Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Diamond Lake

Even though I expected it, I was still shocked when it happened. I'd been tentative all morning with so much hard ice on the trail - the sunlight shining through the trees glistened on the glassy sections. I used the occasional tree-root or boulder to steady my sliding feet, but the steep uphill and downhill sections were treacherous. The thought of losing my footing and skating over the edge and down rocky talus wasn't exactly appealing. I could cope with the thought of sliding through fluffy snow, but not with getting my legs skinned on rough granite, or my skull getting whacked against a tree trunk (although, on the latter point my wife would argue where the greater damage might be caused!).

Snow on the high mountains leaving the trailhead.
Annoyingly, I was upended on a perfectly flat section of trail and little damage ensued, except to my pride and ego. My heel, for reasons known only to it, decided that a sideways skate was in order. As I brought through my trailing leg it clipped the back of my calf and I went full length on the ice. It hurt, but it wasn't an injury inducing fall. Livvy, bemused at my prostrate form, looked in puzzlement. She had the look of a dog who just wanted me to get up and start running again. And that's exactly what I did.
Crossing the North Fork of Middle Boulder Creek.
The Fourth of July trailhead was completely deserted this morning. That wasn't a great surprise. Midweek and well into Fall, this trailhead lies just below 10,000 feet and will soon be snowbound. It gets very busy in summer, but only serious hikers and mountaineers are around in late season...or cerebrally challenged runners like me looking for some altitude before the winter really sets in. It wasn't particularly cold as Livvy and I left the car - maybe 34 degrees - but the wind was very strong. Within 200 feet elevation gain from the trailhead we encountered ice on the trail and snow in the woods. It was going to get much worse as we gained altitude. It was also going to slow us right down. I like running in snow, but not on hard ice. We were going to be walking a lot. Rather that than a serious injury.
Approaching Diamond Lake
I didn't have a lot of time this morning, so rather than attempt a higher mountain outing I took the trail to Diamond Lake. This would give about a six mile circuit and take us up to about 10,600 feet. As we climbed up to the lake Livvy's paws were tracking clumps of ice and her legs were skating all over the place. She better get used to this because we are going to be running in much worse conditions in the depth of winter.
The sun felt warm, but the air temperature was cold.
I've been to Diamond Lake many times. This usually tranquil lake is a beautiful place in warm, sunny weather. Usually I approach it from the Devil's Thumb Trail via Hessie and this makes for a long trip. I recall early last year doing a 17 mile circuit with Livvy with the last section the reverse of the route we were taking today. I knew the route and what to expect.
Looking across Diamond Lake from the inlet.
The dense woodland offered some protection from the wind and occasional clearings provided brief warmth from the sun. The snow depth off trail was about 8 inches, but the wind had whipped it up to about 2 feet in places, whereas other sections of trail were completely snow free. It made for intermittent running and walking, but it was great to be in the high country with not a person in sight.
Sun hadn't reached this area and the air temperature was down to negative 8. Windchill would double that.
We reached the lake and were immediately buffeted by wind. It whipped up ice particles that lashed and stung my face and legs - those shorts were a great choice!! We quickly tracked the lake's north shore and headed for the inlet at its west end. I wondered about completing the circuit but when I saw heavily iced boulders beyond the point where I took the above photo on self-timer, it was much fairer on Livvy to just backtrack.

We raced back into sunshine and took the trail to the southeast corner of the lake. The wind was ripping across the surface and a significant amount of verglas was coating the rocks next to the trail. It wasn't a place to stand around and, just as we were leaving a huge gust sent a stream of water spray that hit me full in the face. Two washes in one day - that should see me through to November.

We paused briefly in a sunny patch to warm up a little before heading back through the woods. This was a really short run, so we weren't under any time pressure.

I had seen quite a few fresh bear tracks on the way up and on the return trip Livvy showed a lot of interest in movements she picked up through the trees to our north. I didn't see a bear on this trip, but knew they were close. Just after this photo was taken we found a large pile of fresh bear skat on the trail that hadn't been there on the way up.

There won't be many more days when the higher trails are accessible, so we are making the most of them while we can.

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