Category Archives: Backpacking

Overnight to Lake Evelyn and Horseshoe Lake

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Lake Evelyn

Lake Evelyn

Hiking Information:

Mileage: 2.49 to Lake Evelyn one-way; 6:10 to Horseshoe Lake one-way

Elevation:10,023 feet at trailhead; 11,158 feet at Lake Evelyn; 11,245 feet at Horseshoe Lake

To get there: Take Hwy 40 out of Winter Park toward Kremmling. Turn south on CR 3, then head left (east) on CR 32 (FSR 139). Follow CR 32 for 4.7 miles. Turn right at the sign for the Lake Evelyn trail, FSR 136. Follow the dirt road for 3.9 miles to the trailhead. CR 3 and CR 32 are well-maintained roads, and the road to the trailhead can be slightly rougher and rockier (still do-able in a Subura Legacy!)

With energy and momentum and five days in a row to play outside, we set out on our first backpacking trip of the year.

It seems to me that no matter how many times I go backpacking, the first trip of the year still finds me awkwardly packing, overpacking, and just plain forgetting where things fit best. So it was with slightly overloaded packs that we set off from the Lake Evelyn trailhead.

Our original intention was much loftier: to start from the Byer’s Peak trailhead, cut off at the Bottle Peak trail and drop down to Keyser Ridge and then Lake Evelyn. As we got glimpses of the backside of this route on our way up the Lake Evelyn trail, we were glad we took the easy route this time.

To reach Lake Evelyn, we climbed steadily for more than two miles through lush, green forest. This, and the wildflowers that are starting to pop out, are the result of an unusually wet Colorado summer. We could feel an unfamiliar humidity around us, and the shade of dark clouds passing overhead.

Upon arrival at the lake, we quickly realized we had it all to ourselves and took the long away around to find the designated campsites. This small lake is not Grand County’s most charming, but cozy and scenic nonetheless. The lake is backed on one side by Keyser Ridge, graggy and gray, and is otherwise surrounded by healthy forest.

Hearing early thunder, we quickly set up a tarp shelter and strung the hammock up below. Alex, excited at having seen quite a few fish in the lake, went off to fish while I took out my book. We were starting to understand why our packs were so heavy: a tarp, a hammock, books, fishing gear. But we can carry just about anything for two miles, we figured :).

Hanging out in the hammock with some hot tea, watching the rain fall.

Hanging out in the hammock with some hot tea, watching the rain fall.

We listened to this thunder roll for hours before sprinkles, and a subsequent 4 hour drizzle, came our way. Now the extra weight of that tarp and hammock were well worth it. Instead of laying flat on our backs in our little tent, we passed the hours swinging in the hammock, mosy-ing around under the shelter, attempting to perfect the angle of every rope and anchor so as to drain the rain properly off the tarp (Alex), and trying to stay warm with hot tea and whiskey. We hoped for sun; we looked for bright spots through the trees, but none ever came. A miraculous fire was started- three cheers for waterproof fire paste- , dinner was made, and then it was off to bed.

**

The view from Keyser Ridge, above Lake Evelyn.

The view from Keyser Ridge, above Lake Evelyn.

We were lucky to have a dry night, and woke up to early sun coming through the trees, only to watch it disappear behind early clouds. A pancake breakfast, things shaken dry, packed up, and stashed in the woods. By mid-morning we were searching for the trail to Horseshoe Lake.

