Rainbow Lake

July 11, 2020 · Collegiate Peaks Wilderness

Rainbow Lake is in the Collegiate Peaks Wilderness just north of Buena Vista. The trail to the lake is a spur along Pine Creek Trail. In a word, the trail was hot. It was a hot day all-around. The sky was picture-perfect deep blue without a cloud in the sky. However, a good portion of the trail is in the White River National Forest, so a fair amount of fire mitigation has been done - which is a good thing. However, as a result the tall stands of Pine are sparse and the groundcover has mostly been removed, and sunlight easily reaches the forest floor and trail.

The trailhead starts just outside of some private property and the Federal Government has an easement to cross the one-half mile of private property. Trails in the Federal Trail System often cross small portions of private property. The most common thing you see when this happens are posted signs from the property owner that you are crossing private property and to stay on the trail. Additionally, there is almost always a metal gate and fencing of some kind next to the trail to denote the easement boundary.

However, this private property crossing was a bit different. There was the typical sign and gate at the private property boundary, but this owner had decided to put a toll booth to collect one dollar for each person crossing their half-mile of private property. This was a bit odd, but rather than run the risk of an encounter with a crazed landowner, I paid the one-dollar toll; and video recorded me putting the dollar in their toll box. In a way, that added to setting the mood for this hike.

The Federal Forest boundary begins in an open area along a sand trail in field of Sage. It was warm here in the morning, on the return, in the afternoon, this area was a like a blast furnace, it was the hottest stretch of the trail. Documentation about the trails lists the trail as Difficult. To me a trail rating of difficult is steep and your knees are often lifted above your waist. That was not this trail. This trail is well groomed, and the trail itself is mostly sand-like not dirt, rocks, and tree roots.

To me this trail was more like a grind, it had a constant elevation gain, which is not that bad, but because the Pines are sparse and sunlight directly hits the trail, it heats up very quickly without any clouds passing by. The trail itself is in a steep walled valley and based on the debris in the river and along the valley wall sides, the Spring Runoff and mudslides must be huge, trees are uprooted and large boulders are freshly dislodged from the steep walls of the valley.

The spur to Rainbow Lake is at a pretty meadow with a large Beaver pond, it was genuinely nice here. This portion of the trail is steep, but well groomed, as such it moves fast, but this portion of the trail has direct sunlight on the trail as well and is hot. When I got to Rainbow Lake, there were two fishermen working the edges of the lake. The lake is pretty and is turning green from the algae, which is common this time of year.

Just beyond the lake is a ridge that connects with the Colorado Trail. I found a spot of shade along the edge of the lake. The hand-held anemometer I had with me showed the temperature to be 80 degrees at the lake and no breeze of any kind; that was at 11,700 feet. That is a hot day on the trail. I took a power nap in the shade by the lake. It was so peaceful, the fishermen were quite, there was no breeze and from time to time a bird would chirp, other than that it was completely silent, no distant traffic, no distant roar of jets passing overhead, just complete silence. It was very nice, but very warm.

Eating lunch along the trail was a different experience, I have Invisalign aligners, and will have them for the next eight months. So, eating on the trail now is different. I must take them out to eat and then floss. Yes, floss along the trail, it makes for a humorous visual, but it is a bit of work without a mirror.

When I started to head back, a few small high clouds began to form, but not enough to provide any shade along the trail. Because the trail is so well groomed, the trail moves extremely fast along the way back. So fast, that I finished about two hours earlier than I thought I would.

It was the hottest part of the day on the way back, and wherever the trees opened into a small meadow, the heat was like a blast furnace. This trek turned out to be moderately difficult 13.6 miles roundtrip. I'm glad I did this trail; I've had my eye on this trail for some time. I'm calling this trail the Sunburn Trail and calling it good.


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Collegiate Peaks Wilderness9
Eagles Nest Wilderness10
Fossil Ridge Wilderness1
Fraser Experimental Forest1
Gunnison National Forest1
Holy Cross Wilderness12
Hunter-Fryingpan Wilderness3
Indian Peaks Wilderness17
James Peak Wilderness1
Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness2
Mount Evans Wilderness2
Mount Massive Wilderness2
Pike National Forest1
Raggeds Wilderness1
Rocky Mountain National Park41
San Isabel National Forest6
Sangre de Cristo Wilderness1
White River National Forest10
Zirkel Wilderness1





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