Seven Sisters Lakes
August 24, 2019 · Holy Cross Wilderness
This was my second attempt to reach the Seven Sisters Lakes in the Holy Cross Wilderness. The first attempt was via the north side from last week's hike to Lower Turhare Lake. This time would be from the south side near Homestake Road, my favorite washboard dirt road. After reviewing possible routes to the series of lakes known as The Seven Sisters, it was clear there was no short route. This trek turned out to be a 17.2-mile roundtrip trek.
I decided to do this as a day out-and-back trek. I can't bring myself to carry the multi-day 60-liter pack for that distance and elevation gain. I'm still trying to pick out a 50-liter pack, and it is looking like I will have to make a split from The North Face gear, and all roads seem to be leading to a single option that I'm not 100% comfortable with yet.
Aside from the multi-day gear dilemma, I was able to start this hike at a reasonable hour however, it was very windy at the Fancy Lake trailhead. But most of the trail to Fancy Lake is in tall stands of conifer, so you really don't notice the wind. The trek to Fancy Lake is part of a popular multi-day loop, though I have done it in one day. The loop goes past Fancy Lake, up over Fancy Pass - which is very steep and then back around past Treasure Vault Lake. Then over Missouri Pass then a gentle glide back down to the trailhead.
My route would take me to Fancy Lake then skirt along a ridge to Holy Cross City, a mining ghost town which can be accessed by a hard-core Jeep trail via a different route. The trail dips down to an abandoned mine, there is a lot of abandoned mining equipment at this mine. I have been to this mine before, but this was the first time I walked among the mining equipment, always on the lookout for nails. It is interesting, the entrance to the mine, like many abandoned mines I have seen in the area was filled in with mining equipment and then the entrance was blasted to collapse the entrance.
One of the pieces of equipment was stamped with the manufacturer's name, all that I could make out on it was the word "Denver." It would be interesting to know what companies in Denver manufactured and sold mining equipment. But the most striking thing I noticed when walking among the mining equipment was a silver-colored liquid pooled in the grass and running in streams and seeping out of the hillside. I suspect it is one of two things, either Mercury or Petroleum left at the site when the mine was abandoned. It looks just like Mercury but if it were, I would expect there to be signs stating the area had uncontained Mercury. However, given the amount of snow from last winter, the Spring Runoff may have disturbed the containment of the metal and caused it to seep out of the ground. I didn't step in any of it or touch it, but was just very surprised to see it, as I don't remember seeing this the last time I was at this mine.
Once past the mine below Holy Cross City, the trek to the Seven Sisters Lakes begins in earnest in a wide valley and a quick stop at Hunky Dory Lake. As its name suggests, it is just that - hunky dory. This route to Seven Sisters is a hidden gem, there are very few people on this trail. And from time to time you see mining equipment scattered along the trail in along the edges of the meadow in the beautiful valley. From Hunky Dory Lake it is a steady climb that at times feels like you're not making any progress as the mountain tops don't seem to get any closer.
With one more push, the trail begins to level out into a large bowl and the first of the Seven Sisters Lakes comes into view. By this time the clouds had thinned out and the granite peaks are magnificent against the big blue skies. The wind had not abated, so it was brisk. For most of the push onto the highest of the Seven Sisters Lakes I had the trail to myself, it was great.
The meadows are a bright green and the summer wildflowers are in full bloom but are starting to show signs of a change in the seasons. This was a perfect time to be here. From time to time the clouds would gather and change the texture of the granite peaks. If I had a base camp at oh say Hunky Dory Lake, I would have loved to stay in this area for much longer. I was a able to get all of the Seven Sisters Lakes except one, it was out of the way and a bridge-too-far given the amount of daylight I had to work with.
Not until just before the highest of the Seven Sisters Lakes did I begin to see people on the trail, they were on their way down. I talked with three fishermen on their way out and one couple that was on their way to Hunky Dory Lake. The jagged peaks that surround the Seven Sisters Lakes are the backside of Mount Holy Cross and are very striking against the blue sky with the lakes nestled in bowls just below them. This trek took me over 12,000 feet, which is about the maximum elevation I like to go to. Namely, because once above treeline you are at the mercy of quickly changing weather. I was lucky on this trek; the skies were clear it was just windy.
I made it to the saddle that was just out of reach from the previous week's hike. On that hike I had to turn back because the weather had changed for the worse and a lightning strike signaled the end of that hike. This time I was able to take in the views north and south of the saddle. It was spectacular. I stopped for lunch here and checked up on my ankle injury from the hike last week.
One the way back down to treeline I did not see anyone else on the trail, though the Marmots were out in force and as always eager to have their picture taken, posing and showing off their best profile for the camera, they truly are hams for the camera.
I moved at a good pace back down past the Seven Sisters Lakes and by the time I reached the small lake that is the first lake just above the last push I stopped and planned on taking a rest at this lake. Turns out I was not the only one with the same idea.
From where I was on the trail, the small lake is not more than one-hundred feet away. At that moment I caught movement of something dark brown and very big moving and instantly I knew what it was. It was a large Bull Moose. He was laying down and taking a nap. He rose to all fours and assessed the situation for a moment and perhaps as startled by the encounter as I was, he started to walk towards me. His coloring, size and his velvet covered antlers were magnificent. The big game at this time of the year look great, the Rut is about to begin so they all look ready to go to the big dance.
Instead of stopping here, I quickly moved around the bend and down below the lake where the Moose was. However, the wind was blowing up the valley so he could easily smell where I was. I stopped and looked back up to the ridge just above the lake and there he was peering through the trees. Clearly, not far away yet. I kept a good pace down the trail until I felt there was enough distance between us. I am always surprised at how close Moose encounters are. Typically, they are at a safe distance in RMNP, but they are usually very close outside of RMNP, not sure why but seems to be the pattern.
On the way back out the sun was just about to set and lit up the valley, it was picture perfect. This was a very long hike and I did not get back to the trailhead until long after dark. The skies in this area, out by Minturn are beautiful at night. There are so many stars and you can see the Milky Way and the different colors in it as well. It was a very long hike to a set of lakes I have wanted to get to for some time, and the weather was great; well worth the 13 hours on the trail.