A name worthy of this hike.
I guess, I could have named my hike something else. Like, “Jumpin Jack Flash, it’s a gas, gas, gas” or “Hiking to South Colony Lakes, an epic adventure in high altitude flatulence” as my hiking partner must have downed a twelve pack of beer and one of those gallon cans of pork and beans the night before. And, the worst part is; he hikes faster than me, but not fast enough to keep more than a couple yards in front of me . So, I’ll just leave you to your imagination and go with my third choice. “Our psychic adventure to South Colony Lakes.” Who would have known we’d be in the right place at the right time, twice.
Introduction to the area.Let me first say, if you do this hike other than in winter or spring, I wouldn’t really call it a hike per se. You can actually drive to within a of a mile of the first lake if you have a 4 wheel drive vehicle with good clearance. Since most of the road was under snow, I can’t personally give an opinion on how rough it is.
I’ve gotten a glimpse of the Crestone Needle almost every morning for the past two years. It sits directly across the valley from my kitchen window. I hadn’t really cared too much about checking the South Colony area out, because of the fact that you can almost drive up to the front door. I prefer to go to remote areas, where there is no vehicle access. I didn’t realize that the lakes sat right at the bottom of the Crestone Needle. Thanks to my hiking partners’ (let’s just call him, Stinky) suggestion, we decided to check out the scenery. And wow, what scenery there is!! I can’t wait to see what’s under the snow.
The Adventure begins.We passed the two wheel drive parking area in my ride I now call Denver. You’ll understand from the picture. It's prior name was P.O.S. (piece of). The name I gave it when it got me stuck in a snow bank on the way to the Marble Mountain trailhead about 3 or 4 weeks ago.
I reset the tripometer as we crossed the cattle crossing guard and began the climb up the 4 wheel drive section of the road. There is a sign at the cattle guard. The signs says “Private Land, no stopping or parking for the next mile and a half.” I didn’t really think we would be able to get that far up the road, as the snow elevation looked to be very low.
The tripometer was just rolling to the 1.5 mile mark, when we came to a fairly steep embankment completely covered in snow. The forest boundary sign was right at the top of the hill. There was a father and son on the right side in a pull-out putting some chains on their jeep station wagon. There was a wide spot just to my left, where I could have easily parked to allow traffic to pass. Which, at the end of the day, there had been no new traffic.
I began to wonder if the fine for parking within spitting distance of the forest boundary was worth the possibility of getting stuck trying to climb the hill. I decided to take the chance. There was already 1 set of tracks going up it. I figured, if someone else could make it, it was worth giving P.O.S. a chance.
My first attempt got me about 10ft up the hill. It was fairly steep and had a pitch to the right side. I had to back down. As I did, the vehicle slid to the right and I lightly tagged a downed tree stump sticking out near the side of the road, however I did make it back down unscathed.
From my previous adventure of getting stuck on a snow bank, I learned the hard way. Having a shovel is a necessity while driving in Colorado or for that matter, anywhere off road. After slicing up both hands trying to dig the snow from under my vehicle. Then, having to walk five miles (which could have been 12 miles or more) to the nearest inhabited farm for help. I decided to be a little more prepared this time. I brought 2 shovels and plenty of gloves.
After my first attempt up the hill, Stinky and I grabbed the shovels and dug about a 25ft long center section of the snow that was sticking up between the two tire tracks going up the hill. It was obvious that the vehicle that had gone before me had substantially more ground clearance and unless, we cleared out some of the snow in the middle, it was going to pile up under my cross braces and differentials and get me stuck.
My second attempt was a grueling battle between nature and machine. The machine won that battle and I pulled to the top of the hill. I found the first pull out and parked my P.O.S. At that very moment, I christened and renamed P.O.S to “Denver” . There was nothing it couldn’t tackle!
Our first incident.Not more than a couple minutes after I parked it, the jeep came chugging up the hill and made it about 50ft past me and got stuck. Two of their 4 chains had fallen off. They were about 2ft deep in snow and didn’t have a shovel. I helped dig for a few minutes. Then, they insisted on Stinky and me heading out on our hike and letting them do the digging. So, I left them the shovels and we headed up the road.
We continue on.
We were able to walk across the large stream fairly easy. For the most part, we were able to keep our feet above the water by walking on rocks. There were a couple of times our feet were submerged, but never more than a few inches. As soon as we crossed the creek, we put on our snowshoes. Except for a few spots from there on out, the road was covered completely.
We continued up the road all the while looking at someones tracks, who had been postholing for quite some time. The holes were so deep and frequent, that it was giving me pain, just looking at them. Once we got a little above 10,200ft, the snow was pretty much solid. By the upper 10’s, there were large sections of snow up to 6ft deep. I would venture to say, it will be at least a month of warm weather before anyone gets up that road.
Our second incident.We passed the upper parking area and started to climb. There were a few sections that were somewhat steep and we labored up the hills. My hiking partner would have fun on the way back.
It was gorgeous. Sunny. No wind. We couldn’t have asked for a better day.
Just before we reached the final ridge on the right/east side of the first lake, out of nowhere, the wind picked up. We continued to walk. We reached the top of the ridge and a gust of wind knocked my hat off and sent it sailing. At the same time, we noticed two tents on a flat area about 100ft to our left. Had to have been our postholers. Another gust of wind and one of the tents came loose and began to tumble down the mountain. The other was on its side, flapping like a kite without a tail. Fortunately, there were still two lines attached into the ground on the second tent, but it started to look as if it was going to fly as well.
The wind died down for a second. I was able to walk back about 100 yds to get my hat before it disappeared over the rise. Then, we walked over and picked up the tent that was attempting to flea . It appeared to have a rip in the top from hitting the rocks. We took some large boulders, unzipped the tent and placed them inside it. The entire time, I’m wondering if the owners (fully armed with semi-automatics) are going to show up and think we’re pilfering their belongings. Afterall, the tent that was leaving the area was a Salewa which, I believe is a fairly expensive tent. The other was a Bibler which I know is an expensive tent. We put some boulders in that one also.