes and on my other winter hikes I can get along just fine with microspikes instead. I asked Ed beforehand if spikes would be sufficient but he recommended the snow shoes. I was thinking it was bad advice until we were on the way back. In the morning, spikes would have worked just fine but with the sun beating down on the snow all day conditions got a bit different and I was glad I listened to Ed’s sage advice.

After the hike, Brent and I chatted over beers at the brew pub. The rest of the gang, plus others, got together for pizza later. Unfortunately, I felt the better use of my time was to go home and finish my taxes. Sometimes, adulting is hard.

 

Two Rivers Lake

Sunday, March 19

I talked Chad into hiking with me. Somehow, two weeks in a row. Last week we took the short hike to Emerald Lake. It snowed the whole time. I don’t know if it technically qualifies as a blizzard, but it was snowing and the wind was blowing. I told him it was some of the most dramatic scenery around. But we couldn’t see any of it.

After many months without hiking, followed by an unsatisfactory hike, I felt I had to do it again. So I asked Chad if he wanted to do another hike, a little longer this time, and hopefully better weather. He didn’t accept right away. Perhaps he finally agreed in spite of his better judgement.

It was a beautiful day, with a forecast high in Denver of over 80. One of the great things about hiking in the Park is that you can get away from the summer heat. It’s only March and it’s a bit distressing that I’m already looking to escape the heat. A March hike along the divide is one way to do it.

Before we hit the trail I warned Chad to be careful whose footsteps he follows. We’d be crossing a couple of open spaces where the footprints get blown away and the “beaten path” might be hard to find. And we need to stay on the beaten path because we’re wearing micro spikes rather than snowshoes. If we get off the path we could be postholing.

When we got to the first of these open areas we met a group of four hikers heading back to Bear Lake. They’d built an igloo and camped nearby. We didn’t find it until we were on the way back; must have walked right by it somehow. It was a big one – sleeps four!

We found ourselves on a fairly well-traveled path, but as we got closer to the lake I began to dislike it. We were following tracks that seemed to take a more difficult route than was necessary. We were climbing too far up Joe Mills Mountain for my taste. Before long we met another couple of hikers on their way back. These two said they visit Lake Helene quite often in the summer, even climbing up the canyon above it to a small unnamed pond beneath Notchtop.

Last year when I hiked here, everybody I ran into thought Two Rivers Lake was Odessa Lake. These two, who have visited here often in summer, told us that Helene was real close and that we’d already passed Two Rivers. They were wrong. What they thought was Helene was actually Two Rivers. It’s funny how a little snow can change the terrain.

Once at the lake, we found a spot out of the wind and settled down for a picnic. Actually, it was more standing around than settling down as all the snow-free rocks that would make nice seats were in the teeth of the strong wind. We opted for shelter in the trees, where there were no good places to sit. We stayed nearly an hour.

We followed a different set of footprints on the way back. On one of the steeper open slopes we spotted below us the route we followed in the morning. Then we managed to get off the tracks we were now following. I decided we were too high up the hillside and the tracks we really wanted to follow were below us. So I headed off into virgin snow.

I knew our morning route was below us but we were descending a bit more than I wanted to, so I decided to contour along the slope. With these warm, bright days and cold nights the snow was pretty crusty. Had to tread carefully, though, as I was often on the verge of breaking that crust and stepping crotch deep into the snow. A few minutes later we came across the beaten path again.

This morning when I told Chad he’d have to be careful whose footsteps he followed, I’m pretty sure he didn’t think I was warning him about me.

Shadow Mountain Tower

Sunday, October 16

Over beers last week I asked Chad if he wanted to go hiking. He agreed, and picked me up Sunday morning at seven.

The trail to the lookout tower starts at the East Shore Trailhead. This is my first hike from here. The trailhead is sited on the isthmus between Grand Lake and Shadow Mountain Lake. There is parking there for fifteen or twenty cars, bear-proof trash cans but no facilities.

We put boots on the trail at 9:30. I should say I put boots on the trail. Chad was wearing trainers. He was concerned they wouldn’t be adequate. I summitted Quandary in sneakers once and my feet were sore the next day. The trails on the west side of the park tend to have fewer rocks and roots than the east side, particularly at lower elevations. I figured he’d be okay.

