Trampas Lakes and an Attempt to Climb Another Peak. And, Abby Saves My Bacon Again.

For my next adventure I’d hoped to combine a trip to the Trampas Lakes with an ascent of Jicarilla Peak, a 12,494-foot elevation prominance north of the lakes. The trail out to the lakes and back was 12 miles and only 2,500 feet in elevation so I thought that an additional 1,000-foot scaramble up the peak would be no big deal, even if it were to take an extra couple hours.

I was on the trail by 7am, ascending the deeply shaded canyon – which felt really cold despite it being only in the upper 20s – surrounded by trees, frost, and more frost. I planned on going to the lakes first before backtracking down canyon to the route that accessed the peak and thus reached the twin lakes in decent time, just after 9am. As I entered the glacial cirque I turned right, walking the length of the westernmost lake before crossing over too the eastern lake. Both lakes were gorgeous, ringed by the craggy profiles of multiple named and unnamed peaks.

After getting my fill I decended back down canyon on an onofffical route that joined up with the official trail down to Hidden Lake. As far as I was able to determine, I had to continue descending past the lake before reaching the base of Jicarilla and so I did just that, walking a mile beyond the lake, looking for a reasonable way up. I saw none. I backtracked and retraced my steps, peering intently at avalanche chute after avalanche chute. I crossed the bases of many of them, picking my way along the unsteady rock for over an hour, making attempts up multiple routes before giving in. Being out there alone on no discernable trail and climbing up a thousand feet of unstable boulders was just outside the range of what I considered prudent.

What did seem possible was the bushwack to the top of the cirque due south of the twin Trampas Lakes – or at least my recollection of it – and so I trudged back up 700 feet along the trail until I rememerged in front of the western body of water. Peering across the lake I decided on the route that would get me above the treeline and set off in following the shