Roadtrip to the Rockies: Crater Lake

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Trail:  Crater Lake
Location: East Portal Moffat Tunnel near Rollinsville
Fees: Free
Elevation: 9,200-10,600-7,600 feet
Distance: 6 miles roundtrip

Another Saturday, another hike.  We have been fortunate to enjoy decent weather the last few weekends.  Today Ross and I headed toward the East Portal near Rollinsville (not far from Nederland).  Our original plan was to hike to Clayton Lake, a 5.8 mile trek noted as moderate to strenuous.  I forgot to print out the description of the hike and I couldn’t remember all the details I read.  I knew it was steep but didn’t recall the hike followed an unmarked path for a portion of the trek.

Since no signs directed us toward Clayton Lake, we altered course to hike Crater Lakes.  I had read the description of this hike too and knew it was about the same length, 6 miles to the lower lakes.  I sort of wanted to save this hike for the summer as there is a scramble to the upper lakes which adds two miles that I didn’t want to do in the snow.

Today the weather wasn’t great.  The forecast called for cloudy skies which was an understatement when we started as light (not pretty) snow was falling.  Fortunately, the weathermen got the temperature right, so we enjoyed a warm 40 degrees and shed layers quickly as we made our way through the evergreen forest.

The path at the beginning of the trail was icy.  We decided it rained and promptly froze.  As we continued alongside the creek we glided over a soft layer of fresh snow.  Soon we reached a trail junction where we turned right and followed switchbacks up the mountain.  This was a steep climb that warranted removing another layer!

With the elevation gain came deeper snow, but only a few inches which we easily handled traction devices.  This mile climb felt like it took forever, though I think most of the 1,300 feet we gained from the trailhead to the lake took place during the last mile.

Upon reaching the lake, located at 10,600 feet, we lost the wind protection from the trees and cooled down considerably.  We added hats and gloves quickly and didn’t stay too long to admire the frozen lake and surrounding frozen tundra.  Pine trees, grasses, and the remains of wildflowers were blanketed in a thin layer of ice.

Overall, the hike was very nice.  I’m trying to embrace the winter.  I think as long as the temperature hovers around forty and the wind isn’t bad, I’ll be hiking, spiking, or snowshoeing this winter!  ETB


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Beth Bankhead

Former public finance professional turned award winning travel blogger and photographer sharing the earth's beauty one word and image at a time.

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