Jan 19 2010
Echo Lake and Chicago Lakes Trail near Mt. Evans
January 18, 2010
The Chicago Lakes trail, which starts at Echo Lake near Mt. Evans can be pretty thrilling this time of year. There’s a stretch of trail that’s maybe a couple of feet wide above a very steep and sometimes sheer dropoff, and right now it’s covered in snowpack and ice. Unless you’re wearing YakTrax and have a lot of confidence around heights, you might be challenging your senses. At the start of the trail, Echo Lake is frozen solid and even though there’s a sign posted to keep off the lake, several groups and individuals decided to ignore that sign and ice skate, walk around and even do a little ice fishing (complete with a motorized ice screw).
What felt unusual this time of year along the Continental Divide was the sheer stillness in the air. It was balmy in Denver (mid 50s) and well above freezing up around 9,000 feet at Echo Lake. Normally when the weather is this warm in January you expect strong, gusty winds in the mountains as the air downslopes toward the plains. Not on this day. There was barely a breeze. It was blissfully quiet.
Earlier that morning, back in Westminster, I had gone on a short jog around my neighborhood and was accosted by the smell of exhaust and the rumbling engines from cars with impatient and caffeinated drivers on their way to work on a Monday that was a holiday for some. In comparison, being on this trail in the woods with just the sound of an agitated squirrel and maybe the caw-caw-caw of a crow was like a long, heartfelt sigh.
Once we stepped out from the trees and onto the ledge of the rocky slope overlooking the valley below and north toward Berthod Pass, it felt more than just peaceful. It felt expansive. Again, this was a stark contrast to the claustrophobia of the suburbs, where my views are confined by houses and cars and the sound of non-stop traffic.
My 12-year-old was intrigued by the nooks and crannies between giant boulders that had long ago tumbled off the mountain and settled on the slopes. You had to be careful to stay on the trail or risk wedging your leg in a narrow crevice between rocks, unseen due to a blanket of snow that covered everything. The trail is well-worn and snow-packed, evidence that even this time of year, Colorado’s residents can’t stay away from enjoying some solitude with nature. It’s a good time of year to hike up here. It’s a good way to test your focus and balance on the icy patches along the narrow trail before you descent into the valley. It’s a place to breathe the long, deep sigh of a body and mind letting go of the drone of a busy city.