Tag Archives: Lake

Pine Valley Ranch to Buck Gulch, Pine CO hiked 11/30/13

25 Dec

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Pine Lake >Buck Gulch>Skipper Trail> Strawberry Jack Trail> Park VIew Trail

Lowest Elevation:  6800Ft

Highest Elevation: 7900 Ft( although total elevation gain was closer to 1300+ Ft)

Trail Length: 7-8 miles, it took us under 3 hours to complete

Trail Uses: Hiker, Biker & Horses

Degree of difficulty:  Easy to moderate

Fees: None

Bathrooms: At the parking lot only

Pets:  Yes on Leash only

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There is so much to see still of Colorado and for a while I wasn’t challenging myself to find that more but Staunton Park renewed that discovery lust in me again.  I also wanted to make sure that whatever trail we did left us with enough energy to hike again on Sunday.  Pine Valley Ranch seemed perfect!  It is a small park mileage wise but right on the edge of the Pike National Forest, which makes the possibilities very expansive.

When I got there, I was pretty amazed by the 3 huge parking lots on the way to all the trailheads and main park.  It also made me wonder how crazy busy this place might be in spring, summer & fall.  On this morning it was freaky cold and so we had it mostly to ourselves.  It was in fact colder then expected and we almost shy of enough clothing to stay warm.

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Crossing over the beautiful river with its ice and flow.

Crossing over the beautiful river with its ice and flow.

Once we crossed over the river we had the option of walking along the shaded side of the Lake or the sunny side of the lake, given we were crazy cold  it was the sunny side for us.

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We didn’t walk along Pine Lake long before we hit the trail break for Buck Gulch Trail.

Buck Gulch Trailhead

Buck Gulch Trailhead

From here we started climbing and went into shade and I will admit I was thankful for the climbing just to warm up everything.  Normally we are over prepared, but since I broke my day pack we have been cutting it close this was the hardest hike of them all with so little back up available.  But the day itself was just lovely and as it warmed up we were dressed perfectly.  This part of the trail had the most climbing of the entire hike but it wasn’t that steep.

Buck Gulch Trail

Buck Gulch Trail

Entering Pike National Forest via Buck Gulch Trail

Entering Pike National Forest via Buck Gulch Trail

It wasn’t long before we left the Jefferson County open space and entered Pike National Forest.  With that change over we also  came upon an old burn area from the High Meadows Fire in 2000.  I am becoming to really enjoy these areas, not for the devastation the fire causes but for the beauty it leaves behind.  It is a different kind of beauty for sure, but it tells a story of struggle, desperation, loss and triumph.  It forced me to reflect and identify that feeling while I hiked through and along the remains, it reminded me of how an old battleground would feel or a cemetery.  For the record, I am totally one of those people that loves to walk through cemeteries, the older the better and more majestic.  I guess it is no surprise I am falling in love with recovering burn areas.

Views

We were on the Buck Gulch trail for just over 2 miles, I understand it is a popular biking route that takes you into the Lost Creek Wilderness for a 11-13 mile route with lots of elevation gain.  I have to tell you I totally want to hike it some time.  In fact the only other people we saw that day was a huge group of bikers doing that route.  The downside of the whole day…. there were some people shooting the whole time we were in the National forest and it felt like they were a little too close and/or moving in our direction. It was disconcerting and made me paranoid my colors weren’t bright or unnatural enough to point to a human AKA not a target.

From here we took the Skipper trail to the Strawberry Jack Trail.  This was the one of the easier parts of the hike, with slight ups and downs but nothing too aggressive.  The views were lovely, if not breath taking and made me want to come and explore more.

Skipper Trail  Just outside of Lost Creek Wilderness

Skipper Trail Just outside of Lost Creek Wilderness

Strawberry Jack Trail Head

Strawberry Jack Trail Head

Skipper trail conditions to Strawberry Jack

Skipper trail conditions to Strawberry Jack

Outside of the lake in the beginning, there isn’t a ton of water on the hike but there was this one crossing and I am afraid I forgot if it was on Skipper or Strawberry Jack but somewhere along those trails.

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Strawberry Jack Tail conditions

Strawberry Jack Tail conditions

We made a good loop hike by taking the Park View Trail back to Pine Lake,  it was incredibly beautiful coming down with the lake in view.

