Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Sandbeach Lake.

This is an interesting and fun destination that is easily accessible from Wild Basin. The trail head starts immediately to the right of the kiosk where you check in for the day. I have some pictures shot at different times of the year to show the varying conditions you might find.
This is another trail that starts off steep right out of the parking lot as you start to climb Copeland Moraine. Breaks in the trees allow you to see right into the St. Vrain drainage, Copeland Lake, and look back at route seven.
My first attempt at this trail was in April, when by chance I had gotten several days off in a row. It had been dry and warmer, so I had some hopes for a nice hike. And then it rained for three of the four days, which at altitude fell as snow.
St. Vrain drainage in the spring snow.
As far as I went before my feet were wet and cold.
I headed back a few months later and was met with much different conditions.
Copeland Lake and rt 7.
St. Vrain drainage.
I just noticed this picture is taken from the same exact place as the snow one above!
Made it farther this time.
If I am remembering correctly, you actually hit a nice flat spot in the trail shortly after passing this sign. The next major landmark you'll come to is Campers Creek.
A small pond along the way.
Very reflective!
On the day that I did this hike, that was where I saw my first signs of snow.
Next you reach Hunters Creek. From this point on there was still significant snow pack (mid June 2011), though it is all melted now (mid August). I tried to take the small path up to Lyric Falls, but turned around due to snow and generally wet conditions.
The trail wasn't hard to follow, though I had never been to the lake before. It seems to be a pretty popular hike.
Nearing the lake!!!
Then I got there. How pretty.
Like alot of the higher lakes in RMNP, Sandbeach Lake was dammed to provide water for towns downstream in the early 1900s. The dam was removed in the late 1980s and the lake has returned to a more natural state. I thought the lake was pretty cool by itself and then I turned around and saw this...
Close up of Meeker literally dominating the view.
In panorama mode...
Trees on the south bank of the lake bent by years of wind.
Panorama from the south end of the lake. Meekerific!
It was funny at this point of the year I could see bare ground and two feet away in the shade see 10+ feet of snow. Pretty interesting. I hung out for a little, ate some food, and headed back down. I saw a few people on my way back, but not many.
On the way back I stopped at Hunters Creek to snap this picture...
This was not a long or particularly challenging hike, though I found it to be pretty enjoyable. There are some great views along the way, and the destination and its sights are more than worth the time spent getting up and back.
Sandbeach Lake via Sandbeach Lake trail head:
4.2 miles one way, 1943 foot gain. I'll give this a easy moderate rating.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Mt. Meeker via Horse Creek Trailhead.

To get here you'll want to be on route 7, which will be left coming up from Lyons or south headed down from Estes Park. In the tiny town of Meeker Park look for CR113N on the west side of the road. It's very easy to go by. Drive along this for a little over a half mile (yes your car can make it). There are supposedly occasional signs that say trail and point ahead, but I only saw one of those. Eventually you'll see some places to park on the sides of the road, followed by a sign for the trail pointing to your right. Park in one of the places along the road, taking care not to block any driveways.
Now the adventure begins.
This is an unofficial trail head that actually starts in Roosevelt National Forest, so there are no accommodations. Lisa Fosters excellent RMNP The Complete Hiking Guide states that this is a steep hike, but for the first little bit of the trail I was thinking it wasn't so bad. Then it turns up!
A mellow start...
Follow the trail along, crossing several small streams along the way, and pausing for rest whenever your legs can't take it anymore. I tried to capture the steepness of it in a photo, but you can't really tell...
Then the steep stuff.
After a little over two miles and 2000 feet or so of gain, you'll arrive at a plateau that looks different. Sandy soil, thicker and shorter pine trees. The trail from here will be delineated by rocks, sticks/logs, and/or cairns, so keep your eyes open. When you hit a clearly defined rock arrow pointing east, you can follow the cairns up to Lookout Mountain as I did.
I found this path to be fairly well marked, and Lookout truly does give you a good vantage point south into the heart of Wild Basin. When I arrived at Lookout, the first thing I said to myself was, "This is class 3?!?!?". It is. To find the class three top out, circle around to the eastern facing side of the cap rock. It is a few committing moves with good feet and marginal hands in places, but no sweat as long as things are dry.
Horsetooth and Twin Sisters from Lookout.
Wild Basin.
Crazy looking twisted pines near the summit of Lookout.
Now I must tell you I hadn't planned on doing Mt. Meeker on this day. In fact, all I had planned was Lookout and Horsetooth since I wanted something shorter. But I arrived at the farthest and highest of my daily goals in only an hour and a half, and wanted something longer than that!
What to do? I didn't want to go back down and drive somewhere else. There wasn't really anything else immediately accessible in the area... except...
Well, why the hell not?
I started down Lookout, quickly losing the cairns and going overland. I arrived back in the sandy plateau area, thinking I was at the same place as before, only to discover later that I had gone north on my way down. I was looking around the area and saw a trail that left in the general direction of Meeker and decided to follow it. It is alot easier to follow a trail than bushwhack in my opinion.
This trail is obviously unmaintained, and for a time pretty well beat in. It does cross some rocky sections where cairns mark it pretty well. Going up it seemed like I was getting to tree line due to a thinning and shortening of the forest, only to go up a little farther and be right back in it. But it did come soon enough.
Talus and Meeker ridge.
Looking back down at Lookout. On your way back down, skirt all the way to the left of the rock faces pictured here to find the trail.
Now the fun begins. There are several false summits on your way up, but it is usually pretty clear that there is still more to go. Enjoy the beautiful tundra and the great views. Maybe you'll even see some wildlife up here...
Spot the two critters in this picture.Copeland, Ouzel, Mahana, Isolation, Tanima, Pilot, Alice.
Are we there yet?
Meeker has two summits. This route will take you to the eastern summit which is around forty feet lower than the true western summit. By surprise, I happened on another hiker at the east summit. We talked a little bit and took pictures of each other. From the eastern summit we could see a bunch of people on the top of Longs Peak.
He was of the opinion that Meeker was harder than Longs, and I could see that since you do more gain over a shorter distance. And while a summit of Meeker might not have the prestige of Longs, it is certainly a worthy challenge and definitely a less populated route.
Atop the eastern summit.
Sandbeach Lake way way down there.
Longs Peak and Mummy range in the background.
Looking west along the class three ridge to the true summit.
And back east to the eastern summit.
The knife edge ridge that you have to traverse from the east summit to the west summit is very exposed third class. However, it was not difficult at all, and there was not any time that I felt in danger. Immediately following the east summit I would recommend staying south, and once the ridge gains some sharpness, stay to the north of it. There is a huge ledge for your feet and great hand holds the whole way across. That being said, a fall here would result in serious injury if not death, particularly on the north side of the ridge.
On the summit of Meeker 13911 feet with Longs Peak in the background.
Closeup of the blocky head of Longs Peak from Meeker. You can just barely make out a person standing atop it (I think!).
Looking west along the ridge to the summit. Stay to the north or right side of this for great feet and hand holds.
Mt. Meeker and Longs Peak from the east summit of Meeker.
The view from up there is great. You can really see forever. And what a sense of accomplishment in summiting my second thirteener! But alas, I had to get going back. It seemed like the hike back to treeline took alot longer than going up, but I think that was just my want to get back down.
Along the way I learned two very important things...
One- always look around. When I broke treeline and got above the rock faces pictured in the photo "Looking back down at Lookout", I didn't make note of where I should be to head back down. Obviously I knew the general direction, and probably would have taken the line of least resistance until I hit the trail, but it is quicker and easier to just find the trail from the get go. I spotted the guy I had met on top on his way down and followed him. This saved me some time for sure.
Two- if you change or add destinations mid hike, make sure you are prepared for it. In this case I ran out of water above treeline on Meeker ridge and was dry for about an hour and a half. I didn't panic since I knew once I got back on the trail down from Lookout to the trail head I would be passing some streams that I could pump out of. But if the only source of water was at the trail head, I could have had some real problems. Always take note of your surroundings, even if you might not need the resources offered at the time.
The cairns were not as well placed on the way down, with several knocked over that I rebuilt, and, at times, none at all it seemed. I just followed the general direction they were indicating and did find the trail, though it took some time.
I was so thirsty heading down and majorly looking forward to the stream. I got to the first one that was so shallow I had to dig a little hole in it for the end of my pump to sit in. But damn did that water taste good. I filled up and headed down. I got back to the car and ate a few snacks before leaving. What a day! If I am remembering correctly, it took me nine plus hours to do this hike.
Lookout Mountain via Horse Creek trail head:
2.5 miles one way, 2015 foot gain. Class 3 to gain the summit of Lookout. Moderate+.
Mount Meeker via Horse Creek trail head:
5 miles one way, 5211 foot gain. Exposed class 3 between the east and west summits of Meeker. Strenuous+.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Bluebird and Ouzel Lakes.

This week my sister Jane and her boyfriend Troy were in town from New York. I must credit my sister with lighting my hiking bug. It was only last summer that she visited and persuaded me to hike in RMNP, and I was pretty much instantly hooked. Our first hike started from the Bear Lake trailhead and ended at Lake Haiyaha, which is probably better known in some circles for the wealth of hard bouldering it and the surrounding area contains, rather than being a hiking destination.
Our second hike started from the Wild Basin trailhead. I was somewhat familiar with it as my wife and I would occasionally head there to test ourselves by climbing on the Wild Basin boulder. I consulted the books my parents had purchased for me on hiking in Colorado (why they bought them I don't know; I had zero interest in hiking at the time). I decided that Ouzel Lake looked like a worthy destination. Long, but not too long and sure to end with a great sight. We went and I loved it. Within a month I had hiked my first thirteener, Isolation Peak. But by now it was September and the winter came.... But that left me more for this summer.
This year we rented a cabin in Allenspark, with the intent of spending several days hiking in the park. This of course, greatly reduced our transit time from Boulder and or Longmont.
We got up relatively early with the intent of summiting Copeland Mountain.
Wild Basin trailhead at 7am.
Our day started like many of my hikes along the Thunder lake trail. There is a mellow but noticeable rise from the parking area and very shortly you hit Copeland falls. It is worth it to check the falls out, though if you are heading up, you will hit a much larger and more spectacular waterfall in a little while.
Soon enough you'll hit a sign for the Pine Ridge camp ground, and shortly after a sign for the campground trail. I am not sure if many know this because it is not labelled, but this is a through trail, and if you are headed to Thunder Lake or Lion Lake and surrounding destinations, it is a good one to take as it will cut off almost .75 of a mile in distance at the expense of some of the great views you'll get on the Thunder Lake trail.
However, this shortcut bypasses the Bluebird Lake trail, so we stuck with it. Here is Jane and Troy at the first bridge over the creek, somewhere below Calypso Cascades...
Here the trail turns up a notch and you'll have some steps to climb before you reach Calypso Cascades. This area is named for an orchid that grows here. It is a great place to stop for a bite to eat and the air can feel ten or more degrees cooler standing on the bridge with the water rushing under you and a little spray hitting you.
Jane makes a funny face.
The trail winds and you will head through an area burnt by a forest fire in 1978. The lack of tree population allows some great views of Mount Meeker and Longs Peak to the north, and Pagoda Mountain, Chiefs Head Peak, Mount Alice, and Mount Orton to the northwest.
Next you'll arrive at a prime tourist stop: Ouzel Falls. Ouzel Creek dumps about forty feet here and depending on what time of year you arrive, it can be anything from a healthy but modest water fall to a mini Niagara! I'll get back to this, as we stopped at it on the way back down.
Follow the trail around to some neat lightly overhung cliffs. The trail actually loses a little elevation here, but it makes up for it when you soon hit the junction for the Bluebird Lake trail.
This trail is pretty steep, but after a short climb you'll reach a plateau in the middle of the aforementioned forest fire burn area. This section of the trail can be pretty brutal, not from difficulty, but because you are 100 percent exposed to the sun for a good amount of time. Make sure you have enough water, sunscreen, a hat, and maybe a light jacket in case of wind.
A break in the little bit of shade in the forest fire area.
Copeland Mountain dominating the view to the south west.
But from here it is only a little farther to Ouzel Lake. Continue on the trail until you reach a sign marking the junction with the Ouzel Lake trail. Head left for Ouzel Lake.
Ouzel Lake is a very scenic and calm lake at 10020 feet. Pine trees and marsh surround it and you'll get a great view of the north face of Copeland Mountain. More often than not, the surface is nearly glass smooth, allowing you to view the many fish which populate it.
We saw this deer about ten feet off the trail.
If your goal is Bluebird Lake, continue on and prepare yourself. The trail is much steeper in places and more rugged in general. You'll gain almost 1000 feet over the next two miles. Spend a little more time in the sun before you start to hit some larger trees, and I swear the temperature feels ten or more degrees cooler in the shade. You'll soon make it back to full forest, and soon after hit this mess, the result of a Spring 2011 avalanche.
When it'll be cleaned up, I know not. For now you'll be on the trail and then lose it with a large boulder in front of you. I skirted to the right of this and then cut west after it. Carefully climb over some downed trees and head north while looking to your west. It did require a little trail finding but with any luck you'll see the trail. If you hit the small stream, you're probably below the trail, so head up looking left.
Soon enough you'll rise out of the forest and start to hit some talus. The trail flattens out a little bit at this part, but...
...you'll start to hit some granite benches and at times the trail is marked by cairns, so keep your eyes open.
We noticed this pretty neat feature at a crossing of upper Ouzel Creek.
Snowfield cut by Ouzel Creek.
Looking into the cave.
You'll reach a small ridge and a bunch of rocks and think 'this is it!'. It's not, but you are very close now. The final approach to the lake is marked by this area, currently a snow field.
To observe the fragility of the sub alpine ecosystem, people have been climbing the granite bench to the right of this picture, and there is already a trail beat in. Please stay on the trail!
This is the last little hurdle, and then you reach this...
Copeland Mountain, Ouzel Peak, and Mahana Peak surround the bowl containing Bluebird Lake.
Up from the outlet to Ouzel Creek.
Have lunch, pump some water, take a load off and prepare to hike back down. Your elevation allows you to see east all the way to the plains. What a great view!
Looking back up, Copeland Mountain on the left, Ouzel Peak center.
Ouzel Falls is a very popular destination. The hike is shorter, and doesn't gain all that much elevation and the end goal is very much worth it. If you have younger/older/less in shape people in your party, the hike up and back can take several hours, but I would say it is easy.
This season the falls have been roaring due to the tremendous amount of snow melt still happening.
To the left of the bridge, rock hop and find your way up to get a close up view of the falls. For a different perspective, follow the cliff face holding the falls to the west. There is a unofficial trail there that will take you around and then up. You wind up standing on top of the falls looking down. Kind of scary!
Jane and Troy way down there.
Make your way back to the trail and back down to the Wild Basin trail head. Eat a big dinner, you've earned it!
Hike info.
Copeland Falls:
.3 miles one way, negligible gain. Super easy.
Calypso Cascades:
1.9 miles one way, 780 foot gain. Easy.
Ouzel Falls:
2.7 miles one way, 960 foot gain. Easy.
Ouzel Lake:
5 miles one way, 1520 foot gain. Moderate.
Bluebird Lake:
6.4 miles one way, 2478 foot gain. Strenuous.