Category Archives: Day Hikes

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.

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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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Bike ‘N Hike: St. Louis Lake

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Biking/ Hiking Information:

One-Way Distance: Biking  3.01 miles, hiking 2.82 miles

Elevation: 9,520 feet at the biking trailhead, 11,532 feet at the lake

To get there: From hwy 40 out of Fraser, turn south on County Road 72- toward the tubing hills. Stay right at the fork. Follow the curve for. 3 miles and turn left on County Road 73, aka St. Louis Creek Road. Follow this road for 8.7 miles.

Bumping over rounded rocks, I think about my lifelong vague discomfort on the seat of a bike. I am tense and dodging, trying to keep up my speed on the steady uphill, but being slowed each time my tire rolls over another rock. I am on my lowest gears, and still struggling. I stop to clear mucus from my nose and throat, to open my lungs and catch my breath- I’ve never enjoyed a deep breath in the hunched posture that comes with biking.

This is not my favorite thing.

Certainly not on the way up, and not even really on the way down, when I find myself overcome with images of cracking bones on rock.

But still, I try.

And I suppose I am okay at mountain biking; I’ve never crashed (knock on wood!).

This close-to-home excursion to St. Louis Lake is my second mountain biking adventure of this summer. The way up always just sucks. But if I let go of the fear of falling, I find that I kind of like the way down 🙂

We bike for about 2.25 miles before crossing a small but quick stream that flooded over the trail this year. After .75 more miles, we are at the hiking trailhead, and stash our bikes in the woods before continuing on.

I am not sure how common the combined bike/hike trails are in other areas of Colorado, but there are quite a few near Fraser. The biking portions are usually on old dirt roads that were once open all the way up to the hiking trailheads. In an attempt to conserve this area for future use, the National Forest Service  began closing the roads further down so that the trails were harder to access and wouldn’t be overused. Part of me thinks that making things less accessible is just plain rude, the other part of me sees the reason for needing to limit how much these areas get tread on.

P1220706Anyhow, after the 3 miles of biking, walking just feels good and natural! The hiking portion of the trail starts out following the creek, and then continues to climb steadily, with short spurts that are steeper and short spurts that flatten out. We are happy that the trail is cool and shaded. In the last mile or so, we periodically cross patches of snow, left in this high country even in the last days of June. In contrast to this late-season snow, the wildflowers are beginning to bloom, dotting the forest with yellow and white and the occasional deep red. For this last mile, we are awarded views of the rocky peaks that back St. Louis Lake. After what feels like a long 3 miles, we reach the small lake, and notice immediately the thin patches of ice that are still floating around its surface.

From here we are up close and personal with the peaks that hug the lake, and are also able to enjoy more distant views of some of the mountains that create the eastern border of Grand County. Alone at the lake, we rest to take in the views and recharge with lunch and beer ( a little liquid courage for that bike ride down 😉 ). As we head down, we chat with two other women who are just arriving at the lake; the length of the trail certainly does keep this lake feeling somewhat remote.

Jaunting quickly downhill, we stop to peg the occasional snowball at each other and peek through the trees at the building afternoon storm clouds. We reach our bikes as sprinkles start coming down. I get on, keeping in mind the aggressive stance that Alex has taught me when bumping over obstacles. It’s a quick and blurry ride back to the car.

With lush forests and awesome views behind us, it was another grand day in the Grand County outdoors.

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

Tuesday Talk: Tundra Time, at last!

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Mountain Reflections

Mountain Reflections

The mountains look blue and purple now, as the frigid air of early winter touches their tips. Snow is dusted over them; their rock faces look right at you this time of year. Early morning clouds are pink and purple and white like opals.

So it was to this scene that I left Fraser early on Saturday morning for a day trip to Denver. On the tundra, winter is pushing in. Byer’s Peak seemed to call to me; I had yet to get any tundra time this season because of my silly summer ankle injury in Ecuador. It was only recently that the ankle stopped screaming at me every time I tried to walk a mile or two.

Sunday morning, Alex and I decided that it was finally time to trek to the tundra. Part of me wanted to climb Byer’s Peak, but I could tell by looking that it would be snowy and challenging for a still-healing ankle. So we decided on Bottle Peak instead.

