Saint Kevin Lake
August 8, 2020 · Holy Cross Wilderness
The hike to Saint Kevin Lake in the Holy Cross Wilderness along the northern edge of the Sawatch Range has a noticeable elevation gain of about 1.5K feet within the first two miles. That elevation gain seems to keep people off this trail, which is great. On the way in, I only saw one couple camping close to the trail. Other than that bad encounter, more on that later, I did not encounter anyone else on the trail until I was getting ready to head back from Saint Kevin Lake.
Although the parking lot at the trailhead was full, there was nobody on the trail on the way in. I suspect most people went to Timberline Lake or south along the Continental Divide Trail. Because the first two miles are so steep and in tall, but thin stands of conifers, the noticeable jump in elevation goes quickly and soon you are a ridge with panoramic views of Mount Massive to the South, and the Mosquito Range to the East. This highpoint on the trail would be a great destination for a picnic, it is wide open and plenty of space and breathtaking views. However, for me, this was just the first ridge to summit on the way to Saint Kevin Lake.
There are four lakes along the trail to the spur to Saint Kevin Lake. The lakes are shaded in tall conifers and have tall grass growing in them, which keeps the surface of the lakes calm and flat - and reflect the sky and surrounding trees along the edge of the lakes. This would have been a very peaceful place. However, there was a couple who were camping close the trail, which in-itself is not a big deal. However, they had two very "protective", read: extremely aggressive, unleashed, pointy-ear dogs. These two dogs charged me from their camp up to within about 10 feet from me. I had to bark commands to stop at the two dogs as if I were trying to get a bear out of camp.
The woman in the camp ran up to the edge of the campsite apologizing but failing to get her dogs under control. She finally got them to return to the camp and I continued along the trail, however, the dogs charged me again. This time I barked commands at the dogs to stop with such force it did two things: 1) got one of the dogs to whimper and so disturbed the woman trying to get the dogs to obey that her voice was cracking and shaking with fear.
People forget a few things when they bring their dogs on the trail, 1) dogs are supposed to be on a lease, which nearly nobody obeys 2) they forget that their "protective" dogs are actually aggressive dogs to strangers, and it takes nothing for a dog to cross the line and attack. The place I have landed on with dogs on the trail is: if you are not going to keep your dog on a leash while on the trail or in camp, they better be extremely well trained to respond to your first command to heal. If you cannot control them with one command, leave the dog at home, or keep it on a short leash on the trail. I have never encountered this problem on the trail with unleashed, floppy-ear dogs, only pointy-ear dogs.
The encounter with the dogs happened just above Galena Lake, as such I could not make it to that lake on the way in, but I was able to make it to that lake on the way out, the couple and their dogs were gone by then. The next lake, on the way in was Bear Lake. Thankfully, the trek to this lake was uneventful, no dogs or bears at Bear Lake, though there were so many Marmots, they were like mice, they were everywhere and in groups. The Rut is just around the corner and the coats of the Marmots are beautiful. There are all - dark brown, nearly black ones, two-tone dark and light brown ones and some with exceptionally long coats that are cinnamon in color, and they are all very chatty. This encounter added some much-needed levity to the day's trek.
The spur to Saint Kevin Lake is a little tricky to find. I first noticed a discrepancy in where the spur was when I was planning this trek. The documented spur no longer exists, and the actual spur is a bit further North along the Continental Divide Trail and is not marked. Discrepancies in documented vs. actual trails is not uncommon, this is usually done for either forest rehabilitation or severe trail damage. Once on the spur to Saint Kevin Lake, the conifers thin and the huge blue sky fills the trail and the trail moves quickly to the last pitch just before Saint Kevin Lake.
Saint Kevin Lake sits in a depression or bowl and the final pitch to the lake is very steep. On the switchbacks where it is safer to stop, the views looking down the valley towards Mount Massive are spectacular. Just before reaching the high point above Saint Kevin Lake, Galena Mountain comes into view in-between the trees and gives off the illusion that you are at the same elevation as Galena Mountain, which forms the headwall above Saint Kevin Lake.
Once at the highpoint, you have a full view of Saint Kevin Lake sitting in the depression or bowl. I had the lake to myself. There was a light breeze every now and then, accompanied by the high chirps of Marmots. Three of the four walls surrounding the lake are granite scree, with the fourth - southern wall dotted in thick short wind-blown conifers. The sky was a deep blue, without a single cloud in the sky, this was a perfect secluded spot. I had a long lunch along the shoreline of the lake. It was very peaceful here.
As I was getting ready to head back, a couple crested the highpoint and were on their way down to the shoreline. A perfect time to head out. On the way out, just before reconnecting with the Continental Divide Trail, I did encounter a family and their two, unleased dogs, a Golden Retriever and a Bernese Mountain Dog, as expected with floppy-ear dogs, they were well trained and pleasant to encounter, they did not bark, charge or display any aggressive behavior.
The trail on the way out moves quickly. Aside from the encounter with the two ill-mannered dogs and their owners, it was a fantastic day of nearly 10.5 miles on the trail with an incredible blue sky and for the most part, the trail all to myself.