Gorge Lakes – Day 2

Saturday, August 4

We broke camp by 8:15 and headed east around the buttress of the ridge in search of our next campsite. We needed to be a mile away from last night’s location, and I wanted to be as close as possible to where we’d be spending most of the day. We also needed to be in reasonable proximity to a water source.

When I got up this morning, I had the choice of wearing yesterday’s wet socks or the one pair of dry socks I carried. As my boots were still thoroughly wet, I went with the wet socks. I figured if I used the dry ones, they’d be wet pretty quickly and then all my socks would be wet. I wanted to keep a pair dry for the night. It made for cold feet for the start of the day but once we got going it wasn’t so bad.

In our passage through the forest we came upon the occasional bone. Yesterday I found a scapula, deer or elk I’m not sure which. Today we saw two more. I’m not sure why I see so many scapulae. I see more of them than anything else, with vertebrae next most common. I rarely see skulls. But we found an elk skull today.

Elk skull.

We bushwhacked more or less due east and came upon a small unnamed lake that lies at 11,000’. We needed to go a bit farther. The map shows a sort of plateau between 11,000’ and 11,200’ about two tenths of a mile ENE of Love Lake. I’m not sure that this area is within our zone, but I figured it was close, and it met all the other requirements of a legal campsite. We dropped our packs here and Brad and I went off in search of Love Lake.

Our navigation was spot-on and we arrived there after about fifteen minutes hiking. It sure was easier without our packs, but we should have at least carried a filter and a couple of empty bottles. So, other than the simple fact that we verified where we were, it was a wasted trip.

We headed back to our packs and selected our campsite on this plateau. I think it was a better spot than last night. The vegetation wasn’t as thick and we had some nice rocks to sit on. A couple of the rocks were in sunshine and would be handy for putting our wet items on in an attempt to dry them.

Once we set up camp, we decided on our day’s action plan. The guys all wanted to fish. The park’s website said there were fish in Rock Lake and the outlet from Arrowhead. I wanted to bag the four lakes I missed last time. So we went as a group up to Love Lake and from there down to the outlet of Arrowhead. I left them there and headed across the large rock outcroppings along the eastern side of Arrowhead toward Doughnut Lake.

Tim takes in the view

From the map, it looked like I could go from Doughnut up a gully to the southwest, over a ridge and then descend to Inkwell. From there, I should be able to follow the inlet stream up to Azure Lake. If things were still going well and I had enough time, I could follow that inlet stream to Highest Lake. From the slope above the northern end of Arrowhead, very little of this was visible. The terrain looked rugged, but passable.

So off I went to Doughnut. The ridge I traversed had a couple of large gullies leading up to saddles and so had three distinct summits. I made it to the first saddle easily enough. And from there to the second. The saddle between the second and third summits is shown on the map with two contour lines, or on the order of sixty to eighty feet. What I was faced with was a thirty foot cliff. I worked around the east side, but it’s quite steep here, too, essentially a fifty or sixty foot cliff. I was stymied.

I took a few pictures but never made it to the shore of the lake. I’m going to add it to my list, though. I’m saying I made it there, or close enough. I went west through the saddle looking for a way to get to the top of the next little summit, but no dice. So I found a place to sit down, eat my lunch, and run the GoPro for a while for a time lapse video.

Doughnut Lake

When we were up at Love Lake, we heard voices but didn’t see anybody. Now, down below me at the far southern end of Arrowhead I saw the other hikers. At first I only saw two, but there were four. They made their way to the base of a nice waterfall – the stream that flowed from Inkwell. It looked like they had found quite a nice place and they were there the whole time I was sitting there. They were a noisy bunch. They were about three hundred yards away and a hundred fifty feet below me. Once I thought perhaps they had spotted me and were yelling at me. I waved my arms but couldn’t see them responding.

