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.