Saturday, December 03, 2016

Colorado 3 - Hike to Hanging Lake

(Continued after Part 2)

A few months before our trip, when we were just starting to plan, I had divulged the details of that forming plan to our neighbours at a gathering.

"Oh, so you plan to visit Glenwood Springs?" asked one of them.


"I'm from Colorado. We go there often. Do check out the Hanging Lake. The hike is worth it."

Now my readers may know that while I'm far from athletic, I always enjoy a short hike. Poulami, being far more slim and fit that I am, enjoys hikes even more. We had hiked up and down mountain trails in Shenandoah National Park, Grand Canyon National Park and Arches National Park last year. So naturally we had decided we wanted to go see this hanging lake. On day 3 of our trip we had found the parking lot at the trail head full, so we came back on day four at 7:20 a.m right after breakfast at the hotel. As I parked the car, I saw two attendants readying the "Parking lot full" sign.

"Is it full already?" I asked, surprised.

"Not yet, but it will be, after another four or five cars," she replied.

We thanked our stars and slowly proceeded in the direction other people were going. The place was inside a deep canyon. The sides of the canyon rose high and steep on all sides while the Colorado river flowed below. We could hear, and in places, see the Interstate 70 running along this rocky wall some distance above us. The canyon was still in shadow but the first rays of the sun were just beginning to enter through the gaps, turning treetops and high rocks golden.

Sunlight enters Glenwood Canyon

The hike wasn't too long - just over a mile and a half each way - but it would take us 1000 feet above where we were. It was a little hard to find objective views on its difficulty, since what is a difficult trail for one person could be a breeze for the next. I also avoided reading too much about its difficulty lest we get discouraged to attempt it. So it came as a surprise to us when, after walking for a few hundred feet, the path disappeared among a rubble of broken rocks.

As we proceeded further, the trail became increasingly difficult. There was a small rivulet running alongside the trail going in the opposite direction. This is actually the Dead Horse Creek, a tributary of the Colorado river. The water glittered like diamonds where the sunlight hit it, after being filtered through the leaves. In many places, it made small waterfalls that made me pause and take photos. There were many other people climbing with us, many of whom were older than us, and all seemed more energetic.

Moments from the hike

We and our knees became more and more tired as we climbed higher and higher. At some places, the path was pretty smooth. At others, we had to climb over uneven rocks. We kept taking breaks, making use of the trail mix we had brought and the benches provided by the wayside with increasing frequency. We twice asked people who were coming down how far the top was, but realized the futility of that question when both told us we were nearly there, and the two were at least fifteen minutes' climbing apart. But meeting some elderly women who looked like they were in their late sixties or early seventies gave us courage (and more than a little shame) to go on. They were climbing very slowly, of course, but the fact that they were climbing was pretty impressive in itself.

The last leg, with the tree on the steps

Then, over an hour after we had started, we finally came to the last leg. This was a series of really narrow and steep steps cut into the mountainside, with a tree growing right through the middle of it. When we emerged on top of this part, we had reached the Hanging Lake. We felt like our knees were on fire, our lungs were about to resign, and our backpacks and cameras weighted a ton each, but we were there.

We found the Hanging Lake to be a small mountain lake - a pond really - with clear green water and a waterfall on one side. It is called "hanging" because it is neither quite at the top of the mountain, nor at the bottom. The bottom of the lake is covered with a mineral which gives the water its colour. We sat down on the benches next to the lake and marveled at the beautiful sight in front of us. I took photos, of the waterfall, and the transparent water of the lake, and the fish in that water, and the birds catching those fish. All along the bank there is a wooden boardwalk which is built to protect the fragile ecosystem from the tourists' footsteps. We were told by some of the other people that there was another bigger waterfall a further short hike up, but we decided not to go there since we had to return and proceed on our trip.

American dipper with catch

Then someone told us, "But don't go before the sun comes up. You'll regret it."

We noticed that the sunlight was just beginning to touch the top of the waterfall, but the lake was still in the shadow of the mountain. Waiting until whole water had sunlight meant we would stay at the lake for an hour or so, and would also get some more rest before the descent. We decided to obey.

And then this happened.

As the sunlight flooded the shallow water from the far end to the near, the lake changed colour from a deep green to a turquoise blue. The water also seemed to become even more transparent. It was at this moment that we truly felt that the scene was worth the exhausting 1000-foot hike. It was then that we really felt grateful to our neighbour for telling us about this place.

Descent was much easier than ascent, though we had to be careful not to slip or twist our ankles. The elderly ladies just reached the last flight of stairs near the lake as we came down it. On our way down, we met at least one prominently pregnant lady, more than a few children, and several parents carrying toddlers on their chest or shoulders going up that trail. What embarrassed us more was the fact that not only did they seem more energetic than us, but not a single person asked us how much farther the lake was as we were coming down.

By 10:30 we were back on Interstate 70 after inching out of the parking lot, where there was a queue of cars now, waiting for a car to exit. Our next destination was 162 miles away. At lunchtime we stopped at a little town called Clifton where we had delicious Chinese lunch and then bought some supplies for the night. We needed supplies, because we were headed to a place where we wouldn't find any. There would be no food, no electricity, very little water, no cellphone coverage and not even firewood was available. We were headed to a comparatively lesser-known national park, Black Canyon of the Gunnison, and we were going to spend the night there.

(To be continued...)