Saturday, February 28, 2009

Hike/Snowshoe: RMNP Fern Lake TH to Fern Lake

Another beautiful winter day in the mountains today. It was going to get in to the low 50’s in Fort Collins today, it was in the mid 30’s to the low 40’s in the mountains. I went snowshoeing with another group today at the Rocky Mountain National Park. We started from the Fern Lake Trailhead which can be reached by driving Bear Lake Road and traveling 2 miles to the junction of Moraine Park Road. Then making a right onto Moraine Park Road and driving past the Cub Lake Trailhead, to the last dirt parking lot, which is the Fern Lake Trailhead. The section of the road from Cub Lake Trailhead to Fern Lake Trailhead is dirt.

Starting our hike at the Fern Lake Trailhead with very little snow on the ground

The goal for today was to reach Odessa Lake, which was 4.8 miles from Fern Lake Trailhead for a round total of 9.6 miles and an elevation gain of 1,910 feet. So far my longest snowshoe trek was about 7.5 miles on a mostly level trail, so today’s trek would definitely be a challenge for me.

The Big Thompson River flows through a deep pool above the bridge that is a popular stopping point for hikers, this spot is commonly referred to as “The Pool”

One of many steep switch backs on the Fern Lake Trail

Hiking for many miles in the trees on the Fern Lake Trail

The Park Service Patrol Cabin at Fern Lake half covered by snow

Posing in front of Fern Lake

There was no snow at the Fern Lake Trailhead which sits at 8,155 feet in elevation. We strapped our snowshoes to our packs and started hiking. The first section of the trail was mostly level, which was a nice way to warm up for the climb that awaited us later. It seems like so many hikes I do start out with an immediate climb, and in minutes it seems I’m out of breath since there is no warm up period, no adjustment time, before the steep and strenuous sections.

Just a few steps past “The Pool” we turned right and started to climbed up the switchbacks which continue for a long while, all the way to Fern Lake. The section we just hiked from the Fern Lake Trailhead to “The Pool“, I hiked back in October of last year but in the opposite direction, starting out at Cub Lake TH and ending the hike at Fern Lake TH. The falls colors were at their peak back then and the trail looked amazing. Today, the same section of trail was far from amazing. I think each trail has a particular season where it looks best.

To get the great scenery, you have to hike to the east side of Fern Lake

Jagged mountain peaks above Fern Lake

A closeup of the peaks and the snow blowing up there

We continued to climb and take breaks, climb and take breaks. There was snow on the ground now but not enough for snowshoes and it was pretty well packed down. We continued hiking in between trees for a long time, there wasn’t too much to see from the trail. About a mile and a half before reaching Fern Lake we finally put our snowshoes on. The snow was deep here and there must have not been too many people up here lately, the snow wasn’t packed down. Come to think about it, we haven’t seen any other people on the trail today except for us.

We arrived at Fern Lake and took a lunch break. From Fern Lake to Odessa Lake is 0.9 miles but still a 400 foot climb in elevation. Fern Lake was a popular destination in the park, but most people that hike this trail turn around at Fern Lakes. I’ve read on the internet that in the summer time Fern Lake trail and the Fern Lake area gets crowded, but if you want to find an empty trail and lunch stop, just continue to Odessa Lake where solitude awaits. I guess not make people made the extra effort to get up to Odessa Lake.

Heading to Fern Lake itself

Snowshoeing on top of the frozen and snow covered Fern Lake

The peaks behind Fern Lake are Little Matterhorn (11,586’), Knobtop Mountain (12,331’) and Notchtop Mountain (12,129’)

After lunch there were discussions to turn around or keep going, the group decided to push on, but as we snowshoed in the direction of the “Odessa Lake” sign and around Fern Lake, we realized that we were the first people to be up here since the new snow fell. Since there were no foot steps or snowshoe tracks in the snow we weren’t sure where the trail was. We hung out for a bit at Fern Lake, it was frozen solid and covered by so much snow and it was hard to say for sure that there was a lake there. The wind was blowing the snow off the peaks above the lake, and it was noticeably more windy at the lake.

After snowshoeing around the area we finally found another sign further up for “Odessa Lake” but we knew that the trail might be covered in snow and we might loose it again before being able to make it to Odessa Lake. Having already snowshoed 4 miles today, we decided to skip Odessa Lake and start heading back.

Signs on the way to Fern Lake from the Fern Lake Trailhead

Heading back down to the Fern Lake Trail was a lot easier and quicker then heading up to Fern Lake. Seven hours later we were back in the parking lot and I have to say that I was feeling a bit sore from this long hike and snowshoe. This was a harder winter hike, mostly because of the distance and the elevation gain. But at least there was nothing along the way to distract you from the climb. There wasn’t much of scenery along the way, but at the end at Fern Lake, the view was pretty spectacular. I think I’ll try to get up to Odessa Lake in the summer time when the trail is visible again. After completing this great hike, we celebrated in Estes Park at the Cantina with some New Belgium Fat Tire beer.

The high-lighted trail is the route we took from Fern Lake Trailhead to Fern Lake - 7.6 miles round trip

Note: There are two ways to get to Fern Lake:
One is from the Bear Lake TH, the other is from the Fern Lake TH.

Starting at Fern Lake TH makes the hike a further climb, since Fern Lake TH is at a lower elevation compared to Bear Lake TH. String at Fern Lake TH also makes this hike longer.

Elevation at Fern Lake Trailhead: 8,155 feet
Elevation at Fern Lake: 9,530 feet
Elevation gain: 1,375 feet
Distance from Fern Lake TH to Fern Lake: 3.8 miles
Difficulty: Moderate

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