Lower Turhare Lake
August 17, 2019 · Holy Cross Wilderness
The hike to Lower Turhare Lake along the Fall Creek Trail in the Holy Cross Wilderness has been on my mind for some time, but the trailhead has been out of reach with the in-city car, but with the Jeep I'm finally able to get to some of these trails that have been just out of reach for the past few years. The weather fluctuated between big bright blue skies and thick clouds. I had planned to push on to the saddle overlooking the first two of the Seven Sisters Lakes, but the weather turned and there was some lightning and thunder. That was the determining factor to call it and turn back as I was over 12,000 feet when saw the lightning.
This is a long trail, coming in just under 13.5 miles roundtrip, that makes for a long day. The longest part of the tail is to a beautiful lake called Lake Constantine. It's a beautiful lake nestled in a bowl has many places to camp around the lake. This portion of the trail is in stall stands of Conifers and at times the canopy is quite thick. As I was walking along this leg of the trial, I thought to myself this trail really isn't that hard, it's long, but not very difficult, it's well worn, just long. This side of the Holy Cross Wilderness is popular with mountain climbers and from time to time you will see a couple of hikers carrying a big scrambling crash pad on their back. It's not a super busy trail, though you would not think that based on the number of cars are the trailhead.
Once at Lake Constantine, the Conifers thin out and the views in every direction become very impressive. Just past Lake Constantine it's very easy to get onto the wrong trail and end up on the undocumented trail to Lower Turhare Lake instead of pushing up the valley to the basin of Seven Sisters Lakes on the west side of the saddle. If you get on the wrong trail, the undocumented trail to Lower Turhare Lake, the trail becomes very difficult very quickly. It is not a long way to Lower Turhare Lake from Lake Constantine. It's about a mile one-way, but it is very steep and does require scrambling over some large boulders and up a couple of thin crevasses.
There is a beautiful waterfall coming out of Lower Turhare lake and the views looking back down the valley to a small lake just before the steep pitch to Lower Turhare Lake are breathtaking. The rocks and boulders in this area are very interesting, they are metamorphic rocks, which means they have a zebra striped pattern of light and dark in them. You can tell by the surrounding valley walls and the metamorphic rocks this was a very active geological zone. These mountains are part of the Colorado Mineral Belt, which is what drew gold and silver miners to the area.
You can also see evidence of the last Ice Age along the valley walls and floor. The rock is smoothed, bent and scratched by glaciation. Whenever I see evidence of glaciation I try and imagine what the area must have looked like with the valleys filled to the peaks with snow and ice, what a site that must have been. The last ice age, the Little Ice age as it is called occurred between 1300 and 1870. For perspective, gold was first officially found in Colorado in 1859 and Colorado's Favorite Cannibal - Alferd Packer ran into trouble just outside Lake City in 1874.
Lower Turhare Lake is spectacular, there are large boulders along the shoreline in the lake and the shoreline along the backside gradually opens to a massive cathedral where Upper Turhare Lake sits. Prior to reaching Lower Turhare Lake the weather started to fluctuate between big blue skies and dark thick clouds, but they moved in and out quickly. When the clouds gathered, Lower Turhare Lake would get darker and the valley walls would change texture, giving off a gothic feel to the area. If the weather was better, I would have stayed here longer, but I still wanted to push on to the highest of the Seven Sisters Lakes.
The ascent to Lower Turhare Lake is complicated and difficult, it does require some scrambling and climbing over some large boulders to get to. The decent is just as tricky. Just below the waterfall coming out of Lower Turhare Lake I stepped on some ground cover that as it turns out turned in to the classic slipping on a banana act. However, it was in a very steep area and I ended up doing a cartwheel and in attempt to self-arrest to stop the fall I hit my right hip on some rocks and ended up with two large fruit-sized bruises.
While trying to stop the fall and prevent my left knee from blowing out I twisted and pulled just about everything from my left knee down to my left ankle. Once I stopped the fall, I knew instantly that the left ankle was going to be a problem. As a result, it took longer than anticipated to work my way down the pitch from Lower Turhare Lake. Nothing is broken or torn, it's just hyper extended.
Once I got back down to the split in the trail to go to either Turhare Lake or the saddle to Seven Sisters Lakes, the weather cleared up and instead of wrapping my ankle I tightened up my booth because I wasn't sure I would be able to get my foot back into the boot without passing out from the pain. According to the map, the most difficult part was behind me, so I decided to push on to the saddle overlooking Seven Sisters Lakes.
Along the ascent to the saddle there is a small lake that overlooks the valley and it is breathtaking and very peaceful. If this was just a little lower, and down below treeline this would be a beautiful place to camp. As I got closer to the saddle the weather started to change and the wind picked up significantly and the dark clouds started to roll in again. In keeping with the theme from earlier in the Summer hiking season - snow blocked the route. Though at this altitude it's not surprising there was that much snow. It was easy to navigate around. I stopped for some lunch and check-up on my ankle; I was just below the saddle that overlooks the highest two lakes of the Seven Sisters Lakes. At this point I heard some thunder and saw a lightning strike. That was the signal to call it a day and start to head back, I was above treeline and the weather was getting worse. The lightning strike cinched the deal, it was time to head back.
The weather on the way back fluctuated between big beautiful blue skies and dark heavy clouds with strong winds. This hike came in just under 13.5 miles roundtrip. Thankfully, the rookie mistake that produced the ankle injury didn't get me on the news. I know my limits and I pushed that one and was able to walk out with a reminder and a warning. Scrambling over large boulders is the line for me.