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Archive for the ‘Indian Peaks’ Category

  • Points Earned:  1
  • Trip Date:  January, 2011
  • Wilderness Area:  Indian Peaks
  • Wilderness Size:  77,711 acres
  • Distance:  8 miles
  • Duration:  Day Hike
  • Destination:  Mitchell Lake

    A foot bridge covered by lots of snow

Okay, so it’s been way too long since I’ve posted anything.  I have a good excuse:  The birth of my daughter in July!  Although she has brought indescribable joy into our lives it pretty much removed any opportunity for hiking and backpacking this summer.  It’s not cool to leave your wife and 2-week-old newborn home alone to go scampering around in the woods.  But, I did do a nice snowhoeing trip in the Indian Peaks back in January that, until now, I hadn’t gotten around to posting a report on.  So, here it is.

I had hiked up to Blue Lake the prior August, and after receiving some hand-me-down snowshoes, the first place I could think to try them out was Blue Lake.  I remember wondering what that beautiful lake would be like in the Winter.

Blue Lake in the winter would be a substantial challenge, not just because snowshoeing is more strenuous than hiking, but because the access to the Brainard Lake Rec Area in winter is at the “winter gate.” That’s about 2 miles or so from Brainard Lake (in summer you just drive right up to and past Brainard Lake).  That would make it about 10-11 miles to get to Blue Lake and back, double the summer distance.

I started out at the winter gate on a designated snowshoe route.  Finding that the heavily used trail was hard-packed I decided not to strap on the snowshoes just yet.  I hiked in my regular boots up to Brainard Lake and all the way up to the Mitchell Lake Trailhead.

Snow-drifted Brainard Lake Road with Brainard Lake in the background

 

Brainard Lake Road and Lake in Summer. It's a very different place in winter.

 

Some lonely ski tracks lead into the Indian Peaks Wilderness

 
At the Mitchell Lake Trailhead I looked around.  All the other snowshoers were behind me and I was the only person here.  In Summer this trailhead and trail, one of the most heavily used in Colorado, is packed with hundreds of people.  Now, it was deserted and perfectly quiet.  I strapped on the snowshoes and stepped into the soft snow.
 
I really enjoyed the mile or so up to Mitchell Lake.  I followed those ski tracks through the trees, up and over little hills, and over footbridges buried under feet of snow.
 
When I reached Mitchell Lake I wanted to do the one thing you can’t do in summer:  Walk out on the lake itself.  As I stepped from the forest out onto the lake ice, the subzero windchill stung my face.  Waves of crystalline snow blew across the ice in swirling patterns, and a light blowing snow fell from the sky.  I stopped in the middle of the lake and looked around–a white wilderness wonderland.
 

From the middle of Mitchell Lake, you can almost feel the cold just by looking at this picture

 
I made my way to the far end of the lake on the ice and scouted for some tracks that would lead me to Blue Lake.  There was nothing but pure un-touched powder.  I made the easy decision to call Mitchell Lake the final destination and turned to head home.
 
I did see a couple other people on the way back.  They, too, had wanted to go to Blue Lake, but decided not to go past Mitchell.  I stepped my way back over the soft snow down to the trailhead and then another three miles past Brainard Lake to the Winter Gate, all the while thinking about how different this place was in January compared to that August Saturday a few months ago.  I couldn’t decide whether it was more beautiful in the summer or winter.  I probably could not determine that if I spent a lifetime trying.

 

 

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  • Points Earned:  1
  • Trip Date:  August 25, 2010
  • Wilderness Area:  Indian Peaks
  • Wilderness Size:  77,711 acres
  • Location:  Colorado Front Range
  • Destination:  Above Lake Isabelle
  • Distance:  6.2 miles
  • Elevation Gain:  750 feet
  • Duration:  Day hike

Beautiful Alpine Scenery above Lake Isabelle in the Indian Peaks Wilderness

Earlier in the month I had originally planned to see all four of the ultra-popular Indian Peaks lakes in one day via a difficult loop route.  I was turned back by a late start and the inevitable summer storm and was only able to see Mitchell and Blue Lakes.

So, I came back to the Brainard Lake area to finish the job and hike up to Long Lake and Lake Isabelle.

It was a beautiful sunny late summer afternoon.  The trail starts off along Boulder Creek and imediately finds the appropriately named Long Lake.

Delightful Boulder Creek just below Long Lake

Long Lake from the trail

The scenery got progressively more impressive as the trail pushed farther into the wilderness.  By the time I crested what I knew would be the final rise before the Lake Isabelle, I expected to find a spectacular scene with a pristine alpine lake and its rugged backdrop.

