Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Fourth in the Flat Tops: Stillwater Lake to Trappers Lake and "The Devil's Causeway"

Spent a few days in the Flat Tops. Photos are here.

Route was from Stillwater Lake on the east edge, up the road from the town of Yampa, then up to the Devil's Causeway, across the exciting causeway itself, and down to Trappers Lake on the Stillwater Trail. I hiked around Trappers, up towards Wall Lake before giving up in the snow, and then camped back up at a quite pleasant lake (I'm sure it has a name but I didn't have said name on the tourist map I used).

Returned the next day on the Stillwater Trail, navigating two fairly steep snowfields on the way down. Had a great stop at another lake (see above) before calling it a trip.

The theme of the trip was "snow." I ran into a horsepacker near Stillwater who called it a "shocking" amount of snow for the 4th. There was snow right down to the Stillwater Parking lot. You could make a good argument there's more snow up there than any year since 1983. Many Coloradans head to the Flat Tops for "easy" or introductory backpacking - the passes are a little lower, the climbs a little easier, navigation no problem, good trails, etc. - but the snow this year made it a suitable adventure, at least for me.

Despite the snow, it was a fun trip. It's a national-park quality area, set aside very early in the wilderness-preservation tradition, and is a large chunk of stunning/interesting area with lots of loop trails all over. So you get essentially a national park where you can wander around wherever you want and without sticking to a specific itinerary. I saw one group of backpackers in 2 1/2 days over the 4th weekend. Great stuff.

Of course I had to see Trappers Lake, arguably the first area of National Forest protected as wilderness, and indeed it's a beautiful spot - a large subalpine lake surrounded by striking snowy cliffs. Unfortunately, coming up on 100 years after being set aside, said spot is ravaged by spruce bark beetle, catastrophically burned, bordering a muddy parking lot, overrun with day users (many of whom are roughing up the banks with various watercraft), etc. Well, we can say it's a work in progress (?). As always, the crowd disappears just a few miles up the trail, especially so this year due to the snow.

Then back to Denver and wonderful 4th celebrations with friends and family, including Will-J's first fireworks.

I'd love to come back to the Flat Tops for a big week-long loop hike up and down a bunch of the valleys - add that to all the other trips in the hopper, I suppose.


Christopher Gray said...

Sean has a neighborhood backpacking trip that I'm tagging along on. I was put partially in charge of picking the route, and chose to head over to the Flat Tops to check out Devil's Causeway and the Chinese Wall. I'm glad someone called the Ranger -- he had the same report as you: "SNOW". We're heading down to hike around Crestone this weekend, instead. I'll look forward to seeing you soon. Maybe you and I can get back to the Flat Tops in some drier weather.

Will Stenzel said...

It would have been funny to run into you on the trip.