Cascade Creek

That night, camped atop a waterfall, we couldn’t help but notice a dramatic sunset about to paint the sky, and we thought to ourselves, “my God, we had already had an adventure.”

Our latest outing took us to Cascade Creek, deep in the heart of the Indian Peaks Wilderness. Along the Cascade Creek Trail there is an abundance of waterfalls, wildflowers, wildlife and wild views! The trail in its entirety has a beginning elevation of about 8,300′ (Monarch Lake) with a gradual climb to 10,300′ (Crater lake) or more if continuing on to higher destinations. We had several options to access the trial, either hike over Buchanan Pass or Pawnee Pass or drive over the Continental Divide via Berthoud Pass (Hwy 40) to the Monarch Lake Trailhead. All certainly appealing, time permitting, we chose the Monarch Lake Trailhead.

Day one was simple, straightforward and relaxing. We threw, more like hoisted, our backpacks on our backs and headed off along the Monarch Lake Trail for the first 1.5 miles. A beautiful path along the lake affording great views all around its banks. It was warm and dry to say the least. The rangers at the entrance shack said it had not rained and had been quite warm. Fortunately for them, we were bringing with us luck for a storm, and boy did it, more on that later. Once to the Buchanan / Cascade & Monarch Lake Loop Trail split, we continued on leaving Monarch Lake and the crowds behind. The trail quickly began to rise, though gently, into a lush forest. A few winding switchbacks later and we came to a roaring stop. The Buchanan Creek was just below us on the trail, a swift and clear running mountain stream. We took advantage of a great water source by taking time to filter some water and grab a snack before moving on. Water would certainly not be an issue on this trail.

Continuing on, the trail gently climbed, a mix of rocky rooted and packed dirt beneath our feet, while the canopy overhead was dense with pine. We were grateful for the shade on such a warm afternoon. Walking through the woods in the Indian Peaks Wilderness often reminds us of trails in Washington State, lush and green with ample water. We even came upon an area where the trail was lined on both sides with fern, something you might see in a Hobbit movie, though we expected to have a chance meeting of a black bear over Gandalf.

Eventually we came upon the Buchanan Pass and Cascade Creek Trail split. We opted for another break here. We moved off the trail to a fallen tree, took our packs off and immediately noticed we were not alone. We were in the company of one friendly deer who apparently thought humans were not to be feared. Suffice it to say, we came in peace. Additionally this great spot presented excellent camping off trail (shhh, we don’t want that to get out). The decision was made, friendly neighbors, great water source, level camping spots, privacy off trail, we were done hiking for the day!

Remember our luck in bringing rain…yep, it came, and quickly. Tent and tarp pitched, we hunkered down under our makeshift shelter next to the creek and made dinner. Sitting on the pine needle covered ground leaning against a log, Mia cuddled up in our laps, Backpacker’s Pantry Lasagna rehydrating and a good thunderstorm over head, we might have appeared a bit tired, but far from miserable, this was about as perfect a campsite as we have ever found. After the rains we filtered water in the stream, hung our bear bags and dove into our tent as, yet again, another round of storms rumbled overhead. Between the stream nearby, the rain hitting the tent and echoing thunder, we were swiftly taken off into a backpacker’s slumber.

Day two we found ourselves somewhat overwhelmed with so many distractions on the trail, there was much to take in. Cascading waterfalls one after the other and big open meadows with million dollar views!!! It was apparent we were not prepared to spend enough time to absorb all that was before us. Here one finds a good lesson in life as the question arises, are we here for the experience or the destination? The destination surely rewards you with the all encompassing excitement of “getting there and seeing it” while the experience allows for a more relaxing approach and sense of embracing all that is encountered despite the distance traveled. That said, we slowed down our pace and made plans to return again. Waterfalls today, we will deal with tomorrow, tomorrow.

