Friday, December 13, 2013

Lake Haiyaha via Glacier Gorge TH.

The weather has been massively cold lately, though we fortunately seem to be at an uptick.  However, just a week ago the high temps along the front range were in the single digits with negative double digits in some of the mountain towns.
Though this past Tuesday was certainly warmer, it was still only eleven degrees when we started from the Glacier Gorge trail head to take the winter route to Lake Haiyaha.  This lake is named after a Native American word for rock, and upon arrival you will see why.  The longer and harder to follow route from Glacier Gorge is the preferred method in the winter since the summer access via Bear Lake travels through and under a possible avalanche path on the finger of land extending east from Hallett Peak.  The route from Glacier Gorge avoids this risk for the most part.
Snow drifted across Bear Lake road and high winds led us to start out in snowshoes, and we kept them on the entire day.  It was also so cold that I didn't stop to take many photos.  Even taking short snack breaks left us quickly going from comfortably warm to too cold quite quickly.
Along the Glacier Gorge trail.  It was somewhat packed in places, but as we'd guessed, hadn't seen much traffic since the last snowfall since the temps have been so low.  Add to that the wind blown drifts, and we were glad to have our snowshoes!
Half Mountain as seen from the trail.  It looks pretty intimidating and bad ass from this side, but when viewed from other places that are higher, it looks tiny.
It was pretty easy to follow the trails path until we got to the intersection with the Loch Vale and Lake Haiyaha trails.  Though we could at times see signs that someone had been along this way before us, their trail was not very distinct most of the way, and not well broken.  Which means things got harder.
But of course, with effort comes reward, here in this delicate photo of our freshly broken trail through the forest.  These winter days are quite special, and in my opinion, well worth the slight discomforts of the cold and wind.
Fresh, unbroken powder as we near Lake Haiyaha.  
And upwards.
As we neared the lake, route finding became a bit difficult.  There is alot of rock here, and at first we thought an empty spot we could see in the forest was the lake.  When that proved not to be, we went up a little, then down a little before deciding up was the answer. 
We also crossed a small area that was just at about the minimum angle needed to avalanche.  I heard a loud whumpf and saw a twenty foot crack form right in front of me.  A quick retreat and we went a different way.
We finally arrived at the lake right near this large boulder which is familiar to many of you whom have been there before.  It lies right on the edge of the lake, with the northern side submerged in water.
It bears mentioning Chaos Canyon (which contains the lake) holds a wealth of hard bouldering, containing such problems as Jade, Riddles in the Park, The Automator, Nuthin' but Sunshine, and Secret Splendor (an appropriate name for the area). 
Hallett Peak up there somewhere.  It was colder and windier.  After a few photos, we immediately started heading down.
Finally reaching some shelter, we took a snack break and got cold.
Of course, going down along our already broken trail was much easier than going up.  In the end, it took us about three hours and fifteen minutes up and two hours back down.  In summer conditions I'd like to say I could do this in 2-3 hours round trip.
We came upon two others around the Loch Vale junction who were trying to get to Mills Lake(and others, just search for Mills Lake!).  Of course they were lost and unprepared without a map!  It sounded like they'd been up this way in the summer before and had followed the trail most of the way up in the snow, but had gotten turned around and confused in the snow.  Hiking in the winter is a different beast; I've remarked in the past how something so familiar can be rendered exactly the opposite by a layer of snow. 
 Half Mountain from the Glacier Gorge trail, still looking quite bad ass.
We arrived back at the parking to find four other cars.  More than we though would be there.  It was now up to a balmy twelve degrees.  The new winter gear I'd invested in this year worked wonderfully, and kept my hands, feet, and face pretty warm.  I would venture that this day could be close to the worst conditions I'll face this winter, but we shall see.
Lake Haiyaha is a fun destination.  It's too bad everything was so socked in because I am sure it offers some really great views of the surrounding peaks.  I will definitely be back up here this summer to check out some of the climbing, though most or all of it is way beyond my abilities.  It is decided more difficult in the winter, particularly if you need to break a trail in on the way up.  And make sure you know where you are going!
Lake Haiyaha via winter access (10221 feet): 3.5 miles one way, 981 foot gain.  Moderate+.

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