Colorado

Itineraries / Indian Peaks Wilderness in Colorado - Day 3

DAY 3: LOWER CASCADE FALLS TO MONARCH LAKE TRAILHEAD

It was another 4.5 miles back to the trailhead where we took those first steps. The hike out was easy with its gradual downhill. It was especially easy to do with our lighter packs and full spirits, at least that's how I felt. I am always nourished by the wilderness...all the unspoken sacred moments: the moonlight sparkling in the creek, the moments of aw and silence, the mesmerizing moments staring at unique dance of flames. 

We had another oatmeal and coffee breakfast, packed up and headed back to the cars. As we got closer to the trailhead, we saw more and more day hikers sprinkled on the trail. It reminded me how special it was that we got to steep ourselves in the wilderness for three days, like we had become a cup of wilderness tea.

All fed, packed and cleaned up. I believe our goal as backpackers is to leave the wilderness in better condition than how we found it.

All fed, packed and cleaned up. I believe our goal as backpackers is to leave the wilderness in better condition than how we found it.

Nancy. Aww... sweet girl. 

Nancy. Aww... sweet girl. 

There is something so beautiful about a group of women backpacking together. It's one of my favorite sites in the wilderness.

There is something so beautiful about a group of women backpacking together. It's one of my favorite sites in the wilderness.

Thank you Indian Peaks Wilderness. You've left quite the impression. 

Thank you Indian Peaks Wilderness. You've left quite the impression. 

If you missed Day 2 photos, they're waiting for you here. Enjoy!

xo

Itineraries / Indian Peaks Wilderness in Colorado - Day 2

DAY 2: LOWER CASCADE FALLS TO CRATER LAKE BACK TO LOWER CASCADE FALLS

I woke up early and spent the first hour or so soaking in the quiet holy presence of a morning in the wilderness. There is nothing quite like that kind of peace and solitude. It was frigid, so I wrapped myself in my sleeping bag and sat for a while sipping a cup of hot coffee. Simple things. 

Eventually, everyone started hatching from their tents and we nourished ourselves with homemade oatmeal and coffee.

Sun finally cresting over into our campsite. 

Sun finally cresting over into our campsite. 

Everyone still sleeping...

Everyone still sleeping...

Coffee with milk + sugar and homemade oatmeal

Coffee with milk + sugar and homemade oatmeal

We decided to stay at our campsite for another night instead of migrating at Crater Lake, so we left what we could and started our day hike at 11am (*gulp*). A bit late of a start, but things just take longer with more people, naturally. The hike was breathtaking and I said the word "gorgeous" a bajillion times. I meant it every time! 

A gorgeous  pee-rag sighting  in the wild! (Disclosure: I gave each of the ladies a pee-rag to try on this trip. They loved it!)

A gorgeous pee-rag sighting in the wild! (Disclosure: I gave each of the ladies a pee-rag to try on this trip. They loved it!)

There was so much to stop and look at. The views were spectacular! 

There was so much to stop and look at. The views were spectacular! 

So refreshing and rejuvenating!

So refreshing and rejuvenating!

Silliness ensues. 

Silliness ensues. 

Hike hike hike.

Hike hike hike.

Small bridge crossing en route to Mirror Lake. 

Small bridge crossing en route to Mirror Lake. 

WOW. Gorgeous.

WOW. Gorgeous.

We finally arrived at Crater Lake and hopped on this rock to enjoy some time before heading back to camp.

We finally arrived at Crater Lake and hopped on this rock to enjoy some time before heading back to camp.

Hiking back to camp.

Hiking back to camp.

Yes. These are the moments. 

Yes. These are the moments. 

Itineraries / Indian Peaks Wilderness in Colorado - Day 1

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I had a very fortunate opportunity to spend three days in the Indian Peaks Wilderness in Colorado. It was brilliant, gorgeous, and invigorating. The best parts? Getting to introduce the basics of backpacking to ladies completely new to it, and learning about their motivations and barriers to entry.

For many, their backpacking curiosity is piqued because they already love hiking and camping. Backpacking is the natural combination of those two activities. Yet the barrier to entry can still feel quite high. Most people tell me they don't know where to go and what gear to take. I also don't think most people realize how much planning goes into it. Planning definitely gets easier as you have more experience (like most things in life), but it's certainly a lot of work to get started. 

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Here's our itinerary for our three day trip. I highly recommend this backpacking trip. It gets the YESYESYES! stamp of approval.

