Kumano Kodo – The Bus Day

japan2016-285

Day five. It was nice to listen to the river and rain while sleeping. Adam and I were awakened at 6a by the town fire department’s siren, so I got up, retrieved my dry laundry, packed, and stretched. My back was feeling better every day, but still far from ideal.

Despite the rain, Chris decided to finish out the walk, while everyone else opted for the bus. The group convened in the cafeteria for a quick breakfast before departing for the bus station. Alicia, the Australian solo-hiker who we had run into several times throughout the week, tagged along. The scenic 45-minute ride into town followed the teal-blue river most of the way, making for an entertaining ride.

japan2016-261The group went first to a temple in town, obtaining the obligatory stamp and photos, then made our way to the bus stop. While walking, we agreed on a stop for coffee, which proved harder to find than we expected. We ended up in a mall cafe that Adam most-accurately described as an Applebees meets tiki bar. The coffee was unremarkable, but it paired well with the hot dogs.

Continuing to the train station, we again saw Alicia outside smoking while waiting for the train to Kii-Katsuura. Once there, we boarded the bus to the temples, pagodas, and waterfalls. We climbed the numerous stairs upwards to the ~800 A.D. temples, where we had great views of the pagoda and waterfall. Chris G and I walked down another path with many stairs that led us to the base of the waterfall. Pictures don’t do it justice.

japan2016-274

We headed back up to bus stop and enjoyed shopping/tea while waiting for the bus back down to the JR train station. To kill time, we walked around the near-empty town until we came across a noodlery – success! Biero and our first ramen of the trip. We stocked up on snacks at a convenience store on the way to meet up with Chris P at the JR station. We all walked down to the ferry, stopping to see Chibi, a fat cat Dan and Chris had met on their last trip.

1120645-Nachi

Photo courtesy of Mr. Glass

We took a ferry across the harbor crossed over to our accommodations for the night – a very 80s hotel on it’s own island. Once changed into our yukatas, Chris P led us on a short tour of the grounds, along catwalks and paths that were reminiscent of Myst. Afterwards, we gathered at the hotel’s men’s bath that had an outdoor onsen! Hope you enjoyed the view, fisherwomen! It was incredibly relaxing to soak in the warm waters of the outdoor pool while watching the waves crash below and the boats putter out in the harbor.

Once back at the hotel, we gathered up Kumano Kodo beer and snacks for happy hour in Chris’s room while waiting for our luggage to arrive. We re-convened later in a private dining room for Thanksgiving dinner. It was an amazing spread, so much food that we could hardly eat fast enough. After many days of being culinarily adventurous, I was getting tired of fish. Despite this, the meal was filling (Adam and I worked out an arrangement early on where I traded my fish for his beef portions) as was the sake. Afterwards, we all passed out – fat and happy.

This was the last day on the trail and being out in the Japanese countryside, which meant the vacation was nearing it’s end. Soon we’d be in Tokyo, bookending the hike with another busy city.

~0 miles

Kumano Kodo: The Easy Day

japan2016-213

japan2016-207

Day four. I woke up, stretched out, packed up, and joined the others on the floor for breakfast. I was feeling pretty good, all things considered! We left the hotel and walked through town to find the stamp. It was cooler out and the steam created from the world heritage onsen made for a pretty morning scene. We caught the bus to our next starting point, fueled up on coffee at the vending machine, and walked along the road to our first stamp of the day.

From there, it was a moderate uphill climb, though it seemed easier than the day before. We were sore… These were nice, wide trails – mostly level and very enjoyable. We walked to an amazing viewpoint and stopped for photos, then continued up and over the pass. The trail had long stretches of flat sections with some brief uphill legs, but they were tolerable. It was a day of pleasant ridge-walking under the canopy of cedars.

japan2016-218

japan2016-224We stopped for tea and a pancake-like muffin at a pavilion in the woods (near a stamp box). I noticed afterwards that we were all hiking in silence, enjoying the day. Shortly after, we took a break for lunch at another old tea stop-turned-gazebo with a view of the upcoming town. The lunch box was outstanding! Minimal fish, tasty rice rolls of beans and herbs, eggs, and a bottle of tea. We relaxed in the shade while our still-wet things dried out in the sun.