Here we are on the saddle between Byer’s and Bottle Peaks this winter:

Alex and Cece on top of Bottle Pass!

Alex and Cece on top of Bottle Pass!

You can see Byer’s Peak in the background, looking rather majestic.

We set out Sunday from the Byer’s Peak trailhead, off of St. Louis Creek Road. Years ago, the National Forest Service moved the trailhead back a couple miles, to make the Byer’s Peak hike longer and preserve the overused trail for future generations. It’s a widely debated topic in Grand County.

‘The Forest Service made the trail less accessible for hikers,’ people say. ‘Isn’t keeping forests accessible part of their job?’

‘Yes,’ other people say. ‘But preserving those forests for future generations is also part of the job.’

Basically, they added 3 miles to the Byer’s Peak. So, on this 3-mile-long dirt road, we hiked 1.4 miles until turning off on the Bottle Peak trail after the 5th switchback in the road. Up and up we continued to climb. After turning off on to the Bottle Peak trail, we hiked about another 2.8 miles to the top. The trail ends right below Bottle Pass (pictured above!), but it’s easy to follow the cairns to the top of the peak.

We ascended from Bottle Pass under clear blue skies and a summery sun. I breathed in the damp smell of fall, and enjoyed the tawny tundra grasses as they soaked up what is surely their last bits of sun for many months. Despite being smack in the middle of the tundra, this scene reminded me of Thanksgiving in Denver, bright and beige in the last moments of fall. As we climbed steadily up the ridge I looked down, making sure not to step on a rock that would wreck my ankle.

At the top we signed a paper in a bottle and sat to enjoy the views. Far below, we could see Fraser, and the road that our house is on. To one side were the five familiar peaks that make up what we sometimes call Our Continental Divide. Maybe we consider it ours because we see it every day :). Beyond Our Continental Divide we could see nothing but peaks. Far to the other side of our house, we could see reaching Long’s Peak, undoubtedly tall. Behind us was the Gore Range. And closest to us was Byer’s Peak, looking so dramatic and quite tall compared to where were sitting.

Byer's Peak, as seen while climbing the ridge to Bottle Peak summit.

Byer’s Peak, as seen while climbing the ridge to Bottle Peak summit.

So, we got out our bottle of beer for Bottle Peak and I said, “Do we really live here?!” just like I’ve said it countless times over the last 2+ years, and I thought about how damn lucky we are to live here, and about how – if we end up going into the Peace Corps– this might be our last snowless trip to the tundra for quite a while. And so I soaked it in as I best as I could: the sights, the smells, the sounds, and the feeling of autumn sun.

All was calm and quiet on the tundra, and as I thought about how small I am up there, I was calm and quiet too. And thankful to have trekked to the tundra for one last high-up hoorah.

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Castle and Conundrum Peaks

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Castle Peak as seen from Conundrum Peak.

Castle Peak as seen from Conundrum Peak.

Hiking Info:

Altitude: Castle Peak: 14, 265. Conundrum Peak: 14,060

For detailed information on driving directions, hiking distances, and routes, visit : http://www.14ers.com/photos/peakmain.php?peak=Castle+Peak

It’s cool and quiet and dark when we wake up at 5:20 a.m. to get ready for our first (and probably last) 14er hike of the summer. Without too much conversation, our group of six starts the drive up the rough road toward the peaks. We drive a couple miles up the road and find a spot to park; jeeps and dirt bikes have the freedom for a further journey on the bumpy road, but we can only go so far. By the time we start hiking the sky has lightened, and the higher the climb the more we can see the sun bringing pink light to tops of the Elk Range. The skies are crisp and blue, just what we want as we climb toward the treeline.

The first part of the hike is spent getting to the end of the road. The trail begins in a scree field, which is, I’ve learned, a clumsy gal’s enemy. Carefully and quite slowly I choose my footing on each rock, moving quickly away from those found to be unstable. I love to scamper on big rocks, but little rocks that slip and slide beneath me… not my favorite. But little did I know that this was sturdy ground compared to the scree still to come. So up and up the scree field we went until we reached the backside of a ridge that climbs to the summit of Castle Peak. Here we went along on small, tight, steep switchbacks that led to a relentless, steady, climb to finish off the stable trail section of the ridge. At the top of this ridge we stopped for a moment to enjoy views of the Elks all around us, the sun still settling into the lower valleys.  Then began the little bit of climbing, at which time we realized how crumbly this mountain is! The rock climbing was fairly easy, more of a mental challenge than a physical one as the path began to narrow. In times like this, I am always ultra-aware of my big, clumsy feet and hands! And after a bit of narrow traversing and climbing over jagged rocks, it was a 15 foot scramble on loose gravel to the top. I suppose if your body is moving faster than the gravel underfoot, you’re going to be just fine.

