Copyright 1996 by Ron Miller. Permission is granted to Mike Dallin to post for public viewing on his RMNP web page. Permission also granted for other not-for-profit use provided the entire document and especially the attribution is reproduced in its entirety. I'm not being paid for doing this so you shouldn't get paid for my work either.
Disclaimer: My lawyer told me not to tell anyone about anything. Don't do anything like this. Don't do anything at all. You could get hurt, killed, or receive a parking ticket. Don't. Just don't.
The Plan: Complete a loop from Milner Pass / Poudre Lake, hitting Haynach Lake for fishing, descending Hayden Gorge, climbing up Forest Canyon and returning to Milner Pass. New territory on this route would be the Onahu Creek (Julian Lake) drainage, Haynach Lake, and the lower end of Hayden Gorge. Parts of this terrain have been reported upon in other RMNP trip reports written by Ron Miller or Alan Silverstein.
The Players: Ron Miller. Yours truly. 40 year old (almost) Manufacturing Engineer, jeeper, former submariner, tool user. Jeff Bossenbroek. 33 yr old Marketing Engineer.
Preparation: I'd been running 3x per week for most of the summer including one lovely 45 min run during the week immediately preceding the trip n the hills of PA while on a business trip to that oxygen-rich area .
Jeff had been in Asia for 2 weeks and returned on Friday before our Monday departure. Many concerns over illness, jet lag and possible lack of motivation proved unfounded. Reservations had been in-hand since March.
Sun. Aug 25 - I made a dash up the Big Thompson Canyon on my motorcycle to pick up the permit. We wouldn't have time to go by the Backcountry office on our first day.
Mon Aug 26
0700 At Jeff's house in Ft. Collins
0800 Beaver Meadows entrance to RMNP
0915 Milner Pass/ Poudre Lake parking lot on the W. side of RMNP. Hiking. Clear skies, good wx condx We'd both forgotten how directly the trail gains elevation onto the tundra on the way to Mt. Ida.
1230 Past the cliffs above Timber Lake and down to the saddle separating the two basins. More effort than expected but the walking was good tundra--style hiking. Down the slope we go. Dirt concealed most of the year by snowfield. Last saw this spot when we aborted a similar trip due to excessive lingering snow. Now warm and mostly dry.
At the base of the slope is a miserable boulderfield of freshly cleaved rocks heaped up. Sharp edges and unstable footing make this a tough go.
NOTE: Better route would have been to cross the saddle, climb back up on the sub-ridge to the west of Julian Lake and descend into the basin on better footing a little further south.
1400 At the shores of Julian Lake at the head of Onahu Creek, we rest in the sun and marvel at how much work it was to get here. Jeff's attitude isn't full enthusiasm and mine is tired. The phrase "When I get home, I'm going to sell all my backpacking gear." comes into common use. From here on out, new ideas about other trips will be suffixed with the phrase, " but since I'm giving up backpacking, it doesn't matter."
Actually, we're in good physical shape and the weather is holding nicely. No real, genuine reason to be concerned. Just the 'missing home' effect.
After a slow hike across the basin trying to decide on a campsite, we finally reach a decent spot near the foot of the saddle between Haynach Lake and Julian Lake. There were several satisfactory sites with good flats on rock outcrops but we want to be as close to the saddle as possible. In truth, we could have gone one higher at the true foot of the saddle but we were tired. This site also appears to be positioned directly at the foot of the chute that we will use to obtain the Divide for the hop over into Hayden Gorge.
1700 We pump 6 qts of water, talk quietly and wave away mosquitoes. The bugs aren't as bad as they'd been in the Never Summers 2 weeks ago but are annoying. I scan the sky and wonder at the high, thin layer of clouds stealing across the sky from the west. This was not in the forecast last night!
Thru dinner we discuss possible scenarios. What if it rains all day tomorrow? What if it rains all day the next two weeks? What differences in the plan between widespread rain and thunderstorm rain with lightning? Jeff hasn't yet had the experience of waiting out half a day's rain. He'd missed that experience on the N. Inlet trip. He is inclined to be impatient with waiting. I'm much happier than he with the possibility of just sleeping off bad weather. We discuss the options but come to no conclusions. It is however, very clear that we are quite irrevocably committed since neither would go back the way we came in bad weather.