Down, down, down – we took our time with the descent. More death rocks! In town, we walked across the bridge to grab refreshments from the vending machine and to get another stamp. Continuing on, we walked along the river and up over where the tunnel is. Once through town we found the stamp, then stopped at the general store for beer restocking before winding up at the schoolhouse-turned hiker hotel, where our bags met us. Bath, laundry, lounge, dinner, sake! It was much cooler out here, which was very nice to sleep in.

Kumano Kodo – The Long Day

japan2016-194
japan2016-142

Dan, our fantastic chef, Pratt, and Julian, just prior to our departure

Day three. Our first night of Japanese style mattresses… I woke up at 6 and got ready for a 6:30 breakfast, which was incredible. The chef whipped up some very tasty dishes again to prepare us for a long day. Annoyingly, my jacket, rain cover, hat, and rain kilt were still wet from the day before.

japan2016-150

We set off, walking along the road for awhile. Eventually the trail went downhill, back through the woods. Then we started our ascent up the first pass – “Sandal” pass – up up up! It wasn’t a horrible ascent, but someone thought it was a good idea to make the trail on the other side out of flat stones. Combined with the leaves and wetness from the rain the night before, it was VERY slippery. In parts it was steep and windy, which made for a strenuous descent – one slip and you could slide right off the edge of the hill!  Nevertheless, we all made it safely to the road at the bottom only to find the next section of the trail closed from typhoon damage several years earlier.

We continued walking along road and found the permanent detour. The trail was in good condition and there were a lot of well-placed stairs. At some point on the way up to the second pass, I ran out of water, which made my ascent that much slower. The views were pretty great, though and we forged ahead, walking just under the peak before heading back down – again. On the back side, we connected with another road and found a container collecting and filtering water from a nearby stream, where I refilled the CamelBak. We walked along road until we found the other side of the detour.

japan2016-165Across the road from the detour were more stairs back into woods. We met some twenty-somethings from CA, who were eager to pass us. At a split in the trail, we found stamp box at another shrine. Rejoining the trail, we passed another tea house and more shrines. Up up up! We reached another road at the top where I made a plea to open up our bento boxes at a nearby rest area – I was spent.

Down, down, down the other side. Again, still slippery from the night before. We passed an abandoned settlement being overcome by tree growth. The trail turned into a road, which eventually went alongside a river. Eventually we ventured back up, into the woods and past more shrines. Land crabs stood out amongst the piles of leaves and we stopped a couple times to take photos and rest.

At the top we were fascinated by a giant, blue worm in the middle of the road. We got our stamp and followed the signs down the road into a small town which had several options for vending machines. We found ourselves at a tea house up a hill at the end of town and stopped for in coffee. Exhaustion was creeping in so we shook out the stiffness and kept walking.

This part of the trail was mostly downhill with some small uphill sections. By this time we were swearing every time we had stairs to traverse. We found a path to an overlook of the massive Honshu shrine, which was where the trail ended for the day. The trail reconnected and we made our way down a variety of types of stairs. Wide, short sets, stone, wood, high steps, narrow steps.

japan2016-201

Eventually we reached town and had more road to walk along. Prior to entering the temple grounds, we obtained another stamp. We took a few photos of the temple grounds and then walked down another long set of stairs to the main street of town. From there, we found the visitor’s center and walked up to the large gate we had seen off in the distance instance. One more stamp before we caught a bus to the village where we were staying for the night.

We showered, soaked in the outdoor onsen, and enjoyed another many-course dinner – this time directly seated on the floor, which was challenging. Some how I ended up with my own room and despite another Japanese-style bed, I quickly passed out.

Kumano Kodo: The Wet Day

japan2016-131

japan2016-126Day two. I was expecting to sleep really well, but it was quite warm in the room I shared with Adam. I re-packed, hit the onsen again, scarfed down a quick breakfast, and we were on the trail early. More uphill… Today was the first encounter with the “death stones,” which were very tightly-coupled stones that were considered a primitive type of pavement. Unfortunately, they were often placed on steep slopes, which made traversing quite difficult.

We walked to a bus stop and stopped for rest, tea and snacks. The rain started while we were waiting for everyone to arrive. Nevertheless, we donned our rain gear and continued walking, though slowly getting wetter. We passed more shrines, collected more stamps, and encountered numerous slippery wet stones; Dan even spotted a snake. It didn’t dawn on me until now that this was a region that might have poisonous snakes to contend with, but thankfully it was cooler and the snakes didn’t want anything to do with us.

We continued down the valley into town. Sadly, the foot bath was closed but it was a dry spot to have our packed lunch. Adam had opted for the bus earlier and while Pratt, Glass, Julian, and Dan went to the museum, I rested my back and waited for them, listening to the rain and struggled to find wifi. After a short wait, we all continued walking along the road, which continued to get steeper until we found ourselves above town, the rain beginning to permeate our gear as the temperature began dropping. A few miles and a couple stamps later, we arrived at the next ryokan.

Really the only thing keeping me going the last couple miles was the thought of stripping off all the soaked layers, putting on a dry yukata, and enjoying the warm onsen. We sat and had tea, beer, and snacks before an outstanding multi-course meal was served to us and the other guests. We quickly passed out after a long day.

Kumano Kodo: The Short Day

groupshot

Day one. I began each morning by stretching and doing sit-ups, hoping to strengthen my core slowly each day to help heal my back and resulting sciatica. We met for breakfast, got our IC cards re-upped, and caught the Shinkansen to Tanabe where we caught a bus that brought us to the start of the Kumano Kodo pilgrimage route. After dropping off our suitcases at the luggage shuttle, we enjoyed our bento boxes at the Kumano Kodo visitor center, where we learned about the UNESCO World Heritage sites and basked in the wifi, not knowing when we would have Internet access again. We washed our hands at the impurity fountain at the nearby shrine, posed for a photo, and began our ascent of the Nakahechi trail.

japan2016-118

The trail was a fair amount of steps and uphill for the first mile or so, but once we were on top of the ridge, it was mostly level. We passed only 3 fellow hikers, one woman who laughed and said “Up, up, up!” After awhile, we found ourselves walking through the small town of Takahara, stopping at the various shrines and other sites to get the stamps in our books.

We arrived at the Kiri no Sato Takahara ryokan shortly before dinner. I changed out of my wet hiking clothes into the provided yukata (casual robe) and visited the 0nsen (hot springs bath) before enjoying drinks and an amazing dinner.

Nymph Lake, Dream Lake, Emerald Lake Hike

Bear Lake

My two-alarm system failed me (yet again), so I got to Loveland 20 minutes late for meeting Mark for breakfast at the Coffee Tree. Coffee and breakfast consumed, I grabbed my things, jumped in Mark’s Boxster, and we took to the canyons.

I had been to this area of Rocky Mountain National Park before, so I knew how busy it gets. We aimed to be on the trail no later than 8a, but thanks to my system failure, we arrived at 9:15. The queue to get on the shuttle bus moved quickly and after a few stops, we were dropped off at the (full) Bear Lake parking area.

Once on the trail, we immediately we started uphill. I was a little disappointed by the swarms of people and that the “trail” was paved, however once we passed Nymph Lake, the pavement degraded into a dirt path.

emerald-lake-3

Overlooking Nymph Lake

We trudged up the numerous stairs, passing lots of families with grumpy kids. Mark and I were engrossed in conversation and before we knew it, we had reached the second lake, Dream Lake.

emerald-lake-11

Dream Lake looking east

It was beautiful – set at the bottom of a steep hill, the lake reflected all the looming trees and was a lime green color when the light hit it right. This was a popular spot for fishermen. Hoping to leave the crowds behind, we pushed onto our destination.

Waterfall

We climbed many more stairs as we followed a creek towards it’s source.  The boulders and resulting waterfalls started getting larger and soon we came to the end of the trail at Emerald Lake. We had found the rest of the crowds seated along the rocky banks, enjoying the view and either the sun or shade. Chipmunks and birds desperately tried to dig through backpacks, looking for snacks. There was a slight breeze coming off Flattop Mountain and from where we sat, we had a good view of the Tyndall Glacier (or what’s left of it) above us.

emerald-lake-9

Emerald Lake underneath Flattop Mountain

The lake was becoming more crowded as the day went on, so after a few moments of rest and a quick snack, we made our way back to the trailhead. We were surprised and somewhat disappointed at how crowded the trails actually were. The fact that they were bussing people in from the overflow lot suggested it was a very popular weekend destination. We decided to view the nearby Bear Lake (which is the featured image for this post) and while resting in the shade, we talked with a park volunteer. According to her, attendance was up 12% from last year, despite 2015 being the park’s 100th anniversary.