The trail from Lake Evelyn to Horseshoe Lake begins at the far end of Lake Evelyn, almost directly across the lake from where the trail to Lake Evelyn ends. It is faint at first as it climbs steeply away from the lake, but becomes more defined as it winds and climbs toward Keyser ridge. There is a sign on the ridge indicating the Keyser Ridge trail to the left and right and the Kinney Creek and Horseshoe Lake trail straight ahead. The Keyser Ridge trail is well-defined and easy to spot but the Kinney Creek/Horseshoe Lake trail is faint near the sign. Look directly behind the sign, walk from there and the trail become more defined. The first portion of this trail drops with no thoughts of hiking ease and liesure; we knew it was going to be a steep climb out. Dropping, dropping, dropping down the face of the hill, the trail eventually follows Kinney Creek. At the bottom of the hill, there is a sign indicating Kinney Creek trail, but no sign for Horseshoe Lake. However, there is a clearly defined trail to the left of the end of the Kinney Creek trail; this is the trail to Horseshoe Lake. For all of that coming down, we are now made to go back up to get to Horseshoe Lake! Ascending aside, this was slow-going due to the great amount of horsey damage done to the trail: erosion and mud and holes deep enough to swallow half a human leg. This trail climbs through lush, healthy forest as well, passes by multiple rock fields, and through two meadows that look up on the backsides of the mountains we look at from our porch. We sat only briefly at the lake to snarf lunch and wonder about the intent of yet another set of dark clouds.

Lunch at Horseshoe Lake

Lunch at Horseshoe Lake

But with our days in Grand County dwindling, we didn’t need the lure of perfect weather to get us out for this trip. We didn’t have a desire to accomplish anything, to conquer a peak or rack up miles. We just needed that faint promise of the mountains, that familiar feeling of being so in the mountains we forget about all the changes coming up, all the items on our to-do list. How lucky we are to just sit and watch the rain, listen to the thunder, hope for sun, and soak up the mountain magic.

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Hiking Info from Hiking Grand County, Colorado by Deborah Carr and Lou Ladrigan. And some photo cred to the wonderful Alex Romanyshyn!

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Crater Lake Overnight

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Cece and Alex at Crater Lake in Indian Peaks Wilderness.

Cece and Alex at Crater Lake in Indian Peaks Wilderness.

Hiking Information:

Mileage: 14.4 miles roundtrip

Elevation Change: 2,000 feet

Altitude: 8,300 feet at trailhead, 10,300 feet at lake

To get there: Take Highway 40 through Winter Park, Fraser, Tabernash and Granby. Turn onto Highway 34 toward Grand Lake. Turn right onto the road for Arapahoe Bay and Monarch Lake, before the town of Grand Lake. Park at Monarch Lake. **Be sure to obtain an Indian Peaks permit at the National Forest office in Granby.

Some people say there’s nothing like fear to make you move quickly. In this case, there was nothing like fear to make me move slowly. Very slowly. What was I afraid of? A dry socket. We embarked on an overnight trip to Crater Lake 5 days after I’d gotten my wisdom teeth pulled.  And, according to the oral surgeon’s assistant, I’d been doing much wrong up to this point: icing too often and using the syringe too early. Not to mention breaking the ‘no heavy lifting for a week’ rule when I went to work and lifted toddlers all day 4 days after the surgery.

So, as we set out I was nervous about the strength of my blood clots and feared that the smallest bit of heart-thumping terrain would send a clot bursting out of the socket. I think this has to be on record as the slowest hike ever. Well, except for maybe descending into the Black Canyon of the Gunnison [LINK] last summer. When it was all said and done it took us about 6 hours to hike the 7.2 miles-and gain 2,000 feet elevation- up to the lake. Needless to say we really enjoyed the scenery.

The trail starts at Monarch Lake, which is a destination in itself. It is backed by craggy Indian Peaks Wilderness and is surrounded by thick forest, which is almost miraculous considering the rampant Pine Beetle kill in Grand County. Despite the popularity of the Monarch Lake Loop the trail was pretty quiet; the birds were chattering continuously, Cascade Creek was babbling in the distance, and soon we heard footsteps behind us. Hoof-steps, rather. Looking back we saw a female deer following close behind us. We’d take a few steps and she’d take a few steps. We’d stop and she’d stop. It went on like this, the deer following us like some friendly dog, until she got a little too close for comfort and Alex made just a little noise to scare her off.

