Igloo and Ice Tour

Sunday, March 18

It’s Stomp time again. This year, we had a choice: The Loch on Saturday or Lake Haiyaha on Sunday. I wavered back and forth for a while. I always enjoy a winter trip to Haiyaha but I’m generally up for a change of pace. But events conspired to ensure that I’d be doing Haiyaha again this year.

Ed wanted us to assemble at Bear Lake parking lot at 8:00am. So I set the alarm for 5:30, had the car packed and hit the road shortly after six. Entering Boulder I realized I forgot to bring my scarf. When I got to Lyons I realized I forgot to bring my hiking socks. I generally only manage to forget one item, so I was off my game already, and the sun hadn’t even come up yet.

I pulled into the parking lot on time. The car’s outside thermometer read 19°, but it was quite calm for a change. The weather forecast for Denver said we’d have rain turning to snow in the afternoon, but there’s always a potential for interesting weather along the divide so I wasn’t too concerned.

Ed was already there, with Brooke and Tony. We made our introductions, got kitted up, and hit the trail. It really was a beautiful morning. The sun was shining brightly, the skies were a clear blue, and there was no wind at all. It doesn’t get much better than this.

Brooke, Ed, and Tony

Our first stop was an igloo Ed built for a fundraiser. It was quite a bit closer to the trailhead than he usually builds. The door was quite small; there wasn’t a lot of depth to the snow here. He did the best he could given the conditions. Ed is always a wealth of interesting information. Today one of the topics had to do with some of the details of igloo building at the microscopic level. Specifically: sintering. I was familiar with the term, but not in this context. My brake pads are sintered metal. In igloos, when the snow is compressed, the crystal arms are broken and then the rounded grains fuse into larger crystals.

This is the third or fourth time Ed has guided me to Haiyaha in the winter. Each time, he’s attempted to give me enough information that I could follow the route myself. I’m pretty sure I still can’t get there on my own. I’ve always considered myself pretty good with route finding and paying attention to my surroundings, so I don’t know why I have so much trouble. Oh well.

Haiyaha panorama

I brought the SLR with me this trip and left the GoPro at home. I’d concentrate on trying to get pictures of the always interesting ice at Haiyaha. But the first thing I did was sit down to eat my picnic lunch and by the time I was done, the sunshine was gone as the storm clouds coalesced overhead. Ed said he sometimes has better luck without sunshine . I don’t think it matters much for me. The ice always fascinates me here, but I can never get a photo that is anything like a true representation.

Blue ice slab

Lake Haiyaha has a leak. It lies in a big pile of boulders at the foot of Chaos Canyon. Most lakes in the area are a foot or a foot and a half lower in winter than in summer. Last time I was here, I speculated that for Haiyaha it’s more like six or eight feet. Ed suggested it could be fourteen feet. It may not be that much, but I’d guess that today the top of the ice is at least ten feet below the high water mark on the rocks.

Ice detail

Around the edges, the ice is suspended by the rocks. Walking on it, you can hear that there’s a chamber beneath your feet. There are places where slabs of ice a foot and a half thick are exposed and you can see underneath them. The ice has a light blue color and there are columns of bubbles frozen inside. In other places, the surface of the ice isn’t flat as you’d expect, but looks the lake was frozen in an instant, all the ripples and waves preserved.

Rippled ice

Ed knew of another igloo up on the ridge between Dream Lake and Haiyaha so we headed up to check it out. Before we got off Haiyaha’s ice, we met the two guys who spent last night there. Ed knew them, of course. Ed doesn’t just know every tree and rock in this area of the park, he seems to know all the people, too.

Ridgetop panorama – Haiyaha

This igloo was pretty much right on the top of the ridge, a low arm of Hallett Peak. Below us to the north was Dream Lake. Just a few yards away there was a nice view of Haiyaha to the south. It really is a spectacular place to spend some time. My pictures don’t do it justice.

Ridgetop panorama – Dream Lake (bottom left)

From here we descended to Dream Lake. “Whoa, Ed, where are you taking us? You know I don’t like steep descents!” I had mentioned this to Ed on a previous hike, but he hikes with so many people it’s a bit much for me to expect he’d remember my reluctance. But I felt I was in good hands and didn’t complain too much (I hope!) about being pushed a bit out of my comfort zone. I don’t think I slowed the group down too much and before long we were done with the steep bits. I went down a few places on my keister, only getting a bunch of snow down my backside once.

From there, we followed the summer route back to Nymph so we’d be on the north side of the lake. That’s where the winter shortcut to Bear Lake is. I’d been up that way from Bear once before but never went back this way. It’s a bit shorter, a bit steeper, and a lot less crowded.

We were back to the parking lot by about 1:30. We reckon we covered only about four miles. A light snow started to fall by the time we hit Nymph, and back at the parking lot it was starting to get heavy. But by the time we exited the park the snow was behind us.

All in all, a quite enjoyable hike: an interesting route and good company.

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.