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On day 3, I again woke up early, around 6am, as I tend to do in the backcountry. It was another wonderfully chilly morning, hovering around 40 degrees Fahrenheit. I had planned to take a solo 1.5 mile hike down the unimproved trail between the North St. Vrain campsite and the Pine Ridge campsite. I was scouting the trail condition for our exodus the following day. By taking this trail vs. the trail back by Ouzel Falls and Calypso Cascades, we would cut off around 1.5 miles and several hundred feet of elevation gain.
Prior to setting off on my hike, I filtered a liter of water, but made the mistake of not eating anything nor did I pack a snack. I looked at the map and thought to myself "I can do 3 miles in a little over an hour, I'm ok, I'll be ok." How many times have we gotten over-confident and had it come back to bite us in the backside. Well, it did this morning. The hike down wasn't too bad. I dropped down about 400 feet. However, the hike back up those same 400 feet with no gas in the tank was brutal. At 9,000 feet, your energy gets zapped pretty easily. While it only took me about 15 minutes to get down, I struggled to make it back up in 45 minutes. As soon as I crawled into camp, I shoveled a Clif bar down and laid down in the tent. Lesson learned!
Everyone else was awake by around 8am. Our plan for the remainder of the day was to pack everything up and leave it at the campsite. I was going to don my pack with only enough supplies for a short 6 mile round trip day hike up to Ouzel Lake, gaining and losing 1000 vertical feet.
We set out around 10am for Ouzel Lake from our North St. Vrain campsite with lunch supplies and our water filters. Along the trail up to Ouzel Lake, there was more evidence of the large Ouzel Fire from 1978. The late morning sun was heating up and baking us. The temperatures had risen from the low 40's to near 90 degrees by lunch time. As we neared Ouzel Lake, we spotted a yellow-bellied marmot on a rock near the trail split for Ouzel Lake and Bluebird Lake. We stayed to the left and headed down to the lake. We arrived at the lake around 11:30.
Ouzel Lake is a sizable alpine lake, and apparently chock full of fish. There were two fishermen floating around in their inner-tubes. As if scripted for the tourists, both men hooked some greenback cutthroats as we walked up. Unlike most of the lakes we had visited so far, there are not many areas to sit near Ouzel Lake. There is one small outcrop of rocks that make a great picnic spot and that's about it. There were another couple there in addition to the two fishermen, so we found us a small section of the rock where we could all sit and enjoy our lunch. On the menu for today's lunch special, tuna or chicken in a tortilla with Chick-Fil-A Jalapeno Salsa. Or, you can enjoy some summer sausage and pepper jack cheese.
After lunch, we made the hike back down to our campsite. At camp, we loaded our packs and headed northwest to Thunder Lake. From North St. Vrain, it is roughly 2 miles with an elevation gain of 1000 feet to Thunder Lake. This is a fairly steady gain with only a couple of really steep spots. However, being day 3 and having already done a 6 mile hike earlier in the day, it was a killer for everyone. We left North St. Vrain around 2pm and didn't arrive at Thunder Lake until nearly 6pm. But like most places that I've visited in RMNP, it is worth the effort.
There are roughly 4-5 campsites, including a large group campsite, at Thunder Lake. All are smashing good campsites. The first site is closest to the privy (see pic of the Privy below... nice eh?), which can be both good and bad. Arriving a bit late, we were designated the last campsite, farthest from the privy and the lake. We set up camp and started cooking dinner. Tonight's dinner was an experiment, Terriyaki Chicken, a recipe from Scoutmaster Jerry.
While dinner was cooking, someone must have rang the dinner bell for the mosquitos. Darren says he attracts them, so we'll blame him. Dinner cooked in about 15 minutes, now it was time to try out the new recipe. Here is another lesson learned. Always try out your recipes at home before trying them on the trail. I may have done something wrong, who knows, but it wasn't too good. It was downright awful. That was the sentiment even after 22 miles and 3 days of hiking. Sorry guys! Fortunately, we had one more package of Natural High Cinnamon Apple Crisp which saved the evening.
Darren hurried through his dinner and immediately jumped in his tent to get away from the mosquitos. Amazingly, they disappeared shortly after he left. Maybe he does attract them. We cleaned up camp and wanted to take a walk down to the lake to take a peek. We got Darren back out of the tent, and the mosquitos came back. Incredible!
Darren and Jamie went down to the lake first, while Brandon and I hung out around camp for a bit. Brandon and I ventured down that way later and were in awe when we arrived at the lake. This has to be one of the most beautiful spots on earth. Thunder Lake is nestled between a meadow on the east side and 12,400 foot Tanima Peak on the west. Below is a fabulous panoramic of the lake. On the east side, in the middle of the meadow is a small backcountry ranger cabin. What a great gig that would be. Just behind the lake, on a moraine below Tanima Peak was a small glacier. We all decided that we could probably make it up and "touch the glacier" in the morning prior to descending to civilization. We asked one of the other groups in camp and they said, "most definitely do-able and worth it!" So, that was the plan for the morning.