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.


Lake Haiyaha

Saturday, March 7

Some of the folks on the RMNP forum get together every year for a Stomp. I forgot all about it last year, and the year before Jerry and I made it for the pizza dinner but never got to the lake. So this was my first Stomp.

I’m not a big fan of snowshoes. I generally only go on commonly traveled paths in the snow so I can get by with the microspikes. Our route to Haiyaha is off-trail, though, so I definitely needed the floatation the snowshoes provide. I took poles, too. I don’t use trek poles when hiking but figured they might be good with the snowshoes, but won’t again.

This was only my second winter hike to Haiyaha. The first time, I took the summer route. I won’t go that way again in snow. There are a couple places where you traverse steep snow and I’m not a big fan. Ed’s way is a much nicer route. By the time I hiked out, it had been pretty well traveled. I think I could find my way again, now that I’ve been that way.

With the weather the way it’s been lately, I figured the road to Bear Lake would be snowpacked and icy so I arranged to drive Genae’s car, stranding her at home for the day. But Friday was clear and warm – bright sunshine, brilliant blue cloudless skies all day. It was nearly 70 here at the house and the snow almost completely melted from the pavement in the cul-de-sac. I decided to take the Lotus.

Up at 5:30, out the door a few minutes before 6:00. Grab a breakfast sandwich at Burger King in Boulder and head up the canyon. Coming down Pole Hill into Estes, the Mummy range blanketed in brilliant white snow, the sky above the deepest blue, and again not a cloud in the sky, not even contrails.

I took the “shortcut” by the hospital out of habit. It avoids the traffic through the village, but that’s not a concern in winter. I also tend to go up Riverside rather than 36. Just a couple hundred yards past the brewery I saw an animal cross the road. It was in shadow, but looked too small for a deer or elk, and might have been gray instead of tan. When I got there, I saw the coyote standing forty feet from the road. When I passed Manor RV park I got a bonus – a flock of about a dozen turkeys crossed the road. (I just learned the group name for turkeys is not a flock. It’s either a rafter or gang, take your pick.)

A sign near the park entrance warned the road was icy and recommended 4WD or AWD. Not a good sign when you’re RWD with bald tires. But as I suspected, the sun did it’s work yesterday and the road was clear all the way to Bear Lake. There were a couple of icy patches where the wind blows snow across the road, but even the parking lot was mostly free of snow.

I connected with the group and after introductions (where I apologized in advance for forgetting nearly everybody’s name), we hit the trail about 8:15. We set a leisurely pace, which suited me just fine. I find snowshoeing much more tiring than hiking. I have to alter my gait so I don’t trip over my own shoes and of course there’s the weight. It doesn’t seem like much, but compounded over thousands of steps it adds up.

Before long we were off the trail. We weren’t exactly blazing a new trail, as we had Ed’s (days old) track to follow, but the track was generally faint and fully blown over in a couple of spots. All in all, though, the going was fairly easy. It’s not a long hike, there are only a couple of sections with much of a grade, and it has pleasant views. I saw no other hikers, although a couple did catch the end of our group just as we got to the lake.

It took us a bit over two hours to make the trip. We went to the igloo and met Ed and the rest of the gang and socialized for a while. A bit after noon, most of the gang left. It was lunch time, though, so I sat on the rock above the igloo and enjoyed the view and my picnic. I didn’t exactly eat and run, but soon said my goodbyes and headed back.


The igloo is sheltered by an enormous rock; the floor is about level with the top of the door.

When I hiked to Emerald last month, I was only able to shoot a handful of pictures – the batteries weren’t working well in the cold. This time, I carried them in my pocket to keep them warm. There wasn’t any point in setting the cameras up for time lapse as there were no clouds all day. So the next order of duty was to put the batteries in the camera and check out the ice on the lake.

I’ve been to ten lakes in the park when they’ve been iced over. Lake Haiyaha is unusual. Many of the lakes seem to maintain the same level in winter as summer. At Lake Helene the water level drops a foot or two, but it’s so shallow that the water is quite far from the summer shore. Haiyaha sits next to a large boulder field. Some of the rocks are as big as houses, some as big as cars. When it gets cold it ices up. At the same time, less water flows into the lake than out and the water level drops. Not a foot or two, but eight or ten.

