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A Day Along the Continental Divide

It was a chilly morning when I got out of my car at Bear Lake. I managed to bypass the timed entry system by simply getting up at 3:45 and heading directly into the park before the 5am timed entry requirement and, other than the early alarm, it was pretty easy. The parking lot was virtually empty as I headed counter clockwise around Bear Lake and hit the Flattop Mountain Trail.

Todays agenda was a classic one. Hallett Peak would be the first stop, then I’d head over to Otis Peak, descend via Andrews Glacier. On the way back I wanted to stop by Lake Haiyaha to check out the stunning blue in the water caused by the rock flour released from the sizable rock slide high in Chaos Canyon above earlier in the summer.

I took it easy and just let the headlamp lead the way until sunrise right at the Emerald Lake overlook. I spent some time enjoying the alpenglow on the high peaks and the soft clouds above before making my way higher above tree line. Some pikas greeted me and made for some fun viewing and a good excuse to stop hiking for a few minutes to catch my breath. I took a few pictures and some video, then began making my way up the trail when a fox exploded in a run right at my feet! It had been sleeping right on the trail and I stepped about two feet from it, giving both of us a good scare!

I hung out with this beautiful female fox for about 20 minutes watching it meticulously hunt pikas in the rocks on the tundra. It didn’t really care that I was there and was a true joy to get to spend some time with this gorgeous animal. After a bit I figured I had better continue on and let the vixen continue her hunt without me. I’m sure she fared better when I moved along.

Without incident I was soon topping out on the summit of Hallett Peak (12,713 feet). This is one of the best summits in the entire national park for a few reasons. One, it’s one of those aesthetic summits that feels like you’re standing on top of a real mountain! The summit cone gets you up above all of the surrounding terrain and the views are stunning in every direction. Two, it’s relatively easy to get to. A well established trail takes you up to the “summit” of Flattop Mountain, and an easy to follow social trail takes you from there right to Hallett’s summit, about .6 mile away. Finally, it’s just cool to stand up on the summit that dominates the views in the Bear Lake corridor and Tyndall Gorge.

I spent a few minutes soaking in the views before heading south along the continental divide toward Otis Peak. This is a beautiful stretch along steep tundra slopes that drops you toward the head of Chaos Canyon, the pass between Hallett and Otis Peaks. I peeked down into Chaos Canyon, looking at the rock slide area, then started my way up the several hundred feet to the summit of Otis (12,486 feet).

I spent a few minutes on Otis taking note of the many surrounding summits, looking west to Grand Lake, and day dreaming about future adventures, then started my way down the long tundra slopes to Andrew’s Glacier.

Stopping just above the glacier, I donned my micro spikes before stepping out onto the ice and snow. Luckily the sun had warmed it enough to make it so it wasn’t solid ice but was soft enough for the spikes to have something to bite into. I made my way down stopping by the crevasses to take a gander. I’ve passed these many times before but never tool the time to check them out. And wow. They were much deeper than I thought. I could comfortable say they were 40+ feet deep, and probably more as I could see down quite a bit before it was pitch black. Being that close made me a little nervous to I snapped a couple of pics and moved on to safer terrain.

Andrews Glacier from Otis Peak.

I slid and skated down to Andrew’s Tarn, took off the spikes and worked myself down the steep trail toward the trail leading back to The Loch and the trail head. At this point I started running into the masses of people. Prior to getting back on the main trail I had just seen four people since I started. It was slower going weaving through the traffic on the trail, but before long I was below The Loch and heading over toward Haiyaha on the unimproved trail.

I was really looking forward to this as I really wanted to see the color of the water in and coming out of Haiyaha. I previously mentioned the rock slide in upper Chaos Canyon that happened earlier this year. Basically, a big chunk of Hallett Peak slid off into the gorge below. When this happened it released a lot of rock flour. This is silt resulting from the grinding of rock by the glaciers above. It can turn water a beautiful blue color. Being that it’s pretty fresh, the waters around Haiyaha are a milky blue and it’s stunning. I spent a few minutes admiring the water then made my way to the outlet stream below the lake. The stream had the same color, though a bit more translucent. Very cool to see and seemed like something you’d see in Lord of the Rings famed Middle Earth. If you’re able to make it up, you should absolutely go check this out!

At this point I was a bit short on time, so made quick work of the hike out to the Bear Lake parking lot and called it a day. The weather was perfect. Like absolutely perfect. The scenery was even better, and I was enjoying that wonderful kind of fatigue that only a day in the high mountains can afford. The total mileage was only a kiss over 12 with about 4,200 feet of elevation gain, and took me a little over 5 hours. I stopped at the Country Market here in Estes Park on my way home and got one of their truly incredible deli sandwiches to refuel before heading home.

Another great day in the hills!

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