Hey, I’m back! Yay! After a temporary winter life takeover of skiing, it is such a relief to be able to adventure back into the mountains once again. Now don’t get me wrong, I love skiing every weekend, but I can only go so long without packing up and heading out to immerse myself in the forest (or in today’s case– the high alpine).
I’ve been itching to get out for quite a few weeks now, and with a sunny weekend in the forecast, Ryan decided that it was time to hike once again. I’ve recently had my eye on Chasm Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park, not only because of its scenery and decent length of travel (8.5 miles long with 2,500ft of elevation gain), but also because it is accessed from the Longs Peak Trailhead, which is not through the main park entrances and is only ~50 minutes from our front door. We had never ventured to this area of the park before, so we were excited about this new adventure!
Winter conditions at ~11,000ft can be variable, so we made sure to bring our snowshoes with us “just in case”. We also read up online on current avalanche conditions and possible route issues that we may face before heading out.
We arrived at the Longs Peak Trailhead around 9am to find only a handful of other cars parked there. Everyone was either eating, layering up, or enjoying their last few minutes in comfort before entering the sunny, yet blisteringly windy, world outside. Ryan and I made sure we had our essentials; protein bars, PB&Js, water, and extra layers. Zipping our windbreakers up as far as they would go, exposing only the top half of our faces, we headed out and up into the woods.
The trail is not shy about hiding its elevation gain; switchbacks led us up and up and up until we broke treeline, where we then went up some more. The trail in the woods was all packed snow. This early in the morning, it was all still frozen and provided no issues for us to hike up in just our hiking boots. It wasn’t until we reached treeline that the snow seemed to… disappear.
The wind had quieted down and the sun was shining as we did our best to follow the trail through the high alpine. Lots of rocks and small shrubs offered a beautiful contrast to the dusting of snow that had fallen the night before. We continued to make our way up the hillside towards Mt. Lady Washington (13,281ft) where we hoped to rest (and catch our breath– 11,000ft elevation is no joke!) at Chasm Lake. We finally reached the crest, and soaked in the views of the Front Range to the east as well as the impressive cliffs dropping down to the Peacock Pool and Columbine Falls below.
We then looked ahead to the final stretch of trail leading to Chasm Lake. A steep snowfield with a cliff (several hundred feet tall) below it sat before us with a single boot track leading across it. Didn’t seem very safe at all, especially with several deaths being recorded on this very trail each year from getting caught in avalanches or falling from the cliffs.
Another man (better equipped with hiking poles and crampons) came up behind us, and proceeded along the trail. Ryan and I decided that we would follow him. We carefully picked our way along the snowfield, ensuring that each step was stable before taking the next. We rounded the corner around one of the cliffs where we stopped, looking ahead at an even larger snow field ahead of us. As we absorbed the challenge ahead of us, we began to hear the snow around us shift and shluff off as it the exposed south-facing slope began to melt. While Chasm Lake was just across this next snowfield, we didn’t trust the possibility of a wet slide popping and taking us with it, so we trusted our gut feeling and decided to turn back until a later date.
While we didn’t quite make it to Chasm Lake, we still had a wonderful day spent hiking and made it back to the car in just under 5 hours (and just as a storm began to come in!). We ended our hike without our jackets or gloves, and even got a little bit of sun on our faces! We will certainly be back this summer, we just don’t know yet if it will be to Chasm Lake, or all the way up to summit Longs Peak (14,259ft). Both are on our list. 🙂
Either way, our “Sunday Funday” was well spent.. right in our backyard!