July 5, 2019 · Indian Peaks Wilderness
What a beautiful day for an early Summer hike in the Indian Peaks Wilderness. I did not make it all they way to the intended lake, Storm Lake, just above Jasper Lake, I was stopped by - snow, snow blocked the final steep pitch from Jasper Lake to Storm Lake. Though many of the pictures don't look like snow would have been an issue, it was. The snow in the trees was waist deep and very soft. Even without making it to Storm Lake, this hike will stay in my memories as a first.
I got to the Hessie trailhead early, as it is one of the busiest trailheads I've ever seen, and parking is complicated and fills up very quickly. If you don't get to the trailhead by 7:30am you should plan on parking in Nederland and taking the shuttle up to the trailhead. It was a beautiful morning with a big bright blue sky, everything is very green, and the rivers are very full and running very fast.
Because of my early start time I had the trail almost exclusively to myself on the way up, there were a few couples on their way down. This was the Fourth of July weekend, so these people were on their way back down from camping a night or two. Camping on the Fourth of July weekend sounds like a normal thing to do and you would expect the campsites to be free of snow. But that was not the case as I got closer to treeline and where most of the campsites are.
There is a wide rolling hills meadow at the Wilderness boundary with spectacular views of the valley and Mt. Neva in the distance. I have been on the trail before and this one of my favorite spots along the trail. The rolling hills meadow is a very lush green and off to the left is an oxbow river that, right now is running fast and very full - well fast for an oxbow. It's one of the most peaceful places along the trail.
Shortly after moving through the rolling hills meadow and back into the trees the trail begins to become dual use, hiking and runoff stream. In some places it's hard to know if you really are on the trail that has runoff flowing down it or you are now in a fast moving, ankle deep stream, but it is the trail.
Just before reaching Jasper Lake, I noticed what I thought was a very large dog bounding across a small meadow, across the trail and up the other side of the trail. It all happened so quickly, that by the time I said to myself "that's a really big dog. I've never seen a dog with a coat that color." At that moment I realized what it really was, it was a Mountain Lion bounding across the meadow, across the trail and up the other side. By the time I realized what it was, it was already bounding up the other side of the trail. I know it was a Mountain Lion because it had the same movement and gate as a domestic cat when they run, and it had a huge tail with the dark spot on the end of its tail.
I scanned the bushes, trees and the meadow where the Mountain Lion came from, hoping this was a single Mountain Lion and not part of a juvenile pack. Things could have been a lot worse if there was more of one of them - that I could see. But the encounter was over as fast as it started. I later measured about how far away the Mountain Lion was when I saw it, and it turns out it was about 60 feet away. That's close and they are big.
It took an unusually long time to move through this area, which is no more than fifteen minutes away from Jasper Lake. When I got to the edge of Jasper Lake and saw the snow covering the route to Storm Lake, I was a bit disappointed that I wouldn't make it to Storm Lake, as this was my second attempt to get to Storm Lake. The first time was in late June of 2015.
However, Jasper Lake and the views it offered were breathtaking. I did attempt to find away through the trees to get to Storm Lake, but the snow is like quicksand, it's so soft and you sink up to your waist quickly. After lunch at a secluded spot above Jasper Lake I reluctantly began to make my way back, it so beautiful out that day and it was still early. Though, if I stayed longer, I would be back on the trail on the way out at dusk; the Mountain Lion came to mind and thought it best to step off the trail before the forest comes to life at twilight.
Just before leaving Jasper Lake I talked with a couple that was on their way out, they came out of the snow filled trees, soaking wet and wearing snowshoes. I really didn't think snowshoes would be needed at this time of year, or maybe I'm in denial about how long this snow is going to last above 11,000 feet. We traded wild animal sighting stories, on their way in they saw a momma Moose and her young laying in a meadow, and I told them about the Mountain Loin and how close it was to the lake. They looked at each other and replied, "That's a little disturbing, we've been up here two days." Mountain Lion sightings are very rare. That and the incredible views along the trail and at Jasper Lake will make this one of the more memorable 12.3-mile hikes.