The weather was pretty good. Denver’s forecast was for 80, sunny, and breezy so I figured 65 and windy at Grand Lake, so maybe 60 and windy at the tower. We passed through a cold inversion layer near Winter Park, upper thirties, but it was closer to fifty when we started. Skies clear but for some small, high, thin ones to the west. And it was windy. I wouldn’t say winds were fierce, but they were high and sustained. I was happy we’d be in the forest all day.

The first mile and a half of the hike is along the north-eastern shore of Shadow Mountain Lake. In a couple of places the trail is inches from the water. These spots were washed by breaking whitecaps today. The forest is mature – almost exclusively lodge pole pine, heavily beetle-killed. The tops of the trees were swaying through arcs of twelve or fifteen feet. We could hear them collide, making a sound like clapping two bowling balls together.

We made pretty good time to the trail junction, covering the 1.4 miles in half an hour. To get to the tower we take a left. The trail climbs to the top of a ridge. The forest on the eastern slope is younger. Mature trees are widely spaced and there is an abundance of smaller trees. I’m guessing a fire went through here half a century ago or so.

2016-10-16-12-01-54sThe tower isn’t on the summit of Shadow Mountain; it’s about a half mile to the west. It’s a stone tower with wooden stairs that wrap around it, leading to an observation deck. The building was built in 1932 and is in the National Register of Historic Places. The Foster guide says the observation deck “provides panoramic views of Shadow Mountain Lake, Grand Lake, and Lake Granby.” This is no longer true. Signs prohibit climbing the stairs due to structural concerns – rotted wood. A plastic ribbon hangs from the banister, no longer barring the way. I really wanted to go up to the deck but I was a good boy. Didn’t make it past the second step.

After our picnic break, we started back shortly after noon. The hike back was unremarkable, for the most part. Until we got back to the section along the lake shore. Dead trees cover forest floors everywhere, to some degree or another. On the Ypsilon Lake trail there’s a section where deadfall is like pick-up sticks. Not quite that bad here, but there are a lot of downed trees. And a lot of the standing trees are dead. I’m generally not concerned about falling trees. Certainly they fall all the time, but it’s a fairly infrequent event.

Of course, the trees don’t so much fall as get pushed over. We heard a lot of creaking wood as we walked down the trail. One dead tree right on the trail was leaning on a neighbor, splitting open at the base of the trunk. You could hear the wood complain as the wind worked on it. A bit later on we heard a crack and a short crash. I didn’t see it, but evidently one tree snapped and fell into the limbs of a neighbor. The crash would have had to be a few seconds longer had it fallen to the ground.

2016-10-16-13-28-49_stitch_resizeWe made it back to the car at two. Some sources say the hike is 4.8 miles each way. Foster has this at 5.4. My Fitbit recorded 22,761 steps for the round trip, so the Foster numbers look correct. With only a fifteen hundred foot net elevation gain it’s a fairly easy hike.

Chad survived without too much difficulty, although he said he wouldn’t have wanted to hike any farther in those shoes.

All in all, just another beautiful walk in the park.

Beyond Lost, Day 2

Sunday, September 11

I was awoken from a deep sleep by the wind. A gust came down on the tent, hitting it like a drum: boom! It was 12:30. The wind certainly didn’t die down at sunset. Listening to music, waiting for the stars to appear, I found a rock someone had placed next to a tree. It made a nice seat. Leaning up against the tree resulted in a rocking motion, the tree swaying considerably in the wind. The wind had mellowed a bit by the time I climbed into the tent but now there was nothing mellow about it.

From 12:30 to 6:30 I didn’t get much sleep. The tent only drummed once more but the wind gusted and raged the rest of the night. At 6:30 I heard an odd noise. Sounded like a snort. At first I thought it was an odd noise for the tent to make in the wind. But it sure sounded like a snort. A few minutes later I heard a couple more snorts, farther away now. Elk, perhaps? I didn’t hurry and by the time I got out of the tent there were no critters in sight.

