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Hessie Loop Backpacking Trip

June 5, 2016

Just got back from a 3-day backpacking trip in the Indian Peaks Wilderness. It was a really fun trip with Rachel Wilmoth and Katrina Van Gasse (who I somehow hadn't met before).

Photo album is here.

Day 1

Picked up Rachel and Katrina from Boulder and drove up to Hessie Trailhead. Distributed food/gear and hit the trail by 1700. Immediately Katrina noticed that her hip belt buckle was broken, so I donated one of my my quickdraw carabiners as a replacement.

The river is really high and violent right now due to all the snowmelt, so hopefully we don’t have to do any river crossings. Took an accidental detour up to Lost Lake, but it was pretty up there so well worth the wasted half mile. Snow started to be present on the trail immediately after King Lake Trail splits off of Devils Thumb Trail. It wasn’t too bad today; just some postholing on about 5% of steps. Wasn’t bad enough for us to put gaiters on.

The sun was going down so we decided to look for a place to make camp at about 10,200’. We split up to evaluate a couple promising sites, and Katrina and I found a pretty good site, considering the conditions. Most of the area is covered in 3-4 feet of snow, but we found a pretty flat, dry spot near a meltwater creek. We did a little landscaping to widen the areas for tents, and set them up as the sun disappeared.

Fired up the JetBoil and made some hot water for instant burritos. Munched on some fresh veggies that Katrina hauled up for unknown reasons. Played a round of degenerate BS in the tent, showed some degenerate magic tricks, and went to sleep.

Time: 1700-2030
Distance: 3.9 mi
Elevation: +1500 -350 to 10,200’

Day 2

Woke up a little late, but got some needed rest for the long day ahead. Started the trail with just gaiters since the snow on the trail was intermittent. After a quarter mile everything was completely covered in snow, so we put snowshoes on and promptly lost the trail. We went up the valley, sometimes following some tracks of another group that had come through earlier in the day. At a couple points we bumped into them: three guys headed to Betty/Bob lakes.

We ate lunch partway up the steep face of the valley wall on an awesome downed tree. It was already a little late in the day, but the sky was clear so we decided to press on with Option #2: Woodland Lake. The other options were out of the question due to a lot of avalanche activity in the King Lake area.

Then came a horrendous slog up the rest of the face. The three guys had gone up the stream/avalanche gully to our west, but that didn’t seem too smart (though it looked a lot easier). Once we got to the top (and above treeline), we cruised along with views of the entire cirque and valley all the way down to Boulder. Saw a cornice break off and fall down above Bob Lake. Filled up on water when we heard the stream break out of the snow. We decided to go around the east side of Betty lake instead of continuing up to Bob lake.

We summited the pass (11,800’) at 1600 and took some pictures. We started to go directly down the steep other side of the pass (no snow), but Rachel pointed out it might be easier to descend along the ridge to the east, so we did that instead. She was right; the ridge was clear and easy for the most part, and we were able to descend most of the way to Woodland Lake without snowshoes.

Once we got to the lake, we foolishly decided to go along the south side of it, which was pretty steep and slow going. We got really lucky and found a good campsite at the east side of the lake that didn’t have any snow. It was covered in moss and was fairly damp, but worked really nicely.

We heard a buried stream gurgling nearby, so I dug through the snow to access it. The water was acting pretty weird; it was swirling and churning, but didn’t have a discernable direction it was flowing. Made a fire (we weren’t supposed to, but the ranger had highlighted the wrong rule on the permit so I didn’t notice), cooked dinner, and passed out. The night got pretty cold, but not at all windy!

Time: 1000-1845
Distance: 4.2 mi
Elevation: +1900 -1000 to 11,000’

Day 3

Woke up at 0700, but got a slow start. Oh well. The initial descent down the valley was very easy, but quickly became difficult. We had a hard time navigating the steep slopes with our snowshoes and packs, and at some points had to sidestep down particularly steep segments.

After a while we were able to take our snowshoes off and continue our descent. We roughly paralleled the creek to our south, and finally made it to where the Jasper Lake creek meets the Woodland Lake creek. Both were pretty high, but we were able to scout out a bridge a little downstream from their confluence. Since the Woodlake Lake creek was a little lower, we backtracked until we found a decent crossing point. We crossed the bridge (this is the first time we had seen a trail since the morning of Day 2), and then lost the trail again. Since our boots were completely soaked from the river crossing, we ignored all snow, streams, pools as we tromped down the valley.

Eventually we reached Hessie Trailhead, and I somehow convinced Rachel and Katrina to join me in a victory lap through the flooded road/river. It was very cold water, but pretty hilarious for a delirious trio.

Time: 0915-1330
Distance: 4.9 mi
Elevation: +200 -2200 to 9,000’