Lake Haiyaha and Chaos Canyon

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  • Lake Haiyaha

    Lake Haiyaha with an incoming storm

    Mileage: 4.2 miles roundtrip

  • Elevation gain: 745 feet
  • Altitude: 10,220 feet
  • To get there: Take the Bear Lake Road in RMNP to the Bear Lake trailhead. Take the trail toward Dream Lake, then take the left fork to Lake Haiyaha

I am leaning slightly backwards with my arms out to the sides for balance and my toes pointing out to slow me down on the snow. This was a tactic I was taught at about age six, with a pair of skis on my feet. In July and with no skis on my feet, I am attempting to ‘snow plow’ (as it was called) down Chaos Canyon in my hiking boots. Above Lake Haiyaha no, we are coming down from the canyon. The snow is slick and not too steep to slide down. I am wobbling and laughing, feeling like I am on the bunny hill again.

Our trek up Chaos Canyon was purely exploratory, with no particular destination in mind. The canyon is west of the much-visited Lake Haiyaha, on the side of Hallett Peak that isn’t seen as often. The trademark view of Hallett is its upsloping top that reaches a distinct point and drops at a sharp angle. This is the view of Hallett from far away and from its nearby Dream Lake. From Chaos Canyon it looks lumpy and scree-covered, with rock faces that make it look impossible to get to the summit.

“I just don’t see how anyone can get up Hallett,” I tell Alex as we stare at it. I am thinking that the sheer drop on the other side of it is not the recommended route, but there are also tricky areas on this side. Where is the trail to the summit, I wonder.

“If your baby were up there and you had to go save it, which way would you go up?” he asks me.

This is an odd question and I laugh as I point out my chosen route. Then I make him tell me how he would save the baby. We have come about a third of the way up Chaos Canyon. We are fairly close to the base of Hallett. We can see all of Haiyaha, shimmering blue-green in the morning sun.

For a while, we are alone up there among the big boulders and snowfields. We find the only trees in the canyon growing on tiers of Hallett’s rock face. There is water running down the side, streaking the rock in brown and copper. There is a small meadow almost hidden at the bottom of the face. I picture myself laying in the grass to nap or read a book, but am watching clouds gather from every direction. There is a fifty percent chance of rain today and we still want to have time to spend at Haiyaha, so we head down the canyon, ‘skiing’ down the snowfields in our boots.

At Haiyaha, we find a slightly private nook on the southwestern shore. We lounge here, watching a fisherman across the lake and listening to kids yell to marvel at their voices ricocheting off all the boulders. Supposedly, Haiyaha is an Indian word that means “big rocks,” and the big rocks are definitely what characterize this lake. There are mounds of large, gray boulders on the west, south, and east shores of the lake. The north side is flanked by a steep hill that if climbed over would lead to Dream Lake.

Alex goes for a short swim in the icy water. It is colder than Mills Lake, which we recently swam in, and with the approaching rainstorm I feel like staying warm today. I find myself falling into a deep doze as I lay on the rocks, coming in and out of dreams. On the side of Haiyaha, it feels like the calmest, longest nap. But I wake twenty minutes later to Alex searching the rocks for a Pine Martin that had scampered by.

Hiking details from Hiking Rocky Mountain National Park, A Falcon Guide by Kent and Donna Dannen.

Snow field in Chaos Canyon

Snow field above Chaos Canyon. Perfect for skiing!

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