The hike to Lost Man Lake in the Hunter-Fryingpan Wilderness inside of the White River National Forest is along Independence Pass. Independence Pass is one of my least favorite roads, but the hike to Lost Man Lake and beyond on this day was amazing. The weather for the hike was perfect. The sky was big and blue with white clouds racing by. This hike was originally planned to go all the way to Deadman Lake, but by the time I got to South Fork Pass I had spent so much time taking in the amazing views of the Williams Mountains that in order to get off of Independence Pass before sunset and the weather changing for the worse (which it did) - this was far enough. But what a day on the trail, it was breathtaking.
The trail starts at treeline and quickly jumps up over treeline to Independence Lake, there are spectacular views of Independence Peak. I started early and got to watch the sun come up over the peaks surrounding the trail. The trail has two distinct visual effects, the morning effect has dark shadows making for dramatic textures along the mountains and the afternoon effect is big and bright with vibrant colors in the shrubs, trees and bright mountain peaks.
I got super lucky with the weather, the clouds were racing by very fast, but the only place it was windy was at the saddle overlooking Lost Man Lake and Independence Lake. The wind barrels up the Lost Man Lake side of the saddle, but once down at Lost Man Lake the wind calms down to a nice breeze.
The trek to Lost Man Lake is a quick hike, and part of a Loop, though I don't understand how two trailheads four miles apart constitutes a loop - especially if to connect the two trailheads you must do a car relay (along Independence Pass) or walk along 82 (the narrow two-lane road with no shoulder). I did see one person that had a semi-good idea, they brought a bike and locked it up at the trailhead. I assume they started from the other trailhead and was working their way back to their bike. However, they still have to get on 82. There must be an undocumented connector trail between the two trailheads.
Nevertheless, if you can stomach driving 82 (Independence Pass) and get good weather and are fit enough, the hike to Independence Lake and the saddle overlooking Independence Lake and Lost Man Lake is well worth it. The decent down to Lost Man Lake from the saddle is fairly steep and through a talus field. From there you get your first glimpse of the Williams Mountains. Lost Man Lake is a hanging lake and gives off an interesting illusion when looking out over the lake to the peaks of the Williams Mountains.
The trail swings right - around Lost Man Lake and the spectacular views of the Williams Mountains come into sight. From here, a wide gentle sloping glacial valley opens up to breathtaking views of the valley floor set against the Williams Mountains peaks. Right here is far enough to call it a successful day on the trail. I spent a lot of time on this short leg between Lost Man Lake and South Fork Pass just taking in the views and the colors. There was a very mild breeze, but the big white clouds were racing by so quickly that the texture and contours of the valley floor and the Williams Mountains peaks changed every few minutes. I could have spent all day here.
The saddle at South Fork Pass gives an awe-inspiring view of a still-lush green floor of a v-shaped valley. I stopped here, because from Lost Man Lake to here was mostly down-hill. Thinking that I will have to do all of this in reverse and time against me in addition to hearing the report of a hunter's rifle fairly close by, I opted that this was far enough for one day. Deadman's Lake will have to wait for another time.
Towards the end of the day, the clouds stopped moving so quickly and began to form larger clouds with darker bottoms and the cloud ceiling was dropping. It turned out that I timed stepping off of the trail and getting down off of Independence Pass just in time. By the time I got to Leadville, the sky was dark and heavy and had just started to rain.
Because of the amount of downhill on this hike, it made the 11.4 miles feel like they went by very quickly, even though I had spent over nine hours on the trail. The Fall colors throughout the valley after Lost Man Lake are amazing. Someday, I will go back and make it to Deadman's Lake. It seems like this would be a great mid-July hike. What a beautiful day on the trail. Check out my GPS tracks here.