On the backside of Monarch Lake we took the proper split in the trail toward Crater Lake and were soon hiking on one of the most beautiful trails I’ve ever been on. The forest was green and lush, with big-leafed shade plants dominating the forest floor. Red, purple, white, and yellow wildflowers were starting to bloom. The Aspens and willows along the way had me aching already to come back here in September. And the higher up we went the better the cascade waterfalls got. The name ‘Cascade Creek’ is fitting; at points it seemed that the whole creek was just one waterfall after another.

The first three campsites in the area are below the lakes so we continued up and

Lone Eagle Peak, above Crater Lake.

Lone Eagle Peak, above Crater Lake.

soon reached Mirror Lake, where we had the choice to go left for sites 4 through 7 or right for sites 8 through 12. We went left in search of site 7 and, after a questionable stream crossing, reached this pristine site at the end of the trail. We were on the same side of the lake as the dramatically pointy Lone Eagle Peak (sites on the other side of the lake may have better views of the peak) and could crane our necks up at it or look across the lake at steep rock terraces that host countless waterfalls that flow into Crater Lake. Along this steep hill are areas of lush plant life, and at the top are more of Indian Peaks jagged and geometric rock formations.

We are in and out of the tent as the sky spits rain on and off. Our site is only a few steps from the lake, and we find a good, flat rock for sitting, reading, fishing off of, and cooking on. Without too much to do it’s easy to spend the evening and the next morning relaxing thoroughly next to the lake, enjoying the sounds of waterfalls and birds and taking in the backcountry stillness.

View from campsite 7 at Crater Lake.

View from campsite 7 at Crater Lake.

Hiking Info from Hiking Grand County, Colorado by Deborah Carr and Lou Ladrigan.

Six Days in Southern Colorado

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Repelling down the trail to the bottom of the Black Canyon of the Gunnison. Photo by Alex Romanyshyn

Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park: The 150 minute mile
There is a nervousness settling in my stomach as we pack up our backpacking bags in the visitor center parking lot. Why am I nervous? I have hundreds of miles of backpacking excursions under my belt. But not this season. I realize that backpacking is a hard hobby to get sick of because it feels kind of new at the beginning of each season. Having 8 or 9 months a year away from a hobby can make a person feel a bit rusty at confidence and outdoors skills. Needless to say, in travelling around Africa for the past 2 months, I have become more comfortable with my pack on my back than without it. It’s the beginning of June and my pack is dirty and worn. It’s been used; it’s not empty. Most years, the beginning of June is the time for digging out backpacks and the things that fill them and remembering how they all fit together. I sling the thing on my back with ease and we set out on our first backpacking trip of 2012. It’s one mile and 1,800 feet to the bottom. Other than walking around Africa, we really haven’t done any physical activity since, ohhh, maybe March 15. So, this hike is really hard! Maybe in August, the month I when I tend to be in the best shape, it would be easier. It doesn’t take long for my thighs to start trembling as I hold the weight of myself and my backpack back on the descent. About a third of the way down, there is an 80 foot long chain to hold on to as you do a slow repel through the eroding gulley of trail. The combination of my Jell-O legs and the constantly moving dirt and scree under my boots causes a few slips and falls. It’s the first hike of the season and I’m feeling battered already. Admittedly, I am slightly distressed when we reach the bottom of the canyon, sweaty and shaking and feeling pathetically weak. I stumble like a drunk over to the tent site, unable to control the strange ways that my knees are wobbling. On average, I hike a 25 to 30 minute mile with a full pack on; this mile took us 150 minutes. It’s beautiful here: looming, craggy walls and the flowing river. We are alone, just the two of us, and it’s easy enough to settle in and enjoy this place with sitting and fishing and reading and eating. The hike back up starts the next day, before it’s too hot. It is sweaty and shaky just the same, and I don’t hesitate in mentioning that I’m glad we did this, but will never do this again. We camp at the East Portal campsite that night and drive the rim road through the park. The treat in being at the top of the Black Canyon is an orange and pink sunset to the west and the cool, blue rise of the full moon to the east.

Sunset over The Black Canyon of the Gunnison.

Sunset over The Black Canyon of the Gunnison. Photo by Alex Romanyshyn.

 

 

 

 

 

The town of Telluride and Telluride ski hill

The town of Telluride and Telluride ski resort. Photo by Alex Romanyshyn.

Telluride: Mountains and millionaires

This is a place that overwhelms me over the course of our two-day stay. This is the place where culture shock sneaks up on me. By the time we reach Telluride, we have been back from Africa for a week and a half. As we walk and drive through town, contrasts are running through my mind. And they won’t leave me alone. Sights, sounds, smells, people, houses, dogs, safety, money, money, money; my senses are overloaded here. Telluride is a gorgeous mountain town in a gorgeous mountain valley full of gorgeous mountain homes. I appreciate it for this, but something about it makes me squeamish right now. Despite my reeling mind, I can still enjoy it. We walk through town park, the site of most of Telluride’s summer festivals (there is a festival every weekend but one, at which time there is the ‘Nothing Festival’). We take a drive up toward Bridal Veil Falls, where Alternating Current Electricity was first generated and is still used to power all of the town’s streetlights. We go with Alex’s brother, who has just moved to Telluride, to a wooden swing hanging on a tree overlooking town. These things bring on that mountain feeling that you just cannot get anywhere else: peacefulness, contentedness, okay-ness with a life that is really not figured out, happiness at good company and great scenery. Our two days here are sort of strange for me with good mountain feelings and creeping culture shock running through me.

 

The Cliff Palace at Mesa Verde Ntl. Park

The Cliff Palace at Mesa Verde National Park. Photo by Alex Romanyshyn.

Mesa Verde National Park
We spend only half a day in Mesa Verde, doing what we could to get the most out of it in such a short time. We go to the Cliff Palace Overlook, where we see Mesa Verde’s famed multi-story cliff dwellings that were inhabited by Native Americans in 1200 AD. To go down into Cliff Palace requires waiting in a long line to purchase tickets beforehand. We skip this, and instead do a ticket-free walk through the Spruce House. If you have more time to spend in Mesa Verde you can visit their extensive museum displays and go on a guided hike into the cliff dwellings.

 

 

The Springs hot springs in Pagosa Springs

The Springs hot springs in Pagosa Springs.

Pagosa Springs: Desitnation deepest geothermal hot springs in the world!
Alex and I developed a hot springs hobby without meaning to, so we often end up in Colorado’s mountain towns soaking up healthy minerals and relaxing. So far we’ve been to Glenwood Springs, Cottonwood Hot Springs in Buena Vista, Strawberry Hot Springs in Steamboat (still our number one pick), Hot Sulphur Springs in Hot Sulphur Springs, Indian Hot Springs in Idaho Springs, Sol Duc Hot Springs in Olympic National Park, Washington, and, now The Springs in Pagosa Springs. The Springs are the world’s deepest geothermal hot springs and were first discovered by white men more than 150 years ago. Native Americans had been using them long before this. Now, there are 18 pools ranging from about 86 degrees to 112 degrees, with names like “Clouds in my Coffee,” “The Lobster Pot,” and “Columbine Pool.” When things get a little too hot, it’s easy to step into the San Juan River; The Springs are right on the eastern bank. Kayakers, rafters, and tubers pass by and there are some warm pools along the edge where hot springs water is bubbling up from the sand. This hot springs doesn’t have the ‘spa rules’ of some of the others we’ve been to so there are kids splashing and milling about. Nonetheless we spend 9 hours relaxing here, moving from pool to pool to warm up and cool off as we feel the need. Next on the list for hot springs this summer is Conundrum Hot Springs, the highest hot springs in North America and only reached after about 10 miles on foot!

Fun in the Sand Dunes

Playing around in Great Sand Dunes National Park. Photo by Alex Romanyshyn.