Instead, what I saw was a virtual mud flat.  I was confused because I thought this was a natural lake in the wilderness.  Natural lakes high in the Rockies do not typically drain down like that.  After I returned home I did some research and found that Lake Isabelle is actually an irrigation reservoir that is drained every August!

"Lake" Isabelle, now a mudflat after its annual August drainage

The scene was a bit disappointing because the setting of this lake is absolutely spectacular–even more so than Blue Lake.

The rugged beauty of Lake Isabelle's upper basin

I continued on past Lake Isabelle for another half-mile or so before turning around due to encroaching darkness.  On another trip I might continue on this route to Isabelle Glacier which is highly acclaimed.

Returning back to Redbeast, I took an alternate route around the other side of Long Lake as dusk fell over a calm and peaceful landscape.

Trout rings form on Long Lake at sunset

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  • Points earned:  1
  • Trip Date:  August 7, 2010
  • Wilderness Area:  Indian Peaks
  • Wilderness Size:  77,711
  • Location:  Colorado Front Range
  • Destination:  Above Blue Lake
  • Distance:  8.5 miles
  • Elevation Gain:  1,800 feet
  • Duration:  Day Hike
  • Wildlife:  Lots of other people and dogs until I passed Blue Lake

Beautiful Blue Lake

I finally bit the bullet and decided to pay the fee and use the hugely overcrowded Brainard Lake trailhead to access some of the most beautiful, and highly visited, parts of the eastern side of Indian Peaks Wilderness.

I jumped in with both feet by doing this on one of the busiest Saturdays of the summer in early August.  The first set-back was my assumption that they would be able to process a debit card at the Brainard Lake fee station.  They can’t, and I didn’t have the $9.00 in cash on me.  They directed me back down to Hwy 72 where a small bar and grill should be able to run my credit card for some cash… They couldn’t.  I ended up driving all the way to Allenspark, almost to Estes Park, about an hour round trip, just to find an ATM machine, where I was charged a $4.50 fee to take out some cash.

With the weather surprisingly holding out and with me determined to do this hike, I finally made it back to the trailhead at about 1:00 pm where I was directed to park in the absolute farthest possible official parking space from the trail requiring almost a mile of street walking just to get to the trailhead.

Redbeast in the farthest possible legal parking space from the trailhead, a one mile walk along the access road each way

From the Brainard Lake trailhead most people hike either to Mitchell and Blue Lakes, to the right, or to Long and Isabelle Lakes to the left.  I decided to make it a little more adventurous and blaze a cross-country route between Blue Lake and Lake Isabelle by climbing up to the divide above Blue Lake, summiting Pawnee Peak, a 13’er, and then dropping down to Lake Isabelle and Long Lake via the steep Pawnee Pass to complete the loop.

Reaching the trailhead after walking the access road, I looked up to see clear blue skies. 

Blue skies above Brainard Lake on my walk along the access road to the Mitchell - Blue Lakes Trailhead

I figured if the weather held out, I still had enough time to complete the loop.  I asked the ranger at the trailhead whether he thought the weather would hold.  He looked up and said, “I would say, yes.” Good enough.  I continued up the trail, one of hundreds of poeple using that trail on this day (one of the most heavily used trails in all of Colorado).

After less than a mile I passed Mitchell Lake, which I had been to before when I was in high school, back when they didn’t charge to use the Brainard Lake TH. 

Mitchell Lake, just a side show on the way to the main attraction

Skirting Mitchell to the south, the gentle trail steepens for about another 1.2 miles until it finally reaches the destination all the throngs of people really come to see–the magnificent Blue Lake.

Magnificent it really is.  It is a deep lake set in a very rugged basin with the imposing narrow Mt. Toll in the backdrop.  On the far end of the lake is a waterfall that shoots over about a 15 foot cliff and drops straight into the deep waters of the lake itself.

Deep Blue Lake with its plunge waterfall and Mt. Toll in the background

A closer view of the waterfall as I worked my way around the north shore of Blue Lake

99.9% of the crowd stops and turns around at Blue Lake.  Not me.  I continued around the north shore of the lake to the opposite side where the trail gradually dissappeared.

As I walked around the beautiful lake, I spotted a steep line of ascent up a series of granite ledges and then a final push up a steep scree slope to a high sadle between Mt. Toll and Pawnee Peak.  There were a few more clouds, but the weather still looked good.