I had breakfast and took down the tent and packed everything but the bear vault into the pack. When I was done I stepped through the trees to the lake and met one of the guys in the big group. Yesterday, four or five of them went up the canyon all the way to Rowe Glacier, then summitted Mount Dunraven. Sounds like a great day to me. I told him I wanted to go as far as Scotch. He recommended taking the ramp I spotted yesterday.

While we’re talking he points to the marshy area I crossed to climb the hill. “There’s a moose.” He went off to get his long lens. I grabbed some water and started off the way I went yesterday. The moose had disappeared now, but I was heading that way so I kept on the lookout for him. Never did spot him again.

I retraced yesterdays route to the tundra slope south of Husted. The wind hadn’t died down much. At sunrise the sky was clear but as the morning progressed a wave cloud formed just to the east, putting the area in shadow.

I needed to get to the other side of the valley and it wasn’t clear to me which way to go. It’s a wet marshy area with a couple of ponds, lots of willow, lots of flowing water. I started working my way across, got in an area of long grass. Near a wildlife trail the grass was matted where a couple of elk may have bedded down.

In a particularly spongy area I had stopped and was looking for a good way to go. I saw some movement on the ground out of the corner of my eye. I wouldn’t have seen it if it had just stayed still but it took another hop away and I saw it. The frog was three or four inches long, matched the color of the muck pretty well. He was gone in a few seconds. First frog I’ve ever seen in the Park.

Ultimately I got stymied in here. I tried a couple of different routes with no luck. The clouds were getting bigger, the wind wasn’t getting better, I decided to abort. There’s obviously a way across, I just need to take another look at it. This is a pretty cool place and I have an excuse to come back again. So it goes.

I headed back toward Husted. I decided to go circumnavigate it. The southern shore of the lake is mostly tundra. The peninsula is big rock slabs. The northern shore is more talus. Standing at the outlet you have a nice view of Gibraltar, ‘Middle No Name’, and ‘Little No Name’.

I made two round trips up the slope between Husted and Lost. I passed a jawbone all four times. About eighty feet downhill and across the stream from it is an antler fragment, two points off a bigger rack. Likely the same animal.

2016-09-10-15-09-54sI was back to the camp by 9:30 and on the trail by 9:36. I immediately ran into another one of the guys from the other camp. He was off to look for Lost Falls. I’m pretty sure there’s a camp site there, but I believe it’s closed. I didn’t see any signs for the falls or the site and neither did he.

We chatted a bit as we walked. He told me they were “llama supported.” They hired an outfitter out of Estes who packed their gear in by llama and will return to fetch it tomorrow. They’re all carrying their day hiking gear instead of big backpacks. They hiked all the lakes and a few of the summits. And perhaps find Lost Falls. I wished him a good day and at that he was off, running.

A few minutes later I caught up to four more from that group. Two couples, one of each who had to work tomorrow so they’re on their way out. The first guy I met was here. I last saw him as he ran off to get his telephoto lens. He asked, “Did you see that moose move through your camp?” It was there when he got back with his lens. I was on my way up the hill by then. So this would be the second time a moose was in my camp and I didn’t see him. It was a moose that snorted outside my tent, not an elk.

We passed each other a few times as the day wore on. Next I met two young women headed to the lake. I gave them the scouting report and my map. After exiting the Park I started seeing more people. I was too early yesterday to see the day trippers, but they were in peak rush today.

Before now I haven’t given llamas much thought. There’s that sign on the campground shortcut to Thunder Lake: “No Livestock – Llamas excepted”. Llamas can carry something like eighty pounds. That means probably three llamas did a round trip on this trail Friday. Llamas are pretty low-impact pack animals. I saw absolutely no sign of the llamas except for one thing. I’ve been seeing llama shit on trails for years and never realized what it was.

 

Beyond Lost, Day 1

Saturday, September 10

I’m a hiker, not a backpacker. I’m working on changing that. On my Laguna Seca trip I spent five nights camping to see if I could deal with sleeping on the ground. I passed that test. Now it’s time to carry all my gear up a trail. A few weeks ago I made the rounds and borrowed a tent from John and a backpack from Jerry. I made my reservations that night. I snagged a spot at Lost Lake, 9.7 miles up the North Fork trail from the Dunraven trailhead.

