Sunday, September 15, 2013

Mohawk Lakes

Distance: 6.4 miles round trip (lower lake), 7 miles round trip (upper lake)
Elevation: 10,400 ft - 11,825 ft (lower lake)/12,100 ft (upper lake)
Elevation Gain: 1,700 ft (upper lake)
Bathroom at Trailhead: No
Dogs: Off leash
Date Hiked: 10 August 2013

Lovely Lower Mohawk Lake is a popular destination near Breckenridge, CO
Serene Lower Mohawk Lake near Breckenridge Colorado
Mohawk Lakes near Breckenridge Colorado is the most crowded trail I have ever been on. The hordes at a Justin Beiber concert were nothing compared to the bridal parties, backpackers, and children in Keds that covered every nook and cranny of the route. At times you had to turn side ways just to pass.

The parking lot looking up the road towards the 4x4 parking lot, another 2 miles further on
Start of the Spruce Creek Trail
This makes no sense to me, because while the lakes themselves are just lovely, the first two miles of the route are either up a very rocky 4x4 road or through a dank, mosquito infested forest. The only thing I can figure is that every hotel in Breckenridge must advertise Mohawk Lakes as THE must do hike in the area. If it were me, I would send them to Black Powder Pass or Crystal Lake off of Hoosier Pass. They are much easier on the paws for hiking novitiates and stunning to boot.

Typical segment in the trees. On this trip it was muddy, humid, and filled with mosquitoes.
While I have the means of skipping those first two miles, I foolishly chose to do the entire hike (up through the trees, down via the road) because I needed the extra exercise. Never again. I would rather run a marathon first and then do that segment.

Where the Spruce Creek Trail intersects the end of the road
Follow the road around the bend
The trail then heads back into the trees at this small sign.
You get to Mohawk Lakes via the Spruce Creek Trailhead located 2.6 miles south of Breckenridge via Spruce Creek Road. While the parking lot is large, all those tourists have to park someplace and the cars were extended far down the road. If you don't have a 4x4, take the route through the trees. It starts at the trail sign on the left. If you do have a 4x4, you can continue onwards. There are many places to park along the way but few at the very top. Get there early if you want a coveted spot.

The most intact cabin you will pass
Looking back down the valley to the east
1.6 miles up the Spruce Creek Trail is the turn off for the Wheeler Trail, which will take you to Frances cabin, one of the local backcountry huts. After two miles, the route through the trees dumps you at the upper parking area near a water control building. Hop onto the road and follow it for 30 yards until it bends to the left. There the trail reenters the trees.

The start of the wall
This part of the route winds in and out of the trees, traversing a few small meadows before passing as the turn off to Mayflower Lake at 2.4 miles and the ruins of an ancient cabin a little further on.

One of the many switchbacks on the final climb to the lower lake. There were about 11 people sitting along the trail on the left.
After a few more switchbacks, the route starts to climb up a wall with a dramatic waterfall on the right. There are numerous places to side track to the falls or admire the views back down the valley. This wall is steep, 500 feet in 0.5 miles, and you find yourself huffing and puffing not to mention cursing as you ascend. On more than one occasion I felt tempted to take my boot and just kick folks off the mountain side. Tourist dollars be damned! Some of these folks had no business extricating themselves from the hotel pool.

Looking down on the waterfall, which is actually quite long and continues for quite a distance down-slope.
Someone created this attractive cairn overlooking the valley.
Once on top, the trail levels out at a dramatic mining ruining (3.0 miles 1,257 ft gain) with cables and a large wheel. The route then follows the outlet from Lower Mohawk Lake, traversing flat rocks until the lake itself comes into view (at 3.2 miles and 11,825 ft).

The mining ruin viewed from a hundred yards closer to the lake
Outlet from the lake
Shallow Lower Mohawk Lake
Lower Mohawk Lake reminds me a lot of Mills Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park. It is broad, flat, filled with rocks, and bordered by twisted trees. To the west a large shelf rises sharply. The left side of this shelf contains the upper lake, which is deeper in both color and topography.  I really like Lower Mohawk Lake, however.  It is different from many of the other alpine tarns I have visited. The shallow waters, elongated shape, and broad rocks along the shore are conducive to heavy navel gazing.

Heading up to the upper lake
Upper Mohawk Lake comes into view at eye height.
Looking down on Upper Mohawk Lake
Upper Mohawk Lake is a short half mile and 300 ft further up the trail to the left. While the lake itself is not as lovely as Lower Mohawk Lake, I get into serious arguments with friends about this, the approach is really fun. The views downward make the shelf really stand out and the final two steps to the lake occur at eye literally come up under the lake. The walls around the upper lake are tall with lots of places to sit and admire the view.

Looking down on Lower Mohawk Lake
So the key to enjoying Mohawk Lakes is to avoid the crowds by going in the early spring when the trail is partially obscured by snow or in the fall after the children have returned to school. For varieties sake, we took the road back down, but that is just as long and is very rocky. Neither route, the road nor the trees offers much in the way of redeeming value. Sometimes life is just that way, you have to endure the mundane for the sake of the sublime.


gumo said...

Your photos are spectacular and your notes are appreciated. Makes me want to get up and go.

sylvia murphy said...

that is half the reason I write this blog. get going!!