Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Missouri Lakes

Distance: 7 miles RT to the lower lake
Elevation: 10,000-11,550 ft
Elevation Gain: 1, 550 ft

Summer has not arrived yet at Missouri Lakes. We could not even get to the upper lake because it was completely snow bound. I have seen numerous pictures of the lake at this time of the year and they are filled with campers. This year only the hardy had pitched their tents between the drifts. Still, Missouri Lakes was a spectacular destination and we can’t wait to go back. The trail has everything a hiker could desire, waterfalls, steep canyons, raging water, meadows, mountain vistas, and wildflowers. There is no way to get bored on this trail because it changes constantly.

Waterfall near the beginning of the trail

The trailhead to Missouri Lakes is in the Holy Cross Wilderness and is a good hours drive from Minturn up two dirt roads. While my sedan made the trip easily, it was slow and there were hordes of ATVers all along the road. Take the mileage you see in guide books with a grain of salt and follow the mileage markers that the forest service has installed. The turn off to the actual trailhead (the second dirt road) is around 8 miles in. There is a brown sign that says Missouri Creek. This is a large and obvious sign, which means you can ignore the many unmarked side roads.

The gorge

Initially, the trail starts off gradually, stays in the trees, and follows the creek. It will begin to ascend sharply after a half-mile or so until it comes to a large picturesque waterfall. Above this fall was a small lake. The creek and a dramatic gorge dominates the next portion of the trail. With the snowmelt in full force, it was easy to see how the water could carve such deep structures. The second major stream crossing takes you across a large bridge that straddles the gorge. The water was pouring through the gap in a stampede of water molecules in a sheer panic to descend to lower ground. The roar itself was almost deafening. Past this bridge, the trail travels up the gorge and in several places was underwater. A little more volume and the trail would have been impassible.

The creek bordering the trail

At the head of the gorge is a series of green meadows infested with Marsh Marigolds. Logs occasionally lead hikers above the bogs but there is no way to traverse this trail without getting your feet wet. From this point there is a longer pitch through trees, around rocks, and over drifts. Here we met with an Outward Bound adventure. One creek was so swollen that it covered the trail. Someone had placed several mid-sized tree trunks across the creek balanced on the shore and a large rock in the center. There was nothing to grab on to and the logs were not much wider than my boot. They certainly were not flat. Fortunately, we arrived at this point just as other hikers appeared on the far shore. With help they pulled us across. I cannot image trying to manage that crossing with a large, overloaded backpack. Had I been hiking alone, I probably would have talked myself out of the crossing. Fortunately, I was not alone and we made it across. The view at the lakes was well forth the effort.

One of the lush meadows

Missouri Lakes is a series of 14 separate lakes and ponds but with all the snow it was impossible to distinguish anything but the largest of the lower lakes. The clouds kept building and dissipating behind Savage Peak but we were able to lounge on a large rock for almost an hour. It was not until much later in the evening that we ran into the rain. In fact the drive back to Denver was a white knuckled affair of hurricane-like downpours. What is it lately with rainstorms and holiday weekends? We ran into the same thing coming back from the Black Canyon over Memorial Day.

The far side of the lower (we think) lake

While the trip to Missouri Lakes makes for a very long day trip it was by far one of the most scenic hikes I have yet to experience in Colorado.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

July 16... jeez, Louise!