Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Watanga Lake & Mt. Irving Hale

Having just one more day left with easy access to the Indian Peaks Wilderness, I went back on Tuesday for a solo run to Watanga Lake and Mt. Irving Hale (11,754'). After climbing 14ers exclusively for the last few years, I can't tell you how enjoyable it is to get off those congested superhighways and experience a more remote side of the Rockies.

Both destinations start at the Roaring Forks trailhead and share the first 2.5 miles of the RF trail. At that point they split with Watanga being about 1.5 miles further if you stay left at the fork and Mt. IH about 2.25 miles if you go right and continue on the RF trail.

The first mile from the trailhead is a lung burner as you gain just over 1000'. The next two miles are more gradual before a final push up to the lake. Watanga is a nice lake, but pales in comparison to the majestic Mirror and Crater Lakes.

I watched the fish jump for a few minutes while enjoying the serenity. Those few splashes broke the utter silence. It was so quiet as there were no birds chirping or wind rustling the trees.

I slurped a Gu packet and began the descent back to the fork where I began the steep climb up to a saddle (Hale Divide) from which I would launch my assault on the summit.

The trail continues over the saddle and down into Hell Canyon, which is not the direction I wanted to head in! I could see the summit of IH poking its head over the trees, but there was no trail. I decided to beeline it for the summit and follow the elk that were leading the way. If you can't see them, just click on the picture.

Here's another shot from the saddle.

After passing through a small clump of pine trees, I had a much better view of the false summit and the true summit just beyond. Boulders where pretty much the name of the game going forward. It was easy to dodge them in this field as I ran, but then the running and fast hiking came to an end when the grass did.

This boulder field was a "choose your own adventure" exercise. There were no cairns or other trail markers. You just picked your path and went with it.

After rounding the false summit, the real one came into view. It took another 10 minutes to scramble up there.

Looking back at what I just ascended. I stepped off the trail at the furthest meadow.

Here's a view of Lake Granby to the west.

Looking to the east. I'm curious how these blocks were stacked so nicely.

The summit was covered in these "Old Man of the Mountain" flowers. Growing up in NH, this is the only Old Man of the Mountain I ever knew existed.

The northeast side of Mt. IH drops off like a cliff. Down in the valley below are two lakes (Crawford and Long). Here's a 360 degree view from the summit.

On the descent, I bumped into the only other runner I came across. In fact, if it wasn't for passing two backpackers in the final mile, the prancing lady above and the skittish elk herd would have been the only encounters I had all morning.

Here are the totals for the run. 12.59 miles in 3:19 with 4400' of vertical. This was my last longish run before Silver Rush in 12 days. I'll taper down now in hopes of being ready to roll in Leadville.


  1. Awesome! You are ready! Go kill it at SR!

  2. Thanks Patrick! I'm definitely starting to get nervous now that my training is winding down. I wish I could run it tomorrow!

  3. All these FUN RUNS ... is there an easy way i could get the GPS files for the runs in Colorado ? Otherwise it is pretty hard to find some of them. Much appreciated.