Up at 5:30a, picked up Clark at 6a, and arrived in Eldora by 7:15a. The road through town soon turned to dirt and the cars were already lined up along the side for the Hessie Trailhead. We made it past the crowd and began our four-mile off-road adventure. We got to the Fourth of July trailhead at 7:30a, found a spot along the road amongst the dozens of other cars, suited up, and got going by quarter to eight.
The sun hadn’t quite made it into the valley and the temperature was somewhere in the 50’s while we slowly climbed along the hillside. We caught glimpses of a massive waterfall across the valley between the looming pine trees. Once in awhile we’d cross a “hydrologic pathway,” where snowmelt would run down the mountainside, forming waterfalls of all sizes and resulting in a variety of wildflowers.
Because we were in awe of our surroundings and stopped often to take photos, it took us awhile to hike the mile to the Diamond Lake trailhead. Most other hikers continued up the switchbacks towards the Arapaho Pass, but we peeled off here. After some quick calculations, I determined that we needed to turn around and head back to the car by 10a in order to be back in Denver by 1p. This meant that we had around an hour and 15 minutes to hike the remaining 2+ miles to reach the lake.
We got moving, steadily descending into the valley. There was yet another impressive waterfall near where we crossed the river and began our ascent back up the other side. It turns out that the giant waterfall we saw early on was the outlet for the lake we were heading towards. Clark and I both grabbed our second trekking pole to help pull us up the hillside. I was so focused on reaching our destination that I almost didn’t stop to appreciate the intense greenery around us.
Roughly fifteen minutes before the all-stop time, we arrived at the lake. Several peaks still dotted with patches of snow rose up from the opposite shore, making for a picturesque backdrop. There was barely any wind and the temperature had risen to 60 degrees; it was quite comfortable. The clear water of the lake reflected the deep blue of the sky, but also appeared turquoise in places.
Clark and I found a place in the shade to sit down and eat our brunch (a.k.a. sandwiches and Cliff Bars) and rehydrate. I was surprised to see a number of campsites along the shores. Though there were swarms gnats everywhere, I imagine it’d be a pretty spectacular place to set up camp for a weekend. I really hated that I had over-planned my day and couldn’t stay to enjoy this magnificent piece of nature we had worked hard to attain.
Rested and re-fueled, we gathered our things, took some last photos, and worked our way back to the car. Among many other hikers, we crossed paths with some recent transplants from upstate New York (including Rochester!) – the “BEAT SLU” shirt was the tip-off. Despite the many cars at the parking area, the trail really wasn’t all that crowded.
The entire hike was 5.7 miles with about ~750′ of elevation gain with a max of 10,950′ elevation. As with most of my hikes this season, I would happily return and maybe even visit Upper Diamond Lake.