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Waterton Canyon – We chose safety this weekend- Hiked 9/14/13

16 Sep
The Start of Waterton Canyon

The Start of Waterton Canyon

I don’t know if you have heard about it or not, but there has been some flooding in our beautiful state.  When the rain started on Tuesday/Wednesday, all I thought was “yay!  It will finally cool off around here.”  Then Wednesday night when I was coming home from work, I started thinking, hmmm this has been pretty intense for quite some time.

Thursday morning was crazy, I woke up late for work and while getting ready I learned about all that was destroyed during the night .  It is devastating!  So many of the hikes I have written about here are now inaccessible and who knows how long it will be before they can be reached again and then if they will be in any condition to hike….. maybe for years.

The Green Space at the end of my block- normally there is no water visible ....EVER

The Green Space at the end of my block normally there is no water visible ….EVER

As I headed to work that morning I was actually a little scared at how much rain was coming down, how much water was sitting on the streets and how much was raging through drainage ditches along streets and neighborhoods.  I live and work in one of the areas hard hit, but was fortunately spared any real damage or flooding near my home.  My heart is aching for all those that have lost everything, homes and neighborhoods we would admire as we drove to our next trailhead are now completely gone.  It is staggering.

Needless to say, I was also thinking about my original planned hike this weekend.  It seems like the town it is closest too has not been destroyed or at least did not see enough of the flooding to be mentioned, but I know there are other towns not being mentioned that have been completely leveled.  I was also hopeful that the destruction would not carry over into the weekend and then that kept getting extended and extended. In fact, it is Monday and most of the front range still has flood and flash flood warnings in effect.

Friday night we talked about what was smart to do and what we wanted to do, even the smart option had me questioning if we should even walk outside our door Saturday morning.

We were up bright and early Saturday morning and made our way over to Waterton Canyon( hike details here), I had a friend who lives close tell me that it had been pretty quiet in her neighborhood and that she didn’t think there were any flooding problems over there.  I had decided that we would go there and if the trail looked bad we would turn around and head back home.

The parking lot was mostly empty, which is very unusual at 7AM on a Saturday morning but it wasn’t closed.  As we were walking along the path, at an excellent pace I might add,  we saw some debris piles from obvious issues earlier in the week but otherwise it was in great condition.  Before we knew it, we had gone past our furthest point previously hiked  and so we decided to try for the Strontia Springs.

What I once thought was the big dam

What I once thought was the big dam

Reflection

Reflection

This is when I learned that everything I knew about this hike was a little wrong…. I guess I thought the trail actually went to the springs and that it ended in this picturesque setting that was super beautiful with the Colorado trail a beacon of opportunity  taunting you near the springs.  What we found was that the Big Dam everyone asks if you made it to,  is in fact at the end and is crazy big….like Hoover Dam big!  Then it goes into some residential housing and up a little ways is the Colorado trial.

Big dam 2

Seriously.Huge.Dam.

I honestly almost missed the super huge dam because I was looking at the trial map just before we turned around, trying to not be nosy (totally not succeeding) while 2 bikers were talking about how crazy the amount of water coming out of the Dam was.  I was like, huh?  Walked over to the construction area and there is was… ENORMOUS!  I mean how did I not know it was that big and here of all places!  One of the bikers pulled up next to me and said (clearly he didn’t notice me ease dropping a few minutes earlier) that normally the water is only flowing out towards the bottom in a small jet no big deal, he had never actually seen the top release ducts used like they were on Saturday.

Big Dam

The sign at the end

The sign at the end

In the end we did the entire 12.6 miles up and back at Waterton canyon and even jogged a couple of miles down so we finished in just 3.5 h ours.  The day was insanely beautiful, if a little humid and we had it mostly to ourselves on a perfectly normal-seeming day.  I was so glad we chanced it and headed out when we could.

The view on the way back down

The view on the way back down

We got home just in time for the next wave of insanity to begin, which started out with an awesome hail storm that flooded our backyard in just 3 minutes as we watched with bated breath…. praying “please don’t go over the edge into the window well”….. We totally lucked out!

Hail starting at my house

Hail starting at my house

Find out how to help those affected by floods in Colorado, including ways to donate, what to donate and locations of donation centers, through our local NBC affiliate : www.9news.com

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Chicago Lakes Trail #52, Arapahoe National Forest – Idaho Springs CO 8/10/13

15 Aug
Upper Chicago Lake

Upper Chicago Lake

The Chicago Lakes Trail #52

Starting Elevation: 10,650 ( Lowest point of the hike 10,320)

Highest Elevation: 11,740 ( Lower lake at 11,420ft.  Total elevation gain approximately 2000ft)

Trail Length:  Officially I saw everything from 9-10 miles, my fitbit said we went 11 miles but we did walk around the upper lake a lot.

Trail Uses:  hiker in all places and then horses in some….NO BIKES

Degree of difficulty:  Moderate to difficult mostly due to length and one scramble to Upper Chicago Lake.

Bathrooms:  1 Creepy one at the Echo Lake Picnic parking lot ( For some reason Denver County Mountain Park use the S shaped ones with no doors…..)

Pets:  Yes for dogs, I am not sure if a leash was required but we saw dog owners with dogs on leash and off.

Fees:  None

Lower lake trail on right

I have been wanting to try this hike since April.  I had targeted as one of our conditioning hikes to get ready for our first 14er, but then we got those crazy snow storms throughout April and May which meant the trail was under many feet of snow when I originally wanted to attempt it.  When it was finally possible to hike it, it was mountain goat and sheep mating season and Park Rangers ask that you do not hike here in order to let the goats and sheep do their thing.   Which of course I respected since the poor animals deserve some peace while they mate.  We weren’t expecting to do these re-acclimating hikes, but since I was forced to get used to it all again I figured now was the perfect time to check them out.

