Lake George - from Tongue Mtn Range - 11/11/2011

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Blue Lakes - Ouray, CO - 9/5/14

This hike was one of the hikes I had planned for Leesa and I to do while on vacation in the southwest. It was a hike that I had read about with great interest.  It offers beautiful blue lakes and high alpine scenery.

We arrived in the beautiful town of Ouray, Colorado on 9/4 and camped at the Amphitheater Campground that lies high on the hill just south of town.  The town lies at approximately 7800' and is surrounded by 13,000' mountains.

To access the Blue Lakes trailhead from Ouray, we drove north to Ridgway, took CR62 to Dallas Creek Road, then followed this gravel road south to the trailhead.

For us, the 3.3 mile hike to Lower Blue Lake was a short hike.  The only question was whether altitude would be a factor.  The trailhead lies at roughly 9300', with Lower Blue Lake up at 11,000'.   We had arrived in Denver less than 48 hours earlier, so we hadn't had much time to acclimatize.

One thing that we noticed, and have noticed before, is that trails in Colorado and other areas out west generally provide much better footing than trails in the east.  Western trails also have many more switchbacks.  Perhaps the easier trail terrain would counter balance the altitude.

We took it slow and easy to test our eastern lungs, and found that, while noticeable, the thinner air provided no barrier for us climbing at this altitude.          

Our starting point

Blue Lakes Pass was my goal for the day
The first 1.4 miles of the trail was moderately steep before a noticeable change and the grade flattened substantially.  Soon we began to have glimpses of the surrounding mountains.  Just prior to reaching Lower Blue Lake, we reached the junction with the trail to Upper Blue Lake and Blue Lake Pass.  We continued straight to first take a look at Lower Blue Lake.  We passed many fine campsite locations as we approached the lake.  Campfires are no longer allowed in this vicinity.

Stepping out beyond the campsites, we were rewarded with views of Lower Blue Lake and it's amazing clear medium blue colored water.  We never see water of this color in the east.  At the lake, we talked with 2 men from Cologne, Germany who were on Holiday.   We stayed at the lake to have snacks and admire the lake before deciding to continue to climb to Upper Blue Lake. 

Look at the clear water at Lower Blue Lake!
As we continued to climb, we looked down on Lower Blue Lake from above and it looked even more beautiful. We reached tree-line about halfway to Upper Blue Lake and we were now afforded with 360 degree views.   

Looking  down on Lower Blue Lake 

Leesa above treeline, on her way to Upper Blue Lake

Middle Blue Lake
After 4.5 miles and 3 hours of hiking, we reached the beautiful Upper Blue Lake.  While not quite the bright blue of the lower lake, it was beautiful in it's own right.  Leesa elected to stay at the lake and wander about while sending me onward and upward towards Blue Lake Pass. 

Upper Blue Lake

I had an additional 1300' of climbing to do to reach the pass. The first 700' was climbing along switchbacks in grass and rock.  Soon the grass gave way to loose scree.  After about 45 minutes of climbing, I was about 300-400' shy of the pass.  The trail, while continuing to switchback, was becoming more treacherous and careful foot placement was required.  The slope was steep and a misplaced foot could cause a slide.

At the same time, afternoon clouds were coming in from the west.  While I wanted to reach the pass between Blue Lakes and Yankee Boy Basin, I didn't want to get caught in a famed Colorado afternoon thunderstorm.  Rain would make the descent extremely tricky, and besides, I had Leesa waiting for me down below at the Upper Lake.  With some sadness, I turned back to head down.  

Climbing the scree towards Blue Lakes Pass

An impressive cirque of mountains surrounding Upper Blue Lake

Looking down on Upper and Middle Blue Lake

Grass on the lower slope to Blue Lakes Pass 

Wouldn't you know it, as I headed back down to the lake, the clouds went past and the sun returned. No matter, it was great to be out in such a great spot.  I returned to the lake as curious marmots came out to see what I was doing. 

