3,900 feet elevation gain
This adventure began at the Echo Lake Trailhead at 0715 on a beautiful November morning. I met up with Neil, Andy, Georg and Betsy, and we started back the Chicago Lakes Trail. The only other people we encountered were two hunters, who appeared somewhat agitated by the loud clacking of our snowshoes on the ice as we walked by. Shortly afterwards we took the snowshoes off, as the trail consisted mostly of ice, thin snow, and pointy rocks.
It was for the most part a level walk along the steep ridge, until the trail dropped, losing some 500 feet of elevation via an abundance of switchbacks to get to the Chicago Creek crossing. Here we met up with a snow-covered dirt road, which we followed slightly uphill for a mile.
After signing in at the register where the trail again split from the road, we continued up the steepening trail. The snow was a good bit deeper here, but we did not bother with our snowshoes again. . . yet.
The Chicago Lakes Basin is a delightful wilderness valley surrounded by steep cliff walls. Much of the area we went through had been burnt in a forest fire some time recently. Even though no one had been on the trail since the one-week-old snow had fallen, we had little trouble finding our way. A few places, however, we did get a little off track.
The journey to the northernmost Chicago Lake consisted of a lot of easy uphill, downhill, and level walking; there was nothing steep. We stopped a couple hundred yards above the lake at a flat wooded area to drop our camping gear. Then, with much lighter packs, we continued south.
The trail immediately became more interesting. We had to pick our way over and around large snow-covered boulders, which significantly slowed our progress. When we weren't busy watching our footing, we were marveling at the ice formations clinging to the cliffs above us. We were also fascinated by the sound of the cracking ice below us: a high-pitched song floating on the breeze. Once we made it past the boulder field, our forward motion was further impeded by a ravine full of deep, powdery snow. We all stopped to put on our snowshoes again, and finally we began gaining some quick altitude as we approached the southernmost Chicago Lake. We crossed some slippery rocks and then a steep slope of ice to arrive at the upper lake. The sun was shining brightly, but already beginning to wane as we gawked at the ridge before us. We had hoped to make it to Summit Lake by 1100, but we were already past that time, and the hard part was yet to come.
I am sure the slope we proceeded to climb would be an easy hike up a trail with a multitude of switchbacks... in the summer. On this particular day, however, we had two options: a steep snow climb or scrambling over ice-covered rocks. To begin, we chose the former, leaving our snow shoes on to climb the ever-steepening slope of snow and ice. For the most part this worked okay, but as ice started building up on the crampons of my snowshoes, I began slipping a lot and at times progress slowed almost to a halt. Others had similar problems, and time kept ticking as the ridge crest seemed to stay just out of reach.
Andy led the way for this entire slope, and about halfway up he stopped at a large flat rock to wait on the rest of us. While there, we concurred on trying the other option, steep and icy rock scrambling, to get to the crest. Thus, we packed our snowshoes and began traversing the tricky terrain. I must admit it was some fun scrambling, though we were all pretty tired by the time we reached the crest of Mount Warren's south ridge.
From here we were able to survey our future options. Our original destination, Mount Evans and/or Mount Spalding, still looked like a possibility, but not a likely one. The day was dying fast and we all wanted to get back to set up camp before too late, so we all agreed we would settle instead for the summit of Mount Warren. Before beginning our final ascent, we paused to watch some mountain bikers working their way down the amazingly-clear Mount Evans Road.
Betsy led the way up Mount Warren's south ridge, which was longer than it looked, keeping true to form for the day's hike. We enjoyed some easy scrambling over rock and snow to make it at last to the 13, 307-foot summit of Mount Warren, at 1448. The sky was crystal clear, and we enjoyed spectacular views of Mount Evans, Mount Spalding, Grays and Torreys Peaks, Mount Edwards, Longs and Meeker, and yes, Denver.
Having left our gear at the point where we first crested the ridge, we retrieved it and then headed back down toward the Chicago Lakes Basin the way we had come up. This was much more enjoyable on the way down. We had some fun glissading and were able to make it from the top of the ridge down to the upper lake in only half an hour!
The sun had already set on the basin as we continued our descent. We didn't bother with snowshoes and instead waded our way through the snow-filled ravine, where we scared off a white rabbit. Having already conquered the slipper boulders, we found them to be easier on our return trip.
At 1615, we made it back to our gear and sat on the ground, idly anticipating the motivation to set up camp. Eventually we did set up our tents, and Georg and Neil got their stoves going. Andy went to bed by six, and the rest of us, after some good warm food and fellowship, were soon to follow.
Though it had been a cold and restless sleep for some of us (myself included), we were still able to enjoy the unique sounds of the lake's shifting ice throughout the night. The temperature dropped to about 20 degrees, but the night was mostly calm, and Sunday morning dawned clear and calm as well. We awoke early, five adventurers with the wilderness all to ourselves.
By 0715 we had packed up camp and were on our way back out of the Mount Evans Wilderness. Even with the uphill on our return trip, we made great time and reached our vehicles in two hours. Just before Echo Lake we passed several other hikers who were on their way into the mountains for a Sunday stroll, and as we passed the lake we felt the warmth of the sun and heard that unmistakable sound one last time: the songs of the ice.
© 2004, BSV
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