Forest Lakes

September 16, 2011

Saturday, Sept. 10, to Sunday, Sept. 11, 2011

Tarp pitched uphill from the upper of the two Forest Lakes

Lacking any pressing motivation and feeling a bit fatigued, I arrived at the East Portal trailhead west of Rollinsville at the crack of … evening. I was backpacking a short distance, so it seemed fine that I didn’t start on the trail until 4:00 pm. Originally, I had intended to camp at the Arapahoe Lakes, but it seemed the Forest Service had closed the trail to those lakes.* So, I diverted to nearby Forest Lakes. (I had told folks back at home I would be at either location.) I arrived at the upper of the two Forest Lakes by 5:45 and spent about fifteen minutes scouting a good camping spot. Lots of low lying areas were wet and swarming with bugs, but I found a well-protected, previously impacted spot on the hillside on the north side of the lake.

Forest Lakes, James Peak Wilderness

I watched trout rising on the lake as I ate dinner, but I was too tired to give chase. I was in bed by 9:00 and did not get out of the bag until 8:00 the next morning. I tried fishing both of the lakes but found that they each have shallow water extending about 20 to 30 feet from the banks. The trout were easily spooked, and I had no success.

* After my trip, I called the Boulder Ranger District office and asked about the trail to Arapahoe Lakes. It turns out the existing trail was poorly designed, caused a lot of erosion and was often muddy. The Forest Service has taken down the signage for it and obliterated the trail as best they could, but bushwacking to those lakes is still possible and allowed. I asked if it would be best to hike to the upper Forest Lake and contour over to Arapahoe Lakes. The staffer agreed and said Volunteers for Outdoor Colorado may be creating a better trail in the future.

The closed trail to Arapahoe Lakes is covered with downed timber.

The old trail to Arapahoe Lakes was covered with timber at most points visible from the trail to Forest Lakes.

Destination: Forest Lakes, James Peak Wilderness west of Rollinsville, Colo.

Distance hiked: about 7 or 8 miles round-trip

Elevation: started from East Portal trail head at 9,200 feet, camped at the upper lake at about 11,000 feet

Temperatures: high 60s during the afternoon; low of 38 degrees at night

Pack Weight: 22 pounds with food and water (took tarp, bivy bag and mosquito netting rather than tent). Pack weight was 16 pounds without food and water but including Tenkara fishing rod and gear.

Notes: I took my REI Halo 25-degree sleeping bag rather than my Jacks ‘R Better Sierra Sniveller quilt. I was glad I had the full bag because it was chilly when a breeze began to blow through the tarp at about 4:00 or 5:00 in the morning.


I brought my mosquito net but saw nary a bug where I camped. The gnats were going crazy down by the water though.

I use Esbit tablets to cook when I'm trying to reduce my pack weight.

View from the upper lake

Looking down on the lower lake

Pawnee Lake

August 23, 2011

Saturday, Aug. 20, to Sunday, Aug. 21, 2011

Pawnee Lake, Indian Peaks Wilderness

My buddy Ian joined me for a backpacking and fly fishing trip to Pawnee Lake in the Indian Peaks Wilderness, but, unfortunately, our hike was not rewarded with any trout. Although Pawnee Lake enjoys a reputation on the Web as being a spot to catch cutthroats, we saw nary a fish while we were there. Usually I can at least see the trout in alpine lakes like this one, even if I can’t catch them. I wonder if this lake may not be deep enough for the trout to survive the winter freezes. That previously linked Web site says the lake is 22 feet deep. Ian and I also speculated that the Department of Fish and Wildlife might have been doing some non-native species management at Pawnee Lake that left it temporarily bereft of fish. Ian found this DOW report1 about trout species and quantities in area lakes, but Pawnee was absent from the survey. It was interesting to learn that Colorado DOW pilots stock alpine lakes2 with native cutthroat trout fingerlings.

The couloir that leads down to Pawnee Lake just west from Pawnee Pass. Rock fall obscures parts of the trail, requiring some route finding.

Also left out of trail descriptions was any mention of the scramble on the western side of the Continental Divide. Just after you start down from Pawnee Pass at 12,550 feet, you encounter a lot of rock fall that has obscured parts of the steep trail down to the lake. Descending the couloir just west of the pass can be a bit hairy with a heavy pack on. I found myself scrambling with hands and feet on the way down Saturday. On the way back up Sunday, it was more obvious where the trail was and that we had been led off-trail at least once Saturday because fallen boulders had blocked the path.

Trip Summary

The view west from Pawnee Pass, on the Continental Divide at 12,550 feet.

Destination: Pawnee Lake about 2 miles west of Pawnee Pass, Indian Peaks Wilderness west of Ward, Colo.

Distance hiked: about 11.8 miles round-trip

Elevation: started from Long Lake trail head at Brainard Lake at 10,500 feet, reached high point of 12,550 feet at Pawnee Pass, descended and camped at Pawnee Lake at just below 11,000 feet

Temperatures: probably low 80s during the afternoon; my watch read 45 degrees at 6:00 am

Pack Weight: probably 25 to 30 pounds (I did not weigh my pack, but I was carrying my normal gear plus a two-person tent.)

Notes: Double check whether the destination currently has fish before hiking all the way out there to try to catch them. It was disappointing to see no fish this time. On the up side, my Jacks ‘R Better Sierra Sniveller quilt was perfect for this trip. I slept just right: not too warm, not too cold. Even this late into August, trekking poles would be handy for Pawnee Pass. There were several snowfields remaining on the eastern side of the divide.


Looking west toward Lake Isabelle near the start of the hike.

Lake Isabelle from above.

Looking northwest toward Pawnee Lake.

Hiking southeast toward Pawnee Pass. The couloir that leds up to the pass is to the right of the rock formation in the upper left that looks like an Easter Island Rapa Nui sculpture.

Hiking southeast toward Pawnee Pass. The couloir that leds up to the pass is to the right of the rock formation in the upper left of the image that looks like an Easter Island Moai sculpture.


1Indian Peaks Wilderness Lakes FISH SURVEY AND MANAGEMENT DATA,” Benjamin Swigle, Aquatic Biologist (Fort Collins/Boulder), undated PDF file on Colorado Division of Wildlife Web site

2Stocking Native Rocky Mountain Cutthroat Trout With Planes in Colorado’s High Mountain Lakes,” Photo Gallery by Tim Romano. Uploaded on October 16, 2009, Field and Stream magazine

Wheeler Geologic Area

July 12, 2011

Friday, July 2 to Monday, July 4, 2011

The Amphitheater, Wheeler Geologic Area

Wanting to avoid the Independence Day crowds in metro Denver, my girlfriend and I headed to the San Juan Mountains to find some isolation. A coworker who is a Colorado native pointed us to Wheeler Geologic Area near the town of Creede.

Exposed volcanic rock at Wheeler is from La Garita Caldera, one of the largest eruptions ever on Earth, about 25 million years ago.

Standing above The Ampitheater at Wheeler Geologic Area

The United States just turned 235 years old. The territory that makes up Colorado has been called one of those states since 1876. I’m a Colorado transplant who has spent a couple of years enjoying this special place, but the rock I’m holding in this photo is a true native, created through a tumultuous birth an incomprehensibly long time ago. And it will still be here long after I’ve passed through.

Trip Summary

Destination: Wheeler Geologic Area, San Juan Mountains, Colo.

Distance hiked: about 17 or 20 miles round-trip. On Saturday we hiked the 6.8 or 8.4 miles (depending which Forest Service sign or Web site you believe) from the trailhead to camp outside the fence marking the border of the geologic area. Sunday we hiked the approximately three-mile loop around the geologic area. Monday it was the 6.8-8.4 miles back out.

Elevation: Trail starts at about 10,700 feet and goes up to a high of about 11,800 feet on the loop trail. Camped at about 11,000 feet.

Temperatures: high 80s in the sun; mid-40s at night

Pack Weight: 25 pounds

Notes: Four-wheel-drive vehicles, including ATVs and motocross bikes, can easily access the part of the national forest that abuts the geologic area. Camping at the end of the 4×4 road could be noisy on some occasions, but we had a quiet weekend with only one other family camped in the area.


Boston-area bookseller sells his texts in a novel way

January 15, 2007

The Leaning Tower of BooksWhile visiting my sister in Salem, Massachusetts, during the Christmas holiday, I came across Derby Square Bookstore. As you can see, the owner has redefined the idea of shelf-space. Where there is no more room to shelve the books horizontally, the owner stacks them vertically.

The stacks of books tower over shoppers and, occasionally, topple onto the floor. When a customer wants a book from the middle – or, more precariously, the bottom – of a stack, the owner dismantles the tower of books a story at a time until the customer can grab the book she wants.

Bookstore ownerThe owner, who you can see between these walls of books, says he has been in business 30 years. He sells his books cheaply; all are at least 10 percent off the cover price, and many are discounted 40 percent. The books are new, but I couldn’t help wondering if storing them this way is bad for their bindings. Despite that concern, I picked up three Dover Thrift classics for a couple of dollars, and I have been quite happy with my purchase.