There are a number of large boulders that are fully submerged until the lake drains and they punch through the ice. I wonder how long it must take – it takes a long time to drain a lake and the water drops very gradually. When the ice makes contact with the rock, the pressure will build up slowly but inexorably. As more ice is lifted from the water, the bottom surface of the ice is put under tension. Ice doesn’t handle tension well – I bet it makes quite an interesting sound when cracks.


Icy volcanoes

Now, a line of these rocks poke through the ice like glacier shrouded volcanoes. The broken faces of the ice are no longer razor sharp – wind and blowing snow have softened, almost melted, the edges. It’s crystallizing on the top, but under that zone it’s the palest blue glass. Up close you see the bubbles lined up like beads on a curtain. My pictures don’t do it justice.


Blue ice

I probably spent half an hour soaking it in.


Wind sculpted snow

The hike out was uneventful. I heard voices occasionally but never saw anybody else until I regained the trail. (Again, am I hearing voices, or am I hearing voices?) A few other parties had done round trips on the track by the time I started down, so it was very easy to follow and often well packed. For a while I thought I maybe could do it in spicks instead of snowshoes, but that would have been optimistic.

Back at the car, I considered taking the top off for the drive home. That would have been a bit optimistic, too. And besides, by this time I realized I hadn’t even thought of sunscreen and had burned my face. Oops.


Every year about this time, the folks over at Rocky Mountain National Park Forums put together a little shindig they call “STOMP”. This is the ninth year. They hike up to Lake Haiyaha, build a couple of igloos and spend a couple of nights. Not everybody wants to sleep in an igloo, though, so there’s a bigger get together on the Saturday of the week allowing the day trippers to get involved with a hike to the igloos followed by a dinner that evening.

Those of us just doing the Saturday hike were to meet up at 8am at the Bear Lake parking lot. I didn’t really want to spend all day on this hike, particularly as it’s a fairly short one. And it would be fairly cold. And I wasn’t that interested in getting up early on a Saturday. I figured I’d be able to follow the tracks of those who did get there on time so wasn’t too concerned about not finding my way. I roughly knew the way. I’ve only ever taken the summer route, and I knew that wasn’t going to happen this time. How hard can it be to follow a path taken by 15 or 20 people just a few hours earlier?

Jerry went with me. I’m somewhat prepared for winter hiking, he’s a bit less. I have a pair of snow shoes, some micro spikes, ski pants and gaiters. I also just recenly bought a decent winter coat and a pair of gloves with fairly long gauntlets. Jerry has ski bibs, hat, gloves and boots and that’s about it. When we got to the parking lot, I gave him the snow shoes and I took the spikes. I figured if we stayed on the beaten path, the snow would be packed enough I wouldn’t need the floatation the snow shoes provide and if I did occasionaly posthole the gaiters would keep my feet dry. If I gave Jerry the spikes and I took the snow shoes, his feet would be wet pretty quickly.

The weather was about normal for the area – mostly cloudy along the divide, wind obviously blowing hard above treeline, and cold but not bitter. The weather wonks predicted snow in the area by noon or shortly thereafter. From the looks of things, it was snowing not far from where we were going.

We hit the trail a bit before 11am and found the rock marking Ed’s departure from the trail without problems. I’d been this way with Ed a couple of times before, but both when there wasn’t any snow. Every time I hike in the snow I’m taken by how different the terrain looks. In some places, there might be only a few inches of snow but a few feet away it may have drifted ten feet deep. Streams and large rocks that may be used as landmarks may be covered completely. Nonetheless, the trail was well trod and easy to follow; snow shoes not necessary.

The forest was quite pretty in its winter clothes, even with the weather closing in. The clouds were not far above us; it was snowing lightly and the gusty wind blew the snow along the ground when we weren’t in denser forest.