I suppose I was under-prepared for the trip. I only assembled the tent once. I did one test pack of the backpack. I fiddled around with the backpack a bit but was never happy with the fit. But I get points for not forgetting to take everything I needed. When I did my first test pack (no food or water) the pack weighed in at 20.5 pounds. Final pack was 31 pounds but I tossed in the iPod and headphones before locking the car.

Denver’s forecast for the weekend was low-80’s on Saturday, upper-80’s Sunday, clear and dry. I figured it would be different at 10,700′ and was anticipating clear skies, high winds, and near freezing temps by morning. My sleeping bag is quite old and I don’t know how well it handles the cold so I made sure to have plenty of layers.

I’ve never hiked in this part of the Park. The trailhead is in the Comanche Peaks Wilderness of the Roosevelt National Forest, a few miles from Drake. Drake was more or less erased by the floods three years and a day ago. I haven’t been through here since then. The road is better than ever, billiard table smooth. The dirt road to the trailhead is very good also.

As I said, the trail starts in NFS land. The first section of the trail drops down a gully to the river. The flood damage here doesn’t seem so bad, three years later. It’s obvious how big the river was at full flow – there is nothing but rocks and sand for several feet on each side of the river. Weeds haven’t even taken over. I saw only two man-made pieces of debris. The trail was washed out in a few places and has been moved or rebuilt robustly.

After a short stroll along the riverbank the trail crosses private property – Camp Cheley. Stables, corrals, a rodeo ground. Just before returning to NFS land there are concrete bridge abutments without a bridge. Not long after leaving Camp Cheley we leave the riverbank and work our way upslope. By the time we return to the river there is no sign that any flood occurred.

Most of the hike offers nothing to look at. The trail goes through mixed forest and has no outstanding views. No views at all, really, until nearly at your destination. Although the trail climbs steadily, I was feeling pretty good that I hadn’t come across one of those four hundred foot climbs in a kilometer. I didn’t get on the trail until a bit after eight and wasn’t keeping my usual pace. I hoped to have camp set up by two and figured to picnic well before getting that far.

There’s a campsite called Halfway. I had assumed the obvious, that it’s half way from the trailhead to the lake, a little over five miles. This is incorrect. It’s not half the distance, it’s half the climb. It’s closer to six miles. So from here to the lake will be, on average, about half again as steep as we’ve been doing.

Not far past Halfway the trail returns to the stream. I found a pleasant spot for a break. I was happy to shed the backpack for an extended time. I had been taking more breaks than normal, but all quite short. It felt good to take an extended rest. As it turns out, I took my break right at the bottom of a long, steep (by pack trail standards) section. It wasn’t quite as steep as four hundred feet in a kilometer, but it was more like two kilometers than one. And the trail, although well maintained, is more like the campground shortcut to Thunder Lake than the trail to Nokoni – no shortage of roots and rocks to step over. On this stretch my legs really felt the thirty extra pounds.

I’m going to Lost Lake, but everything in the area is Lost. There’s also Lost Falls. I didn’t find Lost Falls, but I wasn’t really trying. There’s a campsite called Happily Lost. And after the steep section of trail, after the trail crosses a rock outcropping and gives us our first view, the sight of miles of forested valley below us, behind us, we arrive at Lost Meadows. Now we finally catch a glimpse of the mountains ahead. Just a glimpse – the bare hulk of Mount Dunraven.

By now I’ve been hiking five and a half hours. I’ve run in to six people. At the trailhead there were only a few cars; all still had dew on them so I was the first arrival of the morning. As I was stepping onto the trail, a truck pulling a horse trailer arrived. It was two women riders, who passed me just after Camp Cheley. I asked them how far they were going. They said they didn’t know: as far as they could go. They were happy to see the trail finally open.

I met the occupants of both the Lower Lost Lake sites on their way out. First was two guys, my age, perhaps a few years older. They told me the Upper Lost Lake sites were taken by a big group (“They had llamas. A big Coleman stove, everything but the kitchen sink”). Of the two Lower sites they felt they had the best one, #1. The next couple, French accents, had stayed at #2. They said the wind wasn’t that bad, that it had mostly died down after sunset.