I ran the camera for about thirty five minutes and watched the clouds roll by. I had a nice view of Trail Ridge in the distance. Had it been calm, I probably would have been able to hear the louder motorcycles and trucks. But it was quite windy. I tried to keep an eye out for incoming weather, but the high ridge to my west obscured my view. Before long, dark threatening clouds came over the gorge. I packed up the camera and started heading back to camp.

When I got to the top of the gully I took to get to the first saddle it started to rain. I popped into a small grove of trees just as it began to hail. I pondered how long I was willing to wait there. This squall could be over in a few minutes, or it could rain for hours. When the hail stopped the rain increased. Visibility across the lake was noticeably reduced. I waited a bit longer and the hail returned. After hail abated the second time, I set out again.

Arrowhead Lake panorama, above the eastern shore

Much of the way back to Love Lake was across open rock. The rock has quite a bit of lichen on it, and when that stuff is wet it can be quite slippery. I more or less was able to retrace my steps but did end up going through a nasty bit of krummholz that I didn’t encounter on the way up. Going through that, I got my pants soaked, which led to my damp socks getting pretty wet again.

Forest Canyon rain squall. Rock Lake visible 700′ below.

I made it back to the outlet of Arrowhead, crossed the stream without incident, and climbed the talus slope up to Love Lake. I went pretty slow, taking great care on the slippery rocks. Up on the shore of Love Lake I let my guard down and nearly slipped on rocks there.

On our way out for the day, we refilled water bottles at Love Lake. Everybody took what water they needed for the afternoon and we left some full bottles and our filter gear there. When I got there, everything was gone, so the guys had already returned to camp. If they quit fishing when the rain started, they had about an hours head start on me.

By the time I returned to camp, the rain had stopped and shortly thereafter the sun was shining brightly. I took the opportunity to take off my boots and socks and lay them out on a rock. Sadly, the sunshine didn’t last long and nothing quite got dry.

The guys told me they didn’t venture far from Arrowhead’s outlet. The park’s website said fish could be caught there, and down below in Rock Lake. The terrain is pretty rugged at there the outlet, and Rock Lake is something like 700’ below. They didn’t catch anything, but all had hits on their lines.

The evening was uneventful. The rain didn’t return before we turned in. Even so, it was an early night with everybody retiring before dark. I slept about as well as the night before; one excursion before midnight and otherwise sleeping in fits and spurts. It rained for about an hour starting at three. No dreams tonight, at least that I recall.

Black Lake

Saturday May 26

Black Lake sits at the top of Glacier Gorge. I think it is one of the most beautiful lakes in the park. Going to lakes that are farther from the trailheads has spoiled me when it comes to getting some solitude at these lakes. I figure I’ll never be at Black Lake alone, as it’s a popular destination. Even in March there were quite a few people there. I was hoping that in late May it wouldn’t be too crowded.

The drive up was uneventful. I believe US 34 is now open to traffic, but it seems US 36 is still more crowded than usual. I could be mistaken, though. Perhaps what I’m seeing is the new normal. And I think more people are taking my shortcut through Estes because of the construction there. This morning, I was actually in a short line of traffic going by the hospital.

A minor tragic note here: my car is a killer. Since I’ve owned it, I’ve hit five birds. And this morning, going by the hospital, a rabbit attempted to cross the road, darting out after the car in front of me. It didn’t make it. I hit it with a sickening little thump and in the mirror saw it tumbling, inert.

I probably should have gotten an earlier start. As it was, I didn’t arrive at the Bear Lake parking lot until about 8:00 and it was already nearly full. Alternatively, I could have parked in the park and ride as that would have saved me a little effort. The trailhead proper for Black Lake is Glacier Gorge Junction. When parking at Bear Lake, I have an extra half mile each way. It’s not the distance so much, as that it makes the last half mile of the hike uphill.

I knew I’d be hiking across quite a bit of snow before I got to the lake. The snow gets steep enough just below the lake that I won’t go there in spring without microspikes. I started seeing snow on the fire trail, in the shady spots on the north facing slopes. Snow here will probably be gone in a few days, given the high temperatures we’ve been seeing.

