I thought a lot about writing this. About what I was going to share. The truth is I have been telling this story over and over for months. I made a new friend (also named Jennifer) and even got my all time favorite photo with my little man on this trip. It was nothing like what was originally planned – but I think it ended up even better.
A week after my ‘failure’ I was pining to get back out. The house was still under construction- not great for a 23 mo old- and I wanted redemption. I wanted a successful trip.
I changed things up. I picked my favorite out-and-back trail where water is accessible nearly 100% of the time. I kept my dry pack weight under 40lbs (later I discovered it wasn’t back weight that was killing my shoulders but front carrying my son). I made the trip very short – 2 nights and 2.5 days.
Left: My little guy loving every minute of heading back up into the mountains. Right: Camp in a magically perfect place to keep dry.
We headed out on Friday afternoon after nap time. Normally I’d never recommend this trail starting this late, but we were only going about halfway up to make camp. Right around the 5 mile mark is a trail junction. If you sneak off to the right junction there’s some awesome well-hidden campsites with easy but mellow water access. I also wanted to be sure I had some good shelter but wasn’t setting up under any “death trees or branches” (this area is full of lodge pole pine which have been known to fall over or break and kill people tenting under them). The campsite I picked had some large fir trees lined up near a massive boulder. It created this wonderful little tucked away sheltered area.
Looking down on Helms Lake.
The big day was Saturday. We honestly had a rough start to the day (slept on a flat air pad) and didn’t even start hiking until about 9:30 am. We didn’t move camp. Instead I brought one of my old running packs and used it as a packable day pack. I put that (full of food and rain gear) and my wee man on my back and we slowly made our way up to the two lakes. There was SO MUCH water! It’s literally the end of July. This place should be dry! There were areas of flooding rivers that normally you can just step right over. The beaver dam is usually the easiest way to the other side of the first lake but that was completely flooded too. Up just below the shelf the highest lake sits on there’s so much SNOW and water still left there’s actually an extra lake!
Left: Little man helping make breakfast Saturday morning. Right: Pre-storms view. You can see peaks forever.
We made it to Abyss lake – 12,670 ft – a true alpine lake sitting under the sawtooth between Mt Bierstadt and Mt Evans around 12:30 pm. This was officially my wee man’s highest elevation ever visited or hiked! When we got there it was just about to storm. I thought we had time to eat real quick but the clouds laughed at me. There were a couple other ladies up there who were awesome and helped hold my little guy so I could dig out and put on rain gear and get some much needed water filtered. We looked at the sky and ended up heading down together.
Left: The sawtooth and snow on the trail – I had to take a picture after people told me there was no snow on the trails. Right: The “extra” lake and snow field.
We were in a unique place between two storms. It was thundering and there was lightning all around us, but we were safe where we were. We had to move down the mountain slow enough to not go into the first storm (which was the worse of the two) but fast enough to keep ahead of the second. The thunder echoed in the bowl of the mountains so loudly you couldn’t think and unless you saw the lighting had no idea where it was. We had small hail and freezing rain. Before every water crossing we stopped to check for lightning. I watched it hit Mt Rosalie and even the glacier on Mt Bierstadt (snow flew everywhere). In the moment it was very scary but reflecting back it was SO COOL!
Abyss Lake and muddy legs.
Once we got back down to the first lake (technically has no name – currently called Helms Lake- but I’ve known it as Lake Geneva, Mini Abyss, and Lake 1) the other gals found their tent and I proceeded the last little bit into true tree line for a short break. This is where I first met my new friend. She was taking shelter with her son at another campsite deciding what to do. I gave her a rough idea of where we were camped and invited her to head down and camp there – where there was plenty of shelter and the lower elevation offered relief from the worst of the still to come storms. Then I headed down still wanting to hurry and get out of the rain.
Looking back up at the storm.
Not much further down I found myself below the storm looking back up. It was so pretty. And this was finally SNACK TIME! Frosting was called for! Yes I took chocolate frosting. And frankly it was life saving. My wee man was quite upset at this point- and I can’t blame him. That was a lot of fast hiking in scary weather and random strangers. Frosting very quickly helped not only satiate the immediate need for food but also calmed the screams while I could strip off our rain gear and get real food out. And to my delightful surprise – Jennifer and her son found us here and joined us for the rest of our trip!
We had a few dry hours before the next round of storms rolled through. Made it back to camp (giving us 9 miles for the day), dried some stuff out and checked on things we left behind. My stuff under the tree didn’t even have a drop on it! This stayed true through all the many rounds of storms. As the next round rolled in everyone retreated to our tents. Little man and I watched a movie I had downloaded just in case this happened and snacked. The rain let up just in time to make dinner and wash up and change clothes. It was a cold night with continued on and off storms (and still a flat sleeping pad on my side of our double system).
Little man passed out on our final trek down – also shows our full carrying set up (plus Riley’s).
The next morning we took our sweet time. We waited for the sun to reach camp and air some things out before we even contemplated breaking down camp. We probably left for the final trek down around 10 am after hot breakfast and drinks and putting on dry clothes. Little man passed out cold on the way down. After he woke up he hiked a good majority of the final miles down and rode piggy back for the rest. It was an awesome journey and I was blessed to have made a friend through it too. Oh and yea, my Riley pup was there for it all too.
Random fact: we spoke with a ranger on our way up to Abyss. They test the water in that area for trace minerals and chemicals often found in fertilizers and pesticides to monitor changes between what storms and people bring in. He was happy to report in the 15 years he’s been assigned that region there have been nominal changes!
My FAVORITE picture of me and wee man!! Him piggybacking on our final miles home.