LAWN LAKE TRAIL -- 3/11/95

By Mike Dallin

Where to begin. What an adventure! I had two purposes for this trip: the first was to shoot off some film I've had sitting for the past month, and the second was to "mountain test" my new car. People told me that there was snow all over the place in the park, however, so I planned on (for the most part) taking pictures roadside, maybe with a bit of hiking.

So, there I was, driving up Big Thompson canyon, blaring ELO on my new car stereo. The forecast called for a bit of snow in the park later that afternoon, so I was pretty safe weather-wise. I drove in the Fall River entrance, and up to the Lawn Lake trailhead. Guess what! No snow! Donning my boots and pack, I started up the trail.

The beginning of the trail has always left me winded, and this time was no different. The trail follows the Roaring River, which at this time of the year was little more than a trickle. Parts of the trail were a bit muddy, but otherwise clear. At least, for the first mile.

Then I hit the slush. Dozens of footprints clearly marked the trail through this point, and I had plenty of opportunity to shoot off some pictures. Of course, later on I discovered that my camera was slightly on the malfunctioning side. I suppose I'll know for sure if the photos came out when the developer is done with them...

After about 2 or 2 1/2 miles into the hike, the slush turned to... snow! It was only 2 or 3 inches deep, however, so I pressed on. I started having these grand illusions (delusions?) about climbing every mountain I saw on the way. This is, of course, where my tale makes a slight twist...

I pressed on. The footprint path was narrowing as hikers passed me on the way down. For the next mile I could make out 4 distinct hiker tracks in the snow, and as I passed people this dwindled. Soon it was down to two. After another 1/2 hour of hiking through the snow -- which by this time had gotten to be about 6 inches deep -- I heard a voice from above. My first thought: what a strange time to have a religious experience! Of course, it wasn't. The two hikers ahead of me noticed me and called out.

"Did somebody below tell you about the new fee?" they yelled.

"What fee, you mean the new backcountry permit fee?" I replied.

"No, the trail-breaking fee. When you pass us, you'll have to pay it!"

Of course, I knew the ramifications of this tidbit of knowlege. The trail lie undisturbed ahead of these two! Of course, this was bad. I didn't recall packing any snowshoes with me. A quick check of my backpack confirmed this. "Oh my God, I am screwed" was my sentiment.

It took another 1/2 hour of switchbacks before I caught up with the soon to be erstwhile trail breaker. This 1/2 hour brought some nasty snow depths. More than once I sunk a foot or so. Very uncool. I had a bit of a chat with the hikers, all the while looking ahead at the undisturbed trail. I knew what I must do. With a hardy goodbye, I started to break trail, for the first time in my life.

Ouch! Uncool! Yet, I pressed on. I saw Ypsilon (older readers may know that Ypsilon is my favorite mountain in the region) over the ridge, and Mummy Mountain dead ahead. Mummy was free of snow (for the most part)! Again I had summit fever. Down, boy.

I slogged on. The snow was getting much deeper. I was constantly sinking to new depths. Amazingly I kept to the trail.

After about 5 miles or so the forest started becoming more and more sparse. Treeline loomed ahead. I had gotten a lot farther than I planned. In the distance I heard voices. Using my excellent tracking abilities (which is to say I used my ears), I soon located the voices. It was a group of three men hiking along Roaring River. We yelled at each other for a while. I was wondering if they lost the trail. No, they hadn't, but the snow was less by the river banks. They then commented on how they were going to reach the summit of Mummy. I briefly looked at their attire. Two of them were wearing shorts. None of them had snowshoes or x-country skies. I pitied them.

I continued on for maybe 10 more minutes. Every step I took I sunk 2 feet, beyond my knees. I then took a break to grab a bite to eat. No problem. After I finished eating, however, I made a startling discovery. My food supply was running low! "Oh, crap" I said to myself. I quickly brainstormed. I didn't want to abort. I thought about eating pine needles if I had to. I had just enough food to get back, though. I could eat tundra plants. Hell, if it's good enough for marmots, it's good enough for me. I wanted to at least get to Lawn Lake, which was only about 1/2 to 3/4 a mile ahead. I went on another 50 feet. It was murderous. In the great alpine tradition, I reminded myself that Mummy will be here in the summer. I decided to abort. It wasn't the first time, won't be the last. Then, a nasty thought creeped into my head. What if somebody was following my tracks? Sure, I've always wanted someone to follow in my footsteps, but there was so much snow that I wasn't even sure I was on the trail (it turns out that I was, a discovery I made after only 20 or 30 feet of backtracking). What if my footprints suddenly ended, perhaps not even on a trail? Easy solution. I quickly wrote "I'm turning back!" in the snow. The wind would probably kill it within minutes, but it put my fragile ego to rest. I then started following my own tracks back down the mountain.

On the way back I passed at least 8 other people. The first 3 were a group of men roughly my age (early 20's), each dressed in shorts. After passing me (this was about a mile from where I turned back), they soon turned back as well (good thing, in my opinion). The next person I passed was the only well equipped person I saw all day. He was x-country skiing up, and planned on staying for 5 days. His pack looked heavy. He confirmed the point. I wished him well, and complimented him on being the only prepared soul in the area. We parted ways.

I didn't see anyone for a very long time. I finished off my roll of film, though. Hopefully they will turn out. While coming down I slipped and slid all over the place. It was truly a miracle that I got as far as I did. The other people who I passed going down I saw near the turnoff to Ypsilon Lake. The first group was two young women, both wearing shorts (what is this, summer? We get two days of 70 degree weather in the middle of March and everyone becomes a nudist or something). The second group were two older women, both prepared for day hiking (they didn't seem to want to go very far anyways).

Alas, I finally reached the trailhead. In the parking lot were to men who left just after me. I spoke to one briefly, and explained my predicament. He heartily thanked me for breaking trail. I smiled, sunk into my car, and drove home.

I was going to go to McDonalds down in Estes to replinish my food supply. I then remembered the last two or three times I ate McDonalds... sick! Yucko! I headed down the canyon, repeatedly listening to the song "I Am A Tangerine" by Tommy James and the Shondells (I know I just slaughtered that group name... forgive me), and then the album "Bull With The Golden Guts" by XTC. All in all it was a very successful day. Except one problem... damn my legs hurt. ;)

-- Mike (dallin@cs.colostate.edu)