Glacier Gorge ~ June 21st, 2012
Nelson got to my house at 6 AM as planned and we were on the road shortly thereafter. Bound for Rocky Mountain NP and Solitude Lake in the Park’s spectacular Glacier Gorge.
Our first obstacle was the road construction on Bear Lake Rd. Though the road is open to private vehicles from 6 to 9 AM, we did experience some minor delays. Rolled into a nearly full Glacier Gorge TH parking lot around 8 under cloudless skies.
Mills Lake Trail with Pagoda Mtn in center
We made good time on the trail, taking the climbers shortcut then moving on to Mills Lake. At the southern end of Mills Lake we encountered the beginnings of the blowdown
that occurred sometime in November.
Blowdown in Glacier Gorge w/ Chiefs Head Pk above
Apparently there was some sort of microburst that wiped out any trees that weren’t well anchored. There were quite a few. Fortunately, the Park Service had recently reopened the trail by cutting a path through the chaotic jumble of downed trees. Near the southern edge of the blowdown, Nelson led the way to a creek crossing and the unmaintained trail that led up the mountain to Solitude Lake.
Sometimes the term “unmaintained trail” doesn’t mean a lot - seldom used, hard to follow, a few trees blocking the trail and so on. In this case it meant blowdown over the lower part of the trail and that meant crawling over and under trees, trying to follow the faint at times, path. In addition to that, there was the just shy of 1,000 foot elevation gain in .4 of a mile. Nelson seemed unfazed by it all so onward and upward we went.
Shelf Lake w/ Arrowhead above left
Shelf Lake panorama ~ photo by Nelson
Just before noon we emerged onto the shelf that held Shelf Lake, at 11,200 ft. What a sight we beheld! The stream between Shelf and Solitude Lakes poured over a short stack of rock slabs as it cascaded from the upper down to the lower lake.
Nelson admiring the falls between Shelf & Solitude Falls between Shelf & Solitude
Above, we were surrounded on three sides by a massive ampitheater of rock, reminiscent of the Wind River Range. To our left stood Arrowhead, at the head of the cirque - McHenry’s Notch and to our right lay Thatchtop and the ridge that leads to Powell Peak.
Upper Glacier Gorge-Longs Peak>Keyboard of the Winds>Pagoda>The Spearhead>Chiefs Head Pk
Behind us was Longs Peak, the Keyboard of the Winds and Pagoda. Pretty amazing scenery.
Another 200 foot climb brought us to Solitude Lake where we took a well deserved break. Took some nourishment and then I soaked my aching dogs in the ice cold waters of the lake while Nelson went on walk-about, taking photos. Still not a cloud in the sky but we could see the plume of smoke to the north from the nearly two week old High Park fire.
Longs Peak and the Keyboard
Pumped some water from the Shelf outlet to replenish our supply before starting down. It took us the better part of an hour to make it back down to the crossing and I’d be lying if I said it was easy. Maybe not the steepest slope I’ve ever been on but it was damn close.
Trail's a bit steep here and about to get steeper!
Found it to be very warm in the bottom of the gorge. We slogged on, stopping once for a brief rest by Mills Lake, reaching the TH at about 3:30. I could’ve kicked myself for not having any cold beer in the car. I was pretty much trashed from the day and not having a cold one handy didn’t make me feel any better. We agreed to stop in Estes for some lubrication at a place Nelson knew called The Rock Inn. Good place, cold beer, great day!!!
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