23 June 2015

Crag Crest

Grand Mesa National Forest




I took a fancy to a loop I saw on the map which someone else must have also taken quite a fancy to because it has been made a National Recreation Trail. At nearly 11,200 feet, it should not be too warm either. In fact, while stopping off at the nearby Visitor Center to get a map for backpacking later, I am told there is still snow to clamber over although people have been making it. There is a little snow at the trailhead just under 10,500 feet, but this only makes a bit of mud to clamber through. A cartoon map illustrates the 12 mile route trough the area. I head out on the connector to the actual loop passing a trail back to the Visitor Center I just came from.

mileage sign at the trailhead
Starting on the trail with just a little bit of snow under the trees.

pines and grass
Hiking along volcanic rocks.

The trail climbs a little as it gets to the junction. I take the high route, since that just seems much more interesting, and continue to climb. The frogs in a brown pond come to a sudden stop as I approach. The trail climbs among a jumble of rocks to views to the south and another pond that is a little bigger and a little bluer. Further on, there is the long and even bluer Wolverine Lake. The trail keeps climbing up past a small stream and back into trees.

pond with Wolverine Lake in the background while climbing the rocky trail
The second pond and Wolverine Lake peeking through the trees as the trail climbs the crest.


Wolverine Lake
The curve of Wolverine Lake, still holding a little bit of snow at the edges.

tall pines along the crest
Towering spruce and fir trees along the trail.

Cottonwood Trail joins from the north as the trail continues on a gentle climb. The forest is broken up by frequent meadows, one of which is quite soggy. The views to the south are hidden by trees, although there are some breaks with little trails out to the edge to look. Eventually, as the tall snow drifts start to appear, there is a break to look to the north as well.

little white flowers in a meadow on the crest
Trying to find dry steps as I cross a meadow of flowers.

Cottonwood Lake No. 1
One of the Cottonwood Lakes to the north, the destination of the trail encountered earlier.

long hole to the north
Along the north side of Crag Crest. The rocks break away in long chunks and the outside edge tilts upward as the mass slides downward, creating these long depressions with lakes on either side.

The north facing lookout point is just a precursor to the trail breaking out onto the crest. There is suddenly nothing blocking views to either side as the trail starts to roll along the backbone of the narrow crest. It is quite the view, although I cannot help but notice the weather rolling in. There are wider spots with a few trees, then more stark openness. It is along here that I hit the random snow drifts where there is suddenly ten or more feet of snow to climb quite steeply, then drop down the other side almost as steeply. The snow is compacted and easy to climb, but it is still a little bit of a nuisance.

long hole to the south
Looking down the long depression left by the slipping rocks to the south.

trail and snow piles
A wide spot brings trees and 3-4 foot snow drifts.

Crag Crest
The narrow backbone of Crag Crest.

Eventually the trail comes to a saddle and then keeps descending. This looks like my step off point to continue on to the benchmark on the next hump. There is even a faint trail, so I start off along it. The trail vanishes quickly enough and I am left to simply follow the ridge. There are trees for a while, then there is just a wide flat of broken up rocks. It is pretty easy to spot the benchmark location because the wooden post the surveyors sited on still stands, propped up by rocks and one loose anchor wire.

post near a benchmark
I found the small man made thing in a stretch of nature.

It almost looks as if there was a road built up the other side, but it is probably just the sliding of the rocks as the hard cap of igneous rock breaks up. I head back the way I came, but only roughly. Somehow, although my route makes several different twists and approaches the spot from a slightly different angle, I end up at the trail in exactly the same spot beside the short, faint trail. This side heads down more steeply and has a few switchbacks as it drops down to beside a lake.

switchbacks down the hill
Twists of the trail as it drops down.

purple and white petals with long tails
The state flower is mostly in bud, but there are these two excellent examples of columbines.

looking along the lake edge where many fallen trees poke into the water
Back down to the abundant lakes and curious tree die offs.

I had seen them from above and wondered about them, but now I find myself making my way through a large tree die off. One theory is that they are another consequence of slabs of rocks moving, chopping off the roots and killing the trees. It seems far fetched, but the die offs do seem to be complete where they occur and stop at a definitive edge.

many fallen trees
A whole stand of trees has died and fallen, requiring much trail work.

Down at this lever, outside of the die off areas, it seems a little more like spring. Many wildflowers can be found among the trees, meadows, and lakes.

yellow flowers with their faced downward
Yellow flowers that almost always coming up in big patches.

rippled surface of a tree lined lake
Upper Eggleston Reservoir.

I spot the trail hitting the road below, then the junction with the little spur to the trailhead on this side. It is much closer here although the drive is a bit further. As I continue on, I am walking past resorts along with the numerous lakes and even find a PLSS corner among the forest boundary signs, making it quite a good day for finding monuments. There are more sections of die off. Many of the lakes are actually reservoirs, and the trail crosses many old roads leading to the dams. I have plenty of time to finish and wander a little off trail here and there.

drinking from a yellow daisy, a butterfly
Spring is in the air.

a valve labeled Forest Lake
Forest Lake, as identified by the valve control on the dam of the reservoir.

campers along the lake
One of the resorts as I climb a low, grassy hill.

like purple eyelashes
A tiny part of a big sprig of purple.

stars of red
Bright red stars in a bunch.

grassy hills with trees surrounding
Looking back over the hills and to distant snowy mountains.

There is a bit of uphill to return to the original loop junction. I climb it passing another trail off to the visitor center. The last stretch is still a little muddy from the snow melting. A dog walker asks if I have done the loop and adds that she was wondering when people would start it. It seems it is still quite early in the season for this one, but there were plenty of footsteps over the snow hills. It has been an wonderful day and although the weather threatened, it never carried through.

lake in the sun
One last lake.

green flower with flecks of purple
And one last flower.




©2015 Valerie Norton
Posted 4 Aug 2015

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