Bear Track Lakes, Colorado (6/24/12 to 6/25/14)
According to recent backpacker's reports this trail is now cleared and passable! - July, 2016
We got our packs and gear together on the 23rd. Our dehydrated meals were ready, nalgenes filled, maps printed, and GPS route loaded. We brought our ice axes expecting to encounter some snow since this trip was only 10 days after the Heart Lake trip, where we encountered lots of snowy slopes. It seemed to take forever to get everything ready for some reason, but around midnight we were finally done.
It was so late by the time we got everything ready that we decided to head out later than we originally wanted to. The Camp Rock Campground is home to the trailhead for this particular trip.
Bear Track Lakes
Camp Rock Campground can be accessed by taking the CO-74 West from Morrison and making a left on Upper Bear Creek Rd. For alternate directions see this link from the Forest Service: Click Here
After filling out the backcountry permit we set off on Bear Track Lakes Trail No. 43 at 9:06 AM. We were looking at our GPS and about a ¼ mile in we saw we were on the Southern route to the lakes rather than the intended Northern route (the trailheads are only a couple hundred feet apart). We had a GPS and map with both trails, they are about the same distance, so instead of heading back we decided to make a loop out of it.
The hike was filled with spectacular scenery. The vividness of the greens was really impressive. The Southern trail had a bit more steep climbs, but we made it through those without too much trouble. We saw a group of two backpackers along the trail who were heading to the same place we were. We showed them where we were on their map with our GPS and continued on. By the time we were half way we started seeing a curious amount of fallen trees, but nothing to cause concern. That was all about to change, however.
Once we got about two miles away from our destination there were trees blanketing the entire forest floor. From two feet to ten feet high trees were piled on one another making progress painfully slow, making the trail completely obsolete, and discouraging us campers. Later I learned that all this damage was from a series of micro-bursts that happened in 2012. We fought through the first mile of trees and came to an open meadow/marsh. We followed along the edge of the trees before a thunderstorm started throwing lightning around.
We grudgingly re-entered the trees and continued climbing, ducking, and crawling through the forest. At this point the concern was timing. It was almost 6:00 PM now and I hadn’t seen a spot to setup camp in hours. The marsh was flat and open, but with soaking wet ground and pools of water everywhere. Past that trees covered all of the ground. By this time it was raining on us so we put on our rain gear and pack covers. We decided to just head towards the creek and see if we could find a route along it.
We were rewarded with a brief open area, where the water was running down a series of rocks and foliage. After crossing we continued along the water. We came across a small open area where we could set up camp. Ahead was more downed trees and bushwacking which we did not want to do anymore of. According to the GPS we were only 0.38 miles away, but that was a multi-hour journey through the trees with no guarantee of a place to sleep so we decided against continuing.
At around 6:15 PM we started setting up camp at our selected spot. We made a fire to try and discourage misquitos, but I also brought a small 4 oz spray tube of 100% DEET made by REPEL. I picked it up on a whim at Walmart to through in with my gear just in case and this was a case. We were happy to have it though the smoke from the fire did help significantly.
I brought my Outdoor Research 9’ x 8.5’ tarp and bivvy for shelter and a Kelty Noah’s 12’ x 12’ tarp for an area to cook or relax if it decided to rain. I tried a new pitch on the Outdoor Research tarp and it was FAR better, check out the photo album or video for details. I have had the Kelty tarp for a couple years now, but have never used it until this trip. I had originally planned on using it as my tarp-tent, but it was much larger than I had imagined and did not work well for this purpose.
After being stored for years I finally brought the Kelty tarp out to give us shelter from the rain. On our short Colorado Trail trip we could have benefitted from such a covering, so I decided to see if it was worth the 2 lbs. I am definitely a fan and if I am going with my wife I will definitely be bringing it (again see photo album and video for details). If I was on a solo trip or with other friends I would just use the Outdoor Research tarp as with one person there is room to sit/cook out of the rain.
The area showed ample evidence of elk and we were certain not many people came this far for a while, so we were alert that bear danger was probably higher than usual. We made our cooking area as far away from our sleeping area as the terrain would allow and hung our food bags in like fashion
I did miss having the SVEN saw during this trip. We had tons of dry wood all around us, but were reduced to snapping off small branches instead of having nice logs that the saw would have provided us. In spite of that observation we were able to easily keep the fire going.
By 8:38 PM we had eaten, way too much salt in the meal. The GravityWorks water filter still gets a standing ovation from me. I noticed that as the fog came in it created some condensation on the foot of our bivvy sacks. After sitting by the fire for an hour or so longer we got into our bags and went to sleep.
I woke up the next morning at 6:00 AM. I made a fire and saw that none of our water had frozen, so the temperatures were not bad during the night. I made some coffee and got my sleeping gear packed up. By this time the condensation was gone, though the foot of my sleeping bag was ever so slightly damp on the outside.
We got our gear packed, ate, and were on the trail by 9:45 AM. The day was nice and clear so we were able to skirt along the marsh, which was a great relief. After we passed the marsh we saw the same backpackers that we had the day before. They had experienced the same issues with the route as we had and found a spot to camp. We told them it was more of the same heading to the lake and that we were going to take the Northern trail back. They discussed it amongst themselves and decided to do the same thing, but they weren’t expected back until two days later at a different trailhead altogether. They gave us their information and a message to relay to their ride detailing the changes.
We were able to follow the creek for a while before venturing out into the trees again to look for the trail. The battle was much less intense and we were very happy to finally find a section of trail that looked maintained and was totally free of obstacles. It was a wonderful thing to be out of bushwacking mode and not have to keep checking the map and GPS every couple hundred meters.
Right before Beaver Meadows Campground the trail crosses over the river at an incredible area and signals the final one-two miles has begun. We saw the other backpackers again at this junction and learned that they had been told that day about a “clearly marked sign” warning about the condition of the trail. After that there is an old foundation with a chimney standing by itself as the only remaining feature of the house. We passed many beaver ponds and the actual campground itself before arriving back at the truck.
I made sure to go to both trailheads and look for the sign, since I didn’t remember seeing anything like that. Sure enough there was a “Notice” that did explain the situation. I think “Warning!” would have caught my attention much more effectively, but in the end it’s our fault for not reading all of the signs at the trailhead.
All in all it was a fun trip, even with the adversity and not making our destination. It was a good test of our navigation and improvisation skills as well. Look for the video below.
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