The snow hiking didn’t start in earnest until I reached the Glacier Gorge campsite. I stopped at the bridge there and mounted the spikes. There were still quite a few bare spots on the trail for the next third of a mile or so, but after that it was snow all the way. I ran into two groups of three hikers who were making their way down. I asked each if they made it to the lake. The both said they fell short and complained about postholing badly. This did not discourage me, and I never saw where they might have been having trouble.

It was when I got to within a couple hundred yards of the lake that I first encountered a hiker who made it. We chatted for a little bit, and as we talked two guys passed us on their way up, going at a pretty good clip. When I got up there, they were the only other people. I was thinking I’d go up above the lake a bit for my picnic, but instead I parked myself right at water’s edge. Or, I should say, at ices edge. Other than the area right around the outlet, there are only a few square yards of lake that are open water. This, too, should change rapidly in the coming days.

I brought the GoPro with me. I generally don’t bother using the app on the phone but I wanted to make sure I was framing the shot correctly. I couldn’t get the phone to talk to the camera, and as I was struggling with it a young woman came by. She was walking a lot closer to the edge of the water than I did, and a few steps from the rock I was planted on, she postholed knee deep right into the water.

“I was planning to take a swim, but not with my shoe on!”

I was incredulous. “Really, you’re going to swim?” She was serious. She worked her way along the shore to where there was open water, but I never did see her take her swim. I sat there for about twenty minutes, ate my picnic lunch, and let the camera run. When the skies over the lake cleared completely, I shut off the camera and moved to the outlet and pointed the camera north, where the only other clouds were.

By now there were a dozen people at the lake, all congregated at the outlet with the exception of the swimmer. I relaxed here for another half hour or so before packing up and heading back down.

It was a very pleasant day, with brilliant blue skies and warm enough that I never needed a jacket. Perhaps a bit too warm for May. I enjoyed the hike; the trail wasn’t too crowded and I avoided the congestion at Alberta Falls by taking the fire trail. And I had a nice little workout – my Fitbit logged more than three hours of cardio and almost a half hour in the peak zone.

Timetable

Out In
Trailhead 08:15 AM 02:45 PM
Lower fire trail jct 08:25 AM 02:30 PM
Upper fire trail jct 08:55 AM 02:00 AM
Mills Lake 09:15 AM 01:45 AM
Black Lake 11:05 AM 12:15 AM

 

Mirror Lake

Before I started this blog I had been posting trip reports to a forum for lovers of Rocky Mountain National Park. This is one of those reports, with only minor edits for clarity.

Hike date: 12 August 2012 — Originally posted: 13 August 2012 – 11:25 PM

Sunday I hiked to Mirror Lake.

I don’t normally say anything about the drive to the trailhead, but I’ll make an exception this time. The Corral Creek trailhead is 8.5 miles up Long Draw Road from CO 14, which passes through Poudre canyon. The Poudre river and CO 14 were the battle lines on the north side of the recent High Park fire. I nearly wrote that this was my first time through the canyon since the fire, but that overstates it. I’ve lived in Colorado for something like 33 years and this was my first trip up this road. I’ve been on a number of other roads in the area, once with the Lotus club through Rist Canyon this spring. (I have video of that drive and intend to go there again soon. I’ll see if I can put together a before/after video of the fire damage) There are a number of “Thank You Fire Fighters!” signs still posted. Some mountains are completely burned but most places in the canyon are burned in a mosaic pattern. Burned areas are black – black tree trunks and black ground – and are surrounded by brown borders; trees that are clearly dead, baked by the fire. Undamaged forest is outside these brown borders.

Long Draw road is near mile marker 69, well west of the burn area. This is a dirt road, well maintained but a sign at the junction indicates it’s a “Level 6” road. That has something to do with how often it’s plowed in winter, but the sign is quite verbose and I didn’t bother to read it. I also missed the first sign that says the road will be closed indefinitely beginning August 14 due to logging operations. If you want to hike in this area, better find out if the road is open. For anybody in the Denver area planning to hike here, note that it’s a three hour drive from the northern suburbs. I can make it to trailheads on the west side of the park in about two hours, so this one is probably the longest drive from here. I’d hate do drive 3 hours only to find the road is closed.

