Wednesday, September 30, 2015

The East Inlet Basin.

Another long day planned this week, and I was happy to have my good friend Dan join me.  It's been awhile since we were able to meet up due to work schedules, injury, and other pursuits.  But it was great to have the company, particularly in someone who would enjoy this beautiful place.
We'd been emailing about some possibilities.  Earlier in the summer, I tried to jot down some destinations and group things together into logical days, with some designated for below treeline days (in the event of worse weather), and above treeline days (clear forecasts or storms later in the day).  I suggested a few of these better weather options, and we decided on East Inlet.  
This was really a perfect looking setup in my mind- follow a trail up to visit lakes, gain elevation and visit the peaks above the lakes, loose elevation and head back.  Well, I guess it wasn't that simple.  What were the words Dan used?  "Intimidatingly ambitious"?
We met in Lyons as usual and started the long drive up.  The forecast was looking good but not great.  Partial sun with some possible showers in the afternoon.  It was raining as we entered RMNP, but we hit patches of dryness and finally drove into clouds near the top of Trail Ridge Road.  
On the other side, a calmer sense of weather prevailed.  We started in darkness with headlamps on.  This trail flows pretty well, and we made good time moving up though some intermittent drizzle.  We had some debate about which way to go- which is to say do Mt. Wescott first, then deal with the bushwhacking of Paradise Park and Ten Lake Park, then peaks, then lakes, or the reverse.  The weather made the decision, and we opted to see if the day would dry the bush out, as we would have gotten soaked going through wet stuff early in the morning. 
At Lone Pine Lake.  Named, perhaps, for the tree on the small island?  It is named on the 1961 map, but the earlier ones have no name, and the shape of the lake is quite different.
We continued up through intermittent showers, never really enough to put on rain gear or even get wet, but it certainly wasn't the early morning sunshine we'd been expecting.
Next up was Lake Verna.  Very pretty, and made even more so by the tempest of clouds hanging around.  We started to see some sun poking out to the east, and made our way around this lake, which is the longest in the basin.
The official maintained NPS trail ends around here somewhere, but the unofficial trail is still in pretty good shape.  My guess is that this area gets enough visitation to clean it up.
Spirit Lake came next.  You can see the still swirling clouds around us, enveloping the peaks to our east.
And then someone ran out of names...
The creatively named Fourth Lake (if you're counting, it's the fourth lake up in the basin) was next, still on a pretty obvious and well maintained trail.  The precise "right" way to go disappeared as we moved up to around tree line.  We were able to follow some matted grass and the occasional cairn here and there to continue up to Fifth Lake, which, as you may have guessed, is the fifth lake in the basin.
We moved onto some stable talus and worked our way up to this lake.  We finally hit the high point and started to drop down.  Dan was in the lead, and before we could even see the lake, I said something like, "This is it!".  He turned back and smiled, an ear to ear grin.  Yes, this was it.  We hadn't even seen the lake yet, but could tell from what we could see that this was going to be something special.
Unfortunately, the following photographs don't do it justice at all, and you really need to go there and see for yourself...
We sat at the lake for a snack.  All was right with the world.  We watched with joy as the clouds swirled around Isolation Peak and The Cleaver and the sun tried to shine through to our south.  Immensely peaceful and satisfying, if I had been struck dead at this second, in this place, it would have been with a smile on my face. 
Clouds and Isolation Peak. 
We talked about the peaks above.  Isolation Peak was actually my first thirteener, my first real mountain at all I suppose.  I guess it does say something about me that I chose that over the easier and more popular peaks elsewhere in the park.  I was in love with Wild Basin at first sight.  It had to be Isolation.
Later that same year I visited The Cleaver, the small pinnacle of rock immediately south of Isolation on the continental divide.  I took a photo looking down into the East Inlet Basin, and it still stands as one of my all time favorites:
Looking backward to October 2011. 
I remember looking down at Fifth Lake, my feet dangling over lots of air.  Someday I would see you, and that day had finally come.