1830 Done with dinner. (Mountain House Lasagna - yum!) We hang food, pump some more water and slowly hike up the hill to examine the bench above us that appears to be the foot of the saddle we will climb to go to Haynach L.
Meadows and trees and access to water make this the highest possible site. It's a bit too high for lightning but would meet backcountry regs and save another 100' or so. We stay put.
1930 As daylight disappears behind the ridge and into the high clouds, we head for bed.
During the night, an elk (?) makes a sort of a bark and there is one audible rockfall. It is humid. It is also about a 90% full moon. With a clear sky, that much light makes the midnite pee break like walking in sunlight. Too bad it would take 10 min. to get my glasses defogged enough to appreciate the view.
0715 Out of the bags and out into a gloomy, overcast day. Not raining but it's humid and the clouds kept the temp. up overnite.
0915 We dawdle over breakfast and pumping water. It is not clear what we should do. There are a few widely spaced small drops of rain, and the clouds to the west don't look like improvement. But we finally decide to go up the saddle, reassess the weather and then climb Nakai Peak (the right hand side of the saddle) if the weather is OK. The peak isn't very high from here, we would have a good view of incoming weather throughout and it might feed Jeff's 'inner peak-bagger.'
1000 At the saddle (we were real slow) we see rain veils to the west moving NE. No lightning. We go up.
1020 We dash for the downwind side of a big boulder, put on rain gear, cover packs, and spread my poncho over our lower legs and boots to wait out a rainshower. The view from the ridge is pleasant though we'd rather be walking in bright sunshine. This isn't so bad really.
As the rain tapers off, we see some shapes arrive at the other end of Haynach L. With the naked eye, I see 3 hikers and a llama. With Jeff's monocular it's 4 hikers, one in a bright yellow poncho. These are the first people we've seen since trailhead.
1115 We move quickly once the rain tapers off to gain the summit. We find the register, add 2 pages from my notebook, and sign in. Last entry was a week ago. With a quick snap of pictures, we scurry away to beat the next shower.
1120 It begins to rain. We continue scurrying since we're on grass and the footing is OK. Once we reach rock, we hunker down again. When it tapers off, we let the rocks dry a bit. We find that bare rock isn't so slippery but the lime green lichen holds water and is slick and the dark green lichen takes on the traction of algae. We carefully go on.
1200 Back at the saddle, we again have to decide whether to go down to Haynach L. and put ourselves out of sight of incoming weather, or go back to camp and not fish Haynach. We opt for Haynach.
1300 After descending down grass and some rocks (not nearly as bad as yesterday), we drop our gear on the shore of Haynach L. We make a brief (and inadequate) plan as to where we will shelter when the next rainstorm arrives, as it surely will. We look at a leaning rock at lake's edge and call it good. Jeff rigs up his flyrod when I spy a much bigger rock with a promising opening on the N. side of the lake. Jeff fishes while I investigate. BINGO! THIS will be the answer. I move our gear to the foot of the grassy slope to the cave mouth. This will give us a direct route to run about 50' uphill to a good shelter.
Plan now is to stay to 1500. Original plan had been to stay at Haynach until dark , having dinner there and catching the huge fish that come out at dusk. Since this would entail hiking back in the dark, the risk with weather is deemed too high. We won't do that plan.
1340 Jeff catches the first fish. I have my rod and reel rigged but haven't selected a fly when it starts to rain. We run for the cave. It pours buckets of rain then buckets of hail. The ground turns white. We smile at each other as we sit in the dry. We're actually a bit uncertain about whether our shelter is a lightning trap. But we're above the lake and way below the ridge, so it seems OK. In the midst of the rain we hear a rockfall and are lucky enough to spot a large boulder below the ridge where we'd been descending from Nakai Peak. The boulder is spinning a spray of water as it rolls. Did we help loosen it?
1400 The rain is almost gone and we go back to fishing. Jeff catches 2 more, I catch one but lose the fly to the fish. They are pretty cutthroats of about 10".
1500 Bright, blasting sun. We lay out our gear and strip down to minimum clothes to enjoy the drying. Could the front have passed? No. The high clouds come and go across the sky. Will the clearing last?
Two of the 4 hikers we saw earlier cross the outlet end of the lake. Seems like they'd been up the basin near the higher puddle. We're not close enough to wave.