We beheld huge wide open spaces revealing the jagged Indian Peaks. We had been showered by the mist of incredible waterfalls. We had passed through forest on a lush aspen and fern-lined path. We had crossed over clear running mountain streams. We had been serenaded to sleep by echoing thunder. That night, camped atop a waterfall, we could not help but notice a dramatic sunset about to paint the sky, and we thought to ourselves, “my God, we have already had an adventure.” Those clouds would bring a quick storm and leave the air chilled till the early morning sun would return and slowly bring warmth back.

Day three had new surprises in store. After coffee and a little breakfast, we hit the trail once again. We were tired, covered in the stench only a backpacker could accept and began a slow decent. The sound of waterfalls filled the air. Slowly but surely we broke free of the forest, into an open meadow full of morning sun, wildflowers and songbirds. It was serene. Without realizing it, we were walking at a snail’s pace. Warmth on our shoulders, peaks all around, we walked on speechless and silent while absorbing the views and sounds of nature. At the next bend of the trail, we slammed on the brakes. A moose and her calf stood on the trail feasting on the reeds that grew throughout the meadow. We knew better than to mess with a mamma moose and her calf. Terrified and excited we backed a little and waited. Perhaps knowing our quandary they gave way and moved off the trail as to open the way before us. Gingerly we walked by, Mamma watching our every step, keeping herself between us and her calf. Her eyes said it all, “I will tolerate you if you keep moving.” So we did, slowly as to not alarm or be a threat. She was a young female, majestic as are all moose. Her calf young and immature, but beautiful nonetheless. We walked for several miles in awe of our encounter.

Our adventure would soon come to an end, but we were reeling with amazement at all we had seen. With an abundance of cascading waterfalls and swift moving streams roaring out of the upper valley, there is no mistaking why this trail is aptly named, Cascade Creek. But don’t stop there. The wildflowers in summer seem to inherit the same energy of the water as they themselves cascade down through the valley in bursts of brilliant colors. Add in moose, deer, black bear, a multitude of other critters and wildlife viewing will also excite the enthusiasts of nature. The backdrop only seems to enhance it all with open meadows and dense forests climbing steadily upwards to craggy mountain peaks and alpine lakes all beckoning to the traveler to come explore further into the high country.

If you are all about the experience, and not solely focused on the destination, this trail will take your imagination far and wide as each bend in the trail seems to have its own unique setting. Anyone seeking a memorable outing in the wilderness of Colorado would do themselves a favor by exploring the Cascade Creek Trail deep in the heart of the Indian Peaks Wilderness.

 

Read the General Overview on My Mountain Town

Peace,

MAD

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Lake Isabelle, A Visit With an Old Friend

Standing here while looking over the edge, the imagination leaps with excitement at the potential adventures.

We have hiked many trails in Colorado of which there have been a wide variety of differing landscapes, all unique to their own region. Each presenting us with beautiful and amazing opportunities for exploration and discovery that fill the imagination. The affects on us have been awe-inspiring, physically and spirituality, prompting us to continue on, seeking out new destinations deeper and deeper into the unknown.

Of the many places we have been so blessed to encounter, one of the most special to us is the Indian Peaks Wilderness. Our draw is no doubt evident for the exceptional beauty of a land filled with clear running streams, towering snow covered peaks, abundant wildlife and lush vegetation. But there’s more here, more than meets the eye, an energy that finds its way deep inside your soul as if it’s a very dear friend welcoming you back to the warmth and security of home.

This is a place we continue to return to throughout the years. A place we feel akin to and protective of. A place of balance and harmony where nature is not just something to see, but something to feel and embrace with your complete being.

Within this fascinating wilderness, not terribly far for even the novice hiker, a high alpine lake awaits, Lake Isabelle. The lake is third in a string of lakes as you follow the trail next to the glacial fed stream that fills them throughout the year.

Standing next to Lake Isabelle’s outlet, one can see a majority of this expansive alpine ecosystem and how it is vital to the circle of life. From the Isabelle Glacier high above, thru the Lake Isabelle basin and down into the valley below, the outlet stream cascades downward on its journey to Long Lake, Brainard Lake and beyond where it finds its way onto the lowlands miles away.

