Indian Peaks Wilderness, CO
Distance: 6 miles
Traveled: East Portal Trailhead to Crater Lakes
The sun rises so much later now. I had gotten in a rhythm of being at the trailhead by 6am – both to beat the crowds, and the afternoon thunderstorms. But, now the monsoon season is over for the year, and the sun doesn’t peek over the horizon until after 7:30, so there is no more rush to wake up at an ungodly hour to hit the trail. Still, I felt almost guilty when I left the house around 8am. I didn’t want to do another summit – and as much as I love snow, I didn’t feel like fighting through it. I wanted to do a something easier and mellow, as every hike I have done since the JMT has been a summit (or summit attempt).
I decided on hiking to Crater Lakes from the East Portal Trailhead. I hadn’t been to the East Portal Trailhead yet, and since Crater Lakes live at an elevation of 10,632 ft, I figured I would probably be well below the snow line. I also was a little stoked to see the Moffat Tunnel – a 6 mile long railroad and water tunnel that cuts through the heart of the Continental Divide.
I started on the trail around 10:00am – the sun was low, and the shadows were still long. It was chilly enough that I wore gloves and my North Face Thermoball jacket starting out. Admittedly, I am much happier hiking when it’s cool enough to wear layers – being hot and sweaty and overheated is not my cup of tea.
The hike started out following South Boulder Creek through spruce forest and aspen groves. The leaves had already all fallen from the trees for the year, but I imagine that this section of the trail would have been shrouded in amazing color a few weeks ago. The peaks of the Contentinental Divide in front of me had a light dusting of snow – and the air had the smell of winter and frost and snow. Really, all things around me felt dormant and quiet – the mountains right now truly feel like they are doing nothing other than sitting and waiting for winter to make it’s appearance and shroud them in white.
The trail climbed steadily for 2.2 miles to the junction with the Crater Lakes trail, where it them climbed steeply uphill to the lakes. It was on this climb as I passed 3 other groups that I realized that I was definitely still in great shape from the JMT. My legs and lungs felt no burn and I was feeling excellent. It was also then that I realized that I’m still used to hiking 16 miles in a day, and the 3.2 miles to the lakes left me mildly unfulfilled.
The snow line started right at about 10,500 feet, essentially right at the lakes, and the banks of the lakes were lightly frozen. The lakes were beautiful, and the water was crystal clear – but the wind was picking up and the temperature was dropping. I didn’t stay long. I walked around the western half of the lake to seek out out a sunny spot to enjoy a quick snack before heading back down. From the lower Crater Lakes there is a a route up to Upper Crater Lake, and unfortunately I didn’t look into it much before-hand – and after wandering around a bit I couldn’t find any sign of a trail that headed in that direction and didn’t feel up for any sort of cross-country scrambling up a snowy slope so I headed back down.
The walk back down was admittedly a quite depressing. As with all of the hiking I have done so far in Colorado – by the time I was heading down, the rest of the general population was heading up – except this time, to my surprise, the hikers I was weaving my way past down the trail were all wearing International Orange and carrying intimidating weapons. I guess it’s hunting season in the Rockies. Not only am I not-okay with hunting from an ethical standpoint, but guns make me extremely uncomfortable – and the presence of the first hunter I passed gave me a bit of a shock. I passed about 5 different groups of hunters, 2 of which were families with children. By the time I got to my car my heart was feeling so sullen, and the final straw was the sight of two men with a huge bull elk hanging upside down from the back of their pick-up truck – an animal that likely only hours before was majestically thriving and breathing in the forest I just walked through. All of its skin was stripped from it’s body – a gruesome sight – and a young boy, surely one of their sons, was looking on. That was the final emotional blow for me. I admit that I fought tears, and still do as I write this.
In all honesty, the reason this experience got so far under my skin was multi-faceted. And in explaining this I’m surely going to ruffle someones feathers. Part of it is that I truly don’t like guns – they give me the heebie-jeebies, they scare me, and I don’t even like looking at them. Guns are violent, and their presence on this planet is for no other purpose than killing, injuring, destroying, threatening, and intimidating – things I want nothing to do with. Tied to my fear, knowing that men with guns were prowling the mountains all around me, left me feeling horribly unsafe. The largest reason I was left feeling so somber, is that I’m not okay with hunting. I’m not okay with the act of taking a living beings life unnecessarily in the name of ‘sport’. I escape to the wilderness to experience peace, to experience beauty, and to experience the wild and the life within it – and being surrounded by people who are out there to take pleasure in killing the creatures that I go out there to admire really kinda just puts a damper on the whole experience.
SOOoooo, anyway. That was it. Crater Lakes. Surely, it’s a beautiful and peaceful hike when it’s not hunting season. I’m guessing the elk would agree.