1540 There are wisps of clouds to the southeast at the exit of the canyon. The clouds seem to be moving to the southwest. Very weird view. It appears the clouds will fill the canyon. We break down rods & tackle and repack our gear in a hurry born of fear of the weather. We stop to pump a quick 1 qt of water each and push each other hard up the saddle.
1610 At the saddle, we now can see the weather again. Flat bottomed dark clouds off to the southwest but quite a ways. There is also a sort of cloud cap on the Divide. Perhaps that was the source of the drainage outlet clouds? We need good weather tomorrow to cross the Divide. Will we get it? We look up. How long will the climb take? Dragging our packs...... we estimate 3 hrs in our fatigue and dispirit.
1635 Back at camp. Jeff speaks of repositioning camp to aid our escape from this drainage. But we don't. Jeff sits on his mat in warm clothes, I stand - we talk about plans and contingencies again. If it's a partly rainy day like today, we can still jump over the hill to Hayden. If we awake to rain, well, that would be bad. We review again the escape options and neither likes the concept of bushwhacking down Onahu Creek to the trail and out to the road to hitchhike back to the car. Sounds extreme. Probably won't have to do it. But we're not being very cheerful. Some very light rain comes and goes then the sky brightens somewhat.
1830 Dinner is over and we police up afterwards., pump some water then go for a slow walk up the chute pointing toward tomorrow's climb to Hayden.
1900 We top out on the rock outcrop and find an outstanding campsite with a superb view. We can see directly down the Onahu drainage. There is still much moisture to the west. We wish ourselves into seeing blue holes far off to the west. We talk of how we could go home one day early. Jeff misses the family. The weather is wearing on both of us. Then the talk changes to how this wonderful campsite might be a stopping spot for Divide thru hikers. It's a spot alright, but it takes a descent off the Divide to get to and a significant regain after. Since Jeff is never going backpacking again, none of this matters.
1945 Back at camp we watch true sunset turn the cloud bellies bright crimson.
2000 Full dark, in bed.
0700 Up and about. Some small clouds indicating moisture in the air. Not good but not raining either.
0840 Moving up on a shorts kind of day . Brutal steep climb on grass tufts and rock planted in the dirt. This is about like the chute we'd climbed up from Forest Canyon to the Rock Cut overlook. We push steadily. At each 5 min breather, the clouds to the NW look more built up. We climb steadily. Not enjoying the view, mostly in shade. Pushing on from concern over the weather. Jeff remembers that we will need to skirt the band of white rocks to the right side since we'd had to go around them when we'd gone to Hayden with Alan Silverstein.
0940 ON TOP!!!! About 1200' in an hour. Not so startling but much more positive than we'd figured yesterday. Clouds to the N have dark, flat bottoms. This spot will be a bad place in 2 hrs. Glad we won't be here.
1000 Down the snowfield boot skiing on the shallowest snow angle we can find. Down to some rockfield with agreeably tractive rocks then onto grass tufts.
1010 Over the leftside hump and descending the shield rock following the same appx route as last time. We are moving briskly but also enjoying the panorama of Hayden Gorge before us.
1040 We stop to rest and eat a bit in a spot with a view. The sun comes out and things are pleasant until at 1100 some rain spray begins and we practically run down the hill. It's not easy to run when you're friction-walking straight down huge slabs of rock. But we hurry.
1110 Arrival at the bottom meadows where we'd camped before. Good baseline from which to begin looking for better. We are elated at being in the gorge so early.
1120 We find a more acceptable site a few hundred yards down the canyon. It has huge shield rock ledges to sit on for meals with a view and is a flat spot of pine needles. A very good backcountry site - by the rules.
1200 Camp is setup, we have sleeping bags and gear spread out to dry while we sit on the ledge and admire the view and the fact that we're so early into the gorge.
1300 We start to stow gear so we can go for a walk over to Hayden Lake . We dawdle because the skies look uncertain. Can't tell if we'll get rain or not.
1340 We get rain. What now? We are in raingear and have nothing else to do so we start a slow stroll uphill toward the shallow puddle at the head of the canyon. About 5 minutes out it turns to steady, hard, hail. We shelter under a tree until the rain eases. Then up to the puddle, and back to camp.
1500 Rain stopped, we sit on the rocks. Now we need mosquito nets to deal with the GNATS! The little monsters are kamikazes for ears and eyes. They particularly like to sneak up underneath the edge of hatbands.