Park View Trail Break

Park View Trail Break

The lower half of this section is mostly stairs back to the lake.

Stairs coming down

Stairs coming down

The Bottom of Park view trail on the other side of Pine Lake

The Bottom of Park view trail on the other side of Pine Lake

Overall, this is a nice easy hike with lots of options to make it harder or not depending on your mood.  On this particular day for me, a new issue had decided to present itself- interesting joint pain in my hips.  It has forced me to slow down a little, which in turn has effected everything.  Regardless, for this hike I was glad that it was a shorter and easier hike when the end came along.  As my second hike in 3 days, I was feeling better than I thought I might but  a little worried about my hip action.  I cannot wait to get out here again, likely in the summer and challenge myself by doing the full Buck Gulch route for a tough day hike.  I hope if you find yourself out this way that you check this one out, it is so worth it!  After the directions a few favorites pictures from the day.

Directions:

30400 Crystal Lake Rd., Pine External Link Icon

From U.S. Highway 285, turn south on Pine Valley Road (County Road 126) to Crystal Lake Road. Turn right one mile into the park.

Cool Tree

Cool Tree that survived the fire

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Cow Creek Trails Via Gem Lake, Estes Park CO Hiked 11/16/13

28 Nov

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Gem Lake Trail> Cow Creek TrailHead

Starting Elevation:  7882 Ft

Highest elevation: 8830 Ft

Trail Length:  Officially we did 9.2 miles around trip, my Fitbit said we did close to 11 miles ( it took us approximately 5.5 hours)

Trail Uses:  Hiker only

Degree of difficulty:  I consider Gem Lake Moderate, after the floods I think there are many more strenuous parts. If you are going to Cow Creek I think difficult would make sense with all the ups and downs and distance.

Bathrooms: Yes at the trailhead parking lot

Pets: No Dogs allowed as this is all Rocky Mountain National Park

VIews on the way to Cow Creek

VIews on the way to Cow Creek

It had been just over 2 months since those devastating floods hit so much of our front range and no where was harder hit then Lyons as well as the most of the ways in to Estes Park.   I have been reading about the recovery and the how desperate things are in those hard hit communities for small businesses.  The amazing part is how quickly CDOT has managed to repair so many major arteries helping to get tourism back as quickly as possible, but for some businesses it is already too late.  That is why on this particular weekend I searched long and hard for a hike near both Estes Park and Lyons so that we could spend some money in each town trying to help out where we could.  What I didn’t expect was how hard it would be to find a trail we could get too that hadn’t been obliterated in parts or in total. Finally at 10:30 the Friday night before I saw that the Gem Lake/Lumpy Ridge Trail system was intact and not just the trail but the roads to get there was all open too.

Map of trail system

Map of trail system

I had wanted the trail to be more challenging but I also knew that I had a girls hike on Sunday so it was worth it just to get up there and spend some money in those towns.

The weather forecast wasn’t that great either, we had a small window before a nice snow storm hit Estes Park and a huge wind warning went into effect.  We maybe had until 2 when we left our house.  When we got to the trailhead it was already snowing and the wind was whipping up pretty good at 8AM.  But it was also so beautiful being both sunny and snowing with almost no cars in the parking lot – we took off.

Wind and storm coming in early

Wind and storm coming in early

The trail has taken quite a bit of damage from the floods but was still hike-able, although RMNP had put up “hike at your own risk” signs at the beginning.  We flew up the Gem Lake trail, when we got to the lake itself the wind was so hard it pulling off drops of water off the lake, turning it to ice which was pelting us as we walked by.  It was so fun to watch, not so great to walk through.  We went right past the lake to the next section of trail starting our long journey down to Cow Creek , what we didn’t expect was how flipping cold that wind would make everything.  I had a first on this hike…. I actually took off my pants on the hike to put on long underwear, thank goodness we didn’t see any traffic ….because that would have been quite a show.  It was crazy insane cold  taking off my pants but I can tell you it saved me for the rest of the hike.

