Archive for June, 2010

  • Points Earned:  0
  • Trip Date:  June 25, 2010
  • Wilderness Area:  N/A
  • Wilderness Size:  N/A
  • Location:  Front Range, Colorado
  • Destination:  Lost Lake
  • Total Miles:  3.3
  • Elevation Differential:  800 feet
  • Duration:  Day Hike

Lost Lake

I learned on my previous hike just the day before that in late June this year there was still lots of snow above about 10,000 feet.  This would make it difficult to reach the real high lakes and peaks without additional equipment for at least a couple more weeks.

But, it was a very hot day in Denver (upper 90’s) and I wanted to get high to get out of the heat.  So, on my National Forest Map, I found this mid-elevation lake at 9,800 feet just outside the boundary of the Indian Peaks Wilderness.

The trail to Lost Lake starts at the Hessie Trailhead near the Eldora Mountain Ski Area.  One of the most interesting features of this hike is actually the last mile or so of the access road to the trailhead.  Early in the year, the high water from the stream overflows the road for several hundred feet.  If you want to drive to the end of the trailhead you have to drive straight up the flowing creek (and back down on the return).

I took a video of the drive through the stream on the way back.  Check out the YouTube link below for that.


The Hessie Trailhead serves as an access point for numerous high alpine lakes and passes in the Indian Peaks Wilderness Area.  The first spur trail off of the main artery, however, goes to Lost Lake, which is outside the wilderness boundary.

At the trailhead you immediately cross the creek on a footbridge, then proceed fairly steeply on an old jeep trail.  Before long, you hear the rush of a waterfall on your left.  In late June, the water was very high from runoff and it was quite an impressive display.  I was fascinated by this little lone pine tree growing straight out of the rock in the middle of the stream at the top of a waterfall:

Tree surrounded by whitewater

Not far beyond the first waterfall, from the other side of the stream, you come to a second impressive waterfall viewed from below:

Second Waterfall on the way to Lost Lake

After about 1.5 miles the spur trail to Lost Lake leads from the main trail to the left (south).  A fairly steep .3 miles further leads to the lake itself.  While the scenery is not spectacular compared to many alpine lakes, it is serene and peaceful:

Lost Lake

Given that this trail is a short drive from the Boulder area and it is a relatively short hike, it is popular with both dayhikers and backpackers.  There are 9 designated primitive campsites at the lake, and several are quite nice.  For me, the greater attraction of this hike was Middle Boulder Creek in its raging high-water late-June form.  Here’s another view of the whitewater from a footbridge midway up the trail:

And, of course, back at the trailhead, Redbeast safe and sound:

Redbeast waiting patiently at the trailhead for her owner to return


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  • Points Earned:  1
  • Trip Date:  June 24, 2010
  • Wilderness Area:  James Peak
  • Wilderness Size:  14,000 acres
  • Location:  Front Range Colorado
  • Destination:  Lower Crater Lake
  • Total Miles:  5.5
  • Elevation Differential:  1,325 feet
  • Duration:  Day Hike

Lower Crater Lake

This was my first true “high country” hike of 2010, and on June 24th, there was still a substantial amount of snow on the ground above about 10,000 feet.

This was also my first hike in the James Peak Wilderness area, giving me a full point towards my goal of 150.

Geographically, the James Peak Wilderness Area is just the southern extension of the Indian Peaks Wilderness with only the four-wheel-drive Rollins Pass Road to break up the two areas.  James Peak is a fairly new wilderness area (designated in 2002) vs. the Indian Peaks (designated in 1978).  There are several lake systems within James Peak and it receives far fewer visitors than the overcrowded east side of the Indian Peaks.  Hopefully, the James Peak Wilderness will help to thin out the crowds in the over-used Indian Peaks.

This hike begins at the Moffet Train Tunnel.  The tunnel, constructed in the 1920’s, goes under the Continental Divide, and is still in use today.  It’s not the most attractive trailhead in terms of natural scenery, but once past the entrance of the tunnel, the hiker is taken straight into the designated wilderness and the view of the tunnel entrance is quickly replaced with scenes of clear streams, forest, and mountains.