Looking down and east onto Blue Lake from above next to its feeder stream and above the waterfall

Dozer picking his way up and around the granite boulders above Blue Lake

The going was quite steep and a little tricky – a class 3+ scramble.  We skirted a couple of snowfields and made it to about 500 feet or less from the crest of the saddle when I realized the weather was taking a turn for the worse.  Knowing that to continue the loop route would require a significant amount of time above timberline, I made the decision to turn back at that point and make it an out-and-back.

It was a good decision.  The rain, lighting and thunder hit hard just as we made it back below tree line.  From there it was an absolute soaker the rest of the weary way back.

A very soggy forest on the trail back

Blue Lake and especially the terrain above the lake is very pretty.  It’s easy to understand why so many people hike this trail.  The huge crowds do detract from the quality of this hike.  I would recommend this hike after Labor Day, before the snow hits, and on a weekday.

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  • Points Earned:  1
  • Trip Date:  July 13, 2010
  • Wilderness Area:  Indian Peaks
  • Wilderness Size:  77,711 acres
  • Wilderness Location:  Colorado Front Range
  • Destination:  Arapaho Pass and Lake Dorothy
  • Total Distance:  6.5 miles
  • Total Elevation Gain:  Approximately 1,400 feet
  • Duration:  Day hike
  • Wildlife Spotted:  Numerous marmots, two pikas and a family of three foxes on the road returning from the hike.

Columbines in the alpine scenery of the Indian Peaks

“That can’t possibly be Lake Dorothy,” I thought to myself as Dozer and I peered over the west side of the Great Divide to a small shallow lake far below. “It’s too far down!”

I took my topo map back out of my pack and studied the area. “Aha! Lake Dorothy is higher than Arapaho Pass by a couple hundred feet.  No wonder I don’t see it, it’s above us!”

Once I figured out that Lake Dorothy was higher than the pass summit, I knew exactly where it was.  It was nestled in that rugged cirque to the south, just below 12,800 foot Mount Neva.  The lake far below was Caribou Lake.

This was my first true high alpine hike of the season, the snow having just recently melted away from the high forest above 10,500 feet.  One thing I tend to forget about the Indian Peaks is that they really can be a rugged and craggy range.  The vertical nature of this area surprised me once again!

The Arapaho Pass trail begins from the very popular Fourth of July Trailhead above Nederland.  As I pulled Redbeast into the trailhead parking lot I worried about the dark clouds building to the southwest.  Anyone who has spent any time in the Colorado high country in summer is familiar with the near daily afternoon thunderstorms.  But, what a lot of people don’t realize is that, even when these storms build up in early-to-mid afternoon, they often clear out by late afternoon leaving several hours of perfect weather.  I was hoping this would be the case as I laced up my boots because much of this hike is above timberline, and I don’t go above timberline when there is lighning in the vicinity if I can help it.

It didn’t look good at first.  Within minutes after I hit the trail, the rain drops began hitting my shoulders.  But, then, over the ridgeline to the southwest, a patch of blue appeared.  Then it grew larger, and before long the sky was clearing and there was nothing but blue sky and whispy high clouds all around.  The late afternoon clear-up would happen on this day, and Dozer and I would reach the pass!

This hike skirts the south-facing slope up the valley of Middle Boulder Creek.  Within a mile of the start, a substantial cascade is seen (and heard) on the opposite side of the valley:

Falls on the other side of the valley of Middle Boulder Creek

The trail to Diamond Lake soon branches off to the left as the Arapaho Pass trail continues to climb at a nice pace up the valley wall.  At near timberline, the trail gets a little less steep for a while as the views of the peaks around get more and more impressive.

In this area, the marmots began to be seen and heard.  They were everywhere–standing on rocks, waddling through the tundra, shouting their whistles as we got too close.  They seemed to pose for pictures only to turn and run away just before I could get a good shot.  See if you can spot the marmot in this picture:

Marmot on a rock

The trail resumed a bit of steepness for the final half-mile or so to the top of the pass.  The great thing about hiking to a pass is the view that you know will greet you when you get there.  A whole new world opened up to the west as we crested the Divide.  New jagged peaks in the west half of the Indian Peaks,  and vast new valleys and ranges in the distance appeared:

Looking northwest from the pass

Looking down almost 1,000 feet to Caribou Lake and its lush basin on the west slope of the Indian Peaks

My second destination on this hike, besides Arapaho Pass, was Lake Dorothy, which according to my map, was just a few hundred yards south of the pass.  Once I figured out that the lake was still a bit higher than the pass, I headed for what I knew was it’s alpine cradle–a high mountain cirque below the imposing face of Mount Neva:

Lake Dorothy is nestled below those snowfields just over the ridge

Dozer and I walked up the gently sloped ridge at 12,000 feet and finally reached the quiet mountain-protected lake:

Lake Dorothy

Despite the high popularity of this area, at 7:00 pm on a Tuesday evening, Dozer and I had the whole pass and lake to ourselves, and just enought daylight left to make it comfortably back down to the Jeep by dusk.

