Shot to the Heart (Lake)

Once again I was inflicting an exam upon my students for no other reason than it gave me a chance to go skiing the day before.  Heartless bastard that I am, Heart Lake was the obvious choice: reliable snow, a short drive, and minimal logistical unknowns.

Of course, I can’t leave a “packaged” trip alone; after two miles on the well-packed, icy main trail, I added some “adventure” to the day.  I’ve been back here many times, including twice before on skis, so I added a little variety to the standard, well-tracked southern-most fork of the complicated South Boulder Creek drainage.  The map shows a second trail that heads straight for Heart Lake rather than the climb to Rogers Pass Lake.

Winner: Most Ironic Trail Sign

About where I expected the trail junction, an old set of ski tracks lead in approximately the right direction at a clearing below some cliffs.  So I followed them.  The tracks wound authoritatively up a drainage, so I followed them in the spirit intended.  (How many adventures have started with this situation, I wonder?)

It turned into a fine adventure.  The tracks wound through some varied-though-interesting terrain through steep

Nice spot for lunch. Wish I knew where I was.

trees and rocks before disappearing in some clearings ringed with steep walls.  Plus it turned out it was a descent track (no pole marks).  Oh well.  On went the GPS and I found I wasn’t anywhere near where I thought I was.  Heart Lake was only seven tenths of a mile away, but in a direction 60 degrees from what I’d been assuming.  Hmmm.

No matter.  There was no obvious ascent route in the direction I needed to go, so I climbed some very steep terrain in very sticky snow before breaking out into sparse trees around 11,000′.  Still following my electronic guide, I climbed a ridge or three and eventually found the lake.

Heart Lake

The minor confusion was well worth it;  it was one of those glorious days with temperatures in the 40s, blue skies, light winds, and not another soul in sight.  I lounged, reveling in the fact that I’d done the hard part, gravity was now on my side, and I had time to spare.  Weekday solitude in the springtime mountains, huzzah!

The flats below Heart Lake with a nice view of James Peak and the Divide.

Descending via the Heart Lake outflow had been the original plan, but I thought it wise to stick to what I knew on the way out.  Last time I tried to take the direct route from Heart Lake… well, that’s half the reason I bought a GPS in the first place.

Spring skiing at its best.

The best snow appeared to be a nice slope above Rogers Pass Lake, so I lashed skis to pack, trudged over the tundra for half a mile, and switched into descent mode.  Ah, now the extra effort of lugging the heavy plastic boots and beefier tele skis up here became worth it!  The spring corn made even my mediocre ski skills look good!  Down past Rogers Pass Lake and into the glades.  Shortly below the cascades, I fell the one and only time on this trip (must not be trying hard enough), coincidentally right in front of a pair of hikers, the first other people I’d seen all day.

Second half of the bushwhack and the descent track.

The rest of the descent was pleasant, effortless, and largely uneventful and I arrived back at the car by 3 pm.  Four hours for the bushwhacking ascent, one for the descent including lounging around at the lake.  Very nice!

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