Featured Photo: Football Brown

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Showing posts with label Trail to Timber Lake. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Trail to Timber Lake. Show all posts

Monday, May 29, 2023

Colorado 2022 Day 6: Hiking and Fly Fishing Timber Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park

This was another of our favorite days on this trip. Our original hiking plans had been put on hold, mostly because I had forgotten entirely about the East Troublesome Fire. This massive inferno had roasted large swaths of the west side of Rocky Mountain National Park in 2020. North Inlet Trail had been severely impacted by this fire, meaning large sections of the trail would be out in the hot sun instead of winding through the shaded forest. I still hope to eventually hike some or all of this trail, but for our purposes on this trip, we looked for other alternatives.

Timber Lake is one of the most easily accessible high lakes on the west side of Rocky Mountain National Park. When I saw most easily accessible, all I'm saying is that some of the lakes on this side involve hiking 10-15 or more miles one way. This is still a relatively strenuous hike, with over 2000 feet of vertical gain AND a little over 5 miles of hiking one way. Our National Geographic Trails Illustrated map suggested that the trail slowly contoured up the steeper terrain. However, once we got there, it turns out there were some intense switchbacks. It is fairly rare in my experience for these maps to be off, but this time it seemed to not be the most accurate portrayal of actual conditions. Still, even with the intensity, this was an excellent hike and one we'll probably do again someday. Oh, and the fishing was pretty good...

Hiking to Timber Lake: The First Half

The hike to Timber Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park starts at a trailhead in the northern part of Kawuneeche Valley, shortly before the road starts switchbacking up the side of the mountain on its way to the top. Just across the road is the trailhead for the Colorado River trail. The trailhead is around 9,000 feet in elevation, so we had a touch over 2,000 vertical feet and a little more than 5 miles between us and our destination. However, much of the elevation gain happens in bursts. The first half mile or so was gently rolling through a beautiful mix of evergreens and aspen which were beginning to turn gold. From looking at the trail map, we knew this wouldn't last long. 

Map of Trail to Timber Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park


Sure enough, the trail began climbing in earnest as it angled up the mountain. With a toddler strapped onto my back via the kid carrier, the trail seemed harder than it probably was. I probably had somewhere around 25-30 pounds on my back. In addition to the baby and her things, I had water, a water filter, fishing equipment (Tenkara USA Rhodo rod), and of course some camera gear, a good solid load any day.

While not quite at peak for the most part, there were just enough golden aspen to make us reach for the phones for a quick picture from time to time. Our trip had been timed with the hope of seeing some good fall colors while not experiencing too much extreme cold. That is a fine line and one that is easy to mess up. On this trip, we mostly succeeded the first half or so of our time there.

Golden aspen along the trail to Timber Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park

View of aspen on trail to Timber Lake


At the trailhead, we had noticed a sign warning us of a landslide. The rangers at the Kawuneeche Valley Ranger station had also warned us of the landslide. We figured it was no big deal, but were also intrigued. When we finally discovered it approximately 2.5 miles in, we realized it really was quite a landslide! The slide was a decent obstacle on the trail. While something like this wasn't normally worth mentioning, I will say that it was slightly more challenging with a toddler in a pack on my back. The main difficulty came in having to duck/crawl under huge logs (or crawl over them). I had to be extra cautious not to hurt the little one. Otherwise it wasn't a big deal. 

Hiking to Timber Lake: The Second Half

If the first half had been relatively easy, the second half was much more challenging. The trail itself was still easy to negotiate, but was also much steeper than we had surmised based on a glance at our National Geographic Trails Illustrated map. The trail looks like a straight run angling up the hillside, but we discovered there were some rather intense switchbacks made all the more intense by the 25-30 pounds on my back. We were starting to get hungry, and lunch seemed like a good choice part way up one of the switchback sections. 

While we were stopped, I decided to dig out the camera. Some thistle growing nearby was perfectly illuminated with a nice dark background. I didn't play with the camera long because I was hungry, but I was happy with the pictures I managed to get. 