Trail signage just past Gem Lake

Trail signage just past Gem Lake

One more trail break before Cow Creek

One more trail break before Cow Creek

After putting on those extra layers on, we started moving at a good pace but steadily down with a few small ups.  Having never done this part of the trail before, I can’t say for sure but it seemed like there was some damage from the floods it was still easily hike-able with little worry about a lot of risk. We did 2.8 miles out to the Cow Creek trailhead and then headed back.  I imagine the views on the way to Cow Creek are usually pretty astounding, but they were mostly obscured by the storm moving towards us.   Even so it was amazing to behold.

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Climbing back up to Gem Lake was beautiful and getting back to the lake was interesting in that the wind was twice as bad as it was a few hours before.  Once we pushed back through the wind, we hung out in the shelter of trees and rocks for a few minutes just to marvel at ferocity if the wind.

Snow blowing at Gem Lake

Snow blowing at Gem Lake

On the way down from Gem Lake we saw a lot more traffic but nothing like there is on a good day.  Upon finishing the hike, we quickly drove over to Estes Park and hit a few stores to spend as much as we could afford.  Those owners were crazy appreciative.

Driving back, I was able to be the passenger and take in the damage from the floods.  It was heartbreaking, I don ‘t know how all those people are coping and moving forward.  There were pieces of route 36 on the other side of the St.Vrain Creek, so much debris or trees with guard rails wrapped around them….. it was weird and sad and hopeful.

I don’t know if you ever find yourself close to these communities, but if you do please spend some money and help out these small businesses.  They are hanging on by threads and struggling to make it through this mess.  I caught a few pictures of the damage and a few favorites…….

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Me at Gem Lake on the way back… Man those winds are cold!

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Lower Mohawk Lake (Repeater), Hiked 9/28/13

19 Oct

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When we got back to our condo after hiking Hanging Lake, the weather actually got worse but that didn’t stop us from hitting the hot tub…..in blizzard type weather.   It was awesome!

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When I talked to the front desk they said that there would likely be 3-5 inches of snow in the morning but it would also be beautiful and sunny first thing in the morning so we stuck to the plan of hitting the Mohawk lakes.  I can’t lie, I always have  the underlying motive of trying to get all my favorite people to fall in love with Colorado and want to move here too.   For me the mohawk lakes ( Hike details here) show all the best of Colorado and is not that long, just outside of Breckenridge, with lakes and beautiful views.   The down side of Mohawk Lakes is that it is crowded with lots of people who don’t care about rules or any one else’s experience (did you read bitter here because it is so there).

It was pretty cold when we started but Mary was a trooper and getting suspicious.  She had asked how the trail was the night before and I said it is pretty easy (lie) until it is not (truth) and that is pretty much flat (lie) until it is not (truth)…. lets just say half way through she was on to me….. I think the best part was when we came to the series of ponds and I pointed out where we were going and she said um WHAT!?!?!?! I totally got what she was feeling, I remember doing this trail and thinking there is no way I am making it up there.  I told her trust me, before you know it we will be up there and you will wonder why you thought it was too hard.  She totally didn’t believe me….. until not that long after we were up there and she was like “WOW”

There was one little wrinkle that presented itself as we got closer to the falls  there was a group of  7 or 8 hikers with like 9 dogs…off leash (illegal) that kept kinda of barging their way past or into our hike.  At first it was just the dogs that caught up to us…. then 3 owners so we thought nothing.   Just kept moving on.  But by the time we reached the scramble I was completely over it when one of the dogs pushed its way through my legs and almost knocked me over.  We waited at the start the scramble until after they passed us, I have to admit I did not know how big the group was until that moment… seriously the owner of the dog who knocked me over walked by and I said yeah I don’t want to battle on the scramble with unleashed dogs and she said imagine how hard it would be for me if I leashed her to me…. um WHAT !?!?!?!?!?!.  Then the last person in their group was trying to be nice and let us go ahead of them and I said there is no way I can do the scramble and battle 9  unleashed dogs….  My sister was surprised at my open contempt.  Heres the thing  I LOVE dogs…. I Mean super love them but on a trail with a scramble at 11,000+ ft, an untrained dog is like asking to hurt someone.   Trained controlled dogs no problem….puppies with no training and an owner who thinks it is not her problem…. HUGE problem.

