Saturday, October 4, 2014

Lake Dorothy and Caribou Pass

Distance: 7.4 miles round trip to the Lake Dorothy, 9 miles round trip to Caribou Pass
Elevation: 10, 160 ft - 12,065 ft (Lake Dorothy), 11,800 ft (Caribou Pass)
Elevation Gain: 1,905 ft (net to Lake Dorothy), 2,513 ft (cumulative)
Bathroom at Trailhead: Yes
Dogs: On leash (Indian Peaks Wilderness)
Date Hiked: 18 August, 2014
Tags: #hiking, #coloradooutdoors, #indianpeaks, #gearguide
Nearby Hikes: Glacier Rim, Meadow Mountain, Pawnee Pass, Mt. Audubon

Caribou Lake viewed from the Caribou Pass Trail near Lake Dorothy in the Indian Peaks Wilderness
I have been trying to hike to Lake Dorothy for years, but fire spitting thunderstorms have always turned me away. The Valkyries must have been getting mani-pedies because I finally made it. As an extra bonus, I continued on to the rarely visited Caribou Pass over an occasionally-eroded, heart-palpitating trail.

The views begin right away on the trail to Lake Dorothy.
Passing the 4th of July Mine (11,280 ft)
The trail to Lake Dorothy begins at the 4th of July Trailhead near Nederland CO. This trailhead is so popular, that on weekends you now need to take a bus from the local high school. After driving this road in a 4x4, I can't imagine how a school bus could make it up the rocky, pitted road without its passenger's internal organs being churned into mayonnaise.

Leaving the trees for a near lifeless skree slope. That is Arapaho Pass in the distance. 
Looking south from the skree slope. The area is so attractive, I wish there were trails down into it. 
The route starts up the Arapaho Pass Trail, which switchbacks ever higher up a wildflower encrusted hillside. At 1.2 miles is the turn off to Diamond Lake, another worthy destination. The higher the trail goes the better the views of the ridge and peaks on the other side of the valley. You don't have to wait very long for the scenery to dazzle on this trail.

Arapaho Pass
Lake Dorothy
A 1.7 miles, the trail levels out on a broad shelf you could drag race on and passes the 4th of July Mine and the junction with the Arapaho Glacier Trail before heading out on a mile long traverse on a skree covered hillside devoid of any living thing. No matter, the valley below is filled with stunted Sub-alpine fir, small tarns, and lush greens.

Starting out on the Caribou Pass Trail
Another view of Caribou Lake
The route hits Arapaho Pass (11,906 ft) at 3.2 miles with tantalizing view of Caribou Lake far below. I had no idea as I hastily threw on hat, gloves, and wind shell that I would be examining Caribou Lake from a more airy perch in just a bit. While the Arapaho Pass Trail switchbacks steeply down to the lake, I turned left and headed up another embankment to Lake Dorothy.

A narrow, built-up portion of the trail
A wide section of the trail
Lake Dorothy, like all mountain tarns, in nestled at the base of several peaks. The area around it is strewn with jagged rocks interspersed with grasses, which by late August had already switched their polish to a rusty brown. I know of at least two groups of "boys" who like to hike to the lake carrying their ruby slippers. What they do with them once they get there I don't want to know about!

A view of  Caribou Pass from half-way across
Coming to a nail-biting segment
Our group did not linger long at the lake however, however but returned to the main trail, which climbed upwards briefly and then began a slow decent to Caribou Pass. This trail is an eroded cut edged into a sheer cliff face. At times it was wide enough for a horse and buggy and at other times was nothing but a luge run of sand, rocks, eye popping drop offs. Fortunately, there were only a few bad segments and I never passed out from holding my breath. I would not recommend this trail to small children or anyone sensitive to exposure. If you want to partake of the oxygen stealing views below, you can always head out and turn around when things get too narley. I am sure conditions on the shelf vary from year to year.

Approaching Caribou Pass
Caribou Pass overlooks Lake Granby and the Continental Divide and was wide and welcoming and scoured nearly flat by continuous gale-force winds. One of us lost a hat over the 2000 foot drop and the rest received a free micro-abrasion treatment. Why should the Valkyries get all the pampering?

1 comment:

Linda said...

All that and a facial too!