When I got to the lake I went to the Upper sites to see if the big group was still there. They were, although nobody was home. Two large tents were erected on one site and the Coleman stove sat on a table in the other. Their bear canister was off the trail below the camp. Their setup struck me as a pretty good one: a bedroom and a kitchen. No sign of any llamas, though.

On my side of the lake I headed to site #1 and dropped the pack there. Then I walked back to #2 to check it out. I preferred #1 as it had a view of the lake. This was probably not the best choice. The other site was farther back in the trees; I only had a few trees between me and open water.

2016-09-10-16-28-02sLost Lake, like Lawn Lake, Pear Lake, Sandbeach Lake, and others, used to be bigger. It was dammed in 1911 and reclaimed in 1985. It’s the lowest of a string of six lakes forming the headwaters of the North Fork of the Big Thompson River. Sugarloaf Mountain is a miles long wall on the north, Icefield Pass is at the western end. A side canyon runs south, ‘Little’ No Name, ‘Middle’ No Name and Gibraltar Mountain making up the western wall. Mount Dunraven is south of Lost Lake and also forms the eastern wall of the side canyon. Up this canyon are Lake Dunraven, ‘Whiskey’ Lake, and ‘Scotch’ Lake.

I might be tempted to say Lake Louise is the side canyon, as it’s much shorter. But the canyon where Lake Dunraven sits hangs about four hundred feet above Lake Louise’s outlet stream. There are a couple of unnamed ponds where the two streams find confluence. If you continue past ‘Scotch’ you end up at the foot of Rowe Glacier, a bit over 13,000′.

I had camp set up shortly before three, nearly an hour off my estimate. No worries; that still leaves me plenty of time. The goal for the afternoon is to visit both Lake Husted and Lake Louise. The trail ends here at Lost Lake. The Foster guide says to go up the hill from the other camp but it looked easier on my side. It’s a bit marshy near the lake. The water flowing from the top of the hill makes no obvious course here; it is distributed across a wide area making the whole area spongy.

The slope is easily climbed. Near the top, continuing to follow the small stream leads to thick willow; it’s easier to pass through a narrow strip of sparse trees to the left, south. Then it’s around a rock outcropping before emerging onto gently sloping tundra. The view here is spectacular. Lake Husted is now to my right, one more hump to cross. It’s a fairly substantial lake, shaped like an open cartoon mouth: the uvula hanging from west to east. Lake Louise, which is farther up the canyon, is actually slightly downhill from here.

I spent a bit of time studying the other side of the valley, looking for the best route to Lake Dunraven. Foster suggests bushwhacking up the stream, working through thick willow. It looks to me, though, that there is a nice wide ramp a bit to the east. This will take you slightly above the lake but looks to be pretty easy. I will go that way tomorrow. I headed over to Lake Louise. I didn’t stay for long as the wind was picking up. Back at Husted I went to the end of the peninsula before retracing my footsteps back to camp.

I had dinner and listened to some music as the sun set. Here, though, it doesn’t really set. It falls behind the mountain well before sunset. We’re in shadow a long time before it gets dark. The sky is still bright and cloudless. Passing jetliners are brightly lit and look like comets. The air is so dry their contrails evaporate in a few degrees of arc.

The moon is fairly bright; no Milky Way for me tonight.

Pettingell Lake fail

Sunday, September 4

Last year, crossing back over the ridge that separates Lake Nokoni from Lake Nanita, I saw what looked to be a fairly well-defined trail crossing the ridge between Lake Nokoni and Pettingell Lake. Having successfully done the 22.2 mile round trip to Nanita and knowing that Pettingell is the same distance, it seemed like I should be able to bag Pettingell.

The weather forecast for Denver predicted a high of 91 with mostly sunny skies and only a slight chance of rain. I probably should have checked the forecast for Grand Lake. Between Granby and Grand Lake the road was wet. I might have thought it had rained in the pre-dawn hours but there was so much standing water it would probably be more accurate to say the rain had just stopped falling. But the rain had stopped, and that’s what counts.