Mary and I at the Continental Falls

Mary and I at the Continental Falls

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Outside of my uncontrolled dog issues, Mary was not faring as well as I had hoped she would.  She has “issues” with heights and the huge expanses as we climbed the scramble made me realize maybe she needs a better guide, which immediately transported me back to my first attempt.  It is freaky when you first climb it.  With the snow from the night before…. well it looked intimidating.  Mary, though is a fighter( I think she got that from our mom and dad)  she battled her discomfort the whole time.  When we got to the Lower lake and decided the best choice was to eat, rest and then head down, she got it all under control like the champ she is.

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I am so happy!

Can you tell we are sisters....I mean our look couldn't be more identical

Can you tell we are sisters….I mean our look couldn’t be more identical

At the end she was so happy we made it to Lower Mohawk Lake but I think that maybe we both learned(big lesson for me) that someone who is completely ok with heights should warm up someone who isn’t a little more thoroughly. Either way it was a perfect day for us both!  Here are some of our favorite pictures from the hike.

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Us at the scramble on the way down…Mary is MUCH more relaxed here.

Views at the scramble....love how snow is like the perfect frosting.

Views at the scramble….love how snow is like the perfect frosting.

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The 2 perfect peaks are Grays and Torreys

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Hanging Lake Trail, Glenwood Canyon CO 9/27/13

15 Oct

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Hanging Lake Trail

Starting Elevation: 6387 Ft

Highest Elevation: 7323 Ft

Trail Length:  Officially 2.4 round trip but we probably hit 3.5 ish with all the walking around we did.

Trail Uses: Hiker only

Degree of Difficulty:  Officially Strenuous, but it isn’t long, just steep so I will say moderate to difficult. The whole trip took 3.5 hours including gawking time at the top.

Bathrooms: Yes at the parking lot

Pets: No and like super no- if they go in the lake they could ruin the nature of the beauty….

Fees:  None

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Hanging Lake is one of those things that everyone in Colorado tells  you that you have to go and see it in person.  Even non hikers have been there, that also means it has insanely heavy traffic all the time and all year round.  I had hoped to hit it earlier in the summer so that when my sister came into town I would be able to prepare her better but we celebrated a little too hard after our summiting our first 14er, Quandary instead it was a cancel and recover decision.

This was the perfect hike to experience for the first time with Mary and it was a nice small step up in elevation to help get to some higher hikes in the following days.  Unfortunately the weather was not on our side we had initially planned a super early departure from where we were staying in Breckenridge but then I backed off because the forecast changed from rain/snow for the afternoon to the morning…

It was full on blizzard conditions as we drove over Vail pass but turned to super heavy rain as we continued down to Glenwood Canyon.  When we pulled into the shockingly EMPTY parking lot, it was just a nice drizzle and there was just one other group of hikers getting into rain gear.  We got out and hit the bathroom while deciding what to do, we were there already and it wasn’t pouring anymore so we decided to go for it.

Trail sign Start of the trail

Initially the trail is paved along the Colorado River, and then you get to the trail part pretty quickly and easily.   It is 1.2 miles, pretty much straight up with lots of rocks and 5-6 bridge crossings over Dead Horse Gulch.  At the end it is so steep that there is a railing to hold onto as you climb up the final rocks to the lake.  Which is stunning. I mean seriously.

It starts out easy-ish

It starts out easy-ish

Then it starts to get rockier

Then it starts to get rockier

There are 5-6 bridges  to cross and they are numbered.

There are 5-6 bridges to cross and they are numbered.

Every Quarter of a mile there is a post tracking how far you have gone.

Every Quarter of a mile there is a post tracking how far you have gone.

This rock path was so cool we had to get pictures.

This rock path was so cool we had to get pictures.

Perspective of the rock path

Perspective of the rock path

When we got to the final stretch, the railing popped up and the views of the canyon were amazing even in the rain.  Mary is “uncomfortable” with heights so when I took this picture she kept saying “careful!”  It was cute and there was a very sturdy railing behind us, so unnecessary.

