Wednesday, June 17
Ed and I arranged to meet at the Beaver Meadows visitor center at 7:30. Again, somehow, I managed to get there early. And instead of driving the rather generic SUV, I drove the car nobody can miss. While changing from my driving shoes to hiking boots I spied a white Toyota enter the parking lot. “Here comes Ed. And there goes Ed.” He somehow didn’t see me.
Today, instead of checking the timed entry passes right there by the BMVC, they simply did it at the entrance station. So, now, it clearly makes sense to have the express lane blocked off. There was no line to speak of at the entrance station, and there were plenty of open parking spaces at Bear Lake (although the Glacier Gorge lot was full, no surprise).
We lacked anything like a plan. After some back and forth, we decided to head up to the top of West Glacier Knob, which is #8 in Ed’s numbering scheme. We left the crowded trail at the usual spot and made our way to Ed’s preferred stream crossing spot. The water was a good six inches lower than it was a couple of weeks ago when we came this way. I declined to use the log to cross and instead took off my boots and waded across.
Our first waypoint on the way is a little lake Ed has named “Zone” Lake. It’s not much of a body of water, but it has a really nice view for what I’d call a “forest” lake. It’s easy to get spoiled by the alpine lakes in the park, sitting immediately beneath dramatic granite faces. Forest lakes, on the other hand, typically are on the dull side, surrounded by view-obscuring trees. This one, though, has enough swampy land around it that the views of the Longs Peak complex, Thatchtop, and Otis are expansive.
From there we headed to another unnamed lake, “Joyce’s Pond”. Our walk so far didn’t require much effort. We’d done a little up and down, but here we were roughly the same elevation as we were when we left the trail from Bear Lake to Nymph Lake. It was now time to start climbing. In the next half mile or so, we gained a bit over 600′ to gain the summit of West Glacier Knob.
It was still a bit early for lunch, and as might be expected up here, the wind was a bit gusty. After a short look around, we descended towards the southwest and made our way past our third unnamed lake: “Beautiful Lake Marv”. We were headed to another glacier knob and we nearly bypassed it by mistake.
Knob 7 features a nice view up Loch Vale. We could hear the distant roaring of Icy Brook as it falls steeply from The Loch, and we could see hikers crossing a field of snow on their way to or from the lake.
Knob 6 is very close to Knob 5, both hanging off the southeastern flank of Otis Peak. Knob 5 is a bit higher. While we were sitting on Knob 6 eating our lunches and relaxing, we discussed where to go next. Ed suggested bagging 5 at first, but I kept asking him for alternatives. We finally decided that, when it was time to go, we’d descend along a ridge that extended to the northeast. Going this way, we could visit three more knobs (all minor and not featuring in Ed’s numbering scheme). I thought that was a splendid choice.
We sat on Knob 6 for quite a while, taking in the views. I had the GoPro with me, but there still wasn’t a cloud in the sky near us. Far to the east, over the plains, were some high, thin, boring clouds, and a few very small clouds that looked to be created by the turbulence of winds blowing over Longs Peak. Nothing worth setting up the camera for.
The wind is a near-constant feature up on top of these knobs. Clear evidence of this is demonstrated by the trees. I was fascinated by one that had seen so much wind that it had grown in a corkscrew shape. I’m also constantly amazed at the tenacity with which these trees grow. They’ll start in the faintest of cracks in the rock and grow to an impressive size, given that there’s no soil to speak of, no nutrients and no place for water to pool. Very harsh conditions, but life is stubborn, and finds a way.
Another thing that fascinates me when hiking in this area is the amount of wood lying about that was burned in the Bear Lake Fire of 1900. At “Zone” Lake, there’s a tree stump that was chewed up by beavers before it caught fire. The teeth marks were burned, meaning the beaver downed the tree sometime before 1900. Even on the tops of these knobs, we see burned wood. One hundred and twenty years of wind and blowing snow, cold, harsh high-altitude sun bleaching the wood, but the evidence persists.
We probably sat up there for an hour. A quite pleasant hour. We had a bit of a false start when we left. Ed couldn’t find his poles. We thought he might have set them down on a big slab a bit below the summit but we couldn’t find them. We kept searching and before long decided they must be up on the top so he went back to re-search. He found them, neatly camouflaged in the shadow.
Our departure restarted, we went down the slope, circling below the outcropping we lounged on and worked to the spine of the ridge. We pretty quickly came to two small knobs, echoes of the larger one we sat on up above. No need to circle down these knobs, we could just walk down the face of them. Much of the spine of this ridge was huge slabs of solid granite stretching a couple of hundred yards. I don’t like going down these slabs if they’re too steep; we had to be cautious in places, but it was pretty easy walking.
This ridge ends with a giant cliff that is visible from the unimproved park trail from Haiyaha to Glacier Gorge Junction. We arrived at the top of it by walking down the gently sloping slabs. Ed pointed down to a little ledge and suggested we take in the view. I stayed well away from the precipice, but it got my heart going a bit.
We had to backtrack a few yards to find ramps off the ledge. It was a bit steep for a while, but it wasn’t long before we came to the trail. We wanted to be discreet about coming out of the woods, but some hikers were approaching. They got about as close to us as they could without leaving the trail and stopped for a break. We didn’t want to wait, so we elected to forego discretion and stomped out of the woods a few yards from their resting spot. A few yards up the trail we stood at the base of the big cliff and spotted the ledge we stood on.
Our last adventure was recrossing Tyndall Creek. Ed said he knew a spot that was wider and shallower and easier to ford than where we crossed this morning. So we both waded. Why not? I was looking forward to cooling my feet in the cold water. Ed’s spot was well chosen. Wide and not much more than ankle deep except for a narrow channel in the middle that was maybe a foot deep, and swift.
I was taking my time, checking my footing with each step. Just before reaching the deep channel I thought I had my left foot nicely placed, but as soon as I lifted my right foot, the rocks under my left foot shifted. I nearly lost my balance. I didn’t notice until this morning when I got out of bed, but I bruised my foot pretty good. It’s slightly swollen, a bit discolored, and quite tender.
The paved super-highway trail from Nymph was quite crowded. Maybe I’m just sensitive about being around people these days and therefore I’m thinking it’s more crowded than it actually is. But it seems to me that there is more than 60% of average traffic. The parking lot wasn’t full, but the line for the shuttle bus was as long as I’ve ever seen it. There was no line to get in at the entrance station, but it was about five, so quite late. I didn’t count, but I’d say roughly half the cars in the Bear Lake lot were out of state while all but two in the Glacier Gorge lot had Colorado plates.
The weather was beautiful; not too hot, not a cloud in the sky, mostly calm. We had a nice walk in the woods and took in some views that relatively few people see. We stayed off the beaten path. It was a good day.