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.