Friday, November 25, 2011

Ouzel Falls in Winter.

This past week marked my first ever time snowshoeing. I was just a little over ambitious as I was thinking I could get to Cony Lake. That sure didn't happen, but I did have a fun time anyway.
I started bright and early at the winter trail head for Wild Basin. The dirt road will be closed about a mile or more from the normal trail head, which will add some difficulty to any adventures you plan here.
I parked just as then sun was rising. I strapped on my snowshoes at the gate and started off for the Finch Lake trail head.
In winter with snow.
By the looks of things, only one other person had hiked on this trail recently, only in boots, and it was not broken in for snowshoes, which made the going pretty hard.
One of the beautiful 'glens' you pass through once you summit the moraine.
I was following the persons tracks, and eventually I came to a place where they must have camped for the night. From there on, they used snowshoes, but the going didn't get any easier. There were a ton of trees down, and navigating those in waist deep powder with snowshoes strapped on was pretty difficult. Even the act of walking was hard, as the shoes would still sink in to around mid-shin to knee depth, requiring a hard pull up to get your foot out.
Mount Meeker as kind of seen from the trail.
Eventually I reached part of the forest fire area and discovered that whomever I had been following decided to turn around at a pile of downed trees. I decided to press on.
The going got even more difficult, with even more trees down over the path, harder wind, and deeper snow. I have to say, that of all the physical activities I have done, this has been the hardest so far. Just having each step sink in and having to pull your foot up and out was so tiring and strenuous. Eventually I got to more and more dead fall and finally decided to turn back and take the trail to join the Thunder Lake trail and head to Ouzel Falls.
As far as I got on this day.
Stopped for a quick snack on the way back.
The trail between Finch Lake and Thunder Lake trails was totally unbroken, save for the person whom I was behind. It was hard going, even generally headed down. But when I got to Thunder Lake trail, it was pretty well broken and the going got alot easier.
I stopped at the familiar sight of Calypso Cascades, made unfamiliar by being draped in a blanket of snow.
Looking up the cascades. Quite a difference a few months makes.
From here it was pretty easy going up. The packed snow really takes all of the steps and rocks out of the trail and greatly smooths things out. Downed trees were still an issue though, and it seemed to take a long time to get to the falls. I think my fatigue from the earlier trail was setting in.
Ouzel Falls.
Thick ice.
The great lookout slightly above Ouzel Falls.
Looking up from the bridge to the falls.
Still a little bit of water flowing, can't be much longer until it's all ice.
It has been pretty neat to see Ouzel Falls at different times of the year this season. From the early spring light flow, to the early summer torrent of water, back to a more moderate flow in the fall, and down to almost nothing now.
Ouzel Creek on the way down.
The first crossing of Ouzel Creek, below Calypso cascades.
Near the bottom.
Back at the Wild Basin trail head. Phew!
Snowshoeing was tons of fun! It is pretty awesome to see the same terrain I have been looking at the whole summer in a much different way. And it is great exercise. I would highly recommend to any fans of hiking in RMNP that you find some snowshoes and try a winter hike.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Lion Lakes and Snowbank Lake.

I wish it were summer again. With the weather as of late, and the lack of a car of my own, I have not been hiking in a month now and I am dying to get back out (albeit in snowshoes most likely). I was just looking through some of my pictures from this summer and remembered there was one hike I have not written about here yet, though I have covered parts of it here.
I hiked to Lion Lakes and Snowbank Lake pretty early in the season (I would say early July if memory serves me correctly). Just the week before I hiked to Thunder Lake and on my way back ran into a guy who said he tried for Lion Lake but lost the trail in the snow. I was not surprised when I set out and found some snow shortly after the junction of the Thunder and Lion Lake trails.
Rather sedate trail at first, it gets alot steeper when you hit the junction of Thunder and Lion Lake trails.
Mt. Orton from Lion Lake trail.
The first signs of snow, and much more to come.
Higher elevation and yet more snow. The trail did get a little hard to follow with definite trail finding needed.
The tenacity and fragility of life: this tree was growing atop a boulder from no more than a handful of soil.
Pilot Mountain and Mt. Alice from the trail.
Panorama showing Copeland Mountain, Mahana Peak, Tanima Peak, Pilot Mountain, and Mount Alice (behind tree).
Tanima Peak.
Despite lots of snow, I did see some flowers along the way here and there.
Pilot Mountain, Mount Alice, and Chiefs Head Peak as seen from near Lion Lake #1.
The closer I got to Lion Lake, the harder the trail was to follow, and hiking it a few months later once the snow had melted, I could see that at times I had gone off but I did manage to find my way there eventually.
Mt. Alice over Lion Lake.
Chiefs Head Peak over Lion Lake.
Heading up along Trio Falls to Lion Lake #2. Here the trail got alot harder to follow due to snow, but since I could see the top waterfall in the trio, I just pointed myself in that direction and went. The 'yaktrax crampons' I had with me definitely helped in this area.
I could hear the rushing water, but I couldn't see it until I found this hole in the snow. I tried to enlarge it with a rock or two, but didn't have much luck.
To get to Lion Lake #2 you have two choices. My recommendation would be to cross Trio Falls creek at some point and find your way up from the south side of it. However, this was my first time up and I stayed north and found my way up through the steep rock faces. This necessitated a crossing of Lion Lake #2 near its outlet, and yes, it was very cold (though it felt good on my feet, they went numb pretty much instantly). This will also make it easier to get to Snowbank Lake.
Lion Lake #1 from near Lion Lake #2.
Chiefs Head Peak from Lion Lake #2.
Snowbank Lake. Aptly named I would say. This snow field was present and not much shrunk even in late summer.
Panorama from Snowbank Lake showing (l-r) Mahana Peak, Pilot Mountain, Mt. Alice, and Chiefs Head Peak.
Yours truly, "smiling" at Snowbank Lake.
Krumholtz formed by wind near Snowbank Lake.
Panorama with Chiefs Head Peak. A finger of rock extends into Snowbank Lake.
Wildflowers at Snowbank Lake.
Wildflowers and Chiefs Head Peak.
Looking down to Lion Lake #2. As you can see the day was getting increasingly cloudy, and when I heard some far off thunder west of the divide, I hastily made my way back to treeline.
The top fall in Trio Falls.
Farther down and looking back up at Trio Falls. You can see the waterfall pictured above near the top of the photo.
Nearing Lion Lake #1 and the relative protection of tree cover.
Clouds engulf Copeland Mountain.
This was the last picture I took that day for two reasons. The first is that on my way back I totally lost the trail in the snow, stumbled upon some fresh footprints and followed but shortly lost these. I knew I wasn't going the same way as I had come up. In just a few minutes I knew I was totally lost, on top of a ridge somewhere and I stopped to get my bearings. Ahead of my was Mt. Alice, and with this landmark I was able to reorient myself and head the correct way.
I consulted my map and decided that I was probably somewhere closer to Thunder Lake trail than Lion Lake trail and thus continued south east. I ran into a trail and took it east, however I wasn't until I had crossed a creek over a small footbridge that I knew 100% where I was and where I should go.
This just taught me to be aware of my surroundings. I should have noticed that I was headed the wrong way before I did, but when things seemed not right to me, I was able to stop and get a pretty good idea of where I was and then point myself in the correct direction.
On the way back the far off thunder that I heard caught up with me, and at first it was awesome. I brought rain gear, so I was able to stay relatively dry through it and at first it was pretty cool to hear the thunder echoing through the valley. But as the storm caught up to me it went from neat to terrifying. I decided I should seek some shelter and since on the way up I had marked some overhanging boulders in my head (just in case), I huddled next to one of them. But this inspired me to find better shelter when I saw the flash of lightning and heard the loudest bang of thunder in my life in the same instant. I waited a few seconds and headed down the trail to hide under a roof like boulder for around 45 minutes. This was about the scariest 45 minutes of my life!
But finally the storm passed, and I headed on back to the car. A few more miles down the trail I ran into several inches of hail around 1/4 inch in diameter. I was glad I missed that. I got back to the car, and was happy to be out of the elements.
I learned two important lessons that I will take with me on this day. One: if you are not entirely sure where you are going or that you are going the right way, it is time to stop and figure things out. If I hadn't wasted that time wandering around, I may have been back to the car before the storm rolled in. Two: be aware of storms! If the weather looks threatening, get back below treeline. Be aware of your surroundings and note places that could offer you shelter if needed.
I am not sure when I will be able to get out again. At this point, I will hope for twice a month, but I will have to be happy with once a month. As always, have fun and be safe!
Lion Lake 1, 11080 feet- 6.3 miles one way, 2580 foot gain. Moderate.
Lion Lake 2, 11420 feet- 6.9 miles one way, 2920 foot gain. Moderate+.
Snowbank Lake, 11521 feet- 7.1 miles one way, 3021 foot gain. Moderate+.