The hike is about six miles from trailhead to lake, but only about a thousand feet of net elevation gain. I figured I’d be able to make pretty good time, being it’s a pretty level trail and guessed I could make the lake in three hours. Working back, that meant arriving at the trailhead by 8:30 or so, which meant a 5:30 departure from the house. Again, assuming a two mile per hour pace, I should be able to spend an hour at the lake and make it back to the car by 3:30 and home by 6:30. For once, I managed to keep pretty close to the plan.

The first mile of the trail is outside the park. From the trailhead, it descends about 300 feet to a spot near the confluence of the Poudre and Hague’s Creek. The area is comprised of wide, U-shaped valleys with large meadows with the trail running along the edge of the forest. The park boundary is right at the Cache la Poudre and the park boundary sign is nailed to the first tree on the park side of the bridge.

After a couple of miles and another bridge (crossing Hague’s Creek), the trail leaves the valley floor and climbs the side of a ridge. This middle third of the hike is where all the elevation gain is made. There are a couple of short sections which each climb about 400 feet. The final third of the hike is again more or less level. After the climb the trail meets the stream coming from Mirror Lake as it passes through its own series of meadows. Here the trail gets a little vague, I even lost it once or twice by the campgrounds. Shortly after the third Mirror Lake campground, you climb up some rocks and are deposited on the shore of the lake beside the outlet. The lake is bigger than I was anticipating. It lies beneath some unnamed mountains and if you look along the outlet stream you get a nice view of the Mummy range in the distance. The hike doesn’t really have any great views as it forested the whole way. The forest is fairly thin, with lots of green ground cover.

I encountered a park ranger and seven other hikers all day. And I ran into all of them on the short spur trail between the Mummy Pass trail and the lake; nobody at all the rest of the way. I was expecting to see moose but they were all elsewhere. The only wildlife I saw was a grouse that crossed the trail in front of me early in the morning. At least I think it was a grouse – he (she?) blew up some sacs in his throat and made a sort of bullfrog noise. Even though the forest here is fairly thin, there were still several trees that had fallen and blocked the trail. On the hike out, I was doing some calculations, trying to come up with the odds of having a tree fall on me. “If tree X is going to randomly fall over this month, what are the chances I’m walking by when it happens?” I’m figuring most dead trees fall over during storms, or when it’s windy and working through an estimation of the number of dead trees on any given mile of trail. As I’m working through this, on this nice calm day, I’m approaching a dead tree. There’s an odd noise and I look up to see a branch falling off! I easily jumped out of the way, but I have to say it was a bit freaky to have this happen given my train of thought.

All in all, a wonderful day. The weather was excellent and the hike quite pleasant.

Keplinger Lake FAIL

Before I started this blog I had been posting trip reports to a forum for lovers of Rocky Mountain National Park. This is one of those reports, with only minor edits for clarity.

Hike date: 04 August 2012 — Originally posted: 05 August 2012 – 12:22 PM

Lewis W. Keplinger was a student of John Wesley Powell at Illinois State Normal University. Keplinger was a member of Powell’s expedition that first successfully climbed Long’s Peak in late August of 1868. The group first attempted the summit by starting near what is now Lake Powell. They climbed the sharp ridge that connects McHenry’s Peak with Chiefs Head and Pagoda Mtn. They found themselves cut off from their destination by “impassable chasms.” They retreated and made camp near Sandbeach Lake. The next day, Keplinger set off on his own to reconnoiter. He found a couloir winding up the south flank and managed to reach within several hundred feet of the summit before returning to camp after dark. On August 23, the group set off on Keplinger’s route at 7am. In a couple of hours they had attained his highest point where another member of the party remarked that no man could scale the point and live. By 10am, the party made the summit, led by Keplinger.