Thistle on the trail to Timber Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park


After eating, we were rejuvenated for the final push to the top, or at least the top of our hike for the day. Timber Lake is in a beautiful high basin surrounded by towering cliffs. On our way up, we passed through numerous small meadows, each time looking carefully for elk or moose. We weren't destined to find any on this hike, but the bright sunny hours of midday were probably not ideal for seeing these critters.

Open meadow view on the trail to Timber Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park


Leah did spend a fair amount of time searching out some pika. These are one of our favorites, and she really wanted to get a good picture. While I plodded on up the hill, slowly putting one foot in front of the other on the last push to Timber Lake, she chased these little rodents with her camera. She got a few, but alas none of the pika would allow her to get close enough for a very clear shot. These things are hard to sneak up on!

As we broke out of the woods and into the basin with the lake in front of us, a sign informed us that we were now indeed over 11,000 feet. My lowland lung capacity had already suggested that to me, but the gorgeous lake in front of us made up for any small inconvenience or suffering experienced along the way. 

Timber Lake sign and elevation information


Fishing Timber Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park

Of course, since I had hauled my fishing equipment up, I was definitely intent on at least getting a fly wet. When I walked along the banks and saw fish cruising just off shore, I knew that the chances of catching a fish were pretty high. I still had everything rigged from our hike to Sky Pond. That meant a parachute Adams which always seems to be a good choice on these high elevation lakes. 

Rocky Mountain National Park Timber Lake panorama


Before getting serious about the fishing, I did take some time with the camera. Timber Lake is incredibly beautiful, made even better by the lack of crowds compared to high elevation lakes on the east side of Rocky Mountain National Park. While we did see another group or two, it felt relatively deserted after our hike to Sky Pond. 

Pictures completed, I began to hurry as the urge to fish grew. The toddler with me was interested in throwing rocks in the lake, so we made sure to do that a little in between our preparations to fish and even in between casts. The casting was exciting enough that we both participated in that activity as well. Eventually, one of the native residents graced the end of our line and we enjoyed our first Timber Lake cutthroat trout. 

Colorado River cutthroat in Timber Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park


We managed a few of the beautiful cutthroat before getting anxious to start back. With a little one to get ready in addition to ourselves, we have found our hikes to start later than in the past. Thus, we are usually pushing our time late in the day. With 5 or so miles to get back and the sun already dropping in the western sky, we knew it was time to say farewell to Timber Lake until next time. 

Hiking Back From Timber Lake 

I hung back a little and snapped a picture as Leah started down the trail. Then it was time to start hustling to catch up. We still had some adventures to enjoy on the way back out. 

Hiking the Trail to Timber Lake


Back down the trail, in the vicinity of the landslide, I had noticed wild raspberries growing in several spots. While we didn't want to gather any for later, it was a welcome treat for our little one. She had already discovered these on a previous hike and had even found a couple at camp. We were having to keep an eye on her since she had discovered where the raspberries came from. We couldn't risk having her eat every brightly colored berry she found, but when we did find actual raspberries, she was having a ball. I might have sampled one or two, but most that we found went to little bit. It was worth finding them just to see her enjoy them!

The shadows were getting longer and longer and the hues of fall around us reminded us how cold it would get once the sun set. It was time to get back to camp.

Fall color along the Timber Lake trail

 
We got back as the shadows of the surrounding mountains deepened over the valley. With just enough time for a quick supper, we hurried with our evening routine and then hit the sack. All of us were tired, but the pack mule (ME!) was probably the most tired. It had been a great day. Even as tired as I was, I had one more goal. 

Star Gazing at Timber Creek Campground


Star Gazing at Timber Creek Campground was one of the things I remembered most from my past trips to this campground. While a lot had changed since my last visit, the incredible night sky was still just as good as I remembered. We hoped for some other good night sky views on our trip, but little did we know that our clear starry nights were numbered. In the meantime, I had a good time with my camera. This Big Agnes Manzanares tent, like all of my others, has served me well through many amazing adventures. If you're looking for a tent, I recommend checking them out!

Night sky and Big Agnes tent at Timber Creek Campground