A Visit to Ed’s Igloo

Friday, November 23

Several days ago I reached out to Ed to see if he’d be interested in hiking with me today. His plans were more ambitious than mine: he said he would be going to the igloo he made the other day and spending Friday and Saturday nights there. He asked if I’d like to join him. I quickly declined, but agreed to spend the day with him. My excuse is that my sleeping bag isn’t sufficient for a November night at 10,500′ in a structure made of snow.

Earlier in the week, the forecast for the day looked pretty good. It would be mid-50’s in Denver, but windy. I don’t know why I keep mentioning the Denver forecast when I’m heading to the Park. In the summer I can count on my time in the Park being much the same as Denver, but cooler. In the winter it may as well be a different planet.

Ed wanted to meet at the Bear Lake parking lot at 7:30. That seemed a bit early for me, so I talked him into 8:00. Lately it has been taking me an hour and forty-five minutes to get to the parking lot, and when I add a few minutes to grab breakfast in Boulder and a few minutes cushion in case I run a bit late, I could leave at 6:00 to meet Ed at 8:00. As it turned out, I left promptly at 6:00 and didn’t have any traffic, so I arrived at Bear Lake at Ed’s preferred time. Which meant I had to wait.

According to the weather report, the forecast for the northern mountains was snow overnight Thursday, clearing up for most of the day, then snow again starting late afternoon or early evening. As of 7:30, the first part of that was more or less accurate. The skies were clear on my drive all the way up to the Bierstadt trailhead, just a few miles from Bear Lake. From there on, it was snowing, but not windy. Here I should mention that the Chrysler isn’t equipped for driving in snow: I have ultra-high performance summer tires on her. They’re fantastic for dry pavement, excellent in the rain, but there are few tires that are worse in the snow.

I’ll also add that the road to Bear Lake was in the worst condition I’ve ever seen. But that’s fairly meaningless, for three reasons. First, I only go to Bear Lake in the winter a few times a year. Second, I’m a fair-weather winter hiker and most times I’ve gone, I could easily take the Lotus (which is worse in the snow than the Chrysler). Third, the park service does a good job of keeping the road clear. So I made it to the parking lot without problem, but made sure to park so I didn’t have to go uphill on my way out, anticipating that conditions wouldn’t get any better.

Ed had posted a few pictures of the igloo on Facebook, but I didn’t have a great idea where it was other than the top of a little ridge with a great view. Given Ed’s range, even restricting it to within a few miles of Bear Lake, that doesn’t narrow it down much. Perhaps I should have asked him before we started, or before I agreed to go with him, but I waited until we were on our way. We stopped for a few minutes and he used his trek pole to make a diagram in the snow.

This is the fourth or fifth time I’ve followed Ed through the snow. He’s led me to Lake Haiyaha a few times and I still don’t think I could get there on his route without his guidance. I think I’m figuring it out. I think I could do it in the summer, but for some reason the terrain looks totally different to me when it’s covered with snow.

Ed leads the way

My inability to follow his route isn’t because he’s not a good guide. He is constantly pointing out terrain features. Today perhaps he was trying to show me too much. I felt it was a bit of information overload. But that may have been because I was a bit preoccupied. You see, this was a one-way trek with Ed. Because he’d be spending two nights in the igloo, I’d have to find my own way back to the car.

We spent a lot of time turning around and looking back the way we came. “Through the trees here our trail should be fairly clear. But in this clearing it will drift over. You’ll want to avoid the bottom of the gully here. Stay to the left of that log there.” That sort of thing. You see, it was snowing pretty good. The wind wasn’t as bad as it often is here so close to the Divide. But it would be hours before I came back this way.

Yours truly. This is a smile, not a grimace. Look closely: the snow is falling sideways.

Where our route crossed the trail from Lake Haiyaha to the junction with the trail to Mills Lake and the Loch, we walked back and forth along that trail so that “tourists” wouldn’t be tempted to follow our tracks. Here we discussed one of my options. I could either follow our tracks, or take the official trail. It didn’t look like the official trail was very well traveled, so I was thinking following our own tracks would be the best bet.

