Bitter Wind at Lake Haiyaha

Sunday, January 26

I’m repeating myself when I say that it’s been too long since I’ve had a walk in the park. This time, it has been five weeks. So I reached out to Ed to see what he had going. He was taking a group up to Haiyaha but said they’d allow one more.

I collected Ed at his house, just a few minutes late, and we headed to the Bear Lake parking lot where we met the rest of the group: six ladies, whose names I would get wrong if I attempted to list them here. I’m sorry I’m so bad with names.

Every time I’ve had Ed lead me to Haiyaha in the winter we’ve gone the same way. This time we took a different route. I’ve seen Ed post pictures of “Beard Falls” many times, always wondering where the heck it is. Well, now I know. Pretty much. As with his other route, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t be able to go this way without his help.

Nymph Lake

Rather than starting up the paved trail towards Nymph Lake and striking cross-country at the large boulder, we took the back way from Bear to Nymph, then headed southwest. Before long, we found ourselves at the base of a series of switchbacks that climb steeply uphill. At the top of this climb, we connected with the summer trail from Dream Lake to Haiyaha pretty much where that trail crosses the outlet from the lake.

It was very pleasant walking through the woods, where the trees protect the hiker from the wind. I’ll say, though, that even at the parking lot it wasn’t particularly windy, so I was thinking it might even be pleasant at the lake. Certainly, there was no indication of what we were to see while we were making the climb.

I always find it interesting how the snow piles up on the terrain. Often, the rocks were topped by giant pillows of snow, and in some of the open areas the wind piles up the snow, then seems to carve it into intricate shapes. I’ve tried many times to get photos of some of these sights, but the most interesting ones are often subtle, and there’s just too little contrast in the white shapes for my photographic skills to deal with.

We had a short pause just before reaching the lake to add back on some of the layers of clothing we’d removed during the climb. And sunglasses or goggles were recommended. It’s always windy on the ice of these high alpine lakes along the Continental Divide. Still, I was hoping it wouldn’t be too extreme.

It was extreme. I hauled the SLR in my pack thinking I’d spend some quality time trying to get some interesting photos of the ice. But to use the SLR, I need to take off my gloves and sunglasses. It only took me a minute or two to decide it just wasn’t worth it. My hands were cold almost instantly, and I didn’t care too much for the snow blowing into my eyes. So I packed the SLR away and set up the GoPro for the time-lapse. I’ve been here before, and I’ll be here again.

Everybody was on their own for a few minutes investigating the ice before we met up on the west side of the lake, out of the wind. Ed had an igloo not far up the slope, so we made the short climb up to it. I didn’t go in, but we dug the blown snow out of the entrance. The top had sagged somewhat since it was built. Ed didn’t think I’d be able to stand up in it.

We all noshed our lunches and relaxed for a few minutes before heading back down. I had one challenge to complete before we left: find the GoPro. I set it in the snow rather than on a rock, figuring that the wind would blow it over. Well, there is no shortage of rocks here, and the camera is small. And, I worried, maybe it got buried by the blowing snow. Luckily, I managed to locate it without too much difficulty.

Our return route was my usual route with Ed. I lollygagged a bit to be at the end of the line, to be “tail-end Charlie”. I hiked in the middle for a while but found it more comfortable to be at the back, neither tailgating nor tailgated. I could stop occasionally to take in the sights.

Since we left Nymph Lake in the morning until we regained the trail in the afternoon, we met no other hikers and saw only one set of footprints. This solitude is a common occurrence on my hikes to Haiyaha with Ed. I’d call it “high-efficiency” solitude: I usually have to walk much, much farther to get three hours of the stuff.

All in all, it was another beautiful day in the neighborhood, even if it was uncomfortably windy at the lake. I usually prefer hiking with a smaller group, but I have no complaints and variety is the spice of life. Good people, stunning scenery, pleasant weather (in the trees!).

It’s tough to beat a day like this.