TRIP SPECS

Wilderness: Indian Peaks Wilderness
Trail: Cascade Trail #1
Trailhead: Monarch Lake
Mileage: 14.8 miles
Start Elevation: 8,345'
End Elevation: 10,328'
Total Elevation Gain: 2,507' (1,938' gain one way)
Detailed Trail Description: From ProTrails
Trail Map & GPS Coordinates: From ProTrails
Ranger Station: Sulphur Ranger District, 970-887-4100
Permits? YES, Reserve a campsite at Crater Lake as early as possible. It's $5 and they also provide a parking pass
Nearest Town: Granby, Colorado
Downloadable Topo Map Here

ITINERARY

Day 1: Monarch Lake Trailhead to Lower Cascade Falls / 4.4 miles
Day 2: Day Hike to Crater Lake / 6 miles 
Day 3: Lower Cascade Falls to Monarch Lake Trailhead / 4.4 miles

DIRECTIONS

Check out the map here, from Dino Lots to the Monarch Lake Trailhead

  • From the Dinosaur Lots, take 70W
  • Veer (R) to the 40W
  • Turn (R) to 34E
  • Turn (R) to Hwy 6 (not super well marked, keep your eyes open)
  • Take Hwy 6 all the way to the trailhead

THE CONCERN FACTOR for June 26-28, 2015

  • Snow: We were expecting snow for the last two miles up to Crater Lake and thought we were going to have to posthole our way. Fortunately, the snow had mostly melted off and it was only muddy for the last mile or so.
  • Bears: Didn't see any; word of black bear(s) at Monarch Lake a week prior
  • Mosquitos: Definitely around and biting, especially bad on the hike from Crater Lake to Lower Cascade Falls
  • Ticks: Didn't see or get any
  • Water: Plenty of engorged creeks, waterfalls, and eventually lakes
  • Creepy men: Didn't see any; this trail is heavily used so there are plenty of people you'll come across
  • Lots of people: Surprised by how many people backpack to Crater Lake and day hike to the Lower Falls. If you're looking for solitude, this may not be the best spot for you
  • Elevation gain/loss: The ascent up to Crater Lake was difficult at times

GEAR

I ended up taking all of my usuals + extra water treatment, bear hang gear and tarp since we were a larger group, a robust first aid kit including a SAM splint, and extra pair of socks (in case my feet got wet from snow). Oh, and I took my big ole zoom lens. It definitely adds a few pounds, but it was great to be able to get shots I wouldn't have been able to otherwise.

I took a few more things than I would on a solo trip since we were a group of seven. Some new things I've added to my overall pack weight include: more robust first aid kit, survival kit, and 911 food. My pack was heavier than normal, but overall it was still quite manageable.

I took a few more things than I would on a solo trip since we were a group of seven. Some new things I've added to my overall pack weight include: more robust first aid kit, survival kit, and 911 food. My pack was heavier than normal, but overall it was still quite manageable.

day one: Monarch Lake Trailhead to Lower cascade falls

We had two cars with ladies from various parts of Denver, so we touched base at the Dino Lots (just outside of Denver) and then caravaned to Granby for a short restroom stop. We drove to the Monarch Lake trailhead, got our belongings together and started the walk. And by "we," I mean this lovely bunch of ladies. 

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We hiked about 4.5 miles to the Lower Cascade Falls and set up shop near the top of the falls. It was perfect. Close to a water source, pre-made fire pits and white noise lulling us to sleep after everyone's first trek carrying all that gear on their backs. 

Hike hike hike. 

Laura (L) and Rachael (R)

Laura (L) and Rachael (R)

Amy's pack gave her a pretty hard time, but she was still a trooper. (She said she was going to return the damn thing after the trip!) That's the benefit of renting gear...you get to try it out and see what you like and don't like about a backpack without the commitment. 

Amy's pack gave her a pretty hard time, but she was still a trooper. (She said she was going to return the damn thing after the trip!) That's the benefit of renting gear...you get to try it out and see what you like and don't like about a backpack without the commitment. 

Our campsite was next to the Lower Cascade Falls. What a breath of fresh air - literally! And, we got to fall asleep to the sound of this roaring waterfall. It was glorious! 

Our campsite was next to the Lower Cascade Falls. What a breath of fresh air - literally! And, we got to fall asleep to the sound of this roaring waterfall. It was glorious! 

Airing out my socks using little nubs on the tree. 

Airing out my socks using little nubs on the tree. 

Everyone collected wood and I taught them how to make a proper fire. Rachael (the one in that cute beanie) did an awesome job of stoking the fire and keeping it ablaze. We sat here to have dinner and relax after day one.