At the lake, Leesa and I had lunch, then it was time to head back.  I couldn't help but snap a bunch more pictures (as you can see below) as we retreated back past the lakes.  Eventually we made our way back to the car.  It was only 3 PM.  We should have stayed at the lakes a while longer.  Instead, we returned to Ouray and took pleasure in enjoying the Ouray Hot Springs Pool.  There isn't be a better way to relax after hiking!

A marmot friend at Middle Blue Lake

Hike Stats:
Hike Distance:   10.4 miles
Hike Time:  7 hours (including stops)
Total Vertical Gain:  ~ 3400'

The route (click image to enlarge)

Monday, September 1, 2014

Cliff Mountain and Mount Redfield from Upper Works - 9/1/14

This outing was planned by my wife Leesa who is closing in on finishing her Adirondack High Peaks.  She had 43 out of 46, with just Cliff, Redfield and Couchsachraga left.  She had decided long ago that she wanted to finish on Couch, so Cliff and Redfield, being neighbors, were the goal for today.

The weather forecast was good with increasing sunshine predicted.  We got on the trail at 6:30 AM from Upper Works.  I had told her that this would be an 18+ mile day and she preferred to start early rather than finish late.  She hadn't done many hikes recently that were this long, so the plan was to go slow and steady and not burn out too soon.

By 8:30 we were at our adopted lean-to at Herbert Brook, and we stopped to check on it.  Then it was on to the Lake Colden Dam.  We only saw 4 groups of people all day.  One couple was near Flowed Lands and the other 3 groups were near the Colden Dam.  We didn't see anyone along the Opalescent or on Cliff and Redfield.  We had thought we would have seen a lot of people since it was a holiday.   
I lifted Rev down the ladder to the Colden Dam by her Ruffwear harness.  (It has been great for that purpose).  Soon we were a the suspension bridge.  The water level was lower than I had expected.  That turned out to be OK, since it made the trail to Cliff less muddy.

Rev had no problem crossing the suspension bridge over the Opalescent River 

Looking upstream from the suspension bridge. 

It was nice to have some clouds in the morning while we were climbing.  The sun came out shortly before we reached the summit of Cliff.  We had chosen to climb Cliff first to save the best for last.   

Clouds leaving and blue skies arriving, late morning!

The mud on the lower section of the herd path to Cliff wasn't nearly as bad as it usually is earlier in the season.  I managed to keep my feet dry all day in my trail runners.

The cliffs on the mid-section of Cliff were challenging as always, and Leesa wasn't a big fan of them.  She was glad on the way down when they were behind us.

We reached the summit around 11 AM and skies were clearing.  The humidity wasn't bad and we had no issues with bugs all day.

#44  for Leesa - Cliff Mountain

Leesa coming down Cliff

Leesa enjoyed the herd path to Redfield much more than the herd path to Cliff (who doesn't?).   The water along the Uphill Falls Brook was delightful and we stopped on the way up and on the way down to soak our feet.

She did begin to wear down from the climbing as we neared the halfway point going up Redfield.  We just slowed our pace down and she focused on putting one foot in front of the other to reach #45. 

One of the pools of water on Uphill Falls Brook

Some muddy hiking shoes taking a break...

It was about 3 PM when we reached the summit of Mount Redfield.  The weather was perfect and we were really enjoying Redfield.  We stayed there awhile to eat our late lunch.

# 45 for Leesa - Mount Redfield

Skylight on left, from Mount Redfield

Gray, Marcy and Skylight from Redfield

Around 4 PM we made our last stop to soak our feet in Uphill Falls Brook and then it was time to make tracks to get out by dark.  We passed the Lake Colden dam around 5:15 and Flowed Lands around 5:45.   We got great pictures from both those spots.

Lake Colden from the dam

Leesa was a trooper as we made our way back down the Calamity Brook Trail.  She knew the sooner she got back, the sooner she could get off her feet.  We managed to get back just as darkness was setting in.  We gave Rev her dinner right there in the parking lot and she was asleep before we even got back to Blue Ridge Road.     

Flowed Lands

The Henderson Memorial

Hike Stats:
Hike Distance:  18.9 miles
Hike Time:  13.5 hours
Total Vertical Gain:  ~ 4000'

The route (Click image to enlarge)