40° 18′ 25″ N, 109° 39′ 37″ W, or Thereabouts

Things have been a bit on the slow side at work lately. With summer hiking season winding down, I figured I could pick a day with a favorable weather forecast to take some PTO and hit the trails. The weather wonks in the Denver area have been missing their forecasts lately, predicting warmer weather than we’ve actually been getting, so this added a bit of variability. They told me Wednesday would be the warmest day for the foreseeable future so Tuesday afternoon I asked for Wednesday off.

Wednesday, October 3

I planned on a rather short hike, which meant I didn’t need to leave the house before sunrise. But a later start also meant I’d be facing morning rush hour traffic. As I work from home I almost never have to deal with traffic, so getting out in it once in a while is a good reminder as to how spoiled I am.

The Chrysler is getting old, and it sitting outside isn’t helping much. She’s getting senile. I can’t use the automatic headlights because every now and then they start flashing randomly. And the intermittent wiper often gives two or three wipes at a time. And so, when I saw the outside temperature reading at 73° on the approach to Estes I figured that was wrong, but the thermometer doesn’t yet seem to be demented. It did cool back down dramatically as I got closer to the Park.

On the way through town I spotted what I thought of as a clear-sky rainbow. I know that you don’t get rainbows without rain, but this one looked to be situated well away from any clouds. It was clear above, and the only clouds in sight were draped across the Continental Divide. Well, “socked in” more adequately describes it. Nothing above about 11,000′ was visible.

I was a bit surprised by how many people were in the park, given that it’s a weekday. The Bear Lake parking lot wasn’t yet full (but it was full when I left a bit after 1:00pm). This time of year I expect mostly locals, but there were still quite a few cars with Illinois, Minnesota, Texas, and California plates.

When I got out of the car it wasn’t particularly chilly, but it was (surprise, surprise!) fairly windy. By now I treat “windy” as the default state of things along the Divide, unless it’s mid-Summer, and sometimes even then. I wasn’t going very far, and I wasn’t exactly going to visit a lake; my intention was to spend my time surrounded by trees, so I didn’t let the wind bother me. But I didn’t put too much thought into exactly where those trees would be. My destination was the ridge that separates Dream Lake from Lake Haiyaha.

I took the shortcut from Bear Lake to Nymph Lake not so much to shorten the walk as to avoid the crowds. Rather than hustle up the Haiyaha trail, I followed the trail the few yards to the shore of Dream Lake. The clouds were impenetrable over the divide but the fierce winds that carried them east also tore them apart. To the east the skies were clear, and in the zone in between, the sun was able to play “now you see me, now you don’t” with the lakes. A few minutes patience allowed me a view of a sunny Dream Lake with clouds above.

After another quick pause to take in the views to the east, I left the trail before crossing Haiyaha’s outlet stream. There’s a bit of a trail here that gets used by the rock climbers that lasts until you reach talus. Once in the rocks I started heading uphill. It’s not too steep and there isn’t much to hinder progress – little deadfall and no rock outcroppings – and found myself at the top of the ridge in no time.

I sat up there for about an hour, letting the cameras run. I tried to stay out of the wind, but here at 10,472′ (according to GPS) it was a challenge. I found a place that wasn’t too bad. I kept an eye on the lake. For the last year or a bit more it has a distinctly glacial color to it. There was a slide a while back up the canyon and the snowmelt that passes over and through the slide has carried some sediment to the lake that gives it a turquoise color when viewed from above in sunlight. But every time the sun illuminated the lake it was over before I could capture that nice color. That just gives me an excuse to revisit this spot next summer, even though the color is already fading.

I made it back to the car pretty early so I decided to make a stop at Sprague Lake. I can’t help but notice that it hasn’t been on my list of lakes I’ve visited. Thinking about that oversight it occurs to me that I certainly haven’t been there in at least thirty years. That makes me wonder if I’ve ever actually been there. I’ve got to believe we were there as a family when I was a kid. Right? How can I have spent so much time in the Park, driven by the place hundreds of times, and never been there?