The hike to Keplinger Lake has been on my list for a couple of years, but I’ve been a bit afraid to attempt it. It’s something like 4 miles of hiking off-trail, and as none of my friends wants to hike with me, I’ve been thinking it’s too much off-trail for me to go solo. But I finally talked myself into it.

I hit the Sandbeach Lake trailhead at 7:30, about a half hour later than I had intended. The forecast was for cool weather, perhaps some rain, and the sky was overcast on the drive up from Denver. There was one little bit of clear, blue sky visible to the west and as I hiked the clouds evaporated leaving a pleasant sunny day with scattered fluffy clouds. The hike to Hunter’s Creek (about 3.2 miles) is pretty basic. The first section reminds me of the first part of the Lawn Lake trail – a fairly quick climb of about four hundred feet, then leveling out somewhat. I reached Hunter’s Creek at 9am.

A hiking report I found on another website said you head up the “faint” trail at Hunter’s Creek. This trail is quite easy to follow, except for the occasional spot where it is interrupted by recent deadfall. I’m guessing this trail is used mostly by folks climbing Long’s using Keplinger’s route, as to continue up Hunter’s Creek you must leave it where another stream meets the creek. From here on, there really isn’t any trail and the bushwhacking begins in earnest.

The forest thins out about this point and soon the hiker is presented with a nice view of Pagoda Mtn. The creek climbs steadily but not very steeply. I found it was often easier hiking to stay ten or twenty yards away from the creek. Before long a large snow bank becomes visible on the flank of Mt. Orton. The creek bends a bit to the right (north) and leads you into… not krummholz exactly, but the same sort of stuff – waist deep shrubbery. I found my way to an outcropping of rocks which put me on the southern shore of the unnamed lake lying about 11,200′. The view was incredible. By now it was 11:30. After a quick look around, I decided the best way to continue to Keplinger would be to back track a bit and cross Hunter’s Creek. I also decided it would take me another hour to reach my destination. Faced with another hour of hiking, or sitting here enjoying the view and eating my picnic lunch, I decided to save Keplinger Lake for another day.

Here’s a time lapse. It’s becoming clear to me that the GoPro isn’t up to the task. The automatic exposure control wreaks havoc on the results; whenever clouds shadowed the camera, it overexposed the view of Pagoda and Long’s. Oh well.

After about an hour I headed back down. I felt great all day, never particularly fatigued, and was making better time than normal at the end of the day. That ended when I got to that steep part just above the trail head. Dang big steps played havoc with my knees.

I didn’t make it to my intended destination, but I learned a few things. I know the route and know that it’s not as difficult as I had feared. The trip report I had read said it would take 8 hours at a fast pace. Clearly, it will take me a bit longer (I was on the trail 8.5 hours and fell a mile or so short) so maybe it’s more like 10 hours. If I can put boots on the trail by 7, I should be able to hit the lake by noon.

Frozen Lake

Before I started this blog I had been posting trip reports to a forum for lovers of Rocky Mountain National Park. This is one of those reports, with only minor edits for clarity.

Hike date: 14 July 2012 — Originally posted: 16 July 2012 – 09:40 AM

Blown down area [1]

Ed and I hiked to Frozen Lake on Saturday. The weather in the morning was quite nice but by the time we arrived at the lake storm clouds were promising a damp afternoon. We got sprinkled on a bit at the lake, then off and on until we got back down to Black Lake, where sprinkles turned into about an hour of rain.

Getting to Frozen Lake means I’ve now visited all 8 lakes in Glacier Gorge. Not a rare accomplishment, by any means, but satisfying nonetheless.

[An area between Black Lake and Mills Lake was hit by a micro-burst in late autumn of 2011. I first hiked through there in March of 2012.] The blown down area is much larger than I remember from when I

Blown down area [2]

hiked to Black Lake back on St. Patrick’s day.

