It’s the wonderful time of year when summer is still kind of holding on, but winter is clearly on deck and ready to leap in at any minute. Whatever great feats were accomplished in the mountains were or weren’t accomplished and now it’s time to eek out every last drop of summer-conditions mountain fun before the snow flies. Accordingly, Ben and I managed two impromptu local runs. Oddly, they were the only times I managed to get up to the Divide all year.
Sept 20th – For a guy who knows everyone and has been everywhere, Ben had never explored the Rollins Pass area. So we started at the Jenny Creek trailhead, ran through Eldora, up to the Arestua Hut and Guinn Mountain, and thence to the Divide. It was very windy and the sunny, cool weather was replaced by a rather startling snow squall in the last couple miles above treeline. As usual, I mis-remembered the distance from the trestles to Rollins Pass as “about half a mile” when in fact it’s a solid 1.5. Upwind and with sideways blowing snow. Summer is officially over.
Conditions improved a lot on the way back and we ran the road past the Needle’s Eye tunnel, past Jenny and Yankee Doodle lakes, and then down the rather unappealing Jenny Creek Trail (it’s great in the winter, but torn up in the summer).
Sept 29th – Scarcely more than a week later, the high-country weather continued to hold and Ben’s education about matters in the Rollins Pass region was only slightly improved. So we set out again for the Divide, this time via the East Portal trailhead. This is an area I’ve explored thoroughly except for one drainage; the Clayton and Iceberg Lakes drainage. 2018 is the year of seeing new things, so really we had no choice.
Once we finally found the faint trail up to Clayton Lake (it’s right at the bridge where the summer and winter trails come back together above the Crater Lakes turn-off), we huffed and puffed up a very steep trail reminiscent of the climb to Shelf and Solitude Lakes. Clayton Lake looks a lot like Crater Lake and is nice enough. Above it, there is a huge alpine valley and we scrambled up more tundra and modest talus before finding ourselves at the northern of the Iceberg Lakes. It’s a stunning setting and peaceful and gorgeous in every way.
From here, it was a steep 300′ climb up tundra to the Divide itself whereupon we got the full wind treatment. While the eastern side of the Divide tends to modest cliff bands, the western slope is a nice slope at about a 20 degree angle to the west. The wind was howling at no less than 30 mph sustained (maybe stronger?) so we could run quite comfortably leaned west into the wind and perpendicular to the slope. It was fun, but loud with the flapping of hoods. We didn’t tarry.
But the weather was still gorgeous and the setting spectacular. It was a shame when we finally dropped east out of the wind to Heart Lake and Roger’s Pass Lake. Then a quick trot back down five miles of trail to the car.
It snowed in the high country the very next day, but we could rest assured that we’d milked summer until the bitter end. Now it’s time for skiing, ski touring, desert running, and dreaming of the summer of 2019.