I took my time at Sprague. I let the camera run again for another half hour or so. The wind was not any less here than on the ridge above Haiyaha, particularly on the windward side. I was surprised the wind didn’t jostle my camera, as it was enough to kick up spray from the lake’s surface and unbalance the unwary pedestrian. The clouds were no longer obscuring the peaks but it wasn’t clearing up. If anything, they looked more threatening. Until you turned around and faced east, where it remained sunny.

The weather forecast turned out to be spot on. At roughly 3:30 I was mired in Boulder’s afternoon rush hour in balmy 83° sunshine.

I was hoping for better results on the time lapse. The Sprague Lake portion came out fine, with the possible exception of some spray hitting the lens. But the ridgetop sections don’t show any of the details of the clouds. The GoPro is just too wide-angle, and with the auto exposure it doesn’t handle changing light well at all. I haven’t been using the SLR since the cheap little tripod I was using broke. I guess I need to find a new tripod.

Chaos Canyon

Sunday, July 15

Lake Haiyaha sits at the entrance to Chaos Canyon. The canyon stretches roughly a mile and a half above the lake, ending at a couple of glaciers hanging below the saddle between Hallett Peak and Otis Peak. I’ve been to the lake many times but have never ventured very far up the canyon. The lake sits in a boulder field and this setting is emblematic of the terrain in the entire canyon. The few times I’ve attempted to get anywhere in the canyon ended with a nice view of the lake, but only a few hundred yards up.

On a recent hike with Ed he talked about visiting the small unnamed pond about two-thirds of the way up the canyon. He has named it “Quaint Pond” because there aren’t any bodies of water in the park having names starting with the letter Q and because he finds the pond… quaint.

I wonder about why some features in the park get named while others don’t. Quaint Pond may technically be better called Chaos Tarn but in any event it is officially unnamed. It isn’t because of its size: in the next canyon to the north, above Emerald Lake, there’s a similarly sized pond called Pool of Jade. An even smaller one in the canyon to the south, above The Loch, is called Embryo Lake. Ed suggests that many remain unnamed so people will be less inclined to visit them.

I knew from experience that I wouldn’t be able to make it to Chaos Tarn on my own, so I asked Ed if he’d take me up there. He promptly assented. We first planned on going Saturday but due to other obligations Ed wanted to switch to Sunday. I’d picked Saturday because it had a more favorable weather forecast, but the threat of rain and cooler temperatures on Sunday didn’t particularly bother me. In any event, if I wanted Ed to take me up there, Sunday was it.

We agreed I’d meet him at his place no later than six. I had a couple minor problems doing this. First, I got a few blocks from the house before realizing I forgot my phone. Then I ran into an unexpected construction detour in Boulder. So I kept Ed waiting for a few minutes. He wanted to make sure we got a parking spot at Bear Lake. We arrived by his target time of seven and found plenty of open parking spaces.

As expected, it was fairly cool. Also as expected, the skies were overcast with some of the clouds looking a bit threatening. We had a brief chat with one of the park volunteers who told us the forecast called for a band of rain starting maybe around one. That would clear but be followed by a heavier round. We were not deterred.

I didn’t check the times when we left Bear Lake and arrived at Haiyaha, but we made pretty good time. We took the shortcut from Bear to Nymph, avoiding some traffic. We were early enough that there were very few hikers between Dream and Haiyaha.

White columbine

The hike really begins here at Haiyaha. We stuck to the south side of the canyon, the north slope of the long eastern ridge of Otis Peak. Where there is soil there’s a sort of trail. Actually, there is a choice of trails. That’s because from here all the way up to the tarn we’re mostly rock hopping. It’s about a mile from the lake to the tarn and perhaps a couple hundred yards of that isn’t on the rocks. And this stuff isn’t the usual talus where you can easily step from one rock to the next. In many cases the rocks are quite large, and there are significant holes below you.

