Saturday, July 30, 2011

Kettle Ponds: aka Gore Range Trail from North Rock Creek to Unamed Lake

Distance: 6.6 miles round trip
Elevation: 9,500 ft - 10,161 ft
Elevation Gain: 661 ft (net) 1,350 ft (cumulative)
Date Hiked: 2 July 2011
Dogs: On Leash (Eagle's Nest Wilderness)
Critters: Mosquitoes

Unnamed Lake along the Gore Range Trail

The Gore Range Trail runs parallel to the Gore Range Mountains for many more miles than a day hiker could do. I have traveled it in chunks to reach specific destinations like South Willow Falls. I did the same on this hike to reach an unnamed lake located just south of South Rock Creek. Several guide books call this hike the "Kettle Ponds". I think it is more than that.

The large parking lot. Note most of the vehicles are high clearance.
The route to this lake begins at the second and most westerly Rock Creek Trailhead located on Rock Creek Road. You get there by taking Hwy 9 out of Silverthorne for approximately 7.7 miles and turning left onto Rock Creek Road/Co Rd 1350 directly across from the Blue River Campground. After 1.2 miles of a dirt and washboard road, that is passable with a low clearance vehicle, Co 1350 goes straight and Rock Creek Road turns left. There is a small brown sign bolted to a tree at this intersection. Immediately after the turn is a large square parking lot. This is the first Rock Creek Trailhead, which is only used in winter. When I did this hike in July 2011, the Forest Service had clear cut many of the trees around this parking lot so it looks very different from times past.

The North Rock Creek Trailhead Sign
Past the winter trailhead the road becomes significantly more rough. I was driving a high-clearance 4wd truck and at one point I had to gun it over some nasty dips. There are numerous campsites along the way that are so large that they look like trailheads. Don't be fooled. There is a Forest Service sign indicating the trailhead, which is around 1.7 miles from the lower trailhead, and there were tons of other trucks and 4wd vehicles in the large U-shaped lot. There were a few low clearance cars in the lot, but I would not have wanted to drive my sedan up that road.

Heading up the North Rock Creek Trail, an old mining road
The route to the unnamed lake heads up the North Rock Creek Trail (an old mining road) for 0.44 miles before it intersects with the Gore Range Trail. There is a large wooden sign in the middle of the trail so this junction is impossible to miss.

I turned left here and the trail headed immediately down hill. A very bad sign because this elevation would have to be regained at the end of the hike. At the bottom of the hill is North Rock Creek itself. It was flowing heavily with the unprecedented 2011 run off. There is a sturdy log bridge (at 0.67 miles) with which to cross it, however, which was good because anything else would have been washed away. From the other side of the bride is a nice view of the North Rock Creek drainage and the still snow covered peaks beyond.

Starting down the Gore Range Trail. It is more narrow and definitely has a "wilderness" feel to it.

After the creek the trail climbs sharply up another hill. What is opaque to the hiker is that these "rolling hills" that that extend like fingers out from to the Gore Range are actually lateral moraines, deposited by glaciers that covered the landscape between 150,000 and 12,000 years ago. As the glaciers advanced from west to east, they bulldozed the ground beneath them and swept the sediment to the sides. When the glaciers retreated, this sediment remained forming the moraines.

The log bridge over North Rock Creek

Sometimes, large bits of ice were broken off from the main glacier and deposited on the sides along with the sediment. When these bits melted, they formed small depressions in the ground, which geologists call kettle ponds. While the original ice melt has long ago disappeared, the depressions have remained filling again each year with new snow melt. There are s slew of these kettle ponds on this hike.

The view up the North Rock Creek drainage

It might be worth spending a second describing the difference between a tarn and a kettle pond. Both are formed by glaciers. The kettle pond as I mentioned above is formed by melting ice dumped onto a lateral moraine. A tarn is formed in the cirque or amphitheater-like valley carved by a glacier at the base of a mountain. As the glacier melts, the water is retained by a terminal moraine (where the bulldozer stopped), which acts like a dam, keeping the water in. Many of the "lakes" in Colorado are in fact tarns.

The route to the top of the next hill/moraine is a series of switchbacks on a narrow dirt trail. It can be very rocky in places. At 1.4 miles the trail begins to level off. Elevation gain at this point is around 520 ft.

A typical trail segment as the trail heads up the first lateral moraine
While many of the Lodgepole pines in this area are dead, there is spattering of Fir trees, and the verdant spring undergrowth and yellow Heartleaf Arnica made the area seem much less funereal. Another time of year and the dead trees might be psychologically overwhelming.

One of the many kettle ponds onto of the first lateral moraine. Can you say Mosquito factory?
The top of the moraine also contains large boulders, seemingly tossed about willy-nilly. This is another clear sign of glaciation. What else could move such boulders around in such a God-like manner? The first kettle ponds on this moraine comes into view at 1.67 miles.

The bridge over South Rock Creek
At 1.8 miles the route heads down the other side of the moraine, heading towards South Rock Creek. At 2.5 miles, you can hear its roar in the valley below, while at 2.98 miles is the strong "looks-like-it-could-support-a-tank" wooden bridge that actually crosses South Rock Creek. This "creek" was a raging river when I did this trip and I stood on the bridge for quite a while watching the water surge and tumble over the debris that was already piling up.

South Rock Creek
On the other side of the South Rock Creek, the trail climbs up another hill/moraine. The short route to the top is much more rocky than the rest of the trail. At 3.26 miles it crosses an irrigation ditch, which seems very out of place. A short 0.1 miles beyond this is the unnamed lake that was the desitnation for this hike.

The rocky trail heading up the second lateral moraine
Why this lake is unnamed I don't know. It is undoubtedly just another kettle pond, but a much larger one. Perhaps it only exists in particularly wet years. It is unfortunate, because the views of Red Peak and Thorn behind the lake are quite majestic. That alone should warrant a name.

The irrigation ditch

The Gore Range has a reputation for being Mosquito ridden and I certainly found this out on this hike. With no bug spray in my pack, I came home with a large collection of bites forming elaborate constellations on my legs and arms. Seeing the kettle ponds, the mystery of where the little vampires were coming from is solved. The entire Gore Range is dotted with these tiny stagnant pools. The perfect breeding ground for these pests.

Another view of the unnamed lake. It is surrounded by dead trees, lush reeds, and partially covered in lily pads.
While the unnamed lake at the end of this hike was pleasant (dead trees and all), this is not a hike that would want to repeat again and again. It is mostly in the trees, which anyone familiar with this blog will know is not my favorite environment. It was however, perfect for a July weekend when the high country was still buried under deep snow. I also did not see a single person once I turned onto the Gore Range Trail, so for those who prefer solitude, this may just be the ticket.


Anonymous said...
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another anon said...

Very informative. Great pictures. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

This was a wonderful hike!!! So gorgeous. I got my low clearance mutsubishi Lancer up all the way, and I regretted it the entire time I was driving. Seriously it's a rough road for a little car!! You were right lol also right about the bugs; they were relentless! I went yesterday and a little of the smaller ponds were dried up, but that big one was covered in blooming yellow water lilies!!!

sylvia murphy said...

Thanks for the comment. We hiked to Bowman's Cut this past weekend and I was eaten alive by biting flies.