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Heart Lake, Colorado - Backpacking Trip


On Friday the 13th I went up and stayed with some friends in order to get an early start on Saturday. We were going to take a modified route out to Heart Lake for some early season fly fishing. We weren’t sure if the lake would be frozen over or not, but figured it would be a good trip either way.

Heart Lake

Distance: 4.8 miles (9.6 miles round trip)
Difficulty: Moderate
Month Hiked: June
Garmin GPS File: Heart_Lake.GPX

We left the house around 6:00 AM and stopped to get some fast food before driving to the trailhead. Once we arrived we geared up and started on the trail. The day was perfect and the hike was filled with beautiful scenery. There were many streams from the melting snow all contributing to South Boulder Creek’s high flow rate.

We started seeing some significant snow about an hour into the hike. At first we were walking on the snowpack with just our boots, but we started post holing every few steps. The snowpack was now covering almost all of the ground and it became necessary to put on our snowshoes.

The route that we took cuts off part of the actual trail by hiking over a ridge. What none of us realized was just how steep that ridge was. It was now around 11:00 AM so the top layer of snow was getting soft making traction more difficult. Even with the snowshoes I slipped a few times. It was definitely more intense than we had assumed and a fall could have been really bad. It is not a winter route I would recommend to the casual backpacker or family.

That being said, it was a fun hike and when we finally arrived we were pleased to see the lake completely free of ice. Above tree line there was also no snow, which made setting up the tents easy. My buddy got his fishing pole rigged up and hit the water. I was still setting up my tent and getting my gear stored. He caught a few fish including a couple 18 inchers. I was able to get a photo of the first fish (the smaller one). They were caught on a black wooly bugger with a couple strands of crystal flash in the tail.

It was a nice sunny day when we first got there, but after getting everything set up the sky turned grey and the winds picked up. We tried fishing throughout the rest of the day, but neither of us had any luck. It seems that the window had closed and although I tried many different flies the fish just wouldn’t bite.

The wind got so strong we had to cook in our vestibules. I even had to use my trekking poles to prop the rain fly out. Without them the wind would have blown the rain fly right into my stove. While I was cooking it started to snow outside. I couldn’t look, because of the poles holding the tent away from my stove, but apparently it looked like a blizzard all the sudden. The snow didn’t last very long, but the wind remained the entire time.

After dinner and some more fishing we decided to get some sleep. The fish weren’t biting and it was getting pretty cold. For the rest of the night the wind pounded our tents and made it difficult to sleep. I used the trekking poles against the rain fly again to sleep. Without them the tent would flop around like a rag doll.

The next morning we had breakfast and packed up our gear. We tried our luck at fishing one more time before setting out. It was sunny, but early and still cold. The eyes on our fishing poles were freezing here and there. Neither of us had any luck or indication that the fishing was going to improve. We decided to put our packs on and begin our hike out.

Our plan was to follow the actual trail out, however the ground was covered in snow so it wasn’t perfectly obvious. We ended up retracing some of our steps from the way out. We managed to avoid the steepest part, but still had some downhill snowshoeing to do. My knees were starting to pay the price during this part.

Once we met back up with the trail the going got easier. I was still pretty beat by this point and tripped over my snowshoes several times. We crossed the many wooden bridges and finally arrived at the parking lot. According to the tracks I made with my GPS the way there was 4.8 miles and the way back was 4.7 miles. It was a fun trip and a beautiful area, but next time I think I’ll stick to the trail.

Make sure to check out the video below!

Take care,


June 17th, 2014

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