Lower Slate Lake
June 29 - 30, 2018 · White River National Forest
The hike to Lower Slate Lake in Eagles Nest Wilderness was a two-day hike, it turned out to be just over 27 miles roundtrip. It's a very lumpy trail for the first 5+ miles as the Gore Range trail skirts the tails of the valleys, so a lot of up and down through tall stands of Evergreens that have been hit hard by beetle kill. I did come across a Forest Service team clearing downed trees. As you may know, anything mechanical is forbidden in Wilderness areas beyond the trailhead. That rule not only applies to you and me, but to the Forest Service teams as well.
They have to clear trees with hand saws like this one, and yes, theirs look that old too. Now you know why forest fire mitigation takes so long. So, for the first 5+ miles it's pretty much just beetle kill, it's very hot and you can smell the forest fires around the area, though not much visible smoke from where I was.
In talking with the woman heading up this Forest Service team, she told me the bridge to cross over Slate Creek ("creek" pfft, right - call it a river) had been washed out and I'll have to do a river crossing. The remnants of the bridge where - for the brave, aka foolish it is crossable, but one mis-step and into the river you go. So I crossed through thigh-high water a little bit above the washed out bridge. Trekking around in soaking wet boots for 8 hours = blisters, so these shoes are going to be added to the hiking gear list, even though it is rare to do river crossings like that.
In talking with the woman from the Forest Service team I showed her what looked like on one of my maps a way to cross a much shallower portion of the river. She told me that in the ten years she's been out here, she's never seen that cut off. I did find it and I would agree, it's not a people trail, it's a game trail only cut off. There were only Moose & Elk foot prints at the cut off and then it meandered through tall grass. Having trekked around in tall grass off of the trail before and come across a bull elk bedded down in the tall grass, I opt'd not to do that - given the multiple signs at the trailhead that say "Welcome to Bear Country." So rather than run the risk of coming across something with sharp teeth bedded down I the tall grass, I slugged trough the river; at least it wasn't moving too fast and not too cold.
Once across the river, the terrain changes dramatically; it's lush green with healthy Pines, Aspens, thick green meadows, slow moving - but full oxbow rivers with broad valleys. This is Bear, Moose and Elk country - and with the oxbow rivers full of trout - a fly-fishermen's paradise. From there on to Lower Slate Lake it was beautiful and breathtaking; though the final pitch to Lower Slate lake was more breathtaking (literally) - that was tough, a 1K foot gain in less than a mile.
This portion of the trail is dual-use, people and Elk, there is evidence of Elk along this portion of trail, ranging from foot prints to Elk droppings - they're a busy creature.
The weather was perfect from here onto the Lake, big blue skies, no smell of forest fires and a light breeze, and mosquitoes, so many mosquitoes. I am convinced the "Deep Woods Off" mosquito repellent is just human-turkey baste for mosquitoes, they love it.
This portion of the trail is lightly used and there are many downed trees along the final steep pitch to Lower Slate Lake, you have to either go around them (easier said than done), over them or under them - under and over them seemed to be the theme, that makes for a lot of cuts on the legs. The canopy becomes very thick in the last mile to the lake and the forest floor more closely resembles a tropical jungle than an alpine forest. The vegetation is softer and greener and it is very humid in these areas.
Once I made it to Lower Slate Lake, I was spent, I did one more river crossing to get to the lake and talked with a guy that had just arrived there as well. Our consensus was, this was much more than we signed up for. He told me he brought all sorts of things to do as he relaxed by the lake, but said he was down for the count and even though Upper Slate Lake was less than a mile away, but another very steep pitch, that this was far enough. I talked with him about the first river crossing, he said he did cross over then downed bridge, but said it was very unstable and shifting as he crossed; confirming my suspicions about the stability of that downed bridge.
The sunset at Lower Slate Lake was pretty and I was able to make a time-laps video of the sunset. There are a couple of really cool parts to it, when the wind kicks up and ripples across the lake and as the clouds shimmer over the peaks - giving the illusion of fire dancing across the peaks.
It was a very peaceful night and the morning was not too cold. I got an early start back and the views on they way back down the valley were even more breathtaking than on the way in. All in all, a beautiful hike from Slate Creek on in. I am convinced there are at least two better options to get to Slate Creek other than then official entry point, that I think would have made it a more viable option for a several day stay…Live and learn; but still a beautiful two days out on the trail. Checkout my GPS tracks from this hike here.