Best of times, worst of times

Saturday, July 9 to Sunday, July 10, 2011

Rogers Pass Lake

After several failed attempts, I finally beat my backpacking nemesis, Rogers Pass Lake. I had tried to make that destination my final overnighter of my 2010 season in October, but I was snowed off the mountain on arrival by an unexpected early season storm. A few weeks ago my girlfriend and I post-holed our way up the mountainside in deep snowpack, but we turned around before finding the lake.

There is a ridgeline somewhere beyond those ominous clouds.

But this time I made it, only to be rewarded with a torrential downpour and rough winds as I camped at Heart Lake just above Rogers Pass Lake. There was a lot of route finding necessary on the way up to the lakes because there were still three and four feet of snow left in many areas. Thankfully, the south-facing sides of the mountains, including my campsite, were free of snow in open areas without trees.

The wind kept buffeting my tarp, and I had to reconfigure it several times.

Sunrise from open air tarp

I ended up using something similar to George Carr’s “Flying A” setup, although mine was more of a “Battened Down A.” During the worst of the storm, I worried my clothes and down bag might get wet and stay that way all night. I had visions of my tarp blowing off the mountain, posing a risk of exposure and hypothermia for me. But once I finally got inside my shelter and shed my wet gear, I was comfortable. It never got cold that night. In fact, I found myself sweating a couple of times. It turns out my bivy sack does not breath at all. There was a lot of condensation in the foot of the bivy in the morning. Fortunately, my down quilt did not become wet. That would have been bad.

Heart Lake

The morning brought several rewards. I woke up to a pink and purple sunrise and a huge jackrabbit the size of my cat just outside the open end of my tarp. He did not seem to care about my presence at all.

After an oatmeal breakfast, I tried my Tenkara rod for the first time on a backpacking trip. The first fly I tried brought no results. I could see one trout try to take it, but the hook was too large. So, I switched to a smaller, Sakasa Kebari reverse hackle with size 16 hook I had bought from Tenkara USA. On the second cast with this fly, I hooked a native cutthroat. I had landed my first fish while backpacking, and it was a rare cutthroat to make things even better!

My first backpacking catch: a cutthroat

On the way back down the mountain, I pulled out my cellphone to show my trophy to another angler. Unfortunately, I managed to drop the phone screen-first onto the sharpest rock in the trail. Now I have a pretty spider web effect on my phone.

Trip Summary

Destination: Heart Lake and Rogers Pass Lake, James Peak Wilderness west of Rollinsville, Colo.

Distance hiked: 8.4 round-trip

Elevation: started from East Portal Trailhead at 9,200 feet, camped at 11,300

Temperatures: mid-70s in the day; mid-40s at night

Pack Weight: 20 pounds

Notes: You may need to bring snowbaskets for trekking poles, waterproof gaiters and waterproof boots when hiking in the James Peak and Indian Peaks Wilderness Areas in July. I missed having the baskets for my trekking poles.


Rogers Pass Lake

Heart Lake, marmot on boulder near center-left

Tenkara rods are great lightweight choices for backpacking.

Tons of runoff at lower elevations. Be ready to get wet on the trail.

Train at East Portal of Moffat Tunnel


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