North Fork Lake Creek Trail

July 14, 2019 · Mount Massive Wilderness

The hike to the Pass along the North Fork Lake Creek Trail is absolutely beautiful, the views along this hike in a steep V-shaped valley are simply breathtaking. The trail starts at the curve along Highway 82 just before it turns sharply up to the crazy twisty-turn road known as Independence Pass. Most of the trail is inside the Mount Massive Wilderness. From the trailhead to the Wilderness boundary, the trail is very gentle, and the views of the valley are incredible. This section of the trail can be done by anyone who can stand a gentle trail for about two miles.

Immediately after the Wilderness boundary things get more complicated. At this time of the year the rivers are still running very fast, deep and wide from the late Spring runoff. There is a river crossing right after the Wilderness boundary and is a bit tricky in the morning and was more complicated later in the day on the way out as more snow was melting and the river had risen even more.

The day started out mostly sunny with a little haze in the sky, then fluctuated between big beautiful blue skies and dense clouds, but the clouds would move out quickly. It was not windy where I was, just a mild breeze. I never came across anyone on the trail. Though I did see two different groups of people at two different locations along the trail, but they were very far away. Over the course of this ten-hour hike I had the entire trail to myself, it was great.

Avalanches were massive in side and number this past winter and hiking though this steep-walled valley there is evidence of numerous avalanches. This is a north-south running trail, and in many cases the avalanches that came down from either the east or west sides of the valley had so much energy in them that they pushed the downed trees up the other side of the valley.

Around 11,300 feet the snow started to show up as a barrier along the trail. It's interesting in the difference in the snow of a snow field that is melting, and an avalanche debris field filled with snow. The snow of regular snow fields is soft and like walking on mash potatoes and you often posthole up to your knee or hip in the snow. The snow in an avalanche field, even at this time of year is very hard and dense; it's like concrete and you don't posthole in this type of snow.

Everything in the valley that is not covered with snow is very green and lush. I cannot remember a Summer hiking season being so green, it's beautiful. It was an odd mixture of normal Summer hiking, trekking across snow fields and yes, eventually I had to use my snowshoes to get across a very large snowfield in a basin just below the North Fork Lake Creek Pass. By this time of the day the clouds had cleared out and it was very sunny. As a result of it being so sunny and spending a good five hours on snow, I am very sunburned.

There was a second river crossing to do before making my way up the side of a steep valley wall to the Pass. This river crossing took some time to find suitable crossing point. Even though there is no lake in the back-bowl of this valley, there are several rivers, not streams, rivers at this location. Because the river was running too fast, deep and wide at the designated location to cross the river I spent a good amount of time bushwhacking through chest-high scrub and crossing several smaller rivers, only to have turn back and re-cross them again as they all led to a river crossing I could not make.

I eventually made my way further up into the bowl of the valley, where I finally found a snow bridge that was deep enough to cross the river without worrying about punching through the snow and down into a fast-moving river below the snow bridge. This detour took me way off the trail and it took some time to make my way back down onto the trail.

The official trail shows the trail terminating on the side of a steep valley wall just below the North Fork Lake at the Pass. It's obvious when you get there that the map is out of date, there is a clear switch-back trail that makes its way up the valley wall up to the lake at the Pass.

The Pass is covered in snow and the North Fork Lake is frozen solid - in mid-July. Looking north from the highpoint of the Pass you can see Fryingpan Lakes, which was the original destination of this hike. However, the steep north-facing decent from the Pass to Fryingpan Lakes was socked in with snow. It was here that I decided it would be a good place to stop and have lunch overlooking the North Fork Creek and its frozen lake. There was a strong breeze at the Pass, but nothing unbearable. The attempt to get to Fryingpan Lakes will have to be done from the north side, coming in from Glenwood Springs.

On my way back down, I ended up bushwhacking too far to the west and ended up in a semi-open shrub area where I thought it might be a good place for some kind of large wild animal to call home. Right about that time I looked down and saw a sun-bleached animal leg bone with the ends chewed off. I quickly made my way back down onto the trail. The views of the valley on the way out are as impressive as the views of the valley on the way in.

This turned out to be a 10-mile hike in 10 hours, which is a little slow for me. However, I took a lot of pictures, just shy of 500 pictures, and the camera battery was almost dead. Even though the Hunter-Fryingpan and Mount Massive Wilderness' are proving to be a challenge this Summer with so much snow still present, I'm calling this trek a success. A beautiful day, nobody on the trail, safe river crossings, and snowshoeing in mid-July. What a great experience on the trail.


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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

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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 ...