In between each lake, lush forests and meadows are alive and teaming with vegetation and wildlife. A delicate landscape that evolves with the turning of time as each season passes. Winter, spring, summer and fall each have a natural cause and effect. Not surprisingly so, and not in a natural way, so does the presence of humans. Tread carefully, stay the trail and leave no trace so that this mountain environment remains healthy and generations to come will enjoy its unique beauty.

For the more adventurous, Lake Isabelle is not a final destination, but merely a stopping point to an incredible backcountry experience. Continue beyond the lake and explore the Isabelle Glacier and several peaks. There is also a notable, and obvious trail junction heading higher to Pawnee Peak and Pass where you find yourself gazing downward into yet another expanse leading to distant lakes, waterfalls and peaks of the Cascade Creek Trail system. Standing here while looking over the edge, the imagination leaps with excitement at the potential adventures.

Choose your favorite season, fill your backpack accordingly and step into the alpine world of the Indian Peaks Wilderness. A day hike to Lake Isabelle or beyond will certainly not disappoint the explorer of nature.

Peace,

MAD

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Eccles Pass

Back at camp, we carried out our duty to do nothing. Breakfast and the inevitable to follow, a walk in the woods with a small shovel. Funny how mundane tasks in the city become something of an art form in the high country. Backpacking Eccles Pass will always remain an experience to remember.

What a beautiful late summer outing, backpacking Eccles Pass. Heading up into the Gore Mountain Range near Frisco, Colorado can be some what of an uphill battle, especially with a full backpack. Though, once out of the gulch the trail levels into picturesque meadows surrounded by mountain peaks. Simply put, the hike up is lush and quiet. Aspen groves give way to mixed pine woods with fresh running streams and a much more laid-back environment versus the hustle and bustle of city life.

Arriving in the high valley, you’ll find open meadows thinning out to rugged peaks and big open skies. Wildflowers abound here, while gentle creeks flow from snowmelt high above bring life giving waters to the valley below. There’s room for everyone and everything here, that is, man, nature and wildlife enjoy the pristine unmaintained landscape of the beautiful Eagle’s Nest Wilderness, just the way it should remain.

We camped just below Eccles Pass, somewhere around 11,500′, out of touch and out of time with nowhere to go, no place to be, relaxing and allowing the natural flow of things to overtake our minds. A room with a view, if you will, positioning our tent to face west at the mountain range, prime for sunset and sunrise and a hopeful moose having dinner among the reeds.

The nights were quiet, so much so you could hear a mouse chewing on a pine cone fifty yards away. Shadows danced all around the meadow under an almost full moon. We were alone with only nature as our cohabitant. We would drift in and out of sleep with anticipation of first light and exploring further.

“What was that?”

“A bear”

“What!?”

“A rabid moose”

“What?!!”

“An alligator…”

The next morning we would wander, aimlessly, exploring fields of wildflowers, cool running streams and eventually up to Eccles Pass for the view of a lifetime. From our vantage point the whole landscape disappeared into further untouched lands waiting to be explored. Trails winding in and out and over further mountain passes. If only we had more supplies we could just walk on in any direction letting our imaginations lead the way.

Back at camp, we carried out our duty to do nothing. Breakfast and the inevitable to follow, a walk in the woods with a small shovel. Funny how mundane tasks in the city become something of an art form in the high country. Backpacking Eccles Pass will always remain an experience to remember.

Does a bear sh*t in the woods? I know we do! Finding that “spot” where you need to relieve yourself can be tricky at times. You obviously don’t want an audience, hell, we don’t even want a chipmunk watching, nor do you want someone to find your, well, you just don’t want someone finding “it.” Privacy, secrecy and no mosquitoes coming up behind you is what it’s all about.

“How deep should I make the hole?”

“I don’t know, how full of sh*t are you?”