Feeling satisfied emotionally, mentally, and physically, we started up the grass and talus slopes to the massif above.  Along the way we would pass by a pretty large flock of Bighorn Sheep.  I counted a total of seven that we could see completely, plus a few heads poking up from points above. 
In the meantime, the clouds had cleared up, and the sun finally came out for good.
Pointing to some of the other places we've been.
It was fun to see some of the peaks that I'd visited just a week ago from a different vantage point.
Andrews Peak and Ptarmigans Beak from the south.
We got to the summit of Fleur de Lis in short order, and found a nice wind break to have a snack and sign the registers.  Yes, registers.  There were two jars here. 
Aiguille de Fleur is the rather blunt point that lies on a finger of land north of Fleur de Lis.  Supposedly the easiest ascent route is 5.0, and a long 5.0 at that.  I had seen pictures from the side, and found myself wondering if the steep grassy ramp here pictured to the left of the high point might be an option to obtain the summit.
We could also see parts of Ten Lake Park to our south.  This area looked so beautiful, even better than the photos I have seen.
More Aiguille de Fleur.  I left without any real feeling regarding the possibility of access of that ramp.  It looks pretty darn steep.
The other side of Isolation Peak.
We continued toward Mount Craig, and found ourselves looking at point 11902.  Over or around?  There was a clear way around the south side, but it would involve some elevation loss.  The north side looked worse.  Why not enjoy some scrambling?
We went up this point, finding some third class terrain, but eventually we reached a point where things got too hard.  We backtracked a little and decided to drop down on the south side to avoid the more difficult climbing.  The trees added a little bit of bushwhacking to this, but it wasn't too bad. 
We made the summit of Mount Craig without much more difficulty and basked in the sunlight and the great views, here again of Andrews Peak, Ptarmigans Beak, and Mount Alice.  It's been pretty neat to see the other side of many of these peaks that are most frequently seen from the east.
Back to Fleur de Lis and Isolation Peak.  We added our names to the register, another list of Colorado greats.
Paradise Park and peaks to the south.  These are all on the border of RMNP/Indian Peaks, and would be attended to in short order.
Picking out Aiguille de Fleur.
We were totally feeling the high here, that feeling that (for me) only comes from hard exercise, adrenaline, altitude, and good company.  I felt totally at peace with the world, completely happy and satisfied in a way that rarely comes.  Which isn't to say I am generally unhappy and unsatisfied, but out here, the dials get turned up past 10, and a rarely felt sense of total well being floods over the psyche.
Viewing Ten Lake Park, our next destination. 
Looking at possible descent routes.  We ended up heading south east to hit one of the lakes, and then working out way west and south.
We were able to stay on a game trail at first, but this soon became impossible.  We kept trying to head more west only to find our possible route blocked by cliffs, despite what the topo looks like.  The bushwhacking wasn't too bad in reality, with the main difficulty coming from dead fall, everything from massive old growth trees (I think I saw the single largest tree in RMNP that I have ever seen) to smaller and younger trees that were several feet off the ground and necessitated crawling under. 
We finally bottomed out in Paradise Park and found a fairly distinct but thin trail paralleling the creek.  We stayed on this for a short time until we could see the route we'd picked up Mount Wescott from above, and cut over to that.  In retrospect, we probably left the small comfort of this trail slightly too early, but things worked out ok.
The bushwhacking was slightly more intense here, but we hit a gully that would take us up soon enough.  At the top of this, we headed directly north. 
This peak is reported to be third class, and the south ridge looked a little more difficult, so we traversed around to the west, shortly finding a undergrowth covered ramp to take up.  Upon reaching a plateau and a cairn, we headed back east to the ridge, and worked our way up from there. 
The summit was small and treed in, but still offered some good views of the surrounding area. 
Looking north from the true summit.
The register was interesting, containing the names of the few who'd made the arduous trek to it, many of which were to be expected.  I saw Jim Disney, a local who has climbed all the peaks in RMNP.  And one we didn't expect- Troy Tulowitski.  I am no baseball fan, but recognized the name from the news.  Pretty interesting! 
This summit had seen no one since 2013.
Mount Wescott.
