In what felt like an eternity, a half hour had passed and the storm was drifting down the valley to lower terrain, echoing with guttural thundering all the way.
The Hessie Trailhead is a great place to begin an adventure into the Indian Peaks Wilderness. Located just west of Boulder, CO and in close proximity to the small mountain town of Nederland, it is fairly easy to get to and allows for any needed services before or after a hike. That said, either go during the week, mainly Tuesday through Thursday, or expect to share the trail with everyone else as this is a very popular trailhead. Truth be told, it is a beautiful area with many amazing trails, cascading waterfalls and abundant wildlife, it is no wonder that it is so popular. Parking can be very difficult on weekends, though a free shuttle from the nearby highschool in available and recommended if you arrive after 6:00 am.
The trails available are many and are even part of a network to points further within the IPW, including the Continental Divide Trail. Other highlighted destinations are King Lake, Bob and Betty Lakes, Diamond Lake, Lost Lake, Jasper Lake and many many more.
For this post we focus on the less traveled Woodland Lake and Skyscraper Reservoir. At nearly 10 miles roundtrip and some 2,500′ of elevation gain, this makes for a great overnight backpacking trip or even a long and somewhat strenuous day hike.
From the Hessie Trailhead head out on an old jeep trail that soon travels quickly uphill and gains a wonderful vantage point just above the valley and trailhead. If you look closely, you will notice an old blacksmith cabin in the meadow just before the climb. Subtle social trails access this cabin, but it is in disrepair and entry is not recommended.
Once at the top of the climb, a beautiful waterfall comes into view on the left side of the trail, follow your ears as the roaring water will be your guide. This is a great place to take in a quick break before moving on. Just beyond here, you will cross over the creek on a wide foot bridge and will continue to follow signs for Woodland Lake.
Soon you will arrive at the junction for Lost Lake, a very popular destination. Resist the urge and continue on. After entering the Indian Peaks Wilderness the trail rewards the traveler with level ground and beautiful meadows. This enjoyable track soon ends and the arduous climbing begins for the last 1.5 miles up to the Woodland Lake valley. Take your time and enjoy the fertile forests and changing landscape.
Near treeline, the outflow stream and wildflowers lead the way to Woodland Lake and the headwall where Skyscraper Reservoir sits. Camp in one of the many great campsites around Woodland Lake, they are easy to spot and afford a variety of vantage points in the basin. The stream coming into the lake from above makes for a great location to scout out a campsite and will provide a great source of water. Always filter or treat drinking water.
At last, the long climb up to the Woodland Lake basin is over, an adventure in and of itself, but we came to relax and take in the Woodland Lake alpine landscape. Camping and exploring this beautiful lake and its surrounding area is definitely worth the effort.
With camp setup and time on our side, it was time to enjoy the Indian Peaks Wilderness and explore a little. Skyscraper Reservoir is a mere half mile, at most. Just above treeline with great views down the valley to Woodland Lake and camp, this is a great snow-fed lake in the high country to visit. An old reservoir created in the early 1940s, it was eventually sold to the City of Boulder and no longer maintained. The original dam is still in place, though not structurally sound.
A quick look at a topographical map shows several other great destinations close by, though not necessarily easily accessed from here. To the north, Devil’s Thumb, to the south Bob & Betty and King Lake and to the west, above the headwall, the CDT and the High Lonesome Trail.
Heading back to camp was a slow walk enjoying the commanding views of the alpine landscape, a few lingering snowfields, wildflowers and an approaching storm. There’s nothing like dark clouds and distant rumbles above treeline to put some pep in your step! At camp, keeping an eye on the sky, it was time for an early dinner and relaxing while overlooking the lake. The rumbles were becoming more frequent as the winds began to dance across the lake. It was time to batten down the hatches and prepare for the incoming weather event. It wasn’t long and the rains were coming in sheets, the lighting and thunder were crashing all around and one couldn’t help but wonder, “do carbon fiber trekking poles attract lightning?”
Our six year old Z-Packs Duplex tent held up nicely as the winds and rains whipped against it violently. That was the least of the worries, the lighting and thunder were intense with little pause in between. In what felt like an eternity, a half hour had passed and the storm was drifting down the valley to lower terrain, echoing with guttural thunderings all the way. It was a doozy of a storm to say the least and will make for a good camp story for some time to come. The rest of the evening passed without event as nightfall fell upon Woodland Lake with dropping temperatures and light rain for the rest of the night. The early morning light gave way to thick clouds hanging low on the surrounding peaks and a very saturated vegetation all around from the rains. Time to pack up and get home.
The walk back down to the trailhead and car were quiet. Going downhill was welcomed after the long hard climb the day before. It wouldn’t be long and the hike would soon be over, making the drive back to Denver with the memories of hiking up to the lake and living through a violent thunderstorm fresh in our thoughts. It was definitely one for the books and has done nothing to dampen the desire to head back out and up to another great alpine destination in the near future.
Colorado and the Indian Peaks Wilderness will do that to you, their beauty and wilderness calling capture your heart and soul and keep calling you back time and time again.