This hike reminded me how special the Indian Peaks area really is.  It is a blessing to have such a rugged and beautiful mountain sanctuary so close to home.

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  • Points Earned:  1
  • Trip Date:  July 1, 2010
  • Wilderness Area:  Indian Peaks
  • Wilderness Size:  77,711 acres
  • Location:  Front Range, Colorado
  • Hike Destination:  Meadow Mtn. Summit (stopped short by weather)
  • Hike Duration:  Day Hike
  • Total Hike Distance:  6.25 miles
  • Elevation Differential:  2,200 feet

Cascade on Rock Creek

This hike is proof that, even in one of the most heavily used wilderness areas in the West (the east half of Indian Peaks), pure solitude is still readily available with a little creativity in location and timing.

From my maps and research I found an unmaintained trail that enters the extreme northeast corner of the Indian Peaks Wilderness.  The trail begins at the end of a rough 4-wheel drive road (Road 116.2 from Allenspark) and imediately enters the wilderness to eventually meet up with the maintained, but still relatively lightly used, St. Vrain Mountain Trail.

Even though I drive a Jeep, I decided to stop and walk the final 2 miles of the jeep road to the end.  This road is quite steep and rocky.  I parked at about 8,800 feet in elevation, and the two remaining miles of the road took me up to well over 10,000 feet:

Rocky Road 116.2

A bizarre sight along the road was this single dining room style chair.  I thought maybe I saw the ghost of Enos Mills sitting in it, but couldn’t be sure!

The scary chair by the 4x4 road

The road finally ended at the top of a ridge.  On the other side was the Middle St. Vrain Valley and I could hear the rush of the water from over 1,000 feet up!

At the end of the road, the unmaintained trail continued into what I knew was the Indian Peaks Wilderness, although there was no sign marking the boundary.  There were no other people there at all.

Dozer and I encountered a rather large and disgruntled porcupine near the trail.  It was a good thing I decided to keep the dog on the leash because he desperately wanted to chase it.  I wasn’t quick enough to get a picture of it before it waddled under some bushes and dissappeared.

The faint trail continued steeply until, at near timberline, snow was encountered adding some additional routefinding challenge:

Dozer having a blast in the summer snow

A recent elk track in the snow

My intention was to climb to the top of 11,600-foot Meadow Mountain which sits just barely inside the southern edge of Rocky Mountain National Park.  But, when I reached timberline at about 11,000 feet, the clouds were darkening and thunder was rumbling over the ridge.  I deliberated for a minute or two.  The gentle ridgeline to the summit was enticingly close.  But, in the end, I made the right decision.  I turned around and went back into the forest, leaving Meadow Mountain for another day:

The gentle slope to the top of Meadow Mountain from near my turn-around point

A rather expertly constructed cairn marked my turn-around point. Dark clouds are visible over the ridge

Dozer and Redbeast ready to go home

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Trip Report 7

  • Points:  3
  • Trip Dates:  August, 1990
  • Wilderness Area:  Indian Peaks
  • Wilderness Size:  77,711 acres
  • Location:  Northern Colorado
  • Destination:  Red Deer Lake
  • Total Miles:  Approximately 15
  • Duration:  6 Days

Red Deer Lake

Outline of Indian Peaks Wilderness - Red Deer Lake is near the northern edge

This was my second and last multi-day backpacking trip as a boy scout.  I was 15, an Eagle Scout and becomming interested in other things.  But, it was a great time and a great trip.

We started out hiking up four-wheel-drive roads eventually leading to Coney Flats where we stayed the first night.  Waking the next morning to very strong winds, we waited until mid-morning to break camp after the winds died. 

Our intention was to cross Buchanan Pass and spend a few days rock climbing, snow glissading and just lounging on the western side of this popular wilderness area.  But, we had a couple of younger boys with us who were struggling with their packs and the steep terrain.  So, instead we dropped into a valley and stopped at beautiful Red Deer Lake.

We did all the activities mentioned above and had the time of our lives.  We heard from other hikers on our return that Saddam Hussein had invaded Kuwait while we were up at the lake.  Two days after my return home, I enjoyed my first day of highschool as a sophomore (3-year high school).

The pictures above were found on the internet.

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