Two trips to Timber Lake. Polar opposites in experience. This one was a mellow, happy trip (see TIMBER LAKE TWICE).

By Ron Miller (


Aug. 1992

Jeff B. and I plot an excursion to Timber Lake to do a little fishing and some day hiking. The day hiking is intended for the purpose of reconnoitering the Mt. Ida-Chief Cheley notch. We have grand plans of exiting out the top of Hayden Gorge and returning to the car by way of this Divide path and need reassurance that it's possible. The Hayden trip is scheduled for Labor Day weekend. (The result of this trip is HAYDEN GORGE - NOT!)


We leave work about 3PM and go home & get our gear and get underway for RMNP. We drive from Ft. Collins to RMNP and then over Trail Ridge Rd. to park at Milner Pass near Poudre Lake. The plan is to traverse along the tundra on the Divide over to the vicinity of Timber Lake and drop down to our campsite (JACKSTRAW) just before dark. This plan was calculated to avoid afternoon thunderstorms and to have enough time to get to camp & setup without having to miss significant work (flexible work hours are good).

We had an uneventful drive and beginning to the hike. The path follows the route to Mt. Ida. It's not really a trail to Timber Lake but is more like easy route finding on tundra. I have a vivid recollection of standing on the trail well above timberline and appreciating the view of the lowering sun to the west.

As we progressed, we eventually veered off the faint trail and just held our elevation as we kept on toward the lake. At some point, I don't recall where, we started angling down off the tundra and reached the saddle of mush meadows that would lead down to the Timber Creek drainage.

This is prime elk territory. We saw a few on the other side of the large clearings about 1/2 mile away. No bugling though. We mosey down the meadows and reach the trail and find our camp after 2.5 hrs hike. Camp is setup and we have about 30 minutes before full dark.


We are up at 0600. After breakfast we return to the meadows and climb back up to the ridge and angle over to Mt. Ida. We enjoy the view from Ida and then descend the notch between Ida and Chief Cheley. It takes awhile to gain Chief Cheley and to get views of Highest Lake and of the steps down the drainage of the Gorge Lakes. Unfortunately, the day is kind of humid and at 1100 it is starting to look like a storm. We drop down to the notch again and try to traverse around the side of Ida to gain the saddle overlooking Timber Lake. This sort of worked but didn't really save any time. The boulders were too big and jumbled to travel quickly but we regained the tundra above the saddle as a little rain started. Jogging downhill now we scurry for the saddle above Timber and continue downward toward the lake. Some distant lightning comes and goes and the rain comes and goes several times. We drop down along Timber lake and the skies clear awhile and so we stroll back to camp.

We putter around camp for only a few minutes when another black cloud comes along. We jump into the tent and I promptly fall fast asleep listening to the rain (delightful:-))) Jeff is less imaginative and reads a book.

It rains for an hour or so then the sun comes out and the tent becomes too hot to tolerate.

We pack up our packs, stove, food, water, clothes and fishing gear and walk the 1/2 mile up to the lake to hang out until bedtime. In mid-afternoon, the fish are hardly to be found. We cast and cast and I catch 1 fish in 2 hrs. Then dinner on the lake shore. Peaceful but not entirely alone, there are other campers around. Still, this establishes an SOP of taking dinner by the lake (whatever lake) instead of being confined to the proximity of the tent. I have two excellent photographs of dead-still water reflecting the blue sky and framed by the ridges. Perfect calendar material. (sigh)

After sunset, the fish get to cruising and are easy to catch. They cruise the shallows and take almost any kind of fly that is presented. We even try the goofiest flies we have with us and still take some fish although they won't take *everything*. Jeff catches what we think is about an 18" cutthroat. A fine fish is admired and released. Then it's full dark. And my flashlight doesn't work. Fortunately, in my emergency kit is a tiny single AAA cell flashlight. It is sufficient to see us thru the rockiest parts of the trail back to the tent. The full moon illuminates things nicely in the meadows.


We are up at 0700. Underway about 0830 and enjoying a fine, clear morning. We exit by way of the meadows and get back to the tundra with great views. We encounter a ranger and trade stories. He took a brief 'fishing success' report. He is new at RMNP and had just transferred from Denali where he'd spent >100 nights in a tent each year (that's PROFESSIONAL backcountry!) We tell him about the route we took and recommend it as being MUCH better than trekking thru the trees down low with the rest of the tourists. We ask him about the terrain beyond Cheley but he doesn't have any helpful info. (Note- ALL of my ranger contacts have been unfailingly cheerful, friendly and helpful if possible. I am always impressed with these people.)