Of the few 14ers I’ve climbed Castle, and the upcoming Conundrum, were

Cece and Alex on Castle Peak.

Cece and Alex on Castle Peak.

definitely the least crowded. Sometimes the thought of the 14er crowds are enough to keep Alex and I away; we’d rather go find quiet places in wilderness most of the time. There were only three other people on top of Castle Peak and we stopped briefly for a snack and pictures.

“Cece, do you want to go on to Conundrum?” Alex’s uncle asked as the group discussed our next step.

“Sure,” I shrugged. Then two in our group headed back down to the car and the rest of us went down the other side of Castle toward Conundrum Peak, at 14,060 feet.

Conundrum Peak, my fifth 14er!

Conundrum Peak, my fifth 14er!

The scree on this descent was much scarier than the first batch, and there’s also that thing called gravity that can be quite unfriendly when you’re going downhill on unstable trails. With caution, we made it to the saddle and began to cross toward Conundrum Peak. The comparative flatness of the saddle served as a bit of a break from the leg-shaking downhill, and on the other side of it we of course began to go up. Again, we climbed tight switchbacks and then crossed a flat boulder field on top of a peak. We then went down the other side of that peak and up the loose back of Conundrum. This journey was well worth the extra bit of effort to be on top of a second 14er before 10 a.m.

Now, for our final descent we had two choices: go back across the saddle, up Castle, and down the trail we came up on or descend from the Conundrum-side of the saddle. In the interest of not back-tracking, the choice was obvious. So, we reached the saddle and instead of going across we began to go down.

Behold, batch number three of scree!

We descended from this saddle on this scree field, and slid down the snowfield on our butts!

We descended from this saddle on this scree field, and slid down the snowfield on our butts!

This is where I employed my Yoga/Pilates breathing. Deep breathing is how I stay mentally calm in physically intimidating situations. If you’ve climbed harder 14ers than this (and there are many) you might think I’m a bit wimpy. Then again, I have employed my Yoga/Pilates breathing in situations that I now look back on and don’t find scary at all. This is great because I know I’ve grown a bit in my outdoor pursuits! But really, I had seen people on the saddle as we were heading Castle and I had wondered how in the hell they were going to get off the saddle; it was one of those bits of trail I had looked at and thought, ‘I would never want to do that,’ but then here I was about to do it. So, getting down off this saddle was like snowboarding on foot. I put my right side downhill, side-stepped when possible, and mostly slid with the ground below me and aimed for larger, stable rocks to wedge my foot onto and take breaks. And, of course, there was a lot deep breathing. When we reached the bottom of this we got to have a little fun and relief: my first glacade down a snow field!

After watching Alex to get an idea, I plopped down and went sledding down the 100 (ish) yard-long snow field on my butt. From there it was just more rock-hopping and scree-navigating and one more glacade until we were back on solid ground and cruising down the road to our car.

Besides getting our 14er hike in, this was the weekend of Alex’s family’s second annual family camping trip, so we got to come back and relax in a camp full of friendly faces and good food and booze!

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.

Second Creek to Broome Hut

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The Broome Hut.

The Broome Hut.

Hiking Info:

Distance: 2 miles round trip

Elevation Gain : 765 feet

Altitude: 10,585 feet at the trailhead, 11,350 feet at the Broome Hut

To get there: Take US Highway 40 to mile marker 240 on Berthoud Pass. Park at the pullout on the west side of the highway. There is no trailhead sign, but there is a large, orange, sticker-covered avalanche warning sign in the parking lot.