I’m guessing it’s perhaps a mile long. A bit hard to tell the full extent of the damage as the dead trees are still fairly green. Many of the downed trees still have sizable chunks of earth attached to the roots. I’d say “root ball” but that overstates the amount of soil. More like “root disk” as many of these are only a few inches thick. In some cases, a six or eight foot section of the trail is now standing vertical next to bare rock.

Clearly, many hours were spent cutting trees from the trail. Also, clearly, trees are still falling over. as there are a couple of places where trees are blocking the trail. The downed trees aren’t uniformly

Blown down area [3]

pointing the same direction; many trees survived the initial winds but have been knocked over subsequently.

There was quite a bit of traffic to and from Frozen Lake. We took a short break when we arrived at Black Lake and within a few minutes there were more than a dozen people with us. Later, we chatted with several groups of climbers who summited the Spearpoint. And one couple recognized Ed. They had run into him on an earlier hike.

When we got to the top of the climb above Black Lake, we ran into a hiker coming down from Frozen. He went up closer to the Spearhead but descended

Frozen Lake panorama

Blue Lake in the distance

farther to the west and recommended this route as somewhat easier. We followed his suggestion. I have no basis for comparison, so I can’t say for sure it was an easier way, but on the way down we did get down quite a bit faster than two pairs of climbers who went the other way.

 

 

Here’s the time lapse. Cloud motion here is subtle compared to most of the others I’ve done. It starts to sprinkle half way through and you can see the raindrops hit the lens, then dry out.

 

Ypsilon Lake

Before I started this blog I had been posting trip reports to a forum for lovers of Rocky Mountain National Park. This is one of those reports, with only minor edits for clarity.

Hike date: 30 May 2012 — Originally posted: 01 June 2012 – 01:00 PM

Looks like I won’t have a chance for any more weekday hikes for a few months, so I had to get one more in. I didn’t want to deal with Bear Lake road so I decided Ypsilon Lake was a good choice. I wasn’t sure how far I wanted to go – perhaps I’d head up to Chiquita Lake or scout the route to Spectacle Lakes.

There was no snow on the trail until about Chipmunk Lake. From there on, there wasn’t a lot of snow but what was there was rotten. Many times I stepped where it looked like it had supported many hikers before me only to posthole to mid-thigh. Not a big deal, but it made for a few surprises. The weather was pretty good, mostly sunny and not too cool or too warm but the wind was fairly annoying. Once to Ypsilon I sat for a while to do a time lapse. After that I headed to the inlet. Quite a bit more snow there so I decided not to go any further. Back at Chipmunk I did another time lapse.

Every time I try one of these I learn a little bit more. My last few hikes I’ve carried a small tripod. It gives a bit more flexibility on camera placement and keeps the camera from moving. As long as I make sure to anchor the tripod properly in the wind. The camera is automatic everything so I’m a bit stuck. I’ve noticed issues with the exposure before, but nothing too extreme. This time there are definitely some overexposed frames. I’m wondering it will work better if the camera is in the shade. In any event, I really don’t want to manually edit the exposure on dozens of pictures.

Anyway, here’s the end result:

Snow Lake

I’ve been wanting to do this hike for a few weeks. Although the hike neither starts nor ends inside the park, it’s in Foster’s guide. And we did make a short side trip to walk a few paces inside the park, so it goes on my list of RMNP lakes.

Saturday, July 15

The trailhead for this hike is up a dirt road a few miles on the west side of Cameron Pass. Google tells me it’s two and three-quarter hours from my house. It’s a fairly short hike, 3.9 miles to Snow Lake, so we didn’t have to leave too early. Not knowing what condition that dirt road is in, I arranged with Genae to take her car. But when Chad got here, he volunteered to drive. We hit the road in his Pilot at 6:30.

The hike is in the Colorado State Forest State Park. Yes, two “states”. It’s a fee area. There’s a box after we turned off the highway with a place for envelopes and a drop slot. You put your money in the envelope, take the carbon copy and deposit the envelope in the slot. But there were no envelopes, other than one that wouldn’t fit through the slot because it was full of quarters. So I Just chucked the money in the slot.