This is the South Boulder Creek Trail, which serves as an access trail to several lake systems in the James Peak Wilderness.  At least two or three foot-bridges in the first half mile of the trail take you back and forth over the clear streams flowing out of the high mountains:

Footbridge across South Boulder Creek

After a nice two miles up the beautiful valley, the Crater Lakes Spur Trail breaks off to the north and begins a steep climb.  Soon, some views of the higher peaks and ridges to the south come into view:

View of a high ridge near James Peak. James Peak itself is just a little off the right side of this photo

As the trail climbed steeply towards the lakes, at around 10,000 feet, patches of snow began appearing along the trail:

Snow on trail at 10,000 feet on June 24th

Before long, the trail was completely covered in mounds of snow.  This required some creative route-finding and common sense directioning to where I knew the lake would be:

Still lots of snow at around 10,400 feet on June 24th

It wasn’t long before I stumbled straight to the Lower Crater Lake which, despite the snow in the forest, was free of ice and beautiful:

Lower Crater Lake

Because of the snow, I decided not to attempt to reach Upper Crater lake, which is several hundred feet higher than the lower lake.

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  • Points Earned:  0
  • Trip Date:  June 17, 2010
  • Wilderness Area:  N/A
  • Wilderness Size:  N/A
  • Location:  Colorado Front Range Foothills
  • Destination:  South St. Vrain River and Miller Rock
  • Total Miles:  6
  • Elevation Differential:  700 feet
  • Duration:  Day Hike

Sout St. Vrain River along the Ceran St. Vrain Trail

Ceran St. Vrain was a 19th century frontiersman who trapped in the Colorado Front Range area.  This trail, along with the  St. Vrain river system, is named after him.

The Ceran St. Vrain Trail seems to have no real destination, but with its 1.8 miles along the river, no final destination is needed.  The trail stays close to the stream the whole way, passing beautiful pools, riffles and rapids.  The waters of the South St. Vrain curve, dip and splash around large boulders at times, and at other times, flow gently by grassy banks or over sun-lightened rocky shallows:

The South St. Vrain River

At the trailhead, the trail immediately crosses the stream on a long wooden footbridge:

Footbridge at the start of the Ceran St. Vrain Trail

The trail is cool and liesurely as it follows gradually downstream, never far from the water:

The trail along the South St. Vrain

After 1.8 miles, the Ceran St. Vrain trail ends at an old jeep road.  The river continues enticingly trailless into a tightening canyon.  I made a note to myself about a future fishing opportunity down the trailless part of the stream.

Even though the Ceran St. Vrain Trail ended here, my hike did not end.  I walked the jeep road to the left (west) up a steep hill and away from the stream.  After about a 1/2 mile I reached the Miller Rock spur trail.

The Miller Rock spur trail climbs steeply for about another 3/4 mile before rouding the namesake rock to the south and topping out on a parklike foothills summit about 8,800 feet in elevation.  From here there are glimpses of Longs Peak and some of the Indian Peaks here and there through the trees.

Near Miller Rock. Longs Peak is in the background, but the lighting and my cheap digital camera prevented a good exposure.

I headed back to the trailhead about 7 o’clock on a Friday evening.  The first 1/2 mile or so of the Ceran St. Vrain  Trail has a number of nice designated primitive camp sites, and by the time I walked back in that direction, there were several groups of campers setting up for the night along the stream.

This trail is a bit unusual in that it is in-between the foothills areas and the high peaks areas of the front range.  The cities and counties along the front range have created many lower foothills open spaces nearer to town with huge networks of trails.  And, of course, the high mountains of the Indian Peaks and James Peak Wilderness areas, and Rocky Mountain National Park, offer near limitless backcountry opportunities.  But, in the transition zone between the lower foothills and the high mountains, there seems to be a corridor where trail hiking opportunities are more limited.  This is one trail within that interesting transition between the foothills and the high country, and it’s perfect for a mid-spring or fall hike.

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  • Points Earned:  0
  • Trip Date:  June 15, 2010
  • Wilderness Area:  N/A
  • Wilderness Size:  N/A
  • Location:  Front Range Foothills, Colorado
  • Destination:  Button Rock Reservoir
  • Total Miles:  5
  • Elevation Change:  Approx. 700 feet
  • Duration:  Day Hike

Button Rock Rservoir on a dead-calm afternoon

This hike does not qualify for any points towards my Wilderness 150 objective, nor will many others that I post.  There are some great hikes and destinations that lie outside of federally designated wilderness areas!

The Sleepy Lion Trail is located in the recently designated “Button Rock Preserve” which is administered by the city of Longmont, Colorado.  Before it was the Button Rock Preserve, it was one of those “secret” fishing places I used to go to as a kid 20-25 years ago.  Very few people knew about it then.  We would go up there, just a few minutes west of the town of Lyons, and fish for rainbows in the North St. Vrain.

Now that it has been officially designated and publicized as a “preserve” many more people know about this once “secret” fishing spot.  This is a miniature example of what I like to call the “National Park Syndrome.” It happens with wilderness areas as well.  An effort to preserve, manage and protect a beautiful natural area results in drastically increased human visitation.  For those of us who value solitude to go along with our scenery, this can be dissappointing at times.

But, there is an important trade-off.  Now that the area is designated as a “preserve,” fundiing has allowed for the construction of new trails, the installation of a parking lot at the trailhead, and reasonable regulations to keep the area pretty and enjoyable for those who visit.  And, if solitude is important, a little creativity in timing and location is usually all that’s needed.

This loop hike begins with a .75 mile stroll along the closed-to-the-public Button Rock Dam service road which closely follows the beautiful North St. Vrain River.  This is where I used to catch quite a few nice rainbow trout as a kid.  In June the water is very high from snowmelt higher up:

North St. Vrain River along the Button Rock Dam service road, which forms part of the Sleepy Lion Loop.

At the .75 mile point, a sign on the left indicates the start of the Sleepy Lion foot trail:

Beginning of the Sleepy Lion Trial from 3/4 miles up the walkable access road

The foot trail climbs fairly steeply from here up to a beautiful green meadow wheer it temporarily levels out:

Meadow on Sleepy Lion Trail

Another 1/2 mile or so of steep trail after the meadow takes the hiker to a junction with the Hall Ranch Open Space trail system.  From this area there are views over the top of Button Rock Reservoir and Longs Peak in the background.  In the spring the reservoir is full and quite pretty:

Button Rock Reservoir and Longs Peak in the distance from near the high-point of the Sleepy Lion Trail

Stay right from the top of the hill and the Sleepy Lion Trail route follows an old paved driveway of sorts down to the spillway below the dam.  At this time of year, with heavy snowmelt, the spillway was an ear-splitting, raging, torrent of horizontal whitewater.  I spent some time watching the power of water here:

High pressure water rushing out of the Button Rock Dam spillway

From the spillway, I hiked straight up the face of the dam (there is an easier, more gradual trail that leads to the lake and skirts the dam to the north, I found out only after I climbed up the front):

Looking down on the spillway from near the top of the dam

Once I reached the top of the dam, I found a serene setting by the lake.  The afternoon was perfectly calm and the lake was like glass.  It was ironic since the Weather Service had a “high wind warning” posted for the area at that time.  The unexpected calmness was a pleasant surprise:

Button Rock Reservoir

From the reservoir, the return follows the service road for about 1.75 miles back to the trailhead.  Along the way a 30-foot waterfall on a tributary stream is passed as the tributary’s waters flow into the North St. Vrain.  When I was a kid, we fished the waters of this small stream above the falls and caught rainbows around 15 inches.  With the larger river so near, and the barrier of the waterfall to overcome, very few people fished the tributary (which is probably still the case), and the fish above the falls in the much smaller creek seemed to grow larger on average!

Waterfall on tributary to the North St. Vrain

After a nice 5 mile loop, it was back to the “Red Beast” for the short drive home…

The jeep, a.k.a. Redbeast

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