I planned for a 7:30 start, which means leaving the house at 5:30. I was pretty much on schedule, putting boots on the trail at 7:37. Two guys started hiking while I was changing my shoes and I caught them shortly before the first campsite at Summerland. They looked to be traveling oddly light, carrying only a plastic bag containing a couple of rolls of toilet paper. I chatted briefly with them. They spent the night in camp there but managed to forget one important item, thus their early morning trip. They were visiting from Mississippi and had just spent the first of several nights in the park. I expected to see them later in the day as they said they’d be heading to Nanita.

Not long after leaving them at their camp I saw some moose tracks on the trail. I always expect to see moose in these parts but tracks are all I saw. There were these fresh tracks on the trail, still very distinct so I guessed they were put down after the rain stopped. Just moments after seeing these tracks it started raining. Just sprinkles at first, but before long I had to don my rain jacket.

It rained for two hours. It wasn’t a hard rain but enough to cause rivulets of water to run down the trail. Rain drops would hang on the brim of my hat, dance back and forth with my gait for a few steps, then fall to my feet. The rain pattered softly on my hoodie while occasional larger drops falling from the trees made louder plops.

As the morning wore on, I passed several groups of backpackers making their way out. The weather wasn’t exactly conducive to stopping and talking, so we just exchanged greetings. I did ask most of them where they were hiking from; all were in camps along the North Inlet.

It stopped raining after I passed Ptarmigan Creek. About here the trail finally starts gaining some elevation. The first six or seven miles are pretty flat, passing through some wider sections of U-shaped valley where the river meanders in big loops and the occasional pond lies near the trail. After Ptarmigan Creek the trail starts working its way up the side of the valley.

I arrived at the trail junction as quickly as I made it last year. I make a right turn to head to Nokoni whereas most traffic goes on the trail to the left, towards Flattop and Bear Lake. One of these days I’ll have to arrange logistics such that I can hike from Bear Lake to Grand Lake. It’s well over twenty miles, but I no longer have any doubt I’m capable of it.

The roughly two and a half miles of trail from North Inlet Falls to Lake Nokoni is quite the feat of trail making. Last year I didn’t pay particular attention to the trail itself. I took in the views and was always concerned with my progress. More relaxed this time, I couldn’t help but notice how the trail facilitates quick travel.

This is a pack trail, so it is constructed according to whatever codes apply – minimum width, maximum grade, and so on. But the thing that stands out on this section is the absolute absence roots, rocks, and stairs that interfere with your gait. And although I’ve seen many pack trails that have sections that climb four hundred feet in a kilometer, this trail has no steep parts.

But what amazes me about this trail is that it does all this while traversing some incredibly steep terrain. In the mile below Lake Nokoni there are several sections where the trail is literally carved out of the rock. Words and pictures don’t do it justice. These two and a half miles are perhaps the easiest two and a half miles of hiking in the entire park. That, in conjunction with the relative lack of incline on the first six or seven miles make this ten miles of trail easier than many trails half the distance.

I had no sooner stood on the rock shelf along the east side of Lake Nokoni than I heard somebody coming up the trail behind me. It was a solo hiker, a trail runner, and the only person I encountered all day who was older than me. He started where I did, at about eight. His pace was only a couple of minutes per mile faster than mine which was quite the ego boost for me: I’d covered the ten miles in 3:47, or about 2.6 miles per hour.

Now I confess that I forgot to bring a map. I wasn’t concerned, though, because as I said, I saw the trail last year. All I needed to do was find the trail and I’d be on my way. I figured I couldn’t miss it if I just started working my way up the slope. So that’s what I did. The slop turned out to be a bit steeper than I anticipated. I did eventually find a trail of sorts. But it’s loose gravel and I wasn’t happy using it. My footing was much better without the trail. And it’s not really a trail – it fades into nothingness on both ends.

Without a map I was expecting to be able to see the lake when I topped the ridge. So I was a bit disappointed that my target wasn’t in sight. I decided that it must be farther to my left and that I’d need to cross a talus slope. By now it was noon, which is my “bingo” time. I want to be at my destination, or in sight of my destination, by noon. No lake in sight, so I pondered my options.