After breaking camp, we fueled up, loaded up and began our decent back to city life. How we would love to just stay and never go back. Backpacking Eccles Pass, much less anyplace in the Colorado High Country, just seems to sit well with us. We always feel at home and as if the weight of the world and all its frustrations just lift off of us. Perhaps one day we’ll just take that one last look behind us as we disappear into the wilderness for good.

Peace,

MAD

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Mount Audubon

Lack of sleep and a 3,000′ ascent with the wind blowing in your face is not an idealistic adventure. But, in our defense, we’re stubborn. Mt Audubon is still a nemesis to us, always fighting us as we make our way to its summit, yet somehow, the relationship we share with the mountain seems to work. As expected, the mountain fought back.

We were overly eager to get back in the Colorado high country after having taken a week off from hiking. We set the goal of heading to one of our all-time favorite areas, the Indian Peaks Wilderness, to pay a visit to a nemesis of ours, Mt Audubon which sits at 13,223′ above sea level.

The trail is fairly aggressive, up hill all the way and mostly above treeline. Seems every time we attempt this strenuous alpine adventure the mountain always finds a way to fight back! This outing would not be an exception to that rule.

Once again, we had a fight on our hands. Our plan was a three in the morning wake-up call. Somewhere between seven the night before and two the next morning we were able to get about two or three hours of sleep. We’re blaming that on the full moon.

For some unknown reason, we got ourselves up and out the door and were on the trail by 4:30 in the morning. Headlamps on, bear spray in hand and a less than desirable caffeine level we wandered off into the dark woods awaiting the first light of day.

Amazingly, we broke treeline just as the sun came over the horizon. Wow, what a sight. We began to awaken with the dark now giving way to light.

The night before our hike we looked up the weather for the region and summit of Mt Audubon one last time. Mild temperatures, little to no wind and clear skies were in our favor. Anyone who knows mountain weather will feel our pain on what came next. As we approached the cutoff for the trail that lead to the summit, the wind came vigorously down off the peak and hit us smack in the face! Little to no wind? It would stay this way throughout the duration of our hike, well, until we got back down anyway. We’ve grown to understand that Mt Audubon also has a sense of humor.

Still somewhat half asleep we opted to bypass the summit trail and head off into an area we had never explored. Off trail exploration is something of a comedy act with us, we’re always surprised at our findings as much what those findings lead to. We followed the Beaver Creek trail for about a mile and then headed for a ridgeline to get a view down into the valley where Upper and Lower Coney Lakes sit.

It wasn’t long and we found ourselves navigating a snow field, scree and thick alpine scrub brush. And we thought we were alone! Once again we were looking at each other with that awkward stare of, “what now?” We were surrounded by bear scat and had just about wandered into a den when we found ourselves in quick retreat!

The conversation went something like this, “What’s that? Bear scat. It’s everywhere. (twig snaps followed by grunting sounds from bush) Was that you? No. We need to go…now!”

Back on the trail and laughing at ourselves, we did an about-face and made our way back towards Mt Audubon. Little sleep, certainly not enough coffee, and now full of adrenaline, we were deliriously hiking along. “Hey, you know what, the summit really isn’t that far and we’ve dealt with the wind before.” What is far? It was an additional two miles and another 2,000′ to the summit!

Stubborn, determined or just insane, we made our way up. Loose scree and talus fields are no fun when you are half-asleep. The debate is still out on the actual amount of oxygen at 13,000′ and we are still not sure what grumbled at us earlier. Suffice it to say, we had another incredible day in the Colorado high country and can’t wait to go again.

The views (see video below) were amazing to say the least. What followed as we made or way back to the trailhead can only be described as a sad, yet graceful, fall off the mountain. We must have appeared drunk.

Lack of sleep and a 3,000′ ascent with the wind blowing in your face is not an idealistic adventure. Mt Audubon is still a nemesis to us, always fighting us as we make our way to its summit, yet somehow, the relationship we share with the mountain seems to work. As expected, the mountain fought back.

Peace,

MAD

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