At four or five places we came across large snow fields. It didn’t occur to me to bring the microspikes, but they’d have been handy. Crossing the snow rather than the rocks would make things easier, but the edges of the snow weren’t so much snow as solid ice. It was quite treacherous around the edges. When we did cross the snow, we pretty much stuck to the edges as a slip and fall would end in a negative outcome.

Ed has been up this way a number of times. Although the destination is well-known (“We want to go just to the right of that snow field there“), there’s still quite a challenge with route finding. Along the way he’d point out sub-optimal routes: “Went up that gully once, it’s not a good way to go!”

By the time we caught sight of the pond, the clouds had closed in and obscured the peaks around us. Mist hung off the south flank of Hallett, and the divide – half a mile to the west and a thousand feet above – was totally obscured. Before we found a place to sit it had begun to rain. I was skeptical that I’d get any interesting footage for the time lapse video, but I set up the camera anyway.

Chaos Tarn -or- “Quaint Pond”

We didn’t dilly-dally. We tucked into our lunches and before long were ready to begin our trek out of the canyon. We were there only about twenty minutes. One of our concerns now was the rain making the rocks slippery. Bare rock wasn’t too bad, but when wet the lichen can make rock hopping treacherous. Lucky for us, the lichen isn’t as abundant at 11,000′ as it is at 9.000′.

The clouds followed us down the canyon. Occasionally we’d see brighter spots scooting down the opposite wall giving a bit of variety to the gray. About when we got back to Haiyaha, the ceiling had dropped below us: we were in fog. At one of the overlooks where we’d typically have a nice view of Long’s, we couldn’t see more than a hundred yards. But there it more or less stopped. When we descended toward Dream Lake, we emerged from the clouds.

Fog near Haiyaha

It had more or less stopped raining before we got back to Haiyaha, and from then on out to the parking lot we had only occasional sprinkles. It would be easy to complain about getting rained on, but, frankly, the weather was an interesting variation. In spite of the rain, there’s no denying it was still a beautiful day in the park.

Long’s Peak-less overlook

I include the time lapse in spite of its brevity, and the occasional raindrop on the lens. And an insect makes an appearance; the camera moved slightly, but I don’t think I can blame the bug! Although it wasn’t so obvious in real time, you can clearly see the ceiling coming down.

We stopped in Estes for a refreshing beer. By the time we left the brewery it was raining in earnest. Although the bit of rain we had didn’t bother me too much, I was happy that we missed the heavier rain that followed us all the way back to Lyons and home.

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.

Lake Haiyaha

Saturday, July 1

It has been a while since I visited Lake Haiyaha in the summer. I have been there many times, and the last three or four visits were in winter. For me, winter and summer trips to are so different that they may as well not have been the same place.

In winter, I follow a route that I’ve proven I’m unable to find on my own. I’ve successfully navigated to ninety lakes in the park, and I’ve spent a lot of time around Bear Lake. It doesn’t bother me that I haven’t been able to get there without a guide. On the contrary, it makes a common hike unusual. On these winter Haiyaha hikes we don’t encounter many other hikers, which is unusual for so close to Bear Lake.

And, of course, in winter the landscape is totally different. Some gullies get filled in, some drifts are twenty feet deep. You take different routes. In winter, at Haiyaha, the water level drops so much, massive shards of ice make volcano shapes around large no-longer-submerged boulders. So although I’ve been there four or five times in the last ten years, it’s been maybe ten years since I’ve been there in summer. It is time to face the crowds and go in summer.

It’s a short hike, so I didn’t need to be early. I’d park at the park and ride and shuttle to Bear Lake. The line for the bus was the longest I’ve ever seen it, but the wait wasn’t too bad. I was on the trail by 9:15. The route I always take is Bear Lake to Nymph and Dream, then to Haiyaha. The return is down to the Loch Vale trail junction, then either the Fire Trail or by Alberta Falls to the Glacier Gorge bus stop.