I could continue, expecting to arrive at the lake within another half hour. That’s not so bad, but it puts my return to the car an hour behind schedule. The rain had stopped, but the sky was still threatening. The only blue sky I could see was a thin ribbon along the divide. The “mostly sunny” forecast looked to be true, if you were east of the divide. Here, it looked like it might rain again. Finally, I’d managed to keep my feet mostly dry until I headed off trail. Once I was walking through grass my pants were wet below the knee and my feet were thoroughly wet. And today I wore my hiking shoes, not the boots. With the boots my feet probably would have stayed dry. And I’d certainly be happier in boots when crossing this talus field. (New rule: wear the boots if the hike goes off trail.)

So I decided to turn around.

No big deal. I can get to Pettingell if I decide I like camping. Or, if I hit the trail at 7:00 instead of 7:40. And wearing boots and carrying a map. (It looks like I didn’t need to cross the talus field after all. That would have been the hard way.)

I cautiously worked my way down the slope back to Nokoni, where I selected a large flat boulder to sit on and eat my lunch. By now the clouds had broken up a little bit, providing alternating sunshine and shadow. I took off my shoes and socks, wrung out the socks, and set them on the rock to dry. But the sunshine was fleeting and a breeze kicked up and my socks never had a chance to dry out. I wasn’t looking forward to hiking ten miles with wet feet.

The weather did clear up quite a bit. Back in the valley, once I got below the lake, I was in sunshine again. The clouds were just hanging around the peaks. About half way back to North Inlet Falls I was finally able to take off my rain jacket for the first time in five hours.

Upper North Inlet valley

Upper North Inlet valley

On the way out I took a couple of short breaks. The Upper North Inlet valley is one of the remotest areas in the park and the steep terrain below Nokoni means the view is often unobstructed by trees. I paused several times to take in this view. I also took a short break at Big Pool to eat some fruit. I was back to the car shortly after five. I was happy to put on dry shoes and socks and surprised that the wet-footed hike out wasn’t the least bit uncomfortable.

Timetable

Up Down
Trailhead 07:37 AM 05:11 PM
Cascade Falls 08:40 AM 04:02 PM
Big Pool 09:09 AM 02:41 PM
Ptarmigan Creek 09:51 AM 02:20 PM
Lake Nokoni 11:24 AM 01:01 PM

Shelf Lake, Solitude Lake

Saturday, July 27

I killed Victor.

We hiked to Shelf Lake and Solitude Lake. I don’t know why I have so much trouble finding where we leave the Black Lake trail. When I hiked to Blue Lake this spring I looked for the spot and missed it. I missed it again this time. We went a bit too far up the trail. We headed across a marshy meadow and made an easy crossing of Glacier Creek and headed upslope.

I heard water to our right and knew we needed to be on the other side of the stream so we worked our way over, passing through some nasty deadfall at one point. When I saw the stream, I also saw the trail and knew we were finally in the right place. I don’t think Victor was much of a fan of our little bushwhacking expedition.

We had just started a kilometer section of trail that climbs eight hundred feet. And it’s not really a trail and there are a few places where you need to use your hands. Earlier in the day Victor had joked about not wanting to do the Bataan Death March and here I am leading him off-trail and then up just about the most grueling kilometer of hiking I could have picked.

Here we ran into some other hikers. Two young guys came up behind us and passed us like we were standing still. We may have been standing still. Closer to the top we chatted with a couple coming down. They’d been up there since Thursday, said they’d had a couple cold nights.

2016-08-27 12.08.36_stitch_crop_scale

Shelf Lake

Above the trees it was quite blustery. The sun was shining brightly but it was cool, and the wind was cold. We had lunch at Solitude, trying to take shelter on the lee side of a boulder along the water’s edge. We needed a bigger boulder.

Even though I didn’t expect we’d want to sit there very long, I attempted to set up the GoPro for a time lapse. There wasn’t much cloud action but you never know how things will turn out. In this case, not at all. I couldn’t get the camera to work in multi-shot mode. It kept emitting a series of beeps, showing a message that said “camera busy.” So no time lapse.

2016-08-27 12.39.23_stitch_crop_scaled

Solitude Lake

By the time we got back to the trailhead, Victor could hardly walk. He may never want to hike with me again, but at least he had a memorable day ๐Ÿ™‚