Great Sand Dunes National Park
Like Mesa Verde, we only spend about half a day in the Great Sand Dunes. We wander through the visitor’s center, learning that the sand making up the dunes was brought here by creeks and winds. As we go hiking up into the dunes, this fact becomes pretty unbelievable. Each dune in itself is large; from on top of them the people below look like they are inches tall. And there are a lot of them. 14ers tower to the east and smaller mountains are seen to the north. It takes us under an hour to trek up to a pretty vantage point. From here we can go running and jumping and sliding down the steep sides of the dunes, listening to the odd, suctioning thump that hills of sand make under impact. There are people hiking up with their kids, sleds in tow for a quick ride down. At the almost-dry creek below the dunes muddy kids are digging, dogs are splashing, and people are sitting in camp chairs soaking up the sun.

 

This trip was a perfect way to kick of the summer hiking/spending-time-in-the mountains season, and allowed us to hit three of Colorado’s four national parks, one hot springs, and one funky mountain town. If I had more time to spend in Southern Colorado, I would go the Ouray Hot Springs pool, backpack in the San Juan mountains, take a train ride in Durango, and make a quick jaunt down to Taos, New Mexico.

Bear Lake to Grand Lake via Flattop Mtn.

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 Flattop

On the way down Flattop

Hiking details

  •  Mileage: 16.5 one way
  •  Altitude:  12, 324 feet at Flattop summmit
  •  Elevation gain: 2,849 feet from Bear Lake to Flattop summit. 1,108 feet drop from Bear Lake to Grand Lake
  •  To get there: In RMNP, take the Bear Lake Road to the Bear Lake trailhead. Follow the trail signs to Flattop Mountain.

“Hey, we crossed the Divide,” I say to Alex, pointing to a small stream of water running west down the hillside.

“You’re observant,” he tells me, serious.

We knew we’d be crossing the Continental Divide on this hike, but we didn’t know when or if there would be a sign on the

Celebrating the summit of Flattop, the west side, and the thru hike!

Cece and Alex celebrating the summit of Flattop, the west side of the Divide and the through-hike

trail. We’ve spent all summer living and hiking on the east side of the Divide, and because things here are so often talked about as being on this or that side of the Divde, crossing over seems somehow important, like we are entering a new national park altogether.

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Nokoni and Nanita Lakes

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Nanita Lake

The remote Nanita Lake!

Hiking details:

  •   Mileage: 22 miles round trip to Nanita, 20 miles round trip to Nokoni
  • Altitude: 10,780 feet
  • Elevation gain: 2,240 feet
  • To get there: Begin at the North Inlet trail head north of the town of Grand Lake.

I am slipping into the chilly water of Nanita. It is expansively quiet here. There is no one around, and such rare solitude and freedom calls for a skinny dip. But it’s only moments before I am back on the rocks, covered in goose bumps and drying in the sun while Alex fishes.

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Long’s Peak

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On the way up Long's Peak

On the way up Long’s Peak. Looking northwest as the sun is rising

Hiking Details:

  • Mileage: 16 miles round trip
  • Elevation gain: 4,855 feet
  • Altitude: 14,255 feet
  • To get there: Take Highway 7 to the Long’s Peak Area of RMNP. Leave from the Long’s Peak trailhead.

Leaving from the Goblin’s Forest campsite at 1:34 a.m., we are the only five headlights bobbing along the Long’s Peak trail. Eventually, more catch up to us in the darkness and pass us. As we get above tree line, we can see the lights dotting the ridges ahead, guiding us forward. They are high above us, so much so that they could be mistaken for stars if we didn’t know better.

“We have to go way up there?” we are all saying.

We have a long ways to go.

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Photos from our first two-nighter

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We recently completed our first two-night backpacking trip in RMNP of the season and I put this photo slideshow together. Our trip started at the Long’s Peak trail head. We spent our first night at the Moore Park camp site. On our second day we hiked about 7 miles to the Boulder Brook group site. That day we took a side trip to Mills Lake and Jewel Lake. On the third and last day we got up early to hike up and over Granite Pass, which took us right by the base of longs. Finally, we left our packs off the trail and took a side trip to Chasm Lake. Our whole loop, with the side trips, was about 26 miles! Enjoy the photos and read the posts below to hear more about the trip.

