Thursday, March 28, 2013

Spruce Lake in the winter.

I started off solo this week, shortly after seven AM at the Fern Lake trail head.  Getting here was a little bit of an adventure.  I didn't think much of the 1/8 inch of new snow covering the roads in RMNP since I could see that others had been before me.  But as I braked to turn right into Moraine Park, I started to slide.  I let off the brake but my front wheels had engaged enough that I started to turn.  I ended up sliding right off the road.  Fortunately, there weren't any rocks or trees for me to hit, and I was able to turn right and after some wiggling make it back on the road and continue on.
It was 25 degrees when I started, but the day already felt warm.  There isn't much gain on the way to The Pool, but shortly after I took my winter jacket off and made most of the way up in long sleeves only.
Arch Rocks are on the way to The Pool.  A pretty cool place to stop and look around.  Maybe you'll even see some professional climbers out in the wild.
The Pool in winter.  In warmer months it looks like this.

I didn't really notice much effect from the Fern Lake fire.  I could smell it for sure, but only saw some burn area here and there.  It was alot easier to tell on the way back down when some of the snow had melted.
After The Pool, you reach Fern Falls.  It is right off the trail (on your left) at a prominent switchback.  Of course this time of year it's frozen.
Some of the burn area is visible in the background here.
Fern Lake with Mt. Wuh in the background.  While looking quite spectacular in the winter, it probably looks just as good in the summer.
Framed by trees.
Higher points in the background.
I had a snack here and then went back down the trail to get to the Spruce Lake trail.  Up until now I hadn't put my snowshoes on.  It looked like someone had been up to Spruce Lake since I could see a depression in the snow, however I soon lost this and made my own way.  Ahh, the joys of breaking trail...
Of course with no trail to follow it was navigation time.  I stopped several times on my way up to look at a map and make sure I was going the right way.  Aided by identifying several of the higher peaks, I went on, though I stayed up too high and had to drop down to the lake in the end.   
The aptly named Castle Rock as seen from Spruce Lake. 
Castle Rock and Stones Peak.  I ate again here.  I decided to see what the conditions were like to try to head up to Loomis Lake. 

Or back the way I'd come?
This time, things actually looked better the closer I got. 
But as I started up the slope the snow started falling heavier, and the snow beneath my feet was deep.  I actually dug all the way down to the earth below to assess the snow pack.  I could see about two feet that looked like the typical icy spring time melt, with maybe a foot of powder atop.  This along with the slope being steep enough to avalanche, led to me turn back.  But at least I wasn't seeing slabs forming.
I'll be back!
I took my snow shoes off after rearriving at Fern Lake.  On my way down, I could definitely feel the snow was melting- my hiking poles went in farther and were harder to pull out, with wet snow often clinging to the tops of the buckets. 
Back at Fern Lake.
Note the deforested hills. 

A wide burn strip through the forest.  The snow was melting rapidly, and from shortly before The Pool to the entire rest of the way down, it was slush city, with up to several inches of standing water on the trail at times.
The burn area became alot easier to see with the snow melting.  There are still alot of trees standing in the immediate proximity of the trail, both Aspen and Pine.  Hopefully some of these survived.  It does look like most of the smaller ground cover type plants are gone though, which means erosion could be a problem this summer, yet I have faith the smaller plants will be back and we will see significant regrowth this year alone. 
Right next to the road.  The smell was actually kind of appealing to me- like some of my favorite Islay Scotches.  
More burn area to the south of the Fern Lake parking. 
When I got home, I made sure to rehydrate with some of this stuff!
Fern Lake was pretty fun, and not too difficult.  It would be high on my list as a recommendation for an entry level hike in the park.  Spruce Lake is probably alot more accessible in the summer months as well, with an unofficial trail right to it.  I am sure I will be back up here at some point once the snow is gone, so I can make a better judgement then.
The quickly melting snow in the afternoon helped bolster my spirits- spring is definitely coming.  I am sure some snow pack will remain at the higher altitudes, but as that starts to melt it'll get more solid.  There is no place I'd rather spend my days off, and I am very much looking forward to spending alot of time in the park this summer!
Spruce Lake in the winter:
Spruce Lake: 4.8 miles one way, 1510 foot gain (8150-9660).  Moderate in summer conditions.
Fern Lake: 3.8 miles one way, 1390 foot gain (8150-9540).  Moderate.
Fern Falls: 2.6 miles one way, 650 foot gain (8150-8800).  Moderate-.
The Pool: 1.7 miles one way, 150 foot gain (8150-8300).  Easy.
Arch Rocks: 1.2 miles one way, 70 foot gain (8150-8220).  Easy-.

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