Bear Lake

Bear Lake

We probably sat too long because we decided not to hike another 2 miles to Bierstadt Lake. The bus arrived and took us back to the car. Because we were already in the park, we drove up Trail Ridge Road to the alpine visitor’s center in the heart of the park.

emerald-lake-22

It was a beautiful day and the clouds were starting to roll in. Mark was kind enough to drive so I could focus on not focusing on the lack of guardrails along the road. Once above tree-line, I noticed how green the landscape is this time of year. We made it to the visitor’s center only to find a line of cars in the parking lot spilling into the road. Tired and hungry, we vetoed the center and headed back down the hill.

Deer friend

Deer friend

We exited the park and got caught in a small amount of traffic who was stopped to take photos of several elk grazing on the edge of the road. There was some festival going on in Estes Park and not wanting to deal with more crowds and traffic, we decided to head back to Loveland and find food.

By the time we reached 3 Margaritas, it had been 8 hours since we had eaten breakfast. We didn’t even mind the loud infant seated next to us, we just needed food ASAP. Afterwards, Mark dropped me back off at my car and we parted ways. Another great outing with excellent company. Despite the congestion, I still enjoyed getting out of the house and being in the woods.

The hike took us about 2 hours. The map below has the incorrect altitudes – the hike was 3.5 miles round-trip and we started at an elevation of 9,475 feet, climbed 635 feet, reaching a max height of 10,110 feet. I would go back as long as it wasn’t on a weekend.

Diamond Lake Hike

diamond-lake-29

diamond-lake-9Up 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.

diamond-lake-15

Among several reasons, the Fourth of July trailhead is named for it’s abundance of colorful wildflowers

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.

diamond-lake-16

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.

diamond-lake-26

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.

Gem Lake Hike

gem-lake-14

Gem Lake trailheadContinuing with my conditioning for the Kumano Kodo hikes, I met up with Mark in Loveland (not Longmont, not Lakewood) around 7a at the Coffee Tree, where we enjoyed our choice of beverage and a breakfast sandwich. After sufficiently caffeinating ourselves, I grabbed my gear, hopped in Mark’s Porsche, and we set off winding through the canyons of Rt. 34 towards Estes Park.

I had never been on this trail before, but Mark asserts that it’s his favorite. We got on the trail around 8:45a; a little later than usual, but the temperature was ideal and there was plenty of parking. It seems the further away from Denver you are, the later you can get started. After Mark first told me about Gem Lake, I did my research and learned it was only 3.5 miles round-trip. I was somewhat skeptical about driving that far to hike that short of a distance, (I had been averaging around ~5.5 miles on previous hikes). As we started climbing the man-made stairs, I quickly realized that I had underestimated this venture – we would be climbing ~1,000 feet of elevation in 1.75 miles at roughly 8,000 feet above sea level!

Facing south

Facing south towards Longs Peak

There were many scenic places to rest and catch our breath, many of them looking south towards the northern end of Estes Park. It was a perfect day with only a few clouds littering the beautiful blue sky. We were fortunate enough to see some lingering wildflowers (namely fireweed) on our ascent. The trail got steeper and the rocky steps became higher and wider the closer we got to the lake. When we passed the open-air privy, we knew it was nearby.

Critters

Critters

Gem Lake is more of a medium-sized pond and the lack of a spring or stream suggests that it’s filled by snowmelt draining off the surrounding cliffs early in the season. There were five other groups seated around it’s shores, taking in the scenery and enjoying the cool breeze. Mark and I made our way along the boulders to stake our spot in the shade. Sitting in silence, we watched dragonflies and a solitary bat devour the bugs above us as we chomped down on Cliff Bars while the resident scavengers begged their hardest for a bite. I let my senses absorb all they could; it was reminiscent of my time doing observational requirements for the Environmental Science merit badge at Camp Sequassen almost twenty summers ago.

