Monday, November 26, 2012

Lake Dorothy

On Thanksgiving day I was pleased to get to 11,500 feet altitude. On this trip I got above 12,000 feet and felt that it would be the last time in the high mountains with the impending snow forecast next week.
Icy trail rising through the woods

The 4th July trail access road has been open for much longer than usual this year. Normally, by mid-October it is completely snowed up. Apart from a few icy sections it is still a very easy drive and I arrived at a completely empty lot around 7.30am. It was blowing a gale - when isn't it in the mountains at this time of year? I put an extra jacket in my pack, set my altimeter, and headed off.
Tricky surface to run along

It immediately became apparent that this trail wasn't going to be easy. I've run it before many times in better weather and I know every twist and turn from memory. But there was a thick coating of hard ice everywhere and I was having to pick my way carefully along the edges of the trail to get decent traction. Of course, I should have slipped on my running spikes, but I had it in my head that it wasn't that bad. I really should have worn them.
Jasper Peak just left of center. Mount Neva to the right

There was one section of trail that climbed steeply uphill that had about 6 inches of sheet ice for about 80 yards. This was frozen overflow water from a small stream and it required high stepping on a very steep grassy bank to get by. It would be even more difficult on the descent.
Just above 4th July Mine

The boggy plateau immediately before the junction with the 4th July Mine was also completely iced over and the trail then became much more runnable as accumulations of neve snow had built up on the surface and this produced much better traction and I was able to move at a faster pace.
Jasper Peak left, Mount Neva right from high up the trail

The long rising section of the Arapaho Pass trail above the mine sweeps across the hillside of Quarter to Five Peak before cresting at the point where the Caribou Pass continues passed Lake Dorothy. My original plan was to run to the pass, then jog along the rising ridge line to the summit of Quarter to Five Peak, before descending directly down the steep talus to join the trail just above the mine. It didn't quite work out that way.
The frozen surface of Lake Dorothy dwarfed by Mount Neva

The wind that hit me in the face at the col was gale force. I pulled up my neck scarf to try and breathe but it was impossible. I tried to turn my back towards the blast but I could barely keep my feet. I edged along the ridge towards Quarter to Five Peak but it was impossible. When a particularly strong gust plucked me into the air and dropped me 15 yards down a snow slope I decided to turn back and climb to Lake Dorothy instead. The broader slope up to the lake afforded a little more protection and when I reached the banks of the lake it was completely still and felt warm. This was relative warmth of course as my thermometer showed 3F before wind chill.
Standing on the lake surface at 12,000 feet

I rested a short while by the lake. There was about 8-10 inches of ice on the surface but I could hear a lot of creaking and the sound of water below the surface. Another month and the whole depth will be completely frozen. After about 10 minutes I reluctantly set off back into the wind for the long descent back to the car.
Quarter to Five Peak ridge foreshadowed by North and South Arapaho Peaks

It didn't seem as bad on the descent as the wind was at my back. I picked my way carefully down the icy trail. There were sections where a slip on a snow slope would have seen me deposited several hundred feet below and I wanted to avoid unnecessary exhilaration.
Caribou Lake with Santanta Peak above

I only lost footing a couple of times and managed to avoid any disasters. I did meet a couple of walkers but they didn't seem to be equipped for high country and were likely heading for the mine. I was already very warm before I reached the car and was able to enjoy the beautiful views of the mountains from lower altitude. I really like this trailhead, even if the access road is a trial. And it was a pleasant surprise to get above 12,000 feet again for maybe the last time this year.
Final descent - 2 miles to the trail head

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