Everyone collected wood and I taught them how to make a proper fire. Rachael (the one in that cute beanie) did an awesome job of stoking the fire and keeping it ablaze. We sat here to have dinner and relax after day one.

OH, FYI...This event was brought together in collaboration with Niki Koubourlis, Founder of Bold Betties Outfitters. Consider renting your gear with her if you're interested in trying out backpacking. She has a nice selection to try. (Yes, this is an affiliate plug! If you rent gear from Bold Betties through my link, I earn a tiny bit of commission. Yay for passive income!)  :-) 

See more photos from DAY 2 & DAY 3

Firsts / My Journey Into the Unknown

Written by: Susanne Menge
Susanne is a coach, writer, and speaker. She writes for HuffPo and loves playing in the outdoors. She loves laughing with her girls, witnessing transformation from fear to joy, and embarking on wild new adventures.

I have backpacked many times, with him. I’m strong, fit and highly capable, but in backpacking (and many other areas of my life) I had decided to defer to others.

Until the summer of 2014.  

I put dates on the calendar for me. I had 4 nights and 5 days to play, children were with my ex-husband, and I could do anything. I planned to return to the Maroon Bells but as the dates got closer I knew I didn’t need to go far from home. I knew I needed to trust myself right now, I knew I needed to stay open and move, from my center, not someone else’s knowing.  And, that was all I knew.

Summer was busy and by the fourth week in July I did not know anything more than the dates, July 30-August 3rd. I could have freaked out. I did at times, but a small voice inside reminded me I would find my way. I live in Boulder, Colorado and can walk 15 blocks to be in the foothills. All was well. 

A few days before my trip the skies let out the biggest rains we had seen in ages. I went to the Wilderness Permit office in Boulder the day before departure and she told me not to go out, the forecast was pure rain on all of her favorite forecasting sites. I listened. I adjusted. I said yes to the James Peak Wilderness where no permits are needed. I had a plan and an open mind. I bought a map of that area. I didn’t give up.

The next morning, rain poured. I was packed and ready yet decided to stay home. All dressed up and nowhere to go rang through me. I settled in to my quiet house. I listened to my heart, slowed wayyyy down. I was on vacation even though I wasn’t yet on the trail. I had permission to accomplish nothing; I rested, got a haircut, even got some work done!

By the end of the day on the 30th, there were breaks in the rain and I got clear, I was going the next morning, rain or shine. I was worth it.

Everything was already packed, so just after sunrise on July 31, I loaded the car and headed for Moffat Tunnel, 30 minutes away. I would stop at the hardware store in Nederland to buy a water bottle and rain poncho.  

I arrived at the trailhead, donned my pack, changed from flip-flops to running shoes and headed up the trail. Rain sprinkled my head. A smile crossed my face in combination with my eyes watering. I was so excited I could scream and so scared I was making a mistake. Could I really do this? Would it be ok? Could I trust myself this far to set out in the rain, to stay open to stopping if needed, to make decisions about my own safety in this weather, to be ok, even with all these unknowns?

Since I am sharing this now. You already know the answer. I ascended the South Boulder Creek Trail to the Continental Divide. Amongst low clouds and limited visibility I traversed the Divide, which has no trail but rather intermittent signposts. In sunny weather (I’ve been back since) one can often see the next signpost, but on this day, I didn’t have that luxury. I had to leave one signpost behind, not yet seeing the next.  

Along the Divide, thunder began cracking and I dropped off the ridge for a time while it passed, returning when if felt safe. Then, just when I thought I could take no more cold, wet, windy weather, the clouds broke enough for me to see Dead Man and Pump House Lakes. I was close to my destination.

I dropped down off the ridge toward the lakes and my ultimate destination, Corona Lake, as the sun started to warm my whole body (and mind).  I was in the home stretch, in awe of this day, and almost to my home for the next three nights.

I could tell a million stories about this adventure.

I have written pages about the fears I had to walk through to get myself through this. About the challenge of having a basic plan but no one to rely on but me. About the last day on my walk out when I missed the direct ‘social’ trail and walked in sobbing terrified tears over two long train trusses that felt like they were a million miles off the ground. (I thought they would collapse under me, yet in reality they held, well, trains!)

But those stories are the fuel for me to say it’s all worth it. I am worth it. You are worth it! 

Facing into the unknown and testing all of these edges gave me a strength, courage and capacity I had never known before.

Photos courtesy of Susanne Menge.