After four months, Jim and I finally found a weekend where we were both in town the same day…WOW! We took advantage of it and went on an awesome hike to Heart Lake. Tanya recommended it to me, and we thoroughly enjoyed it.
Lucky for me, Jim is organized, had the directions to the trailhead printed and was familiar with the James Peak Wilderness Area. It was my first time to the Moffat Tunnel. I’ve heard of good hikes near there, though I didn’t realize Heart Lake was one of the options.
The first thing to know about hiking the trail is to skip using the pit toilets in the parking lot. Hiding behind a tree would be a better option, and I’ll leave it at that. The other important tip is that Heart Lake requires following the East Portal Trail toward Rogers Pass. The signs at the trail intersections don’t mention Heart Lake, so it is best to know Rogers Pass is the way to go. It is also good to know that Heart Lake is the last lake on the trail and requires a steep climb above the treeline before it can be found off to the right. None of this is indicated on the trail, though there are many other signs to Crater Lake, Arapaho Lakes, Rogers Pass, and more.
The trail begins to the right of Moffat Tunnel and climbs through aspens, past old buildings, across South Boulder Creek, and through meadows of wildflowers. We found one daisy-like flower that was fluorescent blue that looked like those fake flowers you find in the store. I was so shocked.
We continued along the trail which seemed almost like a creek bed as it was so rocky. The path led us through the pine and spruce forest and past trail intersections at 1.25 miles and nearly 2 miles. Soon we used a log bridge to cross Clayton Creek and then other creeks.
As we continued gaining elevation, overall just over 2,000 feet in 4.35 miles, it seemed like the water never stopped. Both sides of the trail were so lush! A beautiful double cascade tumbled down the mountain to the right as wildflowers grew from the rocks in between. Lakes were everywhere (I think we saw four before we made it to Heart Lake). Water trickled from the base of several. Water filled the path too. We hopped from rock to rock trying to dodge the muddy slush.
The trail included variety with amazing rock formations, waterfalls, creeks, wildflowers, meadows, trees, lakes, and tundra. Now I know why we met so many people along the way, though all the hikers either spun off to Crater Lake or stopped at Rogers Lake, thus the tranquility of Heart Lake Basin was left just for us.
Above the treeline, the gusty winds beneath the cloudy sky cooled us quickly, thus we sought shelter from one of the few rocks along the shoreline to enjoy our packed lunch. As soon as we rested our backs against its surface, the sun poked out. What a nice break! Toward the end of lunch a few drops of rain indicated it was time to pack up.
It wasn’t until we descended the ridge that I realized the steepness. No wonder I had to stop and catch my breath on my way up to 11,300 feet. As the sky darkened, the rain continued to fall until raincoats became a necessity. The showers spilled from the daunting clouds for almost our entire descent. The creek bed we ascended, was now a creek. While our outer gear was pretty damp by the time we reached the car, we were dry and warm underneath and really enjoyed a nice day! And to top it off, we reached the parking lot just as the train went through the Moffat Tunnel which has an interesting history (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moffat_Tunnel)! The 8.7 mile hike was a good warm up for Segment 2 of the Colorado Trail that I am doing tomorrow. ETB