September 27, 2014
This is the second time I hike to Tourmaline Lake. Last year I hiked here from the Fern Lake trailhead. This time I started at Bear Lake. It’s a bit shorter this way, and downhill a bit as well between Lake Helene and Odessa Lake.
As seems to be the general case, I got a bit of a late start. It was another free day in the park, and traffic was a bit worse than I was expecting. By the time I got to Bear Lake road, the signs indicated the parking lot was full and visitors should use the park and ride. It’s been a while since I used the shuttle and while the route hasn’t changed, there are more stops than I was used to. It was a few minutes after nine before I hit the trail.
The morning was calm and clear. Expecting a touch of fall in the air, I wore jeans rather than shorts. I wasn’t uncomfortable in jeans, but would have been happier in shorts. So it goes. Getting a bit of a late start, I made an effort to make some good time. It’s about four miles to Odessa Lake and I felt I should be able to cover that ground in two hours and arrive by 11:07. Well, let’s just round that down and target Odessa Lake by 11:00.
The trail was pretty busy. I had a trail runner pass me before I arrived at the junction with the Bierstadt trail. At the Flattop junction, I passed a group of five or six hikers headed to the Fern Lake trailhead. A bit later on, it was a guy with fishing gear and his companion who where headed to Fern Lake. I met many others as well, and most people were going from Bear Lake to Fern Lake trailhead.
Just before reaching Odessa Lake, I ran into the trail runner again. He had made it to Fern Lake and was on his way back. I asked how quick a pace he was able to maintain and he said he was doing eight and a half or nine minute miles. Not bad on a rocky and root crossed trail.
I arrived at Odessa Lake ahead of schedule. By now the sky was no longer cloudless – small puffy white clouds were in action, and contrary to normal were moving roughly east to west. I didn’t even pause at Odessa and headed straight up Tourmaline Creek. At the risk of repeating myself, the route from here is more or less straight up the creek. It’s pretty steep at first, mellows out a bit in the middle, then gets steep again. For the top half of the climb, the creek is mostly invisible but burbling vibrantly under rocks and boulders. With no sign of trail or cairns, just rock hop up the creek. It took me about fifty minutes to get from Odessa to Tourmaline, a climb of 560′ in six tenths of a mile.
Tourmaline Lake isn’t much of a lake. I’ve been to several unnamed ponds in the park that are bigger. What it lacks in size it more than makes up in setting. It is surrounded by dramatic rock walls, some with interesting spires. Although it wasn’t windy, it’s clear that high winds are a normal aspect of the place. All the trees around my picnic spot were one-sided, having no branches on their west sides.
While I was eating my lunch I heard somebody yell out. I think whoever it was just wanted to hear their voice echo. I responded with my own yell. A short while later I thought I heard voices quite a bit nearer to me but I never did see anybody. On these off trail hikes in solitude I often think I hear people talking. Sometimes I wonder if it’s a trick of the imagination.
It was a very pleasant day and I enjoyed sitting there by this small lake for the better part of an hour. Ate my sandwich and a plum, and a cookie that was in several pieces, chocolate chips beginning to melt slightly. There was never more than a slight breeze, and no pesky insects. The clouds, unusually, went from east to west.
The outlet stream is fairly flat exiting the cirque, going northeast before making a right turn and tumbling steeply downhill. The flank of Flattop is to the right, with Joe Mills Mtn directly in front. I can’t help but think it wasn’t this steep on the way up, but everything looks steeper to me on the way down. There is much less water flowing now than when I hiked in late June, making for easier hiking.
Before returning to Odessa I refill the water bottle and ponder which way to return. I didn’t give it any thought when I decided to go to Tourmaline, I guess my assumption was that I’d hike back to Bear Lake. I got to thinking that because I was parked at the park and ride rather than Bear Lake, I could hike out to the Fern Lake bus stop instead. Of course, I could have done that even had I parked at Bear Lake. Sure, it’s something like 1.7 miles farther, but it’s all downhill.
I decided to make the one way trip. This would be the third time I’ve done it, but the first adding the spur to Tourmaline. And this time, even with the late start and the extra lake, I’d probably get to the car at about the same time as the other times.
At Fern Lake I chatted again with the fisherman and his wife/girlfriend. They were heading back to Bear Lake. Near Fern Falls I ran into the group I met at the Flattop trail junction. Nearer the Pool, I felt the fire damage wasn’t as dramatic as it was last spring, but there’s a good sized landslide there now as well.
Hiking out from the Pool always seems like drudgery to me, I’m tired, it’s usually warm, the trail is crowded. It always seems to take forever. This time, though, it was over quicker than I expected. I covered the eight tenths of a mile from the trailhead to the bus stop in thirteen minutes, which nearly equals the pace of my walks around home. I felt real good. Then I nearly dozed off on the (36 minute!) bus ride back to the car.
All in all, a very satisfying hike.
I’m still working on the time lapse. Seems each one takes longer than the previous one.