Mount Evans Wilderness , CO
Distance: 6.5 miles
Traveled: Abyss Lake Trail
“Hushed now is the life that so late was beating warmly. Most of the birds have gone down below the snow-line, the plants sleep, and all the fly-wings are folded. Yet the sun beams gloriously many a cloudless day in midwinter, casting long lance shadows athwart the dazzling expanse.”
– John Muir, Mountains of California
February has been an odd month of weather around here. It’s been warm. Some would argue (like me) it’s been too warm. Our last big snow was weeks ago, and it’s long-since melted at our elevation of 8500’, leaving behind a muddy, brown, sloggy, mess – feeling more like the “mud season” of May, rather than the usually epic snowy month that February typically is.
Having just come back from trips to Vegas and California, I have been craving some snow and high elevations. I didn’t have a ton of time to hike this weekend, so I needed something that was a relatively short drive, and a trail at a high enough elevation that I would still find some measurable snow.
I headed up to Guanella Pass, and decided to hike up the Abyss Lake Trail. I hadn’t been on this trail before, but had intended to hike or snowshoe it many times – instead passing it up for somewhere else that was beckoning me. I honestly knew little about the trail other than it eventually ending at Abyss Lake nearly 9 miles up the trail, and I had no idea what the terrain or views would be like along the way. I had budgeted 2.5 hours for the hike, so I figured I’d just hike for an hour-or-so and see where the trail took me.
Though there was snow on the ground, I figured snowshoes wouldn’t be necessary and instead put on my microspikes and strapped by snowshoes to my pack. Too many times have I hiked a snow-packed trail where snowshoes were more work than they were worth (purely for the satisfaction of having “gone snowshoeing”), and this winter is my winter to finally suck it up and recognize that usually on popular, snow-packed, Colorado winter trails, snowshoes aren’t necessary.
The trail started out with a gentle climb through a a forest not unlike most any other conifer forest at 10,000’ in Colorado. I wasn’t incredibly impressed, and hoped some sort of view would open up eventually.
The trail crosses the Mt Evan Wilderness boundary near the .5 mile point, and continues its steady uphill climb through the Lodgepole forest. I was feeling good and alive, and after hiking in the desert (and southern California – which these days is essentially a desert), the past few weekends, the cold mountain air, and the snow under my feet felt so good.
Steady uphill. Steady uphill.
Just when the forest was starting to feel a little boring, and I was starting to think there might be no payoff within the short window of time I had, the trail opened up into a nice little meadow with some young aspens, and a view to Rosalie Peak opened up to the right. I was starting to feel there might be hope for some sort of small view!
Near 3 miles the trail opened up into a beautiful valley, filled with willows, with the Scott Gomer creek winding it’s way through the center, and surrounded by aspen. This is surely an incredible spot in the fall when the leaves are at their peak.
The view up the valley was so beautiful, and it beckoned me to keep going. Unfortunately, I was cutting it close to get back to my car in time and I knew I didn’t have time to go much further.
I have a horrible case of “what’s around the next corner” syndrome. Meaning, when I have to turn around mid-trail in a situation like this I have a hell of a time convincing myself to actually turn around. I always want to know what is around the next corner…and the next corner….and the corner after that.
I headed up the trail a bit more, and ran into a ton of huge moose tracks and fresh moose poop.
It hadn’t occurred to me til I saw the tracks, what a perfect moose habitat this little valley was. I immediately was on high-alert though, scanning my surroundings for any sign of the moose. I have little fear of most wild animals….moose, however, happen to be the one animal I have a very health fear of. Moose are mean.
Reaching the far end of the valley and entering a stand of aspens, I checked the time, and made myself turn around. I had gone 3.3 miles in just over an hour, which really wasn’t too bad of a pace considering how many stops I made for photos and moose-scanning.
I’m definitely looking forward to getting on this trail again in the summer and doing the full 17-mile round-trip hike to Abyss Lake. I imagine this area in it’s bright-green-wildflower-filled glory, and it makes me giddy at the thought!
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