1520 Fierce sunshine appears. Aaaaahhhh! Moods are improved. How far to get out tomorrow? All the way to the car? Is that possible?
1645 After contemplating the gray skies, we again try for Hayden Lake, this time by going directly across the creek. At the lake it is windy and fairly cool. Fleece and windgear required. We don't stay long since it's going to be time to begin dinner soon. So much for the trip plan that had us lounging on the grass at Hayden Lake for an afternoon in the sun.......
1730 During dinner (Mountain House Beef Stroganoff - yum!) we fight the gnats again and watch the little bit of the Mummy Range we can see get absolutely hammered by a blue-black lightning- filled thunderboomer. Directly upwind of us it remains clear for awhile but then it seems the skirts of that blue-black monster spread and we start to get some spray.
1830 We run uphill with the food bags, haul them up, secure them and run back to the tent and pile in a few minutes before it begins to rain in earnest.
1900 Rain stopped except for residual tree drops. We re-emerge and stand around awhile.
1930 More rain, back into the tent for the night. The seam on the vestibule zipper leaks a few drops of water onto the bug netting over my face. This would not be good for an all night rain. We'd have to do something. The lightning that had been rumbling around in other drainages now goes overhead and we hold our breaths waiting to get popped. But we are unscathed and it moves on. The rain stops and by 2000 we open the vestibule door for ventilation and leave it that way.
0430 Pee break. Clear sky, full moon. Nice to be in tree shade.
0715 Up and out. Completely clear skies. What a good sign! We will need good weather this day. The bushwhacking will be intense and would not be much fun in rain gear or with wet bushes. It's going to be a long pants and leather gloves kind of day.
0830 We are packed and pump a qt each of water. Then down the ledges to descend to the real canyon floor past little waterfalls and sluices amongst the white shield rock laced with green grassy cracks sprouting wildflowers. The grass is wet. Down in the trees everything is damp from last nights rain. Boots and pant legs are wet. We follow some easy elk trails or where they peter out, navigate tree tangles. It's hard travel most of the time. WE FORGOT WHAT THIS IS LIKE SINCE LAST TIME !!!! How could we be so stupid?????? WE FORGOT!!!!
1030 We take a break on some rocks on the side of the canyon. We have started to angle up and left in order to conserve altitude and to try to meet the bench that Forest Lake sits on. We try to eyeball it against the bench across the mouth of Hayden Gorge but don't do very well. Another issue is that our water bottles are nearly empty and we've been diverged from Hayden Creek for awhile now. We'll need water. Map doesn't show any help between here and Forest Lake.
Back at the creek I'd noted an old man-made tree blaze (one short over one long). Wonder what that meant? It was the only sign of man either of us had seen in the Gorge.
1100 We sidehill amongst deadfalls and some ledges. Then we come across a small rushing rivulet. Saved! Water. After having adroitly avoided falling into all the other streams, I finally slip one foot into this one as I take a mild fall. It is tradition. Someone (me) has to fall in. No big deal.
1130 I start getting concerned that I can't tell if we're on the bench or not. We've climbed a ways and it seems too high but we should be able to see the bench below us, even thru the trees. My altimeter watch, which hasn't been reset in 2 weeks, says we're too high. (I should have set it on top of Nakai but we were in a rush to get away.) We start angling down, wondering how badly we'd erred.
1215 We reach a small dried puddle in the middle of the woods that's not on the map. At least the ground is level like we're on the bench. Jeff leads, pushing fairly hard. A man on a mission.
1235 We finally sight Forest Lake and continue NW on the eastern edge. I spot some very old chopped and sawed stumps and limbs. Jeff doesn't see them and pushes to the very end of the lake where we flop down for a rest and discuss what to do next. We'd forgotten! We're tired. Is there any chance of making the car tonite? We both doubt it. I figure that I'd be too over extended by that. "Lion Lake" (unofficial name - there is no official name) is at least 1 hr from here. The car is 3 hrs from that. We haven't got that much steam. Let's see how far we can get.
1330 We pump water from the Little Rock Lake outlet stream at 'the crossing rock' at the lower end of the outlet meadows. This rock is a large rock blocking outlet flow and helping create the slow outlet meadows. It is also an extraordinarily convenient way to jump the creek. We feel like we're in familiar territory but we decide to take a compass heading from the map to LL. Our feel was about 45 degrees off. We shouldn't trust ourselves today. First too high on the hill, now misdirection......