After some time, a group of noisy teens and their chaperone arrived and set up nearby. They fed a couple chipmunks some of their snacks, which prompted all of the nearby rodents to investigate, further winding up the teens. Mark and I got up to stretch out our creaky joints and continued down past the lake a little to see the all valleys to the north. It was starting to warm up, so we began our descent.

The closer we got to the parking lot, the more people we passed on their way up. We concluded that our arrival was timed perfectly. I heard odd screeching noises and wondered if that were a type of raptor that we had read was nesting nearby, but it turned out to be squealing children. Time to go! We got back in the car and returned to Estes Park to find lunch.

The crowds had arrived in town from the prairie. Not wanting to deal with traffic or the hordes of tourists, we turned down a side road and stopped into Himalayan Curry and Kebab for a delicious chicken curry dish before making our way back through the canyons to Loveland.

I could see why Mark liked this hike. It wasn’t some piddly 3.5-miler; this kicked my ass! Combined with Mark’s excellent company, it was a pretty great day in the mountains.

Blue Lake Hike

blue-lake-32

blue-lake-4Despite my body’s several attempts to thwart awakening, I got up and out of the house by 5:40a. I picked up Clark along the way and we drove past Boulder, heading west through Ward and arriving at the Long Lake trailhead parking lot inside Brainard National Recreation Area at 7:24a, only to find it full. Disappointed, we drove to the next parking lot and easily found a spot.

While looking at the map to see which trails the lot serviced, the parking lot attendant arrived and I inquired about Blue Lake. I’ve been wanting to hike there for months, but recent trail reports stated that the trail was still covered in snow and that it was still too early to make it all the way. Thankfully, the reports were two weeks old and the attendant said it was completely accessible, so our disappointment turned quickly to excitement as we collected our things and got on the trail.

blue-lake-11

We kept coming across interesting things along the way that were slightly more noteworthy than the last. First there was the small bridge showcasing wildflowers with amazing backlighting, then came the wooden bridge over the waterfall, and about a mile in we found Mitchell Lake, scenic and serene. We kept moving and got to the river crossing, where snowmelt was rushing down to meet the lake below. The bridge across was wide enough to make safe passage, but narrow enough to question each step out of fear for falling into the presumably frigid waters.

Once navigated, the trail took us upwards and I noticed the trees were getting smaller. There were large patches of snow all around, which made for numerous vernal pools, a fair amount of bugs, and a muddy trail. We even saw a number of rodents, including a marmot or two, running through the newly alpine landscape. The trail flattened out some, as we made our way along the river, crossing several remaining patches of snow; I was so glad I opted to bring the trekking poles on such a rocky trail! It was a bluebird day and the scenery was spectacular – I couldn’t believe our surroundings throughout the entire ascent.

Seeing as it was a holiday, I figured there would be a fair amount of people on the trail, but when we finally arrived at Blue Lake, we were able to easily find some shelter from the winds coming down off the peaks ahead. The lake was half-frozen still, with much of the ice pushed against the near shore. We took many pictures before settling in for some much-needed reflection on the rocks overlooking the incredible scene. In retrospect, this would have been a perfect time for lunch, but a Cliff Bar and water perfectly sufficed.

blue-lake-34


Clark and I spent about 45 minutes at the lake, watching some hikers scramble along the far shore to reach the upper lake. I’ll happily wait until later in the season before attempting that. The winds were permeating our jackets, so we gathered our things and made our way back to the trail. I was astonished at how many people had reached the lake and turned right back around, barely taking note of the natural beauty before them.

blue-lake-28

The sun was higher in the sky, which allowed for better photos on the way down. Again, the trekking poles proved their worth. When we arrived back at the bridge over the waterfall, we heard what sounded like a rifle firing. Upon arriving at the parking lot, the attendant advised us that hunting is legal on Federal lands a certain distance away from the trails. I made a note to wear a bright orange vest on my next outing, vowing to return as many times as I could.

Cars were still lined up along the road in front of the lake near the entrance of the park, where a moose we saw on the way in had summoned a friend to pose for photos (and maybe find some food). We made our way through the hills back to Boulder and found an excellent and inexpensive Indian buffet. I dropped Clark off after lunch and I was back home by 1:30p – just in time for a nap. A memorable Fourth of July!