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Just Over the top of this climb

Apparently this is some type of geological anomaly where the travertine deposit  under the lake effects the water as seeps through the limestone all around.  It creates the most lovely shade of aquamarine regardless of weather…. case in point, it was super cloudy when we were there and the lake almost glowed blue-green through all the gray.  It is also incredibly clear and you can see the trout swimming all over the place.  In order for this treasure to stay this way, fishing and swimming is strictly prohibited because our body oils would change the composition of the lake and its beauty would evaporate.  There is a very nice platform almost all the way around for viewing and signs explaining the rare occurrence that creates this beautiful lake.  Plus signs all over saying don’t go in the lake or on the dead tree that slices through the middle,  unfortunately people ignore it all the time and if you google it online you eventually see someone walking out on to the log and risking the future of this lake.  Every time I see those pictures it hurts my heart, more so now that I have seen it myself.

The Lake Log sign Log

This place is super crowded all the time, except the day we were there.  It was actually perfect, we had the way up mostly to ourselves through some drizzle and when we got to the top the rain stopped long enough for us to get some great pictures and then it started up again as we headed down.  It also started to get more crowded but nothing like what I have read, it was actually pretty magical.

It was also interesting to watch the differently prepared groups of people hiking up….people in shorts and tank tops – it was maybe 45 degrees out and raining.  The 2 motorcyclist carrying their helmets up totally not dressed for hiking, pretty sure they turned around after we told them they weren’t quite halfway up…. I must learn to lie better in those situations.  People climbing up in keds, it is the short distance and that tricks so many.  It is still a tough hike so make sure you prepare like you would for any alpine hike.  After the directions are a few more pictures.  I cannot wait to bring more people to Hanging Lake, we loved it!

Directions:  Hanging lake is in Glenwood Canyon , just before you reach Glenwood Springs.  You can only get to it from the East bound side of I70 and if the parking lot is full, then you need to drive around and keep checking for a spot or come back another day.  Seriously no parking spot no hike. This also means if you are coming from the East, you have to drive 5 miles past and then double back to get to the trailhead.  Travel 22 miles west of Eagle on I-70 to the Grizzly Creek exit in Glenwood Canyon.After exiting, get back on the highway going eastbound to the Hanging Lake exit.The trail begins 1/4 mile east of the rest area on the left just before the bridge.

A shelter along the way and lots of benches help with the steep climb

A shelter along the way and lots of benches help with the steep climb

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Fish

Fish

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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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Finch Lake – Rocky Mountain National Park – Allenspark trailhead, Allenspark CO 8/3/13

7 Aug

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The Finch Lake trail

Starting Elevation: 8526Ft

Highest Elevation: 10,165 ( Total Elevation gain around 1900Ft)

Trail Length:  Officially 8.2 miles but we wandered around the lake a lot so we ended up with 9 miles total, it took us approx. 4 hours total

Trail Uses:  Hiker only

Degree of difficulty: Moderate

Bathrooms: None

Pets:  Not allowed, as this is all in Rocky Mountain National Park

Fees: None at this trail head location(one of the reasons I chose it)

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When I was looking for a hike to hit this weekend, I needed something with some views, around 10K at its highest point and 8-9 miles in length.  I had not yet really dug into my Lakes Hiking book from Colorado Mountain Club and this was a great opportunity to see what it had to offer.   Finch Lake did not disappoint and surprisingly, for none of the reason I initially chose it.

Allenspark Trailhead Parking lot

I was honestly surprised at how hard my hikes had been the week before, I mean I knew it always takes me a minute to re-acclimate when I travel back to sea level but I thought with all I had accomplished so far I would bounce back more quickly.  The blister situation had improved over the course of the week prior but were still a significant issue.  I was pretty depressed about the fact that we were once again starting low to work our way back up to another 14er after finally climbing our fist one just a month earlier.  I manged to get over myself pretty quickly because the fact is, these mountains will be around much longer then I will, but if I don’t take care of me now I won’t get to see as much of them as they invitingly offer up to me each week.

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I got up insanely early Saturday, 4AM, because the weather forecast said that rain chances would increase even earlier then usual, around 11AM, and I wanted to make sure we got to the lake and were well on our return before any hit.  We started hiking at 7AM and while there were a few cars already in the parking lot, we only crossed paths with a few other hikers almost the whole way to the lake.