We push up the hill to LL following elk trails or not as available. This used to feel like home but with the fatigue and heavier packs, it's not so easy.
1500 We flop down at Lion Lake. This is Alan Silverstein's 'Locator Lake' that serves as a great navigation checkpoint when going to/from the Gorge Lakes. It is the puddle that the tip of Arrowhead Lake points to in line beyond Love Lake. We call it Lion Lake because I saw a mountain lion here several years ago (trip report posted on the RMNP page on that trip too). We pull off boots and socks and have a long rest. This is a great stopping point. Only 3 hrs from the car.
Jeff proposes we go on one more hour. He would be restless with just sitting around and since this is a shallow, sterile puddle there is no fishing to do. We've camped here before and we might do double-duty in making some distance toward the car and camping in a more interesting place. We study the map and choose the goal of the next ridgetop NW.
1600 Moving again in squishy wet socks now turned cold. No matter, we hop across the mush meadows and head downhill to cross the first stream then climb the far hill.
We startle a herd of about 20 elk from the trees. They head downhill. We watch and see many, many calves. Almost a 1 to 1 ratio adult to calf.
1645 After gaining the ridge, we drop our packs and search for the nearest water. Jeff finds it over the brow of the hill about 4 minutes' walk away. Fine. The terrain here is intermittent trees with grass between. Sort of high-tundra savanna. This is unlike any other site we'd stayed in. Should be excellent views but somewhat subject to wind. Every square yard has either deer or elk droppings new or old. This should be an interesting place!
1800 Dinnertime is another gnat fight. (Mountain House Honey Lime Chicken - so so for me. Jeff struggles with mashed potatoes and gravy with too few and too small containers. ) . We get a great 2 line food hang when Jeff chucks his rope dead over the very top of the second tree.
1900 With camp rigged for bed, temperature at 45F, we ease off toward the water hole just for a look out over the meadows. A big bull elk is about 200 yds away. He sees us, we freeze. Eventually he goes back to bugling. This is awesome! MUCH better than what goes on down in the road-accessible parts of the park with all the tourists. It seems that every drainage has elk bugling near and far.
2000 Hit the sack. Jeff learns why I'd changed to long underwear back about 1730 as he stands outside the tent changing now. It's COLD! especially with a breeze. (He could change in the tent but chose not to.)
2030 Light patters of rain on the tent come and go which keeps me closing and opening the vestibule door. It settles down at 2130 and I leave the door open. No wind now.
2330 Pee break. It is cloudy and foggy all around.
0430 Pee break. Clear skies, bright moon. Elk bugling all around.
0715 Up and out.
0840 Underway in bright sunshine, gentle breezes and open vista views. This is a bare legs and shorts kind of hike. We mosey along following elk trails when they go the right way and stir up 3 separate small herds. One group is lying down until we get to about 100 yds when we discover each other. We'd been approaching from downwind.
1000 The elk trail rounding Forest Canyon pass meets the man-made trail to the Alpine Visitor Center and we are now making great time moving on a real trail for the first time since Monday morning.
1015 We meet 2 backpackers on the trail headed for Little Rock Lake site and the Gorge Lakes. We offer some info and encouragement and then go on.
1035 We reach the car, trailhead, tourists, yuppies, fishermen and the usual. Done. Survived. Good trip! No dents or dings in the car, the engine starts, and we're on our way to Taco Bell at Estes Park.
(1) This was a very lightweight pack (finally!). Weighed at home at trip's end, my pack was 35# w/o water.
(2) Didn't use much insect repellent. Gnats weren't repelled and there weren't enough mosquitoes to matter. Seemed to contribute to a better-than-usual feeling of cleanliness.
(3) Sure glad I used my OLD boots on this. On the previous trip, I'd blistered in my new boots in about 2 hrs. (Never Summers F-100 hike)
(4) Viewing the mouth of Hayden Gorge from Trail Ridge Road, it became clear that we hadn't gone very far wrong. We were expecting more of a bench than there really is.
(5) Jeff's gear is NOT for sale. He probably will go backpacking again sometime. In fact, in the car returning to Ft. Collins, we talked about other trips for future years. Maybe Haynach L. to the North Inlet?
(6) Never trust a weather forecaster. Learn how to read the weather yourself because you'll need to.