6.1 miles round-trip, approximately 2 hours up and 90 minutes down (though we definitely took our time)

Silver Dollar Lake & Murray Lake Hike

Naylor Lake

It was raining steadily in town when I got in the car at 6:20a. Knowing the weather could be very different up the hill, I decided to take the risk. While driving, the cloud ceiling was getting higher, the rain was diminishing, and I felt increasingly better about my decision.

After a quick stop in Idaho Springs for coffee, I arrived in Georgetown somewhere after 7:30a and started the drive up the pass. Vehicles belonging to soggy campers were parked all along Guanella Pass Road. I arrived at the main parking lot at 7:45a, and though the actual trailhead was another mile or so up Naylor Lake Road, the Internet said that vehicles with low-clearance shouldn’t attempt to traverse it. Had I known that the Prius I saw could make it, I would have taken the Battle Wagon…

silver-dollar-lake-2The rain had stopped and there were patches of sun appearing in between clouds. A couple hikers intending to do some fishing were on the trail ahead of me, but I soon passed them once we left the woods and began the real ascent. The trees progressively got smaller and smaller as we approached the tree-line. Small patches of lingering snow no more than 10 yards across made the climb more interesting. Thankfully it was packed down, so there was little fear of sinking.

There was still a fair amount of cloud coverage, but the hikers I played leap-frog with agreed that it wasn’t anything to worry about yet. Soon the trees turned into bushes and a couple hikers passed us. It was obviously still Spring in this bowl, as there were many places along the trail suffering from runoff – it was muddy! The trail climbed steadily until the bushes turned into grass. Wildflowers were scattered along the hillside and we had a great view of the lakes and valleys below.

I eventually settled in formation on the trail behind a couple originally from the midwest. We talked about all the great places to hike and explore nearby and they gave me some great tips on where to try out snowshoeing. Before I knew it, we had arrived at Silver Dollar Lake!

Silver Dollar Lake pano

 

The weather was still mostly cooperating, so we continued up the trail another half-mile to see Murray Lake. We didn’t make it to the lake’s edge, but we took some photos and decided that the clouds were starting to turn ominous, so we started back down. This was a trail that you didn’t want to be stuck walking down in the rain. Not only was it completely exposed, but it was fairly steep in places and resembled a slide more than a trail. I’m not sure if I need boots with better treads or if the rocks along the trail were overly slick, but my normal foot-placement resulted in a couple slips and falls.

Lake Murray

I slowed to take some photos, parting ways with the couple as they make their way back to their car. There were still people fishing at both lakes, so I didn’t feel uncomfortable hiking alone at 11,900 feet, despite not seeing any more people hiking up. To my surprise, shortly after I decided to make my descent I ran into Ben and James! We had talked earlier about meeting up, but there was some weather-based hesitation so I wasn’t sure if they were going to make it. We chatted for a few moments and went on our separate ways, tentatively planning to meet up in Georgetown afterwards.

The walk down is always faster than the walk up. I passed a few more people ascending and that’s when I first noticed the raindrops. I picked up my pace as best I could, taking care not to misstep anymore, but the rain increased and the trail became even more slippery. It didn’t quite reach downpour levels, but the rain was steady and was certainly testing my rain gear.

As I was about to take a selfie in front of a snowpack, I heard several rounds of gunshots coming from the cabin near the privately owned Naylor Lake. I had read comments about hikers hearing gunshots and subsequent bullets whizzing past their heads into the trees, so I ducked out of site for a few moments until the gunfire stopped. This was yet another motivator to get back to the car!

Wet.I passed several more groups who were not dissuaded by the rainfall and stopped long enough to give them some cautionary advice, but was getting soggier by the minute. By the time I reached the trailhead, I was drenched… and I still had another mile to walk down the dirt road until I reached the car. Thankfully I had a dry tee-shirt and shoes waiting for me, but had to drive home in wet boxers with a blanket draped over me while my pants dried on the passenger’s seat. I skipped Georgetown and went straight home.

Was it worth it the trouble? Yes! I can only imagine how green the bowl looks on a clear summer day. I saw a few marmots scurry across the rocks and one person pointed out an American pika grazing nearby. I didn’t see a lot of birds, but I could hear them. No mountain lions. In retrospect, I was successful in staying in the moment not overthinking much of anything.

The hike was just over six miles and roughly 1,300 feet in elevation gain.