I am thankful to hear Second Creek babbling alongside the trail for the first few minutes; it’s just what I need to erase the sounds of my own whirling thoughts on this solo hike. There is easy creek access off of the trail for about the first 1/8 of a mile, then the trail veers away from the creek to the right. Dead pine trees- I assume it’s beetle kill- are interspersed with the tall, shading pines. For half an hour I climb steadily up the trail, with views of James Peak Wilderness behind me. The wildflowers are starting to make an appearance, and I make a mental note to come back here in a month when they will really color the forest. As I get closer to the tundra there is a faint smell of dust and pine, the perfect summer smell. I can still hear the traffic on Berthoud Pass, but as I round the corner to the Broome Hut that sound is gone.

The Broome Hut with Second Creek Cirque in the background.

The Broome Hut with Second Creek Cirque in the background.

The Broome Hut stands in front of a patch of trees with views of the Second Creek Cirque in one direction and James Peak wilderness in another. And I wouldn’t exactly call it hut. It would fit in perfectly in some of Winter Park’s nicer neighborhoods; the outside is coated in tan stucco and boasts a spacious raised deck and big windows. The inside is nothing too fancy, spacious but clean and simple and smelling of freshly cut wood. The hut was built in 2012, with one third of the space open to public day use and the other two thirds for overnight reservations. Day users can take advantage of the bathrooms, kitchen, and deck. Overnight reservations are $35 per person, and the Grand Huts Association, the folks who built the Broome Hut, are still looking for volunteers to work at the hut and it is said that hours worked can earn volunteers a free night at the hut.

For lunch, I sat at a lone table perched up on a little hill in front of the hut.

Lunch with a view.

Lunch with a view.

This gave me uninterrupted views of James Peak and its neighbors and I sat there wondering how long it would be before I could climb up these beautiful mountains. Every day I look at these same mountains from my front porch, from a different angle and a greater distance so, of course, I want to see the view from the top.

I left the table after a while and followed the trail behind the Broome Hut. I was actually trying to go left, toward a trail I could see cutting across the tundra, but I couldn’t find the right spur so I just kept heading straight back. The trail had many spurs and wildflowers and willows and swampy snowmelt patches. I squelched through, just to go see what I could find. Before too long I came to a snowfield, with Second Creek running out from below it. I assessed the direction of the creek, naively assuming that it was flowing in a straight line. I decided against crossing the snow and turned left into the willows to see what I could see there. I came to the bottom of a scree-covered slope and, being alone, decided against scrambling up it (safety first!). I returned the snowfield and took I couple steps on it, having decided to cross

Enjoying the day!

Enjoying the day!

after all. I listened to the sound of running water nearby and stopped crunching my feet on the snow to listen more closely. ‘That sounds really close,’ I thought as I looked around. It was quite close; it was right under me. Second Creek was not flowing from the direction that I thought it was. Imagining wet feet and pins-and-needles ankles I quickly scampered off the snow and settled on heading back down the trail. The quickening wind and the clouds building over the Divide affirmed my decision.

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

Big Meadows

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Big Meadows with Mt. Ida in the distance.

Hiking Information
Mileage: 3.6 roundtrip
Elevation Gain: 606 feet
Altitude: 9,400 feet at the meadow
To get there: From Grand Lake, follow signs to Rocky Mountain National Park. Follow the main park road to the Green Mountain Trailhead.
As we start into the shaded woods at the Green Mountain Trailhead, I am savoring the quintessential mountain-winter quiet. After just a few snowshoeing trips in Rocky Mountain National Park I am convinced that it’s one of the most peaceful places you can spend a day in the wintertime. I can hear the crunch of my own snowshoes and an occasional thump as snow falls off the trees and hits the ground. In a breeze that we can’t even feel, the snow is blowing off the pine trees and sparkling in the patches of sunlight. This bit of beauty alone is enough to make me glad that we chose to come here instead of heading for the hustle bustle of Winter Park Resort to snowboard.
After being cooped up inside with a cold for what felt like an eternity (it was about a week), a slow, quiet walk in the woods is just what I need. It is one of those days that Alex and I are together but each in our own zone as we go along, keeping whatever thoughts we have to ourselves. We have no obligations today, so we dawdle to the meadow. Once the woods open up into the big meadow, we have views of Mt. Ida, with its long, slanting ridgeline. The snow on the meadow is disturbed only by a single track made by Nordic skiers and snowshoers, and the dotted footprints of an animal much more delicate than humans. We pass a lone Nordic skier heading back toward the trailhead and we settle on a berm of frozen grass to have winter picnic: PB&J with coffee and Irish cream. I mention that we’ll have to come back here in the summer and sun soak in our own private patch of the sprawling meadow; it seems like the perfect place for such a thing. Even with all the winter recreation in Grand County I miss basking in the mountain summer sun for hours, and I get excited when I find a place I would love to come back to when the seasons change.