Between Bear Lake and the trail junction at Dream Lake, a distance of 1.1 miles, I passed over a hundred people. This is people were standing or sitting trailside or hiking in my direction. Not many people going the other way. Conga-line hiking.

From Dream to the bridge over the outlet of Haiyaha it was much better. I could still hear the voices of people on the trail below. My original plan was to go above Haiyaha a little way up Chaos Canyon. Michael and I did that last time we came here. You get a nice view of the lake, but eastern views are not the most dramatic here. With that in mind, I came across a family sitting on a log, taking selfies. They were right next to a fairly obvious trail, which I followed.

The trail petered out after a while, but I easily traversed a small ridge and made my way to the northern shore of Lake Haiyaha. I’d never been on this side before. The trail dumps you into a large pile of boulders. There’s no shore. Here there are many places one could dip their feet into the water, and there is shade, if you want it. I worked my way a bit farther to the west and found a nice spot with a view of Long’s Peak, a much more interesting horizon than up the canyon above the lake. And, best of all, no neighbors.

Spiders construct substantial webs between the boulders. Sometimes they can be hard to spot. One day, traversing a large talus field, the light was just right. I could spot them from several feet away, and see the spider scramble from the center to safety on the rock as I approached. To say that Lake Haiyaha features a rich insect life might be to understate it. Here, today, the spider webs were easy to spot – they all had dozens of captured insects.

I found a nice spot to relax, a seat in the shade and three feet away a seat in the sun with the flank of Otis Peak front and center, the top of the canyon to the right, capped with heavy cornices of snow, and the erect nipple of Long’s Peak to the left. There was a cloud of gnats not far to my left, but they stayed where they were and didn’t annoy me. The occasional horse fly or curious bee made a visit, but no mosquitoes.

I brought both GoPros with me and the cell phone but not the SLR. I tried to get a picture of the laden spider webs but the cell phone isn’t up to it. I was game to get some nice time lapse footage but there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. Pretty blue skies, but just a shade on the hazy side due to wildfires in Utah. But it was clearly particulate matter and not water – passing jetliners’ contrails spanned fingers only a few inches apart, held at arms length.

I reached my spot at 10:10. I didn’t have any other plans for the day, so in theory I could sit here for something like four hours and still get home by 5:00. Surely in the next hour or hour and a half, some clouds would start bubbling up along the divide.

There was nobody on my side of the lake, but twenty or thirty at any given time on the other side. When the wind was calm, or a light breeze blew across the lake to me, I could hear snippets of their conversations. They were a chatty bunch.

At 11:30 I saw a tiny wisp of cloud above Half Mountain so I started up one of the cameras. This little wisp struggled only a short while, lived only a few minutes. I let the camera run, in case it might make a comeback. Alas, it was the only cloud I saw until I was off the trail at 1:45.

Shortly after noon I decided it was time to pack up. Nothing was happening in the sky. Normally, I sit at a lake for thirty minutes to an hour. I’d been here two hours and enjoyed every minute of it. But now I was hearing voices on my side of the lake, somewhere to my east.

On the way to the trail I found the people I’d heard a few minutes before. I surprised them when I greeted them on my way out. As usual, I headed out the back way toward the Loch Vale trail junction. I wasn’t sure yet whether I’d go by Alberta Falls or take the shortcut. I had this section of trail, from the lake to the junction, all to myself. My solitude ended as soon as I hit the main trail again. Any doubt I had as to my way back evaporated like that tiny wisp of cloud. I’d take the shortcut and avoid the hundreds of people on the trail.

I’m happy that I can hike to a place I’ve been to many times before and still get some pleasure out of it. I’m reluctant to take these shorter hikes in summer because of the crowds. Today was probably one of the busiest days of the year. On my way out of the park, the line of cars at the entrance station stretched to just a few yards short of the Beaver Meadows visitor center. Cars were parked illegally along long stretches of Bear Lake Road, and all the parking lots and pullouts were full. And yet, I was able to find a few yards of quiet trail in the busiest part of the park.

Just another beautiful day in the park.

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.