September 7, 2019 · Holy Cross Wilderness
The hike to Olsen Lake inside the Holy Cross Wilderness is a hidden gem. The first half of the trail is outside of the Holy Cross Wilderness and is well traveled by trail runners and people walking their dogs. It's a straight trail with a steady incline. However, because the first half of the trail is so well traveled it doesn't feel like you're working too hard on the trail. From the trailhead up to the Meadow Mountain crossing would probably be a good endurance trek for snowshoeing.
It's always easy to tell the difference between areas outside of Wilderness areas and areas inside of Wilderness areas. Outside of the Wilderness areas the trails are generally worn well and heavily traveled and fire mitigation has a different look to it. It is clear fire mitigation is done with chainsaws. Inside of Wilderness areas the trail gets thinner and lumpy. The groundcover is thicker and looks wilder. Fire mitigation is not as overwhelming since even the Forest Service cannot use gas powered chainsaws; they must use hand saws. as such fire mitigation is minimal and typically cut trees are those that have fell across the trail, but not always.
It was a beautiful sunny day for the trek, it had rained hard the night before, and the ground cover was covered in dew, as such your boots become soaked through and through as if you were making several river crossings. After crossing the Wilderness boundary, the trail and terrain changes dramatically. The canopy is thick and there is thick moss on the rocks in and along West Grouse Creek River. The trail is basically in a drainage ditch. A large portion of the trail is in thick canopy, which always seems to make the trek go faster.
Every now and then there is break in the canopy and the big bright blue-sky shines through and everything turns a bright vibrant green. However, it is clear the seasons are changing. Small ponds have dried up. Even though everything is so green, there are hints of rust in the groundcover every now and then.
It seems that most people don't go further than the Meadow Mountain Crossing and even fewer go past the Wilderness boundary. I only saw one other person on the trail, and that was on my way back out. It's always a great feeling of having the trail to yourself, the surroundings are so quiet and peaceful.
Since there is so little traffic on the trail it begins to blur on the first major push to Olsen Lake. There is a lake just after the first major elevation incline, but I could not find a decent approach to that lake. I would have really like to have reached the lake called Waterdog Lake; that's a great name for a lake. In a way, it's not surprising the trail is fuzzy in this area. The trailhead is right off a road leading into Minturn. There are several thin social trails that dead-end in the middle of nowhere.
The last push to Olsen Lake is steep and the trail is very faint. The conifers are very thick and then there is a break in the trees and there, rather unexpectedly is Olsen Lake. The lake set against a green walled bowl and brilliant blue skies with clouds dotting the sky, the view is simply breathtaking.
The shoreline is thin, and the conifers go right up to the water's edge. Where there are breaks in the trees there are thick stands of grasses mingled among boulders, making for a marshy shoreline. I found a small nook along the shore that had a specular view of the bowl and Olsen Lake. At this time of the year, the alpine lakes turn a greenish color. The other thing I noticed about this lake was the amount of fish in the lake along the shoreline. If I was into fishing this would be a perfect place to go fishing. All the fish I saw were about the same size, about the length of your forearm.
This was a perfect spot for lunch, with a great view and the wind pushing the clouds around, creating dramatic shadows on the face of the bowl across the lake. This is a great remote location and given its proximity to Minturn it is very surprising how lightly traveled the trail is after the Wilderness boundary. It's a long round-trip trek, coming in at 13.1 miles round-trip.
I got very lucky with the weather, it was windy, but the thick canopy on the trail and along shoreline creates a unique experience of hearing the wind, but the surroundings at ground-level are peaceful and tranquil. That coupled with the gentle sound of a slow-moving river along the trail makes for a very special day on the trial.