Hiking information from ‘Hiking Rocky Mountain National Park’ by Kent and Donna Danne

Chicago Lakes

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Proof that winter is approaching at Chicago Lakes!

Mileage: Approximately 9 miles round trip to the upper lake
Altitude: 11, 740 feet at upper lake
Elevation Gain: 1,750 feet
To Get There: Take I-70 to exit 240 at Idaho Springs. Head south on Highway 103 toward Mt. Evans and park at the Echo Lake Lodge.

It is an unbelievable October day in Colorado: short sleeves weather and not a single cloud threatening an afternoon storm. The Echo Lake trail is fairly crowded and even once we branch off onto the Chicago Lakes trail there are intermittent greetings from people like us who are clinging onto these last pre-snow days.

Starting out with a friend that I haven’t seen in months means there are seemingly endless things to discuss, and we fall into a rhythm of habitual hiking. The trail passes roadside Echo Lake and then begins to climb gradually. It then levels out briefly and then begins to drop steeply down the hillside. At the bottom- after a simple creek crossing- we reach an unrelentingly steep, straight road that goes to the Idaho Springs Reservoir. Once past the reservoir, the trail is to the right and continues to climb and then level out and then climb some more. I mention that it feels like a long three miles to the lower lake and my friend replies that distance is debatable according to all the different trail descriptions she read. Finally we see the lower lake from above: big and green below gray granite. We continue on and the trail reaches its steepest point on the way to the upper lake. The distance is short and it doesn’t feel like long before we are at the top, a little breathless in the tundra wind. The upper lake is at the bottom of a steep ridge that the wind seems to come sweeping off of. Here we can remember that it’s no longer summer. It’s about 3 o’ clock and the sun is starting to slide behind the ridge. The rocks around the edge of the lake are crusted in rippling ice patterns. We put our jackets back on as we take pictures and sit briefly in the wind to eat chocolate.

Sources: http://www.thecohiker.com/colorado-hiking-trails/colorado-mountains-central/chicago-lakes, http://www.trails.com/tcatalog_trail.aspx?trailid=HGR320-051, http://www.utahtrails.com/Colorado%20pages/ChicagoLakes.html

Devil’s Thumb

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Hiking details
Mileage: 7.8 miles roundtrip
Altitude: 9,609 feet at trailhead, 12,236 feet at Devil’s Thumb
Elevation gain: 2,627 feet
To get there: On Hwy 40 out of Fraser, turn right onto County Road 8 and follow this for 6.4 miles. CR 8 turns into FSR 128 (Water Board Road). Turn left and continue for 1.1 miles. Turn right and continue for 0.3 miles where the road ends at a spillway. Park on the side of the road.

“I’ve never wanted to switch places with someone so badly,” a woman says to us as we come down the Devil’s Thumb trail. The trail is rocky and rooty, and without an abundance of switchbacks. She is huffing and puffing, just as we were on our way up.
We hiked uphill in the damp, cold shade for most of the fall morning; the dichotomy of cold air and a rise in body temperature always makes me uneasy, and I have to stop to adjust my layers multiple times. My appendages are stiff and lethargic once the sun is high enough to break up the monogamous shadow on the forest floor. Soon after, we leave the trees behind and our climb continues in the short grasses and squat willow bushes of the familiar tundra. The willow branches brush my bare calves as they threaten to take over the narrow trail. Cottony seed parachutes cling to the naked branches, something I’ve never seen before and had to ask for an explanation of.
Close to the Continental Divide the trail peters out. We can see the top of Devil’s Thumb to the left and we head towards it. The base of it, we realize, is on the other side of the Divide ridge we are alone on. From atop this ridge we yell just to hear our own echoes off the thumb and its inferior neighboring crags. We find a nook out of the wind and linger in the sun. I stare for so long at the lake below us that it begins to shimmer, as if the water is not water but a blanket of twinkling holiday lights instead.
Instead of leaving the tundra on the same path we came up on, Alex pulls me on an off-trail adventure across the ridge, over boulders, and down a steep slope back to the tree line trail. However begrudgingly I begin off-trail travel, I always enjoy having done it. Another windy day on the tundra. Another place that only our feet can take us too. Another rolling conversation. Another Saturday in Grand County!
Hiking details from ‘Hiking Grand County, Colorado: A Backcountry Guide to Winter Park, James Peak Area, Fraser Valley, Indian Peaks, Never Summer Range, Troublesome Valley, Williams Fork Mountains, Vasquez Mountains, and Beyond’ by Deborah Carr and Lou Ladrigan.

