This trail easily ranks as one of the best valley hikes in the Indian Peaks, and in Colorado overall, at least in my book. The scenery is simply magnificient. Camping is by permit only from June through September, and there is only a few sites available at Crater Lake. A day hike of over 16 miles roundtrip is possible, but the most exciting upper part of the valley is worth spending a little more time than just a couple of hours.
It was a Memorial Day weekend, the last weekend in May and also the last weekend for permit free camping in much of the Indian Peaks. The trailheads on the west side of the Indian Peaks require a relatively long drive of over two hours from the Denver metro area, and I was suprised to find quite a number of cars at the Monarch Lake trailhead. This trailhead, 8300 ft, is a few miles from Grandby and gives access to a lot of terrain on the west side of the divide. Much of the trail first along Monarch Lake and later near Buchanan Creek is through dense woods and views are limited.
The trail gets more interesting after Buchanan Trail to Buchanan Pass forks off, and what is now Cascade Creek trails starts picking up elevation faster. The trail does justice to its name - there are numerous waterfalls made even more impressive on my hike by spring runoff. Where there is runoff, there must be snow higher up. Indeed, it started appearing at about 9400ft as the valley opened up a bit. By the time I reached the intersection with Pawnee Pass trail, I was into it up to my hips at times. I managed to cross a seriously swollen creek from the Pawnee Lake drainage, continued in an ever softer and deeper snow until I came up on a somewhat dry camping spot with a nice view.
As I was finishing dinner, I heard huffing and puffing - I did not expect to see bears this high up. It was Dave, a friendly backpacker from Denver with packs of ice on his knees, and snowshoes that I jealously viewed. He pitched his tent close to mine and we talked well into the evening about photography, backpacking and such.
The snow froze up some overnight, which was a good thing. Even I could walk on it. Dave and I proceeded further up the valley, eventually parting at Mirror Lake. The snow was getting soft again, and I decided to head back, while Dave would continue to Crater Lake and hang around another day to explore the Pawnee Lake valley.
|Spring!||Wildflowers||Waterfall||Cascades||First open view|
|Lichen neart||Evening||Morning||Scenery above my camp||Avalanche and Lone Eagle Peak||Avalanche and Lone Eagle Peak|
|Dave||Avalanche and Lone Eagle Peak||Mirror Lake||Camp||Cascade Creek||Cascades|