October 16, 2016
Elevation: 8,605-10,744 feet (below treeline)
Distance: 10.9 miles
Hours: Any…Careful for hunting season
I had such a great weekend! On Saturday, I went up to Schussbaumer, a ski chalet in Breckenridge, for a work party. There was hardly any work to do, so I just got to enjoy a relaxing day in the mountains and got to catch up with my friend Cat. I love that its just a short roadtrip for me to enjoy the Rocky Mountains…no flying across the USA.
I stayed the night at the chalet, and met up with Cat the next morning. We started out with a great breakfast at Clint’s. We were good and got eggs, but the muffins and cinnamon rolls sure looked delicious!! It was probably better to load up on protein since we planned on a 10.9 mile hike to Upper Cataract Lake.
Uniquely, just a month ago, a few of my fellow hikers and I aimed to hike Lower Cataract Lake, but accidentally ended up on the Upper Cataract trail (Surprise Trailhead), but we were limited on time and weren’t able to get to any of the lakes on the route. The last time I hiked the trail, we stopped at the trail intersection at mile 2.7 for a 5.4 mile jaunt as we admired the colorful aspens. This time, we climbed up the steep trail peppered with aspen leaves as they had already fallen. Then we entered the conifer forest laden with fallen trees.
The sun was out and the sky was clear on this 65 degree day. We worked up a sweat as we tackled the sharp grade. At the trail intersection, we turned right and continued climbing, though the terrain began to level out. As we were walking along, it was about time for a bathroom break. We scanned to our left and were surprised to see a lake concealed by thick timber! The name of the lake was appropriate…Surprise Lake.
We didn’t expect to reach it so soon, nor did the landscape seem to suggest we’d stumble across a lake here. Lily covered, it was quite different than the alpine lakes we generally strive to reach. We stopped for a short while, but the sweat on our backs coupled with the cool breeze encouraged us to continue.
It wasn’t long before my stomach started to grumble. Of course, we wanted to reach a lake but we stopped for a snack. We originally thought Surprise Lake was just a random pond, so we thought we would be at another body of water within the hour. Not so. We kept going and going while crossing a few streams. We even descended over the ridge toward a talus field.
On this side of the ridge, the wind was relentless. We gave into the elements and stopped for our hat, gloves, and puffy jacket. We also decided on a snack because we weren’t certain when we’d see the lake. Then Cat pointed to the right as she looked through the trees below and questioned, “Wait, is that a lake?”
Sure enough, it was! We threw our packs on and headed down the trail as we admired Eagles Nest Peak lightly dusted in snow. Soon we turned the corner and enjoyed a remarkable view of Cat Lake. At the time, we thought this was Upper Cataract Lake, but when we reached another trail junction, the sign suggested otherwise.
We were pretty cold at this time and weren’t willing to hike much farther, so we figured we’d actually read the description of the trail that we had on our phones! We warmed up a bit at the trail junction as we stood in the sun with some protection from the wind. This new warmth coupled with the good news that Upper Cataract Lake was only a tenth of a mile up the trail rejuvenated our spirits.
First we found a small pond and then a large lake tucked beneath the towering mountains. As much as we would have liked to sit by the lake for lunch, the wind was brutal! We climbed over a small, rocky ridge to find shelter and enjoyed a lovely view while we soaked in the sun. It’s amazing how cold 65 can feel with 40 mile per hour winds!
On our way back, we opted not to explore Cat Lake though the shore sure looked beautiful. We climbed back up the trail past the talus field and soon descended to the other side where we began shedding layers and enjoyed a pleasant walk back to the parking lot. It was a great day and gorgeous hike. We were pleasantly surprised by all the lakes! I’d highly recommend this trail especially during the fall color change. ETB