First Trail Marker

First Trail Marker

Trail Conditions for the 1st .8 miles

Trail Conditions for the 1st .8 miles

The first mile is pretty much through dense forest, in fact maybe the most dense forest I have seen since I started hiking in Colorado.  It was like hiking through a Grimm fairytale.  We met our first trail break at a little under a mile in and stayed left, the trail is really well marked so we had no problems following it correctly to our final destination. As we climbed a little out of the heavy denseness, the views started to show themselves, it was all Mt. Meeker & Long’s Peak on our right just getting better and better as we continued on.

Next trailhead

Trail Conditions for the next mile probably the steepest part of the hike

Trail Conditions for the next mile probably the steepest part of the hike

The views are starting out awesome

The views are starting out awesome

At the next trail break, we took advantage of a little outcropping to get some good pictures of the view, we were 2.2 miles away from the lake.  While we were snapping away, another hiker moved on down the trail we had been on.  At the time we didn’t think much about it, but I have to tell you when we passed him, I got the most creeped out I have ever been on a hike.  There was not really anything outwardly odd about him but what he was putting off just wasn’t right.  I used to be a victim advocate for victims of violent crime and I always listen to my gift of fear, the next 1.5 miles were a blur for me as we huffed and puffed to get as far away from him, as quickly as we could.  At one point I was considering what my options for protection were if attacked.  What changed at mile 1.5 you may wonder….. trail maintenance, there were 3 National Park workers improving the trail.  It was an immediate relief and we never saw the hiker again.

Last Trail break before Finch lake

Last Trail break before Finch lake

Trail Conditions through the burn scar

Trail Conditions through the burn scar

Cool Water crossing before we started down to the lake

Cool Water crossing before we started down to the lake

Yay Trail Maintenance

Yay Trail Maintenance

Already fixed trail

Already fixed trail

As we got closer to the lake, we saw the option to carry on to Pear lake another 2.2 miles ahead.

At Finch Lake

Trail conditions by Finch Lake

Trail conditions by Finch Lake

Since this wasn’t an option for us today, we explored the area around the lake.  It as incredibly marshy and at first the bugs were not really aware of us but then I got one quick bite and that little monster must have rang a dinner bell because I was swarmed and attacked mercilessly. I actually squealed as I ran away from my marshy perch, barely grabbing my pack en route.

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We started seeing more people around the lake coming and going up to either the camp sites or Pear Lake but from what I have read, this is a hidden gem in RMNP and so gets much less traffic then all the other lakes in the park.  It’s true, while we did see an increase in traffic after 9AM, it was one of the lighter trafficked hikes we have done lately.  Plus the no fee entrance was a huge bonus!

We turned around and headed back the way we came.  It was like a brand new trail now that there were more people out an about and we were not trying to get away from  someone.  The surrounding mountains  looked even more beautiful ( if that is possible) on the way back and something had shifted in the atmosphere so that Long’s Peak, Mt. Meeker and their neighbors looked extra close, like we could reach out and touch them close.  I LOVE when that happens.

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We ended up taking almost as long to get back because we stopped a lot to take pictures of all we missed on our rush through mile 1.8-3.5.  We finished up the last little bit as it started to thunder, our timing was almost perfect as the rain started up on our way to Oskar Blues Grill & Brew for our little victory dance.

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This is a beautiful hike and one I know we will likely do again soon so we can see Pear lake.  I also think we are going to start dipping our toes into backpacking and this looks like a perfect trail to test our resolve on.   One of the best things was that we were in Rocky Mountain National Park the whole time without all the RMNP crowds or the fee to get to a trail head and it was breathtakingly beautiful!  As always, my favorite pictures after the directions.

Directions:  From Hwy 66 west into Lyons, At the Y intersection in Lyons, turn left on Highway 7 toward Allenspark. About 18.5 miles turn left on Business Route 7/Allenspark. (Don’t take the first Business Route 7 into Ferncliffe.) 0.1 of a mile, turn right on County Road 90 (just before the post office). Travel 1.5 miles to a fork in the road. (There are several, but stay on the main road) At 1.5 miles, take the right fork, travel 0.1 of a mile to the trailhead on your right. There is a sign that says “Allenspark Trailhead.”

