Hiking: Lawn Lake, Crystal Lakes, and The Saddle

Back in August, Sherri and I did some hiking in Rocky Mountain National Park.  One of the hikes that had plagued us for years was the Lawn Lake trail.  We’d been chased down by weather a couple of times and decided against it because of injures another time.  However, this year, we managed to finish the trail and more.

The Lawn Lake trail is just over 6 miles one-way.  On prior visits to Estes Park, we were told not to set Lawn Lake a destination.  The lake normally is not that thrilling and there are better hikes in the park.  If we were going to do the trail, go past Lawn Lake to the Crystal Lakes and/or The Saddle as well.

This year, that is exactly what we did.  Here is 15 minutes of things I captured with the video camera on the way.  Surprisingly, this year turned out to also be spectacular for wild flowers around the lake, so the lake became a worthwhile destination for itself.

We were at the trailhead just before 0500 local time and we hit the trail with flashlights.  The initial part of the trail has a lot of switchbacks as it climbs up a ridge.  Needless to say, I didn’t record much video until after the sun was over the horizon.

Most of the hike follows the Roaring River, which leads from Lawn Lake down to the Alluvial Fan.  The trail is generally uphill the whole way out.  Though, the trip to Lawn Lake is not that rough.  The overall elevation gain is spread over 6 miles and we found that part of the hike pretty easy.

However, the climb to the Saddle is another couple thousand feet up.  That gain is spread over just a couple of miles and parts of it gained a lot over a few hundred yards.  The Saddle comes in at over 12,300 feet.  For the even more adventurous, there are a couple of peaks beyond The Saddle that you can do.  (Perhaps next time.)

If you watch the video to The Saddle, you’ll see a small herd of bighorn sheep we encountered.  Thank goodness for zoom on the video camera.

I didn’t get sick, but I was starting to feel the effects of the altitude.  Once I hit 11.5k feet, when I put forth any strenuous exertion, I starting to get a mild headache.  This didn’t go away until after I was back under 10.5k feet.  On the way down from The Saddle, doing the mile long side trip to see the Crystal Lakes up close required a bit of extra determination, since we were still close to 12k feet.  However, that effort brought our total mileage for the day to 18 miles.  And since we had 4k feet for overall elevation gain from the trail head to The Saddle, that has made this our best single days yet for distance and overall gain.

I didn’t shoot much video on the way down and my mentioning it didn’t make the video cut, but there was some thunder and rain that moved in while we were at Crystal (Sherri was in her poncho in one shot).  Plus, we wanted to get back to the car and stopping to shoot video takes time.  In all, we reached the trailhead as the sun was setting behind the mountains, which was about 15 hours from when we set off.

A long hike normally makes me ask ‘what the hell was I thinking?’  This was no exception.  My feet hurt well before I was done.  But the next morning, as always, I was ready to get out and do it again.