Mystic Island Lake and Lake Charles
June 20, 2020 · Holy Cross Wilderness
The hike to Lake Charles and Mystic Lake deep in the Holy Cross Wilderness was a spectacular hike with big blue skies and incredible views. Though the first part of the trail, while clear was in dense conifers, once you get closer to treeline the views are breathtaking. The trailhead is tucked away in a remote corner of the Holy Cross Wilderness and requires a 4WD to get to. The road narrows to a single-track off-road road with no room to spare on either side of the road. Thankfully, I did not run into any traffic either way. Once at the trailhead, the signs at the trailhead make it very clear you are in bear country and that bears are active in the area; thankfully, I did not see any bears on this trek.
I was skeptical as to how far I would be able to go along the trail, as it is in a narrow glacial valley and there was still a noticeable amount of snow visible on the distant peaks - which was my destination. Thankfully, the snow I did encounter on the trail was very minimal and easy to navigate.
The trail moves quickly through the tall, thick stands of conifers and in places is steep. This trail is a thin glacial valley and there are large cleaved boulders everywhere. In a way, it seems as if towards the end of the last Ice Age, the glacier in this valley was hard at work carving a path and suddenly gave up.
For the most part the Spring Runoff has finished. The rivers are clear and copper color, though they are full and moving quickly, but slow enough to be a gentle calming sound off to the side as you navigate the trail through the conifers. There where no precarious river crossings, though there are several river crossings before reaching Lake Charles.
Just before reaching Lake Charles the outlet for the lake is still going strong and spilling out in every direction it can to make its way down the valley. Just before reaching Lake Charles, views of Fools Peak come into view and it is impressive. There is a good amount of snow on the peak and with the bright blue skies, the streaks of snow against the granite face of the peak are striking. From time to time the clouds would move in, but there was enough of a breeze that they never stayed very long.
I had the trail to myself up to Lake Charles. When I got to Lake Charles there was a couple on their way out, so I had the lake to myself. I took a long lunch along the shore of Lake Charles. It is a beautiful lake, with Fools Peak off to the left and end of the valley just off in the distance, the lake is sits at treeline, which is always a magical place to me. The weather was fantastic at Lake Charles, I would have loved to stay here for the night.
As I was getting ready to push on to Mystic Lake, a small group of three people showed up and asked where we were, when I told them, we were at Lake Charles they seemed ecstatic, they reached their destination. It was time to move one, the weather was still exceptional, though clouds were lingering in the backend of the valley a bit longer now. But they would eventually blow out.
The final push to Mystic Lake goes through a thick marsh and the trail is easy to lose from here to Mystic Lake. Though just before reaching Mystic Lake, the trail reappears and the final approach to the lake, while only a short distance took some time. Eagle Peak makes ups the back wall of the valley and has a considerable amount of snow on it as it faces North.
Mystic Lake is a classic Cirque with steep mountain walls on all three sides. The clouds would move in and linger longer now, giving off dark contrasting marks along the valley walls and on the boulders scattered along the lakes edge. The official name for Mystic Lake is Mystic Island Lake. There is a small island close the shore of the lake with a few trees and if you were willing to brave the ice-cold water, the swim from the shore to the lake is a short one. At times when the cloud cover was heavier, the entire Cirque looked like something out of Scotland. It was at that moment the little islands name became clear. An eerie calm briefly filled the Cirque, there was no sound at all. It was as if the valley was saying "stop everything and just take it in."
It was a perfect day on the trail, coming in at a comfortable 11.1 miles roundtrip. The drive to get there is a bit long, but well worth it.