Thursday, November 28, 2013

Crystal Lakes via Lawn Lake TH.

Though I only had one day off this week, the weather looked too good to pass up.  Besides, I could cram all the other stuff into another day along with work, right?  Sure, no problem.  
The alarm went off at 4 am, and after only 4 hours or so of sleep, I was up, dressed, sunblocked, and on my way to Estes Park by 435 or so.  Arriving at the trail head, I was off by 515.  
Despite the additional snow this week, the trail was still in relatively good shape and broken in pretty well... at first.  I made good time to Cutbank, and then to the intersection with the Black Canyon trail.  Somewhere between the two, the good shape of the trail diminished somewhat and I was following the tracks of a single person up.  The only problem was that their gait was somewhat shorter than mine and in the end I found it easier to just step as normal and break new trail through the foot or so of snow rather than take shorter steps.  
Mummy Mountain as seen from the Lawn Lake trail.
I soon encountered the person whom I was following up on their way back down.  He must've camped up high or started even earlier than I did. 
My first goal for the day was Fairchild Mountain, with the option of adding on Hagues.  As they came into view, I could see they were socked in and made the decision to just go for Mummy via the east ridge route. 
Fairchild and Hagues. 
But as I neared, I could see things were clearing up.  Mummy still seemed like a good choice, but since I was by myself I decided to stick with the original plan since that is where my emergency contact would send someone to look for me if something did happen. 
Nearing Lawn Lake.  The trail was still in ok shape.  I opted to not take snowshoes and was still ok with the decision at this point of the day.
Fairchild as I start to gain altitude on the far side of Lawn Lake. 
Of course, now is the time I was wishing I had brought snowshoes along, as each step sent me into snow up to waist deep.  Forward and upward progress slowed, and I realized exactly how big Lawn Lake actually is as I struggled around it and then upward.
I kept seeing what looked like footprints and tracks from people.  There must be some other demented individuals who actually like getting up early after no sleep and spending their day outside in windy weather with a high temperature below freezing.  Imagine!
I saw this sign and made my way over.  I could now see I was quite close to my goals of the day distance wise.  I found a medium sized boulder a bit beyond the sign and sat for a snack and to evaluate.  Earlier I had decided on a firm turn around time of noon.  It was now eleven, and though I was close I was only around 11500 feet, and with 2000 more to go to Fairchild I had to make a somewhat painful decision. 
There was no way I was going to be on the summit by noon.  I did have my headlamp and more clothing, but I did not want to be going down the trail and back home in the dark as I'd come.  
Lawn Lake on a beautiful early winter day. 
I decided I would just check out Crystal and Little Crystal Lakes.  I made my way down and over to these beautiful alpine lakes. 
Mummy over Lawn Lake.
Looking up to the saddle and Fairchild from my sheltered snack point. 
And to Hagues.
Testing out some new winter gear. Smith I/OX goggles performed admirably.  ColdAvenger balaclava needs a revisit.  I am not ready to recommend for or against at this point. 
The steep eastern faces of Fairchild over Crystal Lake. 
Talus and boulders between the lakes. 
Little Crystal Lake. 
I stopped for another quick bite to eat, rationalizing that this additional fuel would allow me to get all the way around Lawn Lake and back to the trail before needing to stop again. 
Following my own tracks back.  I took a more direct route back to the lake and followed the bank more closely to keep the travel a bit easier.  Plus I did have the whole gravity thing helping me along. 
Looking back up to the saddle.  Sigh.  Well, it'll happen another day.  In the end, I did get to spend a whole day doing something I love in what is perhaps my most favorite place on earth.  13er or not, I can never feel too bad when I get to be surrounded by this. 
Here is the ridge running east from Fairchild towards Lawn Lake.  Looks quite beautiful in the winter. 
Back on the trail I wondered if I would see anyone else at all.  I could see a few had ventured up as far as Cutbank, with maybe one or two going a little farther one.  Finally I saw a couple taking in the sun set from the side of the trail right near the trail head. 
I was back to the truck exactly at 4.  I can't be disappointed with an eleven hour day when winter has come and conditions are exponentially more challenging.  My snowshoes will definitely be joining me on the next outing, provided it has snowed between now and then.  With a similar gain and distance to Bluebird Lake, I'd have to imagine this would be alot quicker and easier in the summer.   In the meantime, I will continue to enjoy the sights and the particular kind of difficulty that winter brings with it. 
Crystal Lakes via Lawn Lake TH:
Little Crystal Lake, 11500 feet: 7.7 miles one way, 2960 foot gain.  Strenuous-.
Crystal Lake, 11500 feet: 7.9 miles one way, 2960 foot gain.  Strenuous-.
Along the way:
Lawn Lake, 10987 feet: 6.3 miles one way, 2447 foot gain.  Moderate+.

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