September 14, 2019 · Hunter-Fryingpan Wilderness
The trek to Midway Lake was a 'go back and complete' trail from a previous attempt to reach Midway Lake. Earlier this year I tried to get to Midway Lake but ran into too much snow just before Midway Pass in the Hunter-Fryingpan Wilderness. This time, in late Summer the weather was perfect, not a cloud in the sky, a light breeze and spectacular views all around. This was a long hike, so I moved quickly up to the Alpine Meadow, knowing that Midway Lake was a good distance away from Midway Pass. Last time I had to stop short of Midway Pass because of the snow.
This time, the first part of the trail was marked with memories of where the snow started and now in late Summer, how much easier it was. Last time the snow started at the Wilderness boundary and continued up and beyond Midway Pass. For such a beautiful day, there were very few people on the trail. And once past Midway Pass I did not see another person until much later on the return to the trailhead.
When I reached Alpine Meadow the very large meadow began to open up, it was spectacular against the crystal-clear blue skies. Everything was very green but with tinges of rust, the change in seasons has started. Last time I was at this spot I realized that I was in for a full day of snowshoeing, but not this time. The trail moved quickly across the meadow and I soon came to a small alpine lake. It was a deep dark blue and over-looked Green Mountain on the southern side of Independence Pass. Looking down the valley you can see Independence Mountain, which is part of a greyish range with steep walls. This range is memorizing, and it seems to take on a different character with each step across the Alpine Meadow. This was a great place to stop for a while, have some lunch and take in the views.
Looking west down the valley towards Aspen the easily identifiable peaks of the Maroon-Bells Wilderness are off in the distance. They are spectacular, with their unique tilt to their peaks and the distinctive layering. This layering is much easier to see when the peaks are covered in snow but are clearly visible in late Summer. The views from this small lake are breathtaking and would make a great place to camp. However, the National Forest Service has made the same observation and in order to preserve this spectacular area they do not allow camping within two miles of this place called Alpine Meadow. Fair enough. Stay a little, tread lightly, take nothing but pictures.
The hop to Midway Pass is quick and undulates to a low saddle. From here the views down a wide green valley with Green Mountain set in the background are impressive. Then looking north from the saddle, the rock is different in color, it's the more typical light granite. These light grey granite peaks set against a crystal-clear blue sky make these huge mountains seem even larger and further away. From the saddle that is Midway Pass there is a short stretch of trail that has been hit hard by avalanches from the previous winter and the trail fades quickly. The official trail is a very long trail that leads into Aspen. And from here on out on the official trail you can tell the primary mode of transportation is on horseback. You can tell because where you can see a trail, it is much thinner, and you can see horse hoof tracks in the dried mud along the trail.
The trail to Midway Lake is not an official trail, but there are documented versions of this undocumented trail. What makes this final stretch to Midway Lake complicated is that even through the terrain maps show an option that skirts an elevation line, the route to the lake takes you through very thick forest with thick ground cover mostly of downed large conifer trees. At this point it is effectively bushwhacking. There is an eerie feeling to this section of the trail. The canopy is very thick, the ground cover is very thick and very large and very quiet. Without GPS I believe it would be very easy to get lost and turned around in this short section.
Just before I reached the edge of a large meadow just across from Midway Lake, I came across several animal bones. It appears to be at least two animals, given that there were two partial skulls in the area along with a several leg bones, part of a jaw, a couple of shoulder blades, one hip bone and a section of vertebrae. I noticed that the ends of the leg bones had been chewed off. It was at moment that I quickly looked around. There was a high ridge of rock, a perfect place for a Mountain Lion or two to rest and have the high ground. Though I did not see any Mountain Lions or tracks, I did feel as if I was in their dining room.
Not sure how these two animals came to their end here, but I told myself it was probably as a result of starvation or getting caught in an avalanche, and then the predation occurred later. It seemed like there was too much of the animals left behind for it to be a kill from hunters. At this point, only the remaining sun-bleached bones know the truth. After playing Deer / Elk CSI I looked out over the meadow where I could see Midway Lake.
Midway Lake is a grass lake, meaning it has long grass growing in the lake, beyond the shoreline. They were not lilies, as there was nothing that looked like lily pads floating in the lake. At this time of the year this lake is cut off from its drainage streams and is turning green, like many alpine lakes do at this time of the year. It's a very peaceful location, there is light evidence of camping along the shoreline of the lake, along with two more Deer or Elk skulls. After looking it up later, I believe all the animal skulls in this area are from Elk.
I had lunch along the shoreline and there was a light breeze and a greenish lake was nearly as flat as glass. I would have loved to say here longer and would have if the trail from the lake to Midway Pass was easier. That was the most difficult part of the trail. After making my way back to Midway Pass, I would say in hindsight a good full day hike with plenty to see and do would be to Midway Pass. At Midway Pass there is small heart-shaped lake set in a low and wide meadow. This would be a great place to spend a day at.
Another reason for calling Midway Pass a perfect turning back point is that by this point, later in the day the texture of the mountains change as the sun begins its decent. The late-day views of Green Mountain and Independence Mountain are amazing. There is a campground very close the trailhead, called Lost Man Campground and would be an excellent place to camp and take day-long treks into the Hunter-Fryingpan Wilderness. Perhaps next year. Until then, this 11-mile roundtrip trek stands out in my mind for the crystal-clear blue skies and the incredible views inside of the Hunter-Fryingpan Wilderness. What a beautiful day on the trail.