From here our route started getting steep. Our destination was a glacial knob at the eastern end of Otis Peak, immediately north of The Loch, and about 300′ above it. Ed knows I’m not a big fan of the steep stuff, so he gave me a bit of a pep talk. The final approach to the igloo would be quite steep. He compared it to the descent we made from the ridge on the south side of Dream Lake back in the spring. It would be that steep, but not that long, and broken into short segments.

On that final approach there was only one spot that had me bothered. It was a bit tough climbing it, as the snow seemed to want to give way under my weight. I had to be very careful to put my weight directly above the balls of my feet, which I found a bit of a challenge. At one point, I was almost crawling up the snow.

“Come stand out here on this precipice and check out the view!”

The igloo is sited atop a rock outcropping, with clear views to the east and south. Or, it would have clear views if the weather was clear. When we arrived, we could see a bit down the Bear Lake road and we had a view of Half Mountain. A cliff face of Otis was just a few yards away to the northwest, and the northern flank of Thatchtop was prominent to the south. After a quick look at the surroundings, we retreated to the shelter of the igloo for lunch.

Click on the picture to see it full-sized.

We ate and chatted for about forty-five minutes. My soda was nice and cold, but my water was colder: it was starting to freeze. This should not have surprised me, but it was a bit distressing to have to knock a plug of ice out of the mouth before I could take a sip. We set my water bottle beside Ed’s little furnace. Although it was nice and cozy inside, it wasn’t warm enough to melt the ice. Standing up, though, I found that the air was close to fifty degrees at the top, while it was more like freezing down at the level of the door.

Igloo at center; Thatchtop in background.

After lunch it was time for me to head back. When we popped out of the igloo, it was quite obvious how the conditions had changed. Visibility was just a few hundred yards. Ed kindly escorted me down the steep bits and I was soon on my way, retracing our steps from the morning. These steps, of course, were our most recent. So they had had the least amount of snow, either freshly fallen or wind-blown, obscuring them. In the trees it was quite easy to follow them. I was feeling pretty good, in spite of the degraded conditions.

Wind-sculpted pillows of snow.

The first challenging part was around a small unnamed body of water that Ed likes to call “Beautiful Lake Marv”. We had walked through an open area where the wind gets an unimpeded run. Our track was completely erased. Ed’s advice was to stay to the left and don’t go down into the gully. It took me a few minutes, but I eventually did spot our trail below me. I was able to follow it all the way down to the trail from Haiyaha.

On the way up, we didn’t just cross directly over it. After reaching it, we went along it for maybe a hundred yards, then left it. I thought I’d easily find where we gained the trail, but I had no luck. Some other hikers had come through; I followed their tracks off the trail, but they just made a short excursion to look at the stream. After a couple times up and down the trail looking for my way, I decided that the tracks along the official trail were my best bet, so off I went.

Although a bit longer, it was an easy hike out. I arrived at the trial junction in good time and ran into a few hikers. Two guys asked me how it was the way I came. I told them I didn’t go all that far. They told me they’d come up the Fire Trail and that it was pretty clear. So that’s the way I went. A few minutes later they passed me, one on skies, the other booting it. They went at a pretty good clip, the one in boots running.

By now the wind was getting pretty fierce. Even in the wooded sections, the trail was getting harder to follow. Those guys were just a few minutes ahead of me and their tracks were indistinct. Then a few minutes later another pair of hikers passed me, and shortly after that the trail was sufficiently out of the wind that it was quite obvious.

I was back to the car by 2:45. There were surprisingly few cars in the parking lot. My car was the closest to the top of the hill, and was pretty well covered by snow. By 3:00 I was on my way. I practically crawled along the road, ABS engaging quite a bit. My doors don’t lock until I reach 13mph. They didn’t lock until I passed the Glacier Gorge lot. Even going so slow, I managed to catch two other cars, who pulled over to let me by. The road was pretty treacherous, with blowing snow creating blizzard-like conditions, until about Hollowell Park. At Moraine Park, a ranger had his truck, lights flashing, blocking up-bound traffic. Clearly, they weren’t letting people go any farther. That explains why there were so few cars at Bear Lake.

So, to recap: I walked through sometimes blizzard-like conditions, up and down sometimes incredibly steep terrain, sometimes trying to follow my own vanishing tracks in the snow, then drove my car on summer tires through more blizzard conditions. Through all that, I was warm and dry. What can I say? It was another beautiful day in the neighborhood.

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.