Colorado State Forest, west of Walden, CO
Access: From Tedís Place at Hwy 287 x Hwy 14, head west on Hwy14 72 miles to the entrance to the Colorado State Forest, past Gould, and turn in. Head north a few hundred yards to the entry shack and pay the entrance fee. Continue 1 mile to a Y and veer left, driving on the north side of North Michigan Reservoir. In 3.9 miles, turn right onto Ruby Jewel Rd. In 0.9 miles, continue straight (right) at the Francisco Rd junction. Drive another mile to the end of the 2-wheel drive road. Intrepid souls with high clearance can attempt to drive another 1.5 miles to the trailhead, but I recommend just walking it. Much quieter that way.
Trail: From the end of the 2-wheel drive road, it is 1.5 miles up the 4-wheel drive road to the trailhead, and an additional 1.5 miles to Jewel Lake. Elevation: Start: 9,670 ft End: 11,260 ft Gain: 1,590 ft. Well-marked, steep, very scenic.
Map: USGS quad Clark Peak
Dogs: 6í leash
Fees: $6/daily vehicle pass
Weather:Current & Recent Conditions and Forecast
September 16, 2008
The roads leading to Jewel Lake from the entrance to the Colorado State Forest are not smooth, nor wide, so the going is slow, and I find myself finally at the lower trailhead after 3 hours of sitting in the car. Iím not happy at getting such a late start, but itís noon whether I like it or not, and I hurry to get packed up and on the trail. Iím on my own this time, no dogs or people to talk to. I strap my fishing rod to my pack, and hit the trail.
Itís a beautiful day to be missing work. The sky is unbroken blue, and the forest is green and inviting. Snow 4 days ago still clings to the high peaks, but down where I am it has melted. I head up the rough 4-wheel drive road, a deep valley eroded down the middle of the gravelly soil, and feel pretty good about my decision to park the car where I did. This road is definitely not suitable for a Subaru. Halfway to the upper trailhead, I pass a Chevy Blazer, and although he made it that far, I imagine it was not a relaxing drive, and could probably be walked faster.
I keep a pretty good pace through the dense stands of lodgepole pine and subalpine fir, feeling good in the 60-degree air, and arrive at the upper trailhead after 45 minutes. The road narrows to a trail of equally rough character, and continues across a shallow rippling creek and on into the unbroken spruce and fir where sunlight flickers on my face intermittently through the silent ranks of conifers. The trail to Kelly Lake passes by on the left, and it is tempting to try it today too, but first I aim for Ruby Jewel Lake. Why Iíve waited so many years to try this one is a mystery, except that perhaps it costs $6 to do so when every lake on the other side of the Rawahs is free. Iím a cheapskate, what can I say?
The trail leads steeply uphill through cool mountain air and soon the peaks are in view: tall, craggy mountains of reddish rock, dusted with snow that glows blue in the shadows. I cross a boggy section of trail, and notice wet bootprints on the wooden plank bridges, indicating the owner of the Chevy Blazer is somewhere not far ahead. The trail breaks out above the forest, though some outposts of fir cling to the rocky slopes above. The ridge of the Rawahs comes into view, with deep patches of snow still clinging on after Fridayís snowstorm that left them completely white for a couple of days. The trail winds up through boulders and tallus, and soon into an open meadow filled with willows. The willows along the creek are fading into yellow as I file through them. I see a hiker and his dog up ahead. I also note a trail that leads up the valleyís south side, ultimately providing easy access to Clark Peak, and I briefly consider trying it today, so ambitious does the bluebird sky overhead make me, but the high winds that begin to rip across the tundra convince me otherwise.
I arrive at the lake after 75 minutes of walking, and am a little surprised by how small it is. The man ahead of me and his dog are circling the lake clockwise, and he has his fishing rod at the ready. I walk to the east bank and rig up my line and fly, and step out some 20 feet into the water on top of partially-submerged rocks that must give the effect, from a distance, of walking on water. I cast out with the fly I had rigged already, and watch the man and his dog continue to circle the lake. The water is crystal clear, and I scan the depths for a rising trout, but all I can see are mossy rocks. Itís odd to see so much moss at this altitude. No fish appear. The man and his dog come close by and he tells me he hasnít seen any fish, and believes there are none. I donít commit an opinion, having on many occasions been forced to eat my words after uttering just such a proclamation, but I certainly havenít seen anything to contradict his supposition. We talk about nearby lakes and fishing for a few minutes, and I enjoy his conversation. He then wanders off back down the trail. I continue to fish, circling the lake counterclockwise, snapping pictures of the beautiful cirque as I go. The wind increases steadily, and soon ripples on the water completely obscure the depths, hiding any fish that might be there. After another 20 minutes, little whitecaps are dancing on the water, and it is downright cold. I have made it halfway around the lake, and stand fishing on the rocky west slope of the lake, where an avalanche of boulders is proceeding so slowly that I canít see it, but sometimes I cast a nervous glance behind me at a million tons of granite on its way down. I finally give it up after 45 minutes, and head back down the trail. Once back in the trees, the wind abates and I stop to shed my sweatshirt. The remainder of the hike down is very nice, warm and scenic. I pass by the Kelly Lake trail, and though I had entertained thoughts of trying it today, the wind and the cold have me dreaming of lower altitudes. I arrive at the car in an hour and drive off to other fishing opportunities at North Michigan Reservoir (strike out there, too) and the Poudre River, where I finally redeem myself with a beautiful browntrout from the rapids that ends up being my final catch of the year.