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James Peak Via St. Mary’s Glacier, Alice CO 6/29/13

7 Jul
James Peak

James Peak

The Glacier Hike> Jamaica Flats> James Peak:

Starting Elevation: 10,423 Ft

Highest Elevation: 13,294 Ft (2900 total elevation gain)

Trail Length: 8 miles ( It varies as you cross the Flats and start the summit) It took us 4 hours total.

Trail Uses: Hiker

Degree of Difficulty: Moderate to Difficult due to elevation

Bathroom: Port-o-potty at the parking lots

Fees:  $5 to park per day ( 2 lots near the trailhead – No parking allowed on the roads around it)

St. Marys Lake from the Glacier

St. Marys Lake from the Glacier

To start out our vacation week in the mountains, I wanted to do a trail on the way to our condo and this one was supposed to be beautiful.   It would take us over 13,000 ft, had decent mileage and was supposed to get us around 2900 feet in total elevation gain.   Plus we would get to climb on the Glacier, which was something I have always wanted to do.

Parking lot

We actually started from the parking lot down the road back to the trailhead, although if you have to park in the other lot you will have to walk up the road to the trail.

walking to the trailhead

walking to the trailhead

We tried for an early start but with the extra packing for our week in Breckenridge we didn’t get to the parking lot until almost 7:30am.  Normally that wouldn’t be all that big of a deal but there was supposed to be a storm rolling in sometime between 11-2 so it cut down on how long we could take to get to the summit.

Trailhead

Trailhead

The trail itself starts out as an old 4×4 Jeep Road with a ton of rocks and a nice incline up to St. Mary’s Lake and the glacier.  In just 3/4 of a mile we got to the lake and the Glacier,  it took just 30 minutes.

To the left is the lake and the trail to the right goes up the glacier to James peak.

To the left is the lake and the trail to the right goes up the glacier to James peak.

We did stop for a few minutes and took pictures of how beautiful everything looked.  At this point we were hoping that the rain would hit more around 2 then 11 and the sky was supporting our hopes.

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From here we went back to the trail split, crossed over the stream and headed up the north side of the Glacier.

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We kept moving up and made it to the glacier part of the climb pretty quickly, then we slowed down.  Hiking up the glacier took longer then I thought it would, we were on it as long as it took us to get to the lake itself I had no idea it was so big.

As we reached the top of the Glacier

As we reached the top of the Glacier

After the climb up the glacier we reached the Jamaica Flats with James Peak directly in front of us.

James Peak

James Peak

The trail takes the flats on the left over an old jeep road.

The traverse to the peak

The view while we were on Flats

The view while we were on Flats

view before the summit climb

We started our summit climb looking at all the clouds starting to show up around the peak and all the peaks around us.  We moved as fast as we could while approaching 13,000Ft in altitude and so you know fast wasn’t really all that fast.  When we passed a few hikers coming down they said the clouds were all around on the other side as well and looking ominous not to make too many stops if we wanted to reach the summit before the storm hit.  It started raining on and off, then as we were maybe a quarter of a mile away from the summit we saw lightning just over the edge of the top.  That was a hike killer for us.  We turned right around and headed down, here is the picture I took just before we turned around:

View when we turned around

James Peak will always be there so no reason to risk getting hit by lightning when we can hit it again later.  Of course as we started to head down the storm got worse and then surprisingly better.  When we got back on to the flats, it was beautifully blue over James Peak which made us regret turning around.

James Peak as we were heading down.

James Peak as we were heading down.

The best part of this hike was the actually the beauty of the storms hitting all around us.

Storm over Grays & Torreys

Storm over Grays & Torreys

Storm over Mt.Evans

Storm over Mt.Evans

Overall it wasn’t too super tough just high up, on the way up we were pretty much alone and then on the way down the trail was super busy.  At the Glacier, it was insanely packed with lots of people partying at the lake before the 4th of July holiday week.  We did love the hike, it was beautiful and challenging!  We can’t wait to get back there and actually make it to the summit, we will leave much earlier next time though!   A few of our favorite pictures after the directions.

Directions:  Take I70 west and exit at Fall River Road ( Exit #238), turn right on to Fall River Road take it up 10 miles past the town of Alice.  Look for the Glacier Hike sign on your left; 100 yards past the sign is a public parking lot.  $5 to park.

Us on the way down

Us on the way down

The Lakes on the way up James

The Lakes on the way up James

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