Boulder Brook group site

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Hiking details:

  • Mileage: 7 miles from Moore Park campsite (where we came from), 7.8 miles roundtrip from the Glacier Gorge trail head, 5.4 miles roundtrip from the Sprague Lake or Storm Pass trail heads.
  • Elevation gain:  960 feet from Glacier Gorge trail head, 1,490 from Sprague Lake and Storm Pass trail heads.
  • Altitude: 10,200 feet
  • To get there: From Glacier Gorge Trailhead on the Bear Lake Road in RMNP follow the trail past Alberta Falls. Following signs to Boulder Brook, turn left at the junction with the Mills Lake/Loch Vale trail. From Sprague Lake or Storm Pass trailheads on Bear Lake Road in RMNP: Follow the Boulder Brook trail.
  • Side Trips: Boulder Brook trail, The Loch Vale, Mills Lake, Jewel Lake, Black Lake, Alberta Falls

“Watch out!” Alex yells from behind me, as a falcon’s scream is getting closer and closer to my head.

I duck, making sure to keep the stick I am carrying high above my head in an attempt at protecting myself. We are on Storm Pass and I am being dive-bombed by a sizeable falcon. I don’t see her, but I hear her and that’s enough to scare me. When we reached the trail junction pointing us either to Storm Pass or to the East Portal trailhead, there was a sign stapled to a tree. It warned us of the aggressive raptor and advised an alternate route. However, this is the way to our next site on our two night trip, so we have to go through the raptor’s territory.

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Moore Park site

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Hiking details:

  • Mileage: 3.4 miles round trip
  • Elevation gain: 360 feet
  • Altitude: 9,760 feet
  • To get there: Take Highway 7 to the Long’s Peak trailhead. Follow the Long’s Peak trail 0.5 miles and take a right at the fork in the trail.
  • Side trips: Eugenia Mine, Estes Cone.

We are starting out to Moore Park late, as dusk is settling in the Estes Valley, and I am happy we only have 1.7 miles to the site after a tough day at work. It is quiet on the trail and we meet no other hikers, except for some of my fellow Mary’s Lake Lodge employees who are just getting down off the Estes Cone. As they are heading home, we are just beginning our first two-nighter of the season. I am exhausted, but exhilarated about what mysteries the next two days in the park might hold.

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Happily Lost campsite

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On the trail to the Happily Lost campsite

On the trail to the Happily Lost campsite. This site is in the northern area of the park and had many segments of lush, green meadows and woods.

Hike details:

  • Mileage: 12.4 roundtrip
  • Elevation gain: 1,600 feet
  • Altitude: 9,560 feet
  • To get there: Follow highway 36 West through Glen Haven to Dunraven Road. Follow this dirt road to the Dunraven Trailhead. Note that you are beginning the hike in on National Forest Service land and will be hiking into RMNP 4.1 miles into the hike.
  • Side Trips: Lost Lake: 3.8 miles from the campsite, The Glen Haven General Store, where they have the best homemade cinnamon rolls in the world!

“Just one more campsite to pass and we will be happily lost,” Alex says as we near our site.

When making our camping reservations for this week, he chose this site based solely off its name. Along with having the best name of any site I’ve ever camped in, this is also one of the best trails I’ve ever hiked on. We are hiking along the river for the first couple of miles and the bank is overgrown with thick, green life. I am marveling at the jungle-like woods as we go deeper and deeper into them.  As we continue and get away from the water, the greenery changes. Now, we are in meadows with long grasses and green-leafed Aspens. The Aspens own this area, I’m sure of it. Being one of my favorite trees, there is something about them that is always enchanting to me. Their leaves are always moving a bit, even if it’s still outside, and they are thin enough to let the sun through. This always makes me think they are sparkling or twinkling. On the way to the site, the scenery changes once more to lodgepole pines and imposing boulders. But it is in the Aspen meadows that I feel happily lost, like I am in another world.

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