Heart Lake and Rogers Peak Lake – James Peak Wilderness

We sat in camp watching the “natural” world go by. Morning walks, afternoon walks and evening walks all painted a new picture as the colors changed the landscape little by little with the passing of time.

Our gear was all stowed, the pups were in their seats and our eyes focused to the west and the mountains beyond. We made our way through the city, trying as always to ignore the hectic energy associated with it, and instead, let our imaginations take over, envisioning what we might encounter on trail throughout the day? The drive from Denver up to the trailhead was, thankfully, uneventful. Though the anticipation was building, we knew we were overdue for a great backpacking trip and that this one would be tough on us. It was an area of the James Peak Wilderness that we had been wanting to explore for a long time.

The city quietly slipped away behind us and was soon a distant place. Finally. Once we were out of the hustle and bustle and heading up the canyon, we knew that the road would eventually spit us out in a much more desired location, the Colorado high country. The granite walls were growing higher and higher on either side. Boulder Creek was roaring past with the intensity of the summer melt, assuredly carving out the canyon a bit more. We drove on, gaining altitude and heading toward higher ground.

We arrived at the East Portal Trailhead, just to the west of Rollinsville, in time to see a train go into the Moffat Tunnel on its way west. We have often thought to ourselves, “that must be an interesting dark few minutes passing under the Continental Divide for 6.2 miles with all that earth, rock and snow above!” In contrast, anyone who has ever seen the historic wooden trestles up above, where the trains used to cross OVER the Continental Divide and are vicariously built into the side of the mountain, would say, “I’d rather take the tunnel!”

It was about time. Our feet hit the trail and the walking was underway. It was a warm day, but that would soon change as we began the climb to higher terrain. The trailhead elevation, a mere 9,200′ and our destination, some 4 plus miles away, sits at just over 11,000′ and much cooler. Between the dense forest, cool mountain breeze and thinning air, the sun exposure at the trailhead would soon dissipate. The trail from the East Portal Trailhead is gentle at first, but once you get past the cutoff for Crater Lakes the real gain begins. Many people do not venture beyond this point as the thinning crowd tends to change from day hikers to overnight backpackers. Stay the course, once you have completed the last climb your reward awaits as the Rogers Peak Lake basin is quite spectacular.

Water is plentiful along the trail where the South Boulder Creek runs all year long, which we are always grateful for. At two pounds a liter, carrying water can be quite burdensome, especially on climbs. Here, in the James Peak Wilderness, snowmelt prevails and provides plenty of water all summer long. In fact, if you hike here in spring and early summer, besides the lingering snow, the trail will seem to be more of a creek as we have come to know over the years.

It had been a while since we had been on an outing near tree line. Sure, just like riding a bike, you just get back on and ride, right? Yeah, sure. Granted we had not forgotten how to backpack, follow a trail and make camp miles later, our legs and lungs were taking a beating. It was tough going as we had not been on an aggressive climb in a several months. We pushed on, determined and excited to be back in the Colorado alpine. Once passed the split for Crater Lakes we knew the climb would become aggressive. Thankfully there are many photographic places where we just had to stop and take pictures!

Once the climb was over we found ourselves in a majestic alpine setting. As always, we came to a stop, soaked it in and were glad we had pressed on completing the climb. The Rogers Peak Lake Basin is simply beautiful. There is a smaller unnamed lake just before a short rise to the Rogers Peak Lake that made for a great place to make a base camp. Rogers Peak Lake and Heart Lake were just a stone’s throw away. With a babbling brook nearby for water, a perfect grouping of trees for cover and a view across the lake at a cascading waterfall, Haystack Mountain (11,672′) and James Peak (13,294′), this was indeed the spot to call home for a few days. We couldn’t help but notice that this is a great place for a basecamp. From here one could easily take several small excursions to many wonderful places, including, and certainly not limited to, Rogers Peak Lake, Heart Lake, Rogers Pass, James Peak, the Continental Divide Trail and more.

The pups were tired from their hike up, granted they did take time out to sit in their sling packs and let us do the walking. We decided it best to let them relax at camp while we each took turns taking small hikes. It was the perfect time to try out some new gear we had purchased that would enable us to stay in communication with one another. The Rocky Talkie two-way radio is made for explorers, climbers and anyone wanting to keep an open line of communication while out in the backcountry. Excellent reception, clarity of speech and ease of use make them the perfect addition to our packs for an outing such as this. The build quality alone convinces you that they are made for the Rocky Mountains.

We spent a few days exploring the nearby lakes, taking photos and just relaxing while soaking in the incredible landscape from camp. Waterfalls, wildflowers, high alpine lakes and unbelievable sunrises and sunsets were our constant companions. The nights were cool, the days near perfect. We sat in camp watching the “natural” world go by. Morning walks, afternoon walks and evening walks all painted a new picture as the colors changed the landscape little by little with the passing of time. The creeks babbled; the breeze swayed the trees in unison while the birds sang their songs of peace. It was a symphony for tired ears wanting to just sit, relax and let the music play on. The Rogers Peak Lake and Heart Lake basin is a fantastic backpacking destination for one, two or more days with plenty of opportunities for backcountry exploration.


A list of our gear can be found on Lighter Pack: Miller’s Pack / Debbie’s Pack

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