When we got to the parking lot we find another box, this one with a good supply of envelopes. I put the carbon in the window, scribbled “put cash in other box” on the envelope and put it in the slot.

The trail looks like it used to be an access road to the Michigan Ditch. It clearly hasn’t been used as such for quite a while, but it probably could still serve that need if required. I haven’t researched it, but I assume the Michigan Ditch is roughly the same vintage as the Grand Ditch a few miles south. The Michigan Ditch diverts water from the Agnes Lake drainage to the Cache le Poudre River.

We can assume the former access road the trail follows was built to provide access for the construction of the ditch. This would be roughly a century ago. I can’t help but wonder how big an operation it was. What sort of equipment did they have? How many men doing earthwork and how many more to support them in this remote area? How long did it take to build these ditches?

I’ve been to Grand Ditch twice. It was dry both times. Michigan Ditch was carrying quite a bit of water today; clear, clean, cold. Above the ditch, no longer an access road, the trail narrows and switches back a few times as it climbs. There are abundant open views of the surrounding mountains: all rounded and smooth, with no cliffs and very few rock outcroppings. The Rocky Mountains aren’t so rocky here.

There were a good number of vehicles at the trailhead, and a corresponding number of people on the trail. Being a state park, dogs are allowed, and the majority of hikers had dogs with them. When we arrived at lower Michigan lake, we met three hikers with a dog. They were sitting on the stone blocks that make the trail, stepping stones across the outlet instead of a bridge. They got up to let us pass, but the dog growled and barked at us, protecting the bridge from us.

Lower Michigan Lake

My map indicates the trail to Snow lake goes to the left, where it junctions with the trail to Thunder Pass and into the Park. So that’s where we went. We soon encountered a hiker who told us there is no junction, this trail goes over Thunder Pass. The map is old; today the trail to Snow Lake is on the other side of the lower lake.

Looking north from Thunder Pass

Knowing now that we’re on the trail to Thunder Pass, we make it a side trip. We cross a shallow trickle of a stream and about forty yards of snow. Signs at the top of the pass demarcate the Park boundary. The view to the south is quite nice, if unspectacular. With our backs to Michigan Lakes, all the mountains in sight are rounded tundra. The lower hairpins of Trail Ridge Road are visible in the middle distance. Longs Peak is not visible.

Rather than backtracking to the outlet of the lower lake for the trail to Snow Lake, we head cross country on a route that will take us gently up the slope to the top of the bench that holds the lake. I thought it was a pretty easy climb. I paused at one point to get my bearings and take in the view when I heard a noise at my feet. It’s typical to find marmots in these jumbles of rock. Usually they bark or chirp to sound the alarm then scamper under a rock. This guy came out onto the rock at my feet and posed for us.

We had to cross the outlet stream, but that wasn’t a problem. The water was mostly running underneath the rocks. Where it was on the surface, it was easily stepped across. There was no krummholz to deal with. The only willow in the area was only inches tall. Wildflowers were varied and abundant, but not particularly dense.

Just before cresting the bench we came across the trail from the lakes below. Here we found columbines covering the ground in front of us. There was a patch of white columbines. I’d heard of white ones, but had never seen any.

From there, it was just a few hundred feet to the lake. The lake sits in a rocky bowl, some snow still draping the rocks on the southern shore. The rocks on this side were two to six feet across, with many that might make nice picnic spots. We worked our way a short distance from the top of the trail where the other hikers tended to congregate.

We stayed at the lake for about an hour. Chad spotted a marmot maybe a hundred yards down the shore. The marmot soon started on his way toward us. He made pretty good time. He was on a mission. It wasn’t until he got fairly close before he worried about staying out of sight.

