James Peak via Rollins Tunnel and Heart Lake

IMG_1933It’s hard to be a runner in the dog-days of August.  The only ways to beat the heat are to get up early before work or to go up high.  Michele was visiting from the “pancake-land” of Cambridge (the real one, not the one near Boston), so we decided to do both with a pre-work trot up James Peak via East Portal and Rollins Pass.

I’ve been to East Portal (aka, the Rollins Tunnel) many times, all but once in the winter where it’s the best place for reliable snow and moderate backcountry turns.  It turns out that in the summer it’s quite lovely as well; lush forest and flower-strewn meadows and above that a verdant carpet of tundra draped smoothly over the mountainsides.  The trail is also remarkably different in the summer both in location and in style.  Somehow the smooth mostly-gentle ski runs made me expect similar from the dirt trail.  But it’s actually rather technical with many roots and rocks to be navigated.  Weird!

We speed-hiked up to Roger’s Pass Lake, then up the steep climb to Heart Lake and the steeper still switchbacks up the ridge to the Continental Divide.  Turning south, we ran the easy, rolling CDT south toward James Peak looming smoothly above.  I remembered this trail from 2007 as being spectacular.  That time a thunderstorm was nipping at our heels, but this time we had no such misfortune.  The weather was cool and spectacular.  The trail shelved along an impressively steep ridge on the west side with great views of the Winter Park valley.  Finally, a steep climb up the last 1200′ to the summit and we were there.  Brunch on the top, then back down the steep slopes and down to Heart Lake.

Several of my escapades in the East Portal area have involved getting epically lost trying to find my way directly to or from Heart Lake rather than the well-worn version via the lower Rogers Pass Lake.  A faint trail left the eastern end of Heart Lake and followed the beautiful outflow down hill into the forest.  I can see how this trail is hard to find in the winter as it’s pretty tough to follow even in the summer!  It clearly doesn’t see much traffic and is clogged with multiple blowdowns.  We spent quite a while backtracking around blowdowns and getting out of dead ends, but finally appeared back on the main trail shortly up-hill of where I thought we might.

It wasn’t perhaps the most productive morning meeting I’ve had with a colleague, but it was certainly the most beautiful.  And we really did talk about science!

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