Thursday, January 12, 2012

Backpacking Trip to the Indian Peaks Wilderness

My wife and I were fortunate enough to be able to sneak away for a long weekend this summer to the Indian Peaks Wilderness. This wilderness area is about 45 minutes west of Boulder and about 30 minutes south of Estes Park, right outside the Rocky Mountain National Park boundary.  I had a work trip to Boulder earlier in the week, so it made it a good choice for the last minute trip planning.

Our plan was to drive to Camp Dick, park and hike into the Middle St. Vrain Backcountry Zone.  We would camp at Red Deer Lake for two nights and then hike back.  Roundtrip would be somewhere around 17-18 miles gaining around 2,000 vertical feet in elevation to camp at around 10,500 feet.

During the winter of 2010-2011, Colorado saw near record snow fall, so I was a bit nervous when I called the first week of July to request the permit and was told there was still too much snow, but to continue to check back.  July brought warmer temperatures which melted the snow, allowing us to get a permit, but it came with warnings of wet, soggy conditions which translates to lots of bugs.

We were pleasantly surprised when we got there.  While it was a little soggy, and there were a fair number of bugs, it wasn't unbearable by any means and the crowds were very thin.  Indian Peaks is known to be very busy on the weekends, so we were very fortunate that there were not hoards of people.

For the most part, the Indian Peaks trails are well signed and easy to follow.  The trails were very well maintained.  The scenery was definitely National Park worthy, it is bordering Rocky Mountain National Park after all.  Due to the lingering snow, we didn't stray too much off of our planned route.  We ran into several hikers coming from beyond Red Deer Lake saying that there was way too much snow, which made it difficult to follow the trails and difficult to walk without crampons.  Taking all of this information, we decided to just relax at Red Deer Lake and enjoy the time off.

Leaving the parking lot at Camp Dick, we followed the Buchanan Pass Trail along the Middle St. Vrain Creek.  We made a brief stop for some lunch at Timberline Falls, then continued on up towards Red Deer Lake.  The topo map we had showed a Red Deer Cutoff Trail about halfway up the Buchanan Pass Trail, but we could never find it, so we continued down the Buchanan Pass Trail until you hit the main trail leading up to Red Deer Lake.

The wildflowers were in full bloom, painting the meadows with bright yellows, reds, blues, and a myriad of other colors.  We definitely timed this trip right for wildflower spotting.  Most of the first part of the trail is spent hiking under a canopy of evergreens, and thanks to the snow melt, slogging through a few mud puddles.  About 4 miles in, the trail opens up and you are hit in the face with a beautiful view of Sawtooth Mountain.

Middle St. Vrain Creek with heavy run off

Sawtooth Mountain
About 6 miles in, you cross over Middle St. Vrain Creek using a footbridge.  Part of the hand rail was broken, making Linda a bit nervous walking across the bridge with a gushing creek just a few feet below her. After crossing the bridge, you then start a pretty steep ascent towards Red Deer Lake and Buchanan Pass.  In a little over a mile you find the main trail leading to Red Deer Lake.  This gains 500 vertical feet in less than .5 mile.  It was still fairly snow covered, even in late July.  By the time we got to the top of the hill, just below Red Deer Lake, we were standing on about 5 feet of snow.



Red Deer Lake apparently is not frequented too much by campers.  There are very few trails around the lake with very few good campsites.  We did a lot of bushwhacking to find a good spot, but eventually found a great spot, right above the lake with plenty of room for our tent, and a good dining area.  We were close to the lake to make retrieving water fairly painless.  Additionally, I packed in my fly rod for the first time ever and the proximity to the lake made it easy to just pop down to the water and cast a fly every once in a while.  We even found a nice spot to put the hammock up with a great view of the lake and surrounding area.

Here are some of the pics from the trip.

What a beautiful sight.  The lake's nice, too.

My first fish on a fly rod, and in the backcountry!

A great place to chillax.

The iceberg kept crashing into the water all weekend.

Linda even picked up the fly rod.

What a gorgeous sunset.
On Sunday, we packed up and headed out.  This was a drastically different type of trip than any of my others.  We stayed close to the camp, relaxed, fished, and enjoyed each other's company and the beautiful scenery.  As far as backpacking trips go, this was definitely my most relaxing trip ever.  I'd love to do a trip like this again, soon.  I really enjoy spending time with my lovely wife and I'm truly blessed she enjoys to spend time with me doing this sort of stuff.

The hike out was all downhill and didn't seem to take too long, but we did take time to smell the flowers, literally.  Here are a few sights from our trip out.







I would definitely recommend this trip to anyone.  I'd like to go back sometime when we could explore some other areas, like Buchanan Pass and Coney Flats.


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