Two hikers arrived at the lake a minute before us and four or five came and left while we were there, the last leaving just a few minutes before us. We followed the trail down to the lower lake. Or, tried to, anyway. We lost the trail coming down the steep slope. This was pretty much straight up and down the slope; I much preferred the way we went up. I think we lost the trail after wading through waist deep willow. Approaching upper Michigan lake, we cross a talus field. Here, it turns out, the trail splits to a high road and a low road. We took the high road, not really noticing. We were on a trail that went along the top of a ridge line; the other path went beside the lake shore.

Below the lakes we came across three women standing on the trail. They’d spotted a cow moose. We paused briefly and when we continued slowly down the trail the moose was working her way parallel to us a ways off the trail. When we got a bit ahead of her she bolted the opposite way. The three women were behind us, one asking “Was that a moose?”

Back near the ditch we encountered some bicyclists. They had been riding the service road beside the ditch and evidently decided to take a little side trip. Their gear and clothing all looked brand new and they seemed out of place to me. I suspect they didn’t get far up the trail before turning around. I suspect they were much more comfortable along the ditch.

We were back to Ft. Collins by five, where we tracked down first some beers, then tacos. It was a most pleasant day.

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.

 

Two Rivers Lake

Sunday, March 19

I talked Chad into hiking with me. Somehow, two weeks in a row. Last week we took the short hike to Emerald Lake. It snowed the whole time. I don’t know if it technically qualifies as a blizzard, but it was snowing and the wind was blowing. I told him it was some of the most dramatic scenery around. But we couldn’t see any of it.

After many months without hiking, followed by an unsatisfactory hike, I felt I had to do it again. So I asked Chad if he wanted to do another hike, a little longer this time, and hopefully better weather. He didn’t accept right away. Perhaps he finally agreed in spite of his better judgement.

It was a beautiful day, with a forecast high in Denver of over 80. One of the great things about hiking in the Park is that you can get away from the summer heat. It’s only March and it’s a bit distressing that I’m already looking to escape the heat. A March hike along the divide is one way to do it.

Before we hit the trail I warned Chad to be careful whose footsteps he follows. We’d be crossing a couple of open spaces where the footprints get blown away and the “beaten path” might be hard to find. And we need to stay on the beaten path because we’re wearing micro spikes rather than snowshoes. If we get off the path we could be postholing.

When we got to the first of these open areas we met a group of four hikers heading back to Bear Lake. They’d built an igloo and camped nearby. We didn’t find it until we were on the way back; must have walked right by it somehow. It was a big one – sleeps four!

We found ourselves on a fairly well-traveled path, but as we got closer to the lake I began to dislike it. We were following tracks that seemed to take a more difficult route than was necessary. We were climbing too far up Joe Mills Mountain for my taste. Before long we met another couple of hikers on their way back. These two said they visit Lake Helene quite often in the summer, even climbing up the canyon above it to a small unnamed pond beneath Notchtop.

Last year when I hiked here, everybody I ran into thought Two Rivers Lake was Odessa Lake. These two, who have visited here often in summer, told us that Helene was real close and that we’d already passed Two Rivers. They were wrong. What they thought was Helene was actually Two Rivers. It’s funny how a little snow can change the terrain.

Once at the lake, we found a spot out of the wind and settled down for a picnic. Actually, it was more standing around than settling down as all the snow-free rocks that would make nice seats were in the teeth of the strong wind. We opted for shelter in the trees, where there were no good places to sit. We stayed nearly an hour.

We followed a different set of footprints on the way back. On one of the steeper open slopes we spotted below us the route we followed in the morning. Then we managed to get off the tracks we were now following. I decided we were too high up the hillside and the tracks we really wanted to follow were below us. So I headed off into virgin snow.

I knew our morning route was below us but we were descending a bit more than I wanted to, so I decided to contour along the slope. With these warm, bright days and cold nights the snow was pretty crusty. Had to tread carefully, though, as I was often on the verge of breaking that crust and stepping crotch deep into the snow. A few minutes later we came across the beaten path again.

This morning when I told Chad he’d have to be careful whose footsteps he followed, I’m pretty sure he didn’t think I was warning him about me.