Rogers Pass to James Peak

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James Peak with Bancroft and Parry Peaks

A view of James Peak, on the far left, from the trail with Bancroft and Parry to the right, respectively. Photo courtesy of Alex Romanyshyn at www.alrophoto.com.

Hiking Details:

Mileage: 9 miles roundtrip to the peak

Altitude: 11,081 at trailhead, 13,304 at summit

Elevation gain: 2,223 feet

To get there: If climbing James from the Winter Park side, take Highway 40 to CR 80/FSR 149 (between mile markers 231 and 232, north of Winter Park Ski Resort), also known as Rollins Pass. Follow the road for about 10 miles to the old railroad trestle. Park at the Rogers Pass Trail sign on the right-hand side of the road.

If climbing James from the Denver side take I-70 to the Fall River Road/St. Mary’s Glacier exit and head north for about ten miles. Park at the trail head.

The chill of fall is in the air as we set out around 8 a.m. We are hiking in the shade of a spruce forest, looking at the approaching timberline. I am wringing my hands, keeping my fingers in motion as I eye the rising light of the sun to the east. We are out of the shaded trees quickly, only to spend the remainder of the hike on the wind-whipped tundra.

“Getting out of the trees that fast makes me feel like we’ve gone further than we have,” I comment. In my experience, walking up the tundra usually means the summit is close. But not today.

As much as I love a grove of Aspens in the fall, the squatting grasses and groundcovers on the tundra reward an autumn hiker up close. The deep red of Alpine Aven (which pikas use as a natural preservative for their winter food stores) and the russet grasses change the mountainside subtly, letting only the hiker who walks alongside them notice this signal of coming winter.

As we continue, we come to a fork in the trail and follow the Ute Trail. We walk along a narrow, rocky path that ascends toward the Continental Divide. We have views of Parry, Bancroft, and James, which was named after botanist Edwin James, who was the first person to do a recorded ascent of a Colorado 14er (during the same expedition that Stephen Long discovered and named Long’s Peak) Instead of said 14er being named after him it was named Pikes Peak and Mr. James left his namesake on this 13er instead. On top of the Continental Divide ridgeline the trail begins to level off and we follow another right fork for the final climb up James’ slanting shoulder. At the top we come to a ‘T’ in the trail and turn right to find small rock shelters. Out of the wind here, we can finally bask in the high sun.

We discover gaggles of hikers coming up the other side of James Peak from a trailhead at St. Mary’s Glacier that can be easily reached

Taking some time to balance on the Continental Divide.

Taking some time to balance on the Continental Divide 🙂 …I’m a clumsy gal so this didn’t last long!

from Denver. It is a flawless, blue-skied day so we laze around on the summit for a while. On the way down we stop multiple times on the Continental Divide ridgeline to take pictures and identify the spattering of lakes below us. We know that winter is on its way and that there won’t be many more days like this; we lollygag back to the car, making any excuse not to go home and go back inside.

Hiking details from ‘Hiking Grand County, Colorado: A Backcountry Guide to Winter Park, James Peak Area, Fraser Valley, Indian Peaks, Never Summer Range, Troublesome Valley, Williams Fork Mountains, Vasquez Mountains, and Beyond’ by Deborah Carr and Lou Ladrigan,  from http://www.summitpost.org/james-peak-st-mary-s-glacier/150240, and from http://www.americanjourneys.org/aj-144a/summary/index.asp.