A Glorious Week of Hiking the Colorado Rockies (2011)


I am an obsessive listmaker.

Heart Lake hike22 James Wilderness Aug 2011.JPGOne of my adventure lists, now that I live in Colorado, is a list of hikes I have done in the Rocky Mountains, and the hikes I have not yet done, but desire to add to my always growing list of adventure hikes I’ve experienced in this breathtaking, stunning state.

One of the things Colorado is most known for is its spectacular wildflowers. The rainbow of colors they add to Colorado meadows when the deep winter snows in the Rockies finally melt away in July and August is, as someone said on one of my hikes, akin to the stereotypical hallucinogenic acid trip.

Two hikes were standing out like a sore thumb on my as-yet-unhiked Rockies hikes: Lake Dorothy in the Indian Peaks Wilderness and Heart Lake in the James Peak Wilderness.

Happily, I am able to convince my girlfriend Ann that we should hike to Lake Dorothy. Despite her earlier desire to hike again to Mitchell and Blue Lakes in Rocky Mountain National Park, she generously agrees to my hiking suggestion (on the condition, of course, that the next TWO hikes will be chosen by her).

On a clear, dry day in early August, Ann and I start at the aptly-named Fourth of July trailhead and are treated to a spectacular display of wildflowers and views of mountains still speckled in snow. The trail skirts along the south face of South Arapahoe Peak, a mountain proudly looming above us at 13,700 feet in elevation. From the peak, several cascading creeks cross the creek. We are above tree line as we reach, approximately, the mid-way point on our 4-mile hike to Lake Dorothy. Mostly, this trail does not follow a creek – and a creek as a trail companion is something that Ann and I both prefer. The trail, however, does provide us with spectacular rewards. Besides the wildflowers and striking mountain peaks, we pass close by Arapahoe Pass (about 11,900 feet in elevation) and reach the Caribou Pass ridgeline at 11,851 Lake Dorothy Trail 33 Indian Pks Aug 2011.JPGfeet, which provides a magnificent view of Caribou Lake, Santana Peak, and the expansive valley and surrounding peaks where Caribou Lake is found.

After a short, somewhat rocky climb, we reach Lake Dorothy – a superb, picturesque lake bordered by tall mountains including, most prominently, Mt. Neva (12,814 mighty feet). Our elevation gain, from trailhead to Dorothy is 1,940 feet. Lake Dorothy sits at 12,061 feet above sea level.

Three days later, I join a meetup group to hike another trail I have not yet experienced – the much-admired Heart Lake hike in the James Peak Wilderness just south of Indian Peaks Wilderness. This hike is a bit more overcast – weatherwise – but makes up for it by providing – impossibly – even MORE colorful wildflowers than Lake Dorothy trail. The Heart Lake trail, compared to Dorothy, features more of a steady incline and more forest. Happily, this trail follows the South Boulder Creek for much of its 4.8 miles of distance from the East Portal trailhead (9,200 feet in elevation) to its destination at Heart Lake. While the climb is moderate, with an overall elevation gain of 2,200 feet, the final 200 meters features a rather steep, rocky incline. But the rewards awaiting the hiker as Heart Lake and its surrounding wildflower meadows and mountains are reached, make the climb well worth it.

We are told by a ranger that just a few weeks previously, the spectacular wildflower meadow we are enjoying just below Heart Lake was covered in deep snow. Wildflowers have little time in Colorado to strut their colors. But what a show they produce in that short time!

These links show a photo movie of these hikes:

My Lake Dorothy hike:


My Heart Lake hike:



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