Ypsilon Lake, Rocky Mt National Park, Colorado
Maps: USGS 1:24K quad: Trail Ridge; Trails Illustrated 1:59K: #200 Rocky Mt National Park
Access: From Estes Park, take Hwy 34 to the Fall River entrance of RMNP. Proceed ~2 miles to the Lawn Lake trailhead.
Trailhead: NAD83 z13 446875e 4473163n Elev: 8560'
Trail: 4.5 miles with ~2,000 ft elevation gain through lodgepole/spruce forest
Fees: $20 seven-day pass / $35 annual pass
Dogs: Not allowed
Webcam: 6 miles southeast in Estes Park
Weather: Current and recent conditions Local Forecast
September 21, 2007
Itís late September, and the snow could fly anytime but hasnít yet. These are the bonus hiking days of autumn, where every day could well be the last good hiking day of the year. My greed for more hikes goes into high gear this time of year, and I find myself almost obsessively trying to get just one more hike in before the white sheets of ice make it a whole different ball game. Thereís a certain subdued feeling to the hikes in September, where you know that ahead lies a long, cold winter with darkness that starts at 4:30 in the afternoon and doesnít let up until 8:00 the next morning. Like a chipmunk gathering for winter, I try to fill these last days of fall with memorable time spent in the mountains, enough to tide me over during the ice-filled months when trips to the woods are limited to the amount of time you can stand having your eyeballs freeze.
So, in a string of early mornings spent driving west into the alpine, I am once again in the car by 6:30, heading to Rocky Mountain National Park. I stop in Estes Park for a muffin at the Safeway, and note the chill that hits my bare legs as I walk out of the store. Itís going to be a chilly day, blue skies and blaring sunshine notwithstanding. The local NPR station has alerted listeners to a high wind advisory, with gusts topping 60 mph in the foothills and high country. I am heading right into the foothills and high country, so I will know what to expect. By 9:00 Iím at the Lawn Lake TH, lacing on my boots, checking items in my pack, and feeling the buoyant tug of the trail. Itís cool and breezy to start, but hiking uphill keeps my heart rate up and my body warm. I have brought along warm clothes, of course, but I stick to shorts and a tshirt for now to keep sweat from building up on this long, uphill slog to Ypsilon Lake.
The first portion of the trail winds uphill along switchbacks through lodgepole pine, then follows a crumbling cliff that falls down into the Roaring River. Blazing yellow aspen groves dot the trail, flaring but for a couple of weeks each fall before a long, winter rest. The Roaring River rustles below in a dull roar of white foam as depleted fall flow exposes all the rocks and snags in the current. Cold, cirrus clouds hang high overhead, filtering the sunlight and bringing on that fall melancholy. After around 1.3 miles, the trail forks and I take the left fork to a small footbridge across Roaring River, and up into the trees beyond.
The trail is deserted and I feel deliciously alone. Itís Friday, and I should be at work. The only thing better than hiking is hiking on a day when you should be sitting behind a desk, feeling your eyes rot slowly from the inside from staring at an LCD monitor all day. The trail steepened up, and I quickly hit a nice pace that kept me warm despite the increasing chill, and gusty wind sweeping through the trees. I plod along at a steady, comfortable pace through an unchanging world of lodgepole pine. About 3 miles from the TH, Douglas fir start to sprinkle into the mix, and by 4 miles I am high enough to be walking among spruces and firs. I round a corner and see Mt Ypsilon straight ahead, bald, barren and imposing. The trail takes its first downhill stretch to tiny Chipmunk Lake, then across a morraine to Ypsilon Lake. I check my watch and it has taken me right around 2 hours to get here.
Itís cold and cloudy at the shore of Ypsilon Lake, but blue skies still gleam brightly to the south and west, so I am hopeful the cirrus cloud bank will move away and stop filtering the sunlight. I pull out my fleece and throw it on to break the chill. Nobody is around, apparently. I walk clockwise around the lake following a faint path, stopping periodically to step over to the shore and admire the view. Wind gusts are so strong they nearly knock me over multiple times as I aim for a photograph. A particular gust comes up so fast and loud, for a split second I am sure a giant bear is running up behind me through the grass. I reach the east end of the lake, and the outlet where hundreds of bleached logs are jammed up against a forest of willows. The wind screams across the lake, and I canít even hold my camera steady to take photographs. I continue on to the north side of the lake, and scramble across a boulderfield to the western shore and find a relatively sheltered spot among giant boulders to sit and have a sandwich. The sunlight is growing stronger by degrees, and the warmth feels great on my face. I close my eyes and take a short siesta, basking in contentment, quiet and solitude. When I awake, I continue on around the lake to where I began. On this southwest side of the lake, I follow the sound of water falling until I come to a falls along the stream issuing from Chiquita Lake, 900 feet above. I consider following the stream up the steep slope to Chiquita Lake, but the day is cold and the wind will be so much stronger above treeline. I decide to save that trek for another day.
The trip downhill is quick and painless, easy walking that allows my mind to wander. I meet 12 hikers on the way up, many looking extremely tired and flustered. It is a challenging hike because of the relentless elevation gain. I offer encouragement to those who ask if the trip is worth it, or if they are almost there. In 2 hours I am back at the car and throwing my boots into the trunk in exchange for sandals. On my way out of town, I stop in Estes Park and walk along the quaint old town district, admiring the colorful buildings and enjoying the wonderful smells of decadent candies and waffle cones wafting out from every third shop along the street. Estes Park is your archetypical tourist town, where the shops fall into four basic categories: confections, greasy food, t-shirts and art galleries, some of them filling more than category at once.
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