We headed back the way we'd come up, back down the gully to the creek, and to the thin trail.  We did see a few signs that someone might occasionally clean the trail up a bit (logs sawn off), but it had obviously been awhile.  In some places there was so much dead fall the trail became very difficult to find. 
Since we'd briefly explored it in the morning, we came to a place where Dan said, "Hey, I put my hand on that this morning."  Though we still couldn't see it, seconds later we were back on the East Inlet trail.  We stopped for a snack and to change out wet socks for dry.  It seemed like forever, but it took us about four hours to go from Ten Lake Park to Mount Wescott to where we stood now.  Chances were good we'd beat the sun back to the car. 
We looked for East Inlet Falls, but couldn't identify where it was precisely, and I think we'd both had enough bushwhacking for the day at this point.  I'll have to find it on my return trip to Aiguille de Fleur next year. 
East Meadow and clouds.  You can see Mount Wescott and Mount Craig here. 
A short detour to visit Adams Falls, which is pretty and very accessible. 
We made it back to the car right at 6:30 pm, giving us a 13 hour and 40 minute day.  There were highs and lows of course, but I will tell you my friend: I enjoyed every second of it, and thank you for your company.
This basin is pretty great, and the lakes here are real treasures, only getting better and better as elevation is gained and distance is added on.  Mount Wescott is probably the least choice of the peaks due to the nature of the bushwhacking required to get there, but nothing comes without reward.  If you are up for it and want to be surrounded by stunning beauty, make the trip to Ten Lake Park and spend a day exploring over there.  It is truly a special place amongst all the special places in RMNP.
Link to hike map on Caltopo.
The East Inlet Basin, distances as part of the hike:
Lone Pine Lake, 9900 feet: 5.3 miles, 1500 foot gain.  Moderate.
Lake Verna, 10180 feet: 6.9 miles, 1780 foot gain.  Moderate+.
Spirit Lake, 10300 feet: 7.8 miles, 1900 foot gain.  Moderate+.
Fourth Lake, 10380 feet: 8.4 miles, 1980 foot gain.  Moderate+.
Fifth Lake, 10860 feet: 9.3 miles, 2460 foot gain.  Strenuous-.
Fleur de Lis, 12250 feet: 11 miles, 3850 foot gain.  Strenuous.
Mount Craig, 12007 feet: 12.8 miles, 3607 foot gain.  Avoidable third class+.  Strenuous. 
Ten Lake Park, 11200* feet: 13.5 miles, 2800 foot gain.  Strenuous.
Paradise Park, 10500* feet: 14.7 miles, 2100 foot gain.  Strenuous.
Mount Wescott, 10421 feet: 15.6 miles, 2021 foot gain.  Third class.  Strenuous-.
East Meadow, 8540 feet: 19.6 miles, 140 foot gain.  Easy.
Adams Falls, 8460 feet: 20.7 miles, 60 foot gain.  Easy-.
As a whole, this hike covered approximately 21.1 miles with 7775 feet of elevation gain in up to third class terrain and with extensive bushwhacking involved.  Strenuous+.
*= exact elevation will vary since these areas cover vast swaths of land, and you can enter them at various places.  


  1. Hi Andy. I really appreciate your blog – it has been very helpful as I work on my upcoming RMNP trip. I am planning to hike from Wild Basin to Thunder Lake, over Boulder-Grand Pass, and down to East Inlet. Do you know if it's possible to go from Boulder-Grand directly to Fifth Lake instead of traveling to Fourth Lake and then backtracking to Fifth? If so, is it meaningfully more difficult? Do you happen to have a route description?


    1. Hey Sam,
      Thanks for you kind words, much appreciated! I don't have a route description for this, but just in looking at the topo, trying to go direct down to Fifth Lake looks like a steep and possibly cliffy route. Probably not a good way to go. As you descend down toward Fourth Lake, you can start cutting south towards Fifth; take a look at the Google satellite images to get an idea of what you might encounter. It does look like there are a few rock bands higher up, but that once you're past those it should be just bushwhacking to deal with.