I thought if we encountered anybody on this trail they’d be members of the STOMP party. After a few minutes we caught up to a group going our direction. I thought this was a good sign – somebody that might have been up and down this part of the trail. I asked where they were going, expecting to hear something about igloos, but they said they were looking for Bear Lake. I told them they were going in the wrong direction – Bear Lake is behind us. They thanked us and turned around.

We continued on our way. Before long, it became obvious to me that the trail we were following wouldn’t take us to Lake Haiyaha. We were a bit north of where we needed to go. I had come down from Haiyaha last spring on the steep slope directly in front of us and knew we were unlikely to make it up that way. We needed to go to our left and up a more moderate slope. I knew if we’d just reach the top of that ridge the lake would be an easy hike. The trail we were intending to follow must have gone left somewhere that we went straight. But I certainly didn’t see any tracks that way. Blowing snow clearly obscured the correct path.

So we took off cross-country. Jerry took the lead as he was wearing the snow shoes. At times, even he was sinking a foot into the snow. I was often postholing quite badly behind him. Where the slope got steeper he had trouble with traction. We crested a ridge only to reveal another ridge above it. We topped that one to find yet another. I was sometimes sinking hip deep in the snow, crawling to get out. On the plus side, I was warm and dry, all my winter gear doing the job. But I was getting pretty worn out.

It was now about 1pm. I didn’t think Jerry would keep buying that we just had to gain one more ridge and we’d be back on the trail. We chatted about it for a few minutes and decided to back track the way we came. On the way, we kept a lookout for a nice place to sit and eat our lunches. In places we were quite surprised how steeply we had climbed. Soon we found a nice downed tree, barkless and gray, not covered with snow. We ate quickly as we had to take our gloves off.

By the time we were done and on our way again, my fingers were so cold I couldn’t feel them. I wasn’t particularly concerned. I knew that once we were exerting ourselves again I’d warm right up. This was true, it was only five or ten minutes before my fingers were warm again. The snow had stopped falling and sun was sparkling on the snow.

We again ran into other hikers; two groups of four or five hikers each.

“Where are you coming from?” they asked.
“The middle of nowhere. We didn’t get where we were going.”
“Where’s that?”
“Lake Haiyaha. Where you headed?”
“We’re trying to find Bear Lake.”
“Well, you’re heading in the wrong direction.”

One group took off down the trail in front of Jerry and I, the other lagged behind. I’d been looking for signs of tracks I might have missed but didn’t see any. We did come to a fork in the trail, though. The group behind us said the other hikers had gone that way only to reach a dead end. I thought the proper way was to the left and went that way. The group in front of us had by now turned around saying this way was a dead end also. In fact, the trail went nicely up the hill to gain the proper trail from Bear to Nymph. We could even see hikers on that trail. I hollered at the other hikers to follow me and we all got where we were going.

As two of them passed me, one said to the other “I wasn’t worried.” Perhaps he should have been. Granted, Jerry and I never made it to Haiyaha, but we were never lost. I knew exactly where I was. I just missed the tracks to the lake. These folks evidently had no idea where they were and seemed unable to follow fairly obvious tracks. I wonder how long they’d have been wandering around there.

Jerry and I made it back to the car by 3pm. Which left us three hours before pizza. I suggested we grab a beer at the brew pub and off we went. After a couple beers and some appetizers we headed to the shindig. We were still quite early so we sat in the car chatting and watching the clouds creep in from the west. The clouds looked like a big down blanket, slowly slipping over the divide, smothering the Bear Lake area.

Cars started arriving, so we went inside. There was a good turn out, a couple dozen folks at least. All had made it to Haiyaha but us, but no matter. People introduced themselves with their real names and their handles on the forum. I was surprised to find out that folks came from quite a distance for this little shindig. One couple flew in from Brooklyn.

As we were leaving, Mike suggested that we could still make it to the igloos if we wanted. He expected at least one of them to stand for another few weeks. I’m not sure I’ll make the attempt. I know I don’t want to take the summer route and I clearly demonstrated I can’t follow Ed’s route.

Maybe next year I’ll be willing to meet the Saturday group at the appointed time.