Saturday, July 11, 2020

Hike #20: Moose Encounters of the First Kind, Blue Lake

Date: July 5th 2020
Hike Distance: 6.0 Miles
Location: Ward, Colorado. Mitchell Lake Trail to Blue Lake
Hike Start Time: 5:45AM
Condition: Sunny, Nice.  Hail as we left park
Total Miles: 113.4

I had been dreading 4th of July weekend.  Not just because my dog is terrified of fireworks and my neighbors seemed to use their entire stimulus check on incendiary bombs, but because I knew that I'd want to go out hiking.  I dreaded it because I knew everyone else in the state was going to have the same idea. Especially since the weather had gotten a lot hotter recently, I knew that people would want to escape the heat and go up to the mountains.

So, of course, what did I decide to do?  If you guessed one of the most popular hikes in the area, you're correct.  My secret weapon, as per usual, was getting up insanely early in the morning to go.  This was not originally well-received by my hiking partners, but like always, it ended up being the right decsion, even if it was buffered by naps for everyone when we got home.

We headed out at 4:30 in the morning.  The website for Brainard Lake said that they were only issuing parking permits for the trailheads until they were at 80% capacity, and they're not that big to begin with, so we wanted to secure our spot.  If you missed out on the Trailhead lots, you'd be tacking on an extra 5 miles to hike using the next closest parking lot.  If I was by myself I wouldn't have minded that too much, but asking an 8 year old to hike 11 miles is a tall and almost impossible order at this point for us.

We made our way up into the mountains and got to the ranger station for entry.  We had a really weird interaction with one of the staff.  I had been debating doing either the Blue Lake Trail or the Trail up to the Isabelle glacier.  They both are great hikes from what I rad, and I couldn't make a decision.  I opted for asking the ranger, and he responded that he wasn't allowed to tell us anything like that.  He flat refused to tell us anything about the trails.  I rephrased my question to ask if either of the trails were more muddy than the other and he simply stated "they are both dry and passable"  I assume this is because somewhere along the line a ranger suggested a trail and it was above the abilities of the hiker and someone complained, but it was a little dour moment in the morning.

We selected the Mitchell Lake Trailhead, and got our parking pass. We were informed that if we parked anywhere else we'd get a ticket, and we headed into the park.  I had previously taken a walk around Brainard Lake last summer, and we had seen scat and bedded down areas that indicated moose, but not the actual animals.

Today was another story.  As we rounded the lake we saw a group of photographers looking into the high reeds, and we could see four moose just standing in there.  I was happy to see large telephoto lenses and none of the guys with cameras trying to get too close.  I got out of the car and snapped a few bad photos as the sunrise glared my screen.  These things were huge, but it wouldn't be our last encounter that day.

The trailhead had some cars but wasn't crowded by any means.  We started up to Mitchell Lake and then to Blue lake beyond it.  This trail was well worn, and well taken care of.  Lots of roots to hop over and some small log steps, but not a ton of steep elevation change, which was a nice warmup.  It was about a Mile to Mitchell lake and the sun was starting to wake up the world as we approached.

We go to the lake, and then the trail promptly moved away from it's shores.  This was the only disappointing part of the trip.  It's always fun to walk around the shore of a mountain lake and look across the water.  Following the designated trail only let you see a glimpse of the edge of the lake.

The trail moved upwards and we then encountered a really cool bridge made of a halved tree log going over a large river of snow runoff.  It bounced a little and was just shy of being "rickety"  I love the primitive bridges, boardwalks, and structures that get built into trails.  I always think about the people that had to haul all the tools and materials all the way up here.  I get winded just walking my pudgy butt up the hill; I can't imagine what it would be like to bring a bucket of bolts and a chainsaw.

The trail continued upward.  This was the steepest part of the trip. It also was devolving into the muddiest.  This valley wasn't like the gorges in Rocky Mountain National park.  It was a wide basin that allowed a bunch of areas for the water to pool up before continuing downhill.  There were a bunch of marshy areas that were a super cool contrast to the dry wildflower meadows I'd encounter higher up down in Boulder.  The water from up high with the massive snowmelt was finding any way to travel downhill it could; including the trail. 

At first it was cute.  We were basically walking up a little tiny creek and hopping between rocks to not splash so much.  We passed a few rally pretty ponds that weren't big enough to register on the map (I'm assuming they disappear at some times of year as well) and then the trail became soup.  It was muddy, and squishy and all things fun about hiking.  Look, if you don't want to get your shoes muddy, maybe hiking isn't the right activity for you.  Don't get me wrong.  I'd hop on some rocks to avoid the deepest muck, but you shouldn't be afraid to get a little dirty to get to where you want to go.

We spotted a bunch of deer, moose, and even a couple bear tracks on the trail, and were keeping an eye out for them.

The large pine trees and aspen groves thinned out into more scrubby bushes and trees as we got higher.  We were tracing the source of all this water we saw below and were not disappointed in the least.  Snowfields started cropping up more frequently.  Good hiking boots and a trekking pole were all you needed.  The snow was melting though, and fast.  Snow we saw on the way up was gone on the way down, and the ice on the lake wouldn't be long for this world.


We saw something really cool right before Blue Lake also.  There was a large snow field and a big wide river coming out from under it.  I guess I'd just assumed that most water would cut a channel through the snow and go down the middle, but after thinking about it it made sense that the snow would reflect the sun and insulate so the heavier water would just flow beneath it.  Anyways, it was pretty cool looking.

A bunch of rock Cairns were spaced out now as the terrain got rockier, and helped to keep us in the path.  We went up a couple more small rises, and got to Blue Lake.  Wow is all I can say.  I'm glad we got here when we did because there were still huge icebergs in the water and a lot of snow up above us  on the hill.  The wind immediately started blowing harder up here as we weren't protected by tree cover at all.  We got our fleeces on and sat on top of a big rock and enjoyed the lake.


We were all feeling really good, and there's another small lake above Blue Lake called Little Blue lake.  some of the alltrails reports said the previous weekend it was really hard to get up there, and it looked to be the case today as well.  There was a snowy area that sloped down pretty fast to the deepest part of the lake and without major spikes for everyone, it seemed like  a bad idea to go up.

We decided to go around Blue lake up that trail until it became snowed over just to look around.  We got a closer view of the really cool waterfall feeding the lake, and got to look back down the couloir from where we came. 

I spent a couple quiet minutes just sitting there and thinking about my travels so far, and then headed back down with the girls.

The way down had gotten even muddier from other people hiking through and from the snow that was melting under the summer sun of Colorado.  The bugs started coming out a little more in teh marshy areas as well. 

the most stunning thing though was our bull moose friend that we saw.  He was on the other side of a marsh pond, so we didn't feel in danger at all.  Moose, I have been told, can be pretty aggressive, and I had no desire to be running for a several ton beast today.  The moose came out and was just munching on some grass and barely paid any attention to us.  It was really cool to get such a good glimpse of him.  Many people have hiked for a long time in Colorado and have never got that opportunity.

We also saw a mama moose and a baby at a distance across a different lake, but I wasn't able to get any pictures of that one.  So our moose total for the day was 7.  I'm not sure of some of them were repeat moose or not, but any way, I think that's a pretty good day of wildlife viewing.  We also saw some Stellar Jays, that were really pretty, and a ton of mosquitoes that left some souvenirs for us. 

My daughter did really well on this hike and only started complaining a little at the very end.  I picked up some dog poop bags that I saw on the way out, and deduced the owners had no intention of taking back at the end of their hike.  I hate when people do this.  I see it all the time.  Don't bring your dog if you're not willing to take care of it.  I love dogs, but I don't want to see little plastic bags of poop all over the trail.

It was a great hike and we timed it perfectly.  As we exited the woods into the parking lot we got our first sprinkles of rain, and as we headed down the road it started pouring and hailing.  I'm glad we got down when we did. 

It's looking like it's going to be a really hot week, so we'll see the next time I can get out.  As always, thanks to everyone who reads, supports, suggests, and follows me.  I love hearing from you, so if you enjoy what you're seeing, let me know.

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