I got to the trail head at 7AM and it was COLD, I guess fall is coming more quickly then I want.  I got bundled up and was even glad I had gloves on hand, as I think it was like 35 degrees at the start of our hike.

Starting from the parking lot

Starting from the parking lot

My suggestion is to park at the Echo Lake Picnic Area, as that is really close to the Chicago Lakes Trail which is the hardest part of the hike to actually find.  Since I followed the book suggestion and we got there insanely early, parking here was no problem( not a lot of parking spots here) but you can park all around the Lake and at the Echo Lake Lodge.  The trail head is a little off the Lake Path on the Southwest side of the Echo Lake.

Echo Lake

Echo Lake

The trail entrance on the southwest of the Lake

The trail entrance on the southwest of the Lake

Chicago Lakes Trail #52 Official start

Chicago Lakes Trail #52 Official start

Not long after you get on the official trail, you immediately descend about 3-400 feet and cross over the Chicago Creek.  Portions of this descent will challenge those who may  have “issues” with heights as the Switchback initially is very close to the a nice steep drop off.  It also gives great views of your final destination and Mt. Evans.  It was a beautiful view to have while heading down.

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Crossing the Chicago Creek at the bottom of the initial descent.

Crossing the Chicago Creek at the bottom of the initial descent.

From this point forward the trail is very well-marked, you take an access road up for about a mile, past the Idaho Springs Reservoir.  I have to admit during my research for the hike, I was worried about this road section but actually it’s fine and looks more like a wide path then road.  They are doing some type of maintenance by the Reservoir but on a weekend there was nothing to see but the equipment.

Entering the Road portion

Entering the Road portion

You want to look for this sign on the way back so you don't miss the way back to your car

You want to look for this sign on the way back to your car it is across the road from the sign above

The road part of the trail

The road part of the trail

Cabins as you pass Idaho Springs Reservoir

Cabins as you pass Idaho Springs Reservoir

As we crossed over to the Mt. Evans Wilderness, the trail went back to single track and starts climbing more aggressively through an old burn scar from a fire in the 70’s. As it flattened out for a short stretch, the wild flowers were everywhere and the views of mountains on either side of us was pretty amazing.

Mt. Evans WildernessPermit Box for Mt. Evans wilderness

Trail goes back to single track and gets steeper.

Trail goes back to single track and gets steeper.

I am always surprised at how beautiful a burn scar is as it ages.  All the below are from that burn scar.

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Water Crossing in the Burn Scar

Water Crossing in the Burn Scar

Trail levels out before we descend to the lower Lake

Trail levels out before we descend to the lower Lake

As we came up to the lower Chicago lake, outside of the obvious beauty, we were enchanted by how dense the brush was on either side of the trail and how moist everything was.  We also started descending again and there was more and more mud with standing water on the trail.

Entering the Dense coverage

Entering the Dense coverage

This was also a little tricky through here as I knew we had to stay right on the trail to get to the upper Chicago Lake and since we were heading down through such dense coverage, I was certain we missed the turn off.  We came to this huge boulder and thought maybe this is where we go right but it wasn’t.

When you come to this huge boulder go left

When you come to this huge boulder go left

Coming out of the dense coverage

Coming out of the dense coverage

In fact, it isn’t really until we started climbing out of the dense tree/bush coverage,  that we came to the trail going off left to lower Chicago Lake and we stayed right to climb to upper Chicago Lake.

This last climb does require some scrambling but nothing too bad, we did put away our poles so that we could use our hands freely.

Trail conditions up the scramble Scramble

Upon cresting the final lip of the scramble, the upper Chicago lake was spread out below us.  It was spectacular!  It took us about 2.5 hours to get there and we ended up sitting around taking pictures while snacking for almost an hour.  Plus we were fascinated with the people climbing up to Summit Lake and possibly Mt. Evans (14er) as this is also the crazy long route ( 14-16 miles round trip) to summit Mt. Evans, on the south side of the lake.  It looked really steep and as the wind picked up we saw the little group slow down quite a bit.

Upper Chicago Lake

Upper Chicago Lake

This is the trail going up to Summit Lake I tried to zoom up as there as people ascending

This is the trail going up to Summit Lake I tried to zoom up as there as people ascending

This is an in and back hike, the first one where my books said it would take longer on the trip back then it does on the trip there.   There were a couple of reasons we took longer on our way back, that scramble to the upper lake is actually pretty steep and we took our time getting down it, then the last .8 miles is straight up 3-400 vertical feet up a single track trail that is heavily used. It did take us almost 3 hours to get back.

Also the trail started getting pretty busy on the way back with like 50 back packers coming in to camp by the lakes for the night, among a bunch of regular hikers.  It made us very jealous as camping up there must be so lovely!  It was even more busy between the Mt. Evans Wilderness boundary and the start of the hike with people picnicking by Echo Lake looking for some pre- Picnic exercise.  Overall it was a beautiful hike and again renewed my love of hiking and Colorado!  If you ever have the chance, please check this one out, it is worth the effort!  After the directions to the trail head will my favorite pictures

Directions: 

The Chicago Lakes Trail begins at Echo Lake (west side), 13.25 miles south of I-70 on HWY 103.

From I-70, exit #240 and head south on HWY 103 (toward Mt Evans) for 13 miles to Echo Lake. Turn right at the Echo Lake Picnic Area, down the first dirt road on your right and continue .25 miles to the parking area.

Flying Pig Cloud

Flying Pig Cloud

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