Friday, December 30, 2016

Grizzly Lake

Distance: 8 miles round trip
Elevation: 10,653 ft - 12,531 ft
Elevation Gain: 1,878 ft
Bathroom at Trailhead: No
Dogs: On leash (Wilderness)
Tags: #coloradooutdoors, #hiking, #aspen

A hike to Grizzly Lake near Aspen is a must do
Grizzly Lake near Aspen CO has just become one of my all time favorites. Not only is the trail soft on the paws, but it ascends a breathtaking valley with high walls on either side. When I did the hike in early fall it appeared as if some celestial artist had dribbled the valley walls in green and rufus paint that oozed downwards in an abstract display of color.

The start of the route heads upwards into the trees
West side of the valley
The first 0.6 miles steeply ascends a dense Lodepole forest before breaking out into a stunning glacial valley filled with grasses and spotty willows. Until the final ascent at the end of the valley, the trail weaves in and out of the trees and even crosses a persistent snowbank. It is impossible not to stop and gawk and the peaks on either side of the route. At 2.1 miles is the ruins of an old cabin. There is one stream crossing towards the end of the valley that was easy to navigate, but which would be more problematic in early spring.

East side of the valley
Heading up the valley
A little further up the route
Looking up at the initial shelf
Like most mountain tarns, Grizzly Lake is tucked at the top of a glacial shelf that is not visible from below. There are two shelves that must be ascended before the final "long switchback" that leads to the upper shelf comes into view. The first shelf is reached at 3.1 miles and the lake itself at 4. All this ascending is arduous with 800 ft being gained in the last mile of the hike. We did this in threatening weather and had to practically bolt upwards in a frantic attempt to reach the lake before Armageddon unfurled. The lake itself is somewhat anticlimactic but the views looking back down the "long switchback" are worth the final ascent.

The first shelf
Heading up the second shelf
Small lake on second shelf
The major downside of this hike is the long 6.3 mile kidney jostling dirt road one has to slog through to get to the trailhead. We argued the entire time about whether a high-clearance AWD could make the trip. For most of it, they could, but there were one or two very iffy spots that would give me pause in such a vehicle.

On the long switchback
Looking down on the second shelf
The rock wall to the south of the long switchback
You get to the trailhead by driving eleven miles east of Aspen on highway 82 towards Independence Pass to Lincoln Creek Road. Turn right and drive 6.3 miles on the dirt road to Grizzly Reservoir. The trailhead is on the left of the red buildings of the back country work camp. If you have never driven highway 82 out of Aspen, be prepared to dodge the ubiquitous Porsches that seems to barrel down the road driven by the crazed "locals" who pop in for the weekend on their private jets. In several places the road narrows precipitously and only one car can pass at a time. Recently, there has been quite an issue with commercial trucks who are prohibited from taking the road, but who do so anyway. Big truck + narrow road + expensive car = really bad day.

At the lake
Heading back down as the weather cleared

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