Sunday, September 4, 2011

Keplinger Lake via North Ridge.

Keplinger Lake is one of the most beautiful and pristine alpine lakes that you will find in the park. The relative isolation of it keeps most people away- the only accesses are long and off trail. But consider it a very worthy destination, as once you leave the established trail, it is likely that you will not see another person the rest of the day.
Start at the trail head for Sandbeach Lake, just to the right of the check in kiosk at Wild Basin. The trail starts out and stays a bit steep for a few miles (until you summit Copeland Morane). I started pretty early in the morning...
Two views of St. Vrain drainage.
The trail in the early morning.This deer was hanging out at the hitch post at Sandbeach Lake.
At Sandbeach Lake with Copeland Mountain in the background.
Mount Meeker dominates the view to the north.
Follow the lake around to the right or north. You will find a unofficial trail here. It splits several times, and I think I went right, right, left, but just take the most obvious route towards the top of Mt. Orton, pictured to the left of Meeker above.
Meeker and Longs just poking its head out from the slopes of Mt. Orton.
A little higher up.
The view into the heart of Wild Basin showing Copeland, Ouzel, Mahana, Isolation, Tanima, Thunder Lake, Boulder Grand Pass, and the continental divide.
Mt. Orton is one of those that will give you false summit after false summit. Once you break tree line, just orient yourself to the high point and go. When you arrive there, reorient to the new high point and go. Eventually you'll reach a rocky summit.
A top Mt. Orton, 11724 feet. Longs and Meeker in the background.
Wild Basin.
East to the plains.
From the summit, it is an easy hike on North Ridge. The book recommends descending to Hunters Creek between Keplinger Lake and the small pond immediately south of it. However, there was still a large and steep snow field in this region, so I had to carefully pick my way down the slope, and ended up at the south end of that pond.
Descending to the pond south of Keplinger Lake.
Lots of steep snow where it is recommended to descend and I wanted to avoid it!
I crossed the pond at the south end and followed Hunters Creek up.
Looking east from the pond.
The other side of Longs Peak.
Boulder near Keplinger Lake.
At Keplinger Lake, Pagoda Mountain in the background.
A finger of snow still extended into the lake in June/July 2011.
Almost the same picture, but it's probably a sight that few get to see.
Copeland Mountain as seen from Keplinger Lake.
To get back down I decided the best way would be to skirt the south side of Mt. Meeker, eventually cutting back south to Hunters Creek to see Lyric Falls. This was not the best idea since most of the area between Keplinger Lake and Meeker is drainage, and there was a ton of water to navigate around/across, marshy land, and a good amount of 2-3 foot growth, which made moving a pain.
But the route did afford me some unique sights.
Balancing rocks. I was sure someone had placed them like this, but I could not budge them, try as I might. They must have been placed like this by nature long, long ago.
Looking south to Mt. Orton and North Ridge.
Alpine wildflowers.
Looking up Keplinger's Couloir, an alternative and (I would guess) rarely used alternative route to summit Longs Peak.
I came across this obviously very old and rusted can, dropped by someone ages ago. I wonder who dropped it and what it contained. I left it for someone else to stumble across some day, but that being said, if I were ten feet away I doubt I would have found it, so other than the original owner I may very well be the only other person to ever touch it.
After slogging through the drainage, I hit the talus of the south side of Meeker. This encompassed anywhere from house sized boulders to much smaller rocks. I was glad to be out of the wet, but the going didn't get any easier.
Huge boulders on the south side of Meeker.
Looking down to trees descending Meeker.
My next and last goal of the day was Lyric Falls. Since Hunters Creek drops over so much elevation, I am not sure exactly what point Lyric Falls was at. But since I walked by a significant amount of cascades on the way down, I am sure I passed the falls.
Hunters Creek.
Lyric Falls?
Lyric Falls?
I am not sure. I can tell you that you will find a unmaintained trail along Hunters Creek, so the going is alot easier as no bushwhacking is involved. When headed south, this trail will eventually intersect with the Sandbeach Lake trail. Just take a left and head back. The steeper parts up of the trail become almost a blessing headed down.
Old tree on the way back.
While hiking to Keplinger Lake is not going to be an easy task any way you go, it is certainly one of the most beautiful lakes in Wild Basin. It is off the beaten path, and it takes some hard work and time to get there, but in the end it is more than worth it.
Keplinger Lake via North Ridge:
7.2 miles one way, 3346 foot gain. The lake itself lies at 11686 feet. This will be an easier strenuous hike due to gain and bushwhacking involved.
Other destinations along the way:
Sandbeach Lake, 10283 feet:
4.2 miles one way, 1943 foot gain. Easier moderate hike.
Mount Orton, 11724 feet:
5.7 miles one way, 3384 foot gain. Harder moderate hike due to significant gain in the last mile and bushwhacking.
Lyric Falls, 10160 feet:
4 miles one way (bushwhacking up from Hunters Creek), 1820 foot gain. Easier moderate. When you get to Hunters Creek via the Sandbeach Lake trail, look for a path on your right before you cross the creek. While it is an unofficial path, it exists for quite awhile.

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