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American (Michigan) Lakes

It was early June and the city was already hot. Looking to escape the 90's, I headed for a weekend trip to the mountains. After a late start, I packed up in a hurry. It turned out to be over two and a half hour drive from Boulder to Cameron Pass. I found a road to the Crags campground in Colorado State Forest still closed. An extra half a mile of hiking was not a welcome prospect. As I readied my backpack, I noticed I forgot a sleeping pad. Since I was likely to snow camp, this was not good. So I drove some thirty miles to Walden and bought the cheapest one they had. An hour and a half later, I was back at the gate, and my resolve wavered. It was already 4 p.m., there were thunderstorms in the area, and my backpack seemed heavier than ever.

I put on my pack and set off. It seemed that the thunderstorms have rolled of to the eastern side of the divide, and the sun was peeking through the clouds. After following the valley for about a mile, the trail started to climb a bit, and soon enough first patches of snow appeared. Later I crossed the Michigan ditch, one of many Colorado waterworks that takes water from the west side of the divide to to the thirsty Front Range cities and the Eastern Plains.

As I continued my ascent, it was getting harder and harder to avoid snow drifts on the trail. Snow was soft and slushy. It would support my weight for a half a second while I was holding my breath to make another step, but invariably, before I could do that, I would sink up to my knee or hip into it. It was a big mistake anticipating a little cooler weather and not bringing snowshoes. We had a such a dry winter and spring, I was not sure there was going to be much snow left anyhow. There was. After a while, I was exhausted. So when I finally got to the tree-line and saw a good dry camping spot, I could not resist. I have climbed only 1,400 vertical feet from the trailhead, but it seemed like a lot more.

It was a mild night, and the conditions in the morning were no different. The snow was still soft. I walked up to Thunder Pass (11,331ft) where the State Forest borders Rocky Mountain National Park, and followed a snow free ridge west to a minor summit (12,048ft). From there, I had a good view of Nokhu Crags, Static Peak and Mount Richthofen to the west, and Never Summer Range to the south. American (Michigan on some maps) lakes in the basin were still mostly covered by snow.

Back at the campsite, I was getting ready for the trip back. I found that snow on a steep north bank of the Michigan River was frozen and decided to follow it. An easy going did not last very long as the bank steepened some more, and before I knew it I was sliding down. Fortunately my slide did not end in the water, but on a snow bridge covering the river. I crossed to the other side where the snow due to the southern exposure had already melted, and followed the other bank for a while, before I was forced to climb higher above the river. A few minutes later, I was back at the river, that seemed to have gotten much wider now. I crossed my thumbs and crawled across another snow bridge, waded a few more snowdrifts, and I was back on a mostly snow free trail. Wahoo!

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Spring patterns Dusk in the American lakes basin Sunrise Northern horizon Nokhu Crags American Lake Basin
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Elk Self-portrait


Last updated: February 8, 2003
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