Horn Fork Basin - Bear Lake

September 26, 2020 · Collegiate Peaks Wilderness

The trek to Horn Fork Basin and Bear Lake is a particularly nice hike, most of the trek is in a wide U-shaped glacial valley. From the trailhead to the split to either the Horn Fork Basin or to Kroenke Lake is well shaded and a smooth glide. There are three 14er's accessible from this trailhead and the parking lot is usually full at all hours for the day, so parking at the trailhead can be challenging. It was a beautiful sunny day on the trail. There were a few high clouds that raced by from time to time.

Given how crowded the parking lot was, the trail for the most part was all mine for most of the day. I suspect that the people doing the 14er's started before dawn. The season is turning over to Fall, the change in the season is most noticeable in the color of the shrubs. They are turning gold and rust colored. Additionally, at this time of the year, the wind can be fierce. The strongest wind I encountered was at the destination, Bear Lake. From the split to Kroenke Lake and Bear Lake, the wind was persistent, with the occasional strong blast of cool wind; it is very refreshing.

Shortly after the split in the trail, the trees begin to thin out and get short and stalky. This is treeline, and for a next two hours on the trail, the views of the surrounding peaks and wide valley set against a huge blue sky with high-thin clouds is breathtaking and worth slowing down on the trail to take it all in. The elevation on this leg ranged from 10,300 feet to 11,600 feet, this is my favorite elevation profile. There is so much happing at this elevation. The trees at this elevation are very green and healthy, and if you are lucky, you will see Deer, Elk, Moose and Marmots. Though I did not see any Deer, Elk or Moose, their tracks were on the trail.

Just before the final pitch to Bear Lake there is a spur to Mt. Columbia. Looking at the map, this spur to Mt. Columbia seems like an extremely difficult trek, it is basically a straight line up the steepest face of Mt. Columbia. That was not on the agenda, but from here on to the lake, the terrain is different. There are no more trees, and the surroundings look more like a moonscape. The granite faces of the surrounding peaks are covered in pale scree.

This leg of the trail goes to both Bear Lake and Mt. Harvard. My destination was Bear Lake, as I do not have an interest in summiting a 14er and sharing the peak with 50 other people at the same time. As such Bear Lake was perfect, as there were only two groups of two people there in addition to me.

Bear Lake sits on a bench with incredible views of the valley below and Mt. Yale to the South and the surrounding area has a gothic feel to it, with jagged scree-covered peaks surrounding the lake. The wind was intense at the lake, only relenting as if the mountains were taking time to inhale before the next round of wind. At this time of year, wind like that at 12,000+ feet has a bite to it. I found a large boulder and took shelter out of the wind and had lunch with a spectacular eye-level view of the lake and the summit of Mt. Yale in the distance.

This was a great place to have lunch, the sun was bright, and the sky was clear, with a few scattered, fast moving high clouds. Reluctantly, I began to make my way back out. Once below tree line and in the wide valley, I felt like that would be a great place to camp for the night, and the thought briefly crossed my mind. Though if I did stay the night, the gear I had with me would constitute and emergency over-night outing. Given the weather, it would have been fine to do so.

Traffic on the way out was surprisingly light, making for a special day in a spectacular area of the Collegiates. This great day on the trail came in at a healthy 12.3 miles roundtrip.


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AREAS HIKED

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

TRAILS BY MONTH

January3
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May5
June16
July26
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September27
October5
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December3

SEASONS ON THE TRAIL

2021

The 2021 Season has started. Though the pandemic created a challenging 2020 season, I am looking forward to building on the 2020 season to create an incredible 2021 season. The pandemic has taught me a few things about when and where to go hiking. As such planning for the 2021 se...

2020

The 2020 hiking season has been incredible, even in the face of adversity. The pandemic has made for a logistically challenging season. Somehow, I was still able to piece together an incredible 230+ miles on the trail this season and able to see some truly spectacular places. Enj...

2019

The 2019 hiking season was an interesting season, this was the first season that I started and ended the season snowshoeing and a full summer of hiking for a total of just under 225 miles on the trail. What this season has taught me is that it's winter in the mountains for a long...

2018

The 2018 Summer Hiking Season has come to an end. What a season, incredible views and just over 230 miles on the trail. Even with 230 miles, this season seems short to me, perhaps I'll add something to it during the winter season - snowshoeing perhaps. In the meantime, I hope you...

2017

The 2017 hiking season was interesting, I was able to explorer more of Colorado's National Forests and get in some camping, not as much camping as I would have liked, but hopefully next year I'll able to get in more multi-day hikes. This season came in just under 129 miles roundt...

2016

The 2016 hiking season was about spreading out and exploring more of Eagles Nest Wilderness, Indian Peaks Wilderness and touching on White River National Forest - and of course a few trips into Rocky Mountain National Park. These are amazing National treasures. This season came i...

2015

The 2015 hiking season was a big hiking season, I decided to do a fundraiser for The Red Cross (I learned a lot about fundraising - it was very interesting) with my pledge to hike over 200 miles for this season, I came in at 217 miles for the season; what a great time out on the ...

2014

The 2014 hiking season was almost all about exploring Rocky Mountain National Park, it really is a beautiful park. What I learned during the course of this hiking season is, although people may roll their eyes when you say you're going on a hike in RMNP, it really is spectacular ...

2013

2013 is the year this all started. The hike to Pitkin Lake started it all. Although it was a difficult trail, I was hooked immediately. However, I didn't have the right gear and the seasons were changing quickly. So, even though this season only brought two hikes, I new this was ...