Middle Lake Basin
September 29, 2018 · White River National Forest
The hike to Middle Lake Basin in White River National Forest is a tough one. Half of the trail is along a route called Dead Dog Trail, that name alone makes this trail a must. Dead Dog Trail intersects with Middle Lake Trail and takes you the rest of the way to Middle Lake. However, given the steepness of this trail it made it slow going and difficult; not technically difficult, just difficult due to the slope of the trail.
It's very steep in nearly every direction and many of the documented maps have the trail wrong. They show several "Widow Maker" segments on the trail. A Widow Maker is a segment of the trail that appears to go nearly vertical. As it turns out, the Forest Service has corrected these segments and made them into wide switch backs, that are very steep. So not as steep as the documented trails, but still very steep nonetheless. I did not make it to Middle Lake because I was running out of light for the return trip. This turned out to be sixteen miles round-trip.
The weather was great for this eleven-and-half hour trek. The drive through Edwards and up to the trailhead was beautiful with all the golden Aspens. I was surprised how many Aspens still had their leaves. The dirt road section of the drive in is the best if you're looking for a Changing of The Aspens color adventure in mid-to-late September. What a pleasant surprise that was.
The trail jumps up rather quickly from the trailhead and up into the first of several Aspen Groves. These groves are the flattest parts of the trail and what a surprise it was to see so many Aspens still with their golden leaves on them. What was even more surprising was the trail had a fresh layer of Aspen leaves, giving off a vibe from The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. Thankfully, no headless horsemen on this trail.
However, I did see several Sage Grouse on the trail. At one point in a transition between an Aspen grove and a tall stand of Conifers I saw two Sage Grouse on the trail. I stood there an watched them for a while and saw two more Sage Grouse cross the trail and disappear into the undergrowth. And no, I don't know why Sage Grouse cross the road, probably for the same reasons Chickens do.
When I moved on towards them the two flew away, then suddenly at least six more Sage Grouse jumped up out of the undergrowth and flew away too. Stunned to see so many Sage Grouse in one spot I said out loud "Wow!" and at that moment four more Sage Grouse popped up and flew away. I have seen Sage Grouse on previous hikes, but they usually fly away well before I am that close to them. This was special.
After the Aspen groves, the trail resumes its steep incline a ridge that skirts the Middle Lake basin. The views from this vantage point are breathtaking. From here, the trail begins a steep drop down to the Middle Lake basin. Once at the basin, there are several small ponds dispersed throughout a lush meadow. I would image these ponds to be full and the meadow to be a vibrant green in July.
It was peaceful here at the basin. The whole time I was on the trail I only saw six people in two groups. The original plan was to make it all the way to Middle Lake. However, as I got closer the lake, the trail began to fade and based on what I was reading on the GPS, it was at least another half-hour away - down even further than what I had descended already. Based on how long it took me to get this far and that there was basically only twelve hours of light to work with, I opted to call it good here at the basin and head back.
It was a beautiful day and the golden Aspens at this time of the year was a treat. I wish I had an extra couple of hours of light to work with to make it to Middle Lake. Something for another time.