After our disaster of a trip to Timber Lake, we took the next day to scratch our mosquito bites and gear up before our next adventure, which we thought would take place the following week. In typical Dus and Steph fashion, we decided at 7:00PM Friday that we wanted to head into the backcountry, once again, on Saturday.
With our feet still a little sore from the day before, we searched for a 4-5 mile hike one-way. There were plenty of options to chose from, but we decided to do something a little familiar, but new at the same time. Michigan Lakes (or American Lakes) fit the bill. It had been so long since I had been up Poudre Canyon that I was really looking forward to the drive.
The process of getting around was a little easier, and I do believe we got on the road at the time we set for ourselves. Progress. Resplendent with wildlife, new growth and very few people, the canyon did not disappoint. It is truly one of my favorite canyon drives in CO.
Upon arriving to the State Forest, we were greeted with the news that the road in which we needed to access the trailhead was closed for logging. Well, crap. A quick meeting of the minds determined we would get there by using the other trail access, even though that route was supposed to be longer and a bit more difficult. After staying up late to pack and driving all the way up here, there was no way I would settle for a day at Lake Agnes. A kind woman at the trailhead gave us a trail description that put our minds (and bodies) at ease.
We entered at the American Lakes trailhead. The beginning of this hike follows an old road, which continues even after you pass the ditch service road. Lush meadows filled this stretch of the hike. We thought for sure we would see a moose or two. Unfortunately, no such luck. However, the meadows were splendid.
Nature must have been feeling patriotic. Blooms of red, white and blue blanketed the hillsides. I didn’t expect to see such a show of wildflowers so early in the season, but what a treat. Once we crossed Michigan River, the climb began. Without a doubt, this was the easiest hike we have had since moving to Colorado. On the trail we made big plans to bring our friends from Missouri, Brooke and Matt, back here. With ample switchbacks and a total ascent of only 1500 feet, this trail was a breeze, not to mention incredibly scenic, start to finish.
Several pockets of trees graciously offered us hospitable campsites. All of these wonderful little tree coves would accommodate several groups. Lucky for us, there weren’t several groups, and we had our choice of a campsite. We picked a spot right between Thunder Pass and the lakes. If you have been up this way, I am sure you know the spot. A fantastic campsite in all respects, except for the close proximity to the trail. It was a bit too close for my preference. We saw a lot of traffic. However, the views more than made up for the occasional passerby.
Filling Drake’s belly was the first order of business. Him and Dustin snacked while I took the opportunity to shoot some pictures from all the vantage points of the campsite. Colorado is full of stunning scenery, each place holding different beauty in her landscape, but this place had a little extra special. A bit of discussion between Dus and I determined this was our favorite spot we have been. Once appetites for food were satiated, an appetite to fish emerged. Hunger must have found the fish, because the fishing in the outlet was productive. All of mine, except for one, came on a fly box staple, a #20 Pheasant Tail dropped off a #18 Parachute Adams.
As much fun as picking off fish in the stream was, the sun was already on its Western descent; we still had three lakes to explore. I found myself impressed by a beaver dam that stretched the width of the lake. Along the southeastern shore of the top lake there was a beaver hut, but we think it was abandoned quite some time ago. It is amazing that these animals work so hard, and when an area is perfect, they move on to the next. Busy, in every sense of the word.
A thin social trail follows the western side of Michigan Lakes; this trail will take you to Snow Lake, which lies in the cirque above the two Michigan Lakes. You don’t have to traverse the talus slope. The social trail near the outlet of Snow winds through the greenery and makes for a pretty easy climb. It is definitely worth the extra effort to go to Snow. Not only is the lake magnificently turquoise, a site to behold in and of itself, the view down the valley from the lake is breathtaking. Snow is also one of the largest high mountain lakes I have seen. I couldn’t get the entire lake in one shot.
Rumors told us large cutthroats called Snow Lake home. We were eager to take a stab at these behemoths of the high country. Unfortunately, a large percentage of the lake was still under ice. I positioned myself in a prime vantage point to spot cruisers. I didn’t see a one. Dustin claims he saw one, but only one, and only saw it once. Dipping my hand in the water was a numbing experience. Holy hypothermia! It was SO cold. Instead of fishing to frozen fish, we admired our surroundings, gave Drake a snack and a diaper change, and headed back down to cast to warmer fish. Stopping to wet a line on the way back to camp proved fruitful. Between the afternoon and evening session, we caught decent size fish, fat football fish, skinny minnies, and some dinks. It was a good day.
By the time we made it back to camp, there was a hard chill in the air. All of us were tired, but we needed to eat dinner before we hit the hay. It was then that the case of the malfunctions began. Wanting a little heat, I dug out our candle lantern. The lantern gives us a little warmth, repels mosquito and basks us in that ever-forgiving candlelight. It is a camping staple for us. Unfortunately, our lighter failed. Ever resourceful, Dustin lit a stick from the fire of our stove, and success.
Lucky for us, Drake was exhausted. He hit the sack extra early, and it proved to be his bedtime. He was down for the count. Each time out, we have slept a little better with the bags zipped together. Thank heavens for the mattress coupler; that handy invention makes sleeping on the “crack” bearable. About midnight, I was woken by some serious bright light. Oh my. I really didn’t like the looks of it. Lightening lit up the night for about thirty minutes before the thunder bounced off the cirque above us. About that time, here came the winds and torrential rains. It was a heck of a storm. Drake slept through the entire thing, and our tent held up like a champ.
Mornings with Drake are my favorite. He wakes up so happy, full of hugs and kisses, and the best bed head I have ever seen. Each time out we have captured a photo of “Morning Drake”; however, this time his cuteness broke the camera. Break #2. A screaming bladder got me out of the tent, and Dustin followed shortly. A warm cup of joe energized us for the day. Unfortunately, the warm cup of joe didn’t supply the stove with the energy it did us. Break #3. The stove would no longer collapse. Hmmm, guess it would have to be strapped to the pack on the way down.
Laughing at our bum luck, we headed up to Thunder Pass, which was a quick and easy hike from our campsite. When hiking from the lower lake, follow the trail East to Thunder Pass. Man, I am so glad we made the trip. This gateway to RMNP made us brainstorm about multi-day trips utilizing this pass. I wish I had pictures to share of what awaited us at the top of the pass; alas, the damn broken camera. We decided to send a check-in from the pass so Brooke and Matt could see the spot of their next vacation, hint hint. Little did we know, that was break #4.
Thunderheads started to stack as we tore down camp. It was time to get the heck off this mountain. Storms swirled all around us before we found the safety of the dense forest, but we lucked out and stayed dry. With the switchbacks, it was a pleasant hike back down to the trailhead. In most cases, we absolutely hate coming down, but this time it was bearable. Another bonus of our new favorite spot.
Exiting the canyon proved to be as great as entering the canyon. We saw two rather large bull moose, encountered little traffic, and had a pleasant drive back home. Pleasant until my mom called. The SPOT Satellite Messenger failed us this weekend. She had not received a “check-in” message for over 24 hours. She was livid and extremely frightened. This was a good lesson for all of us. The SPOT, while designed to save your life, inherently is an electronic device, making it capable of failure. A reminder that only ourselves are in charge of our survival.
Home certainly was sweet. After 35 miles in the last six days, our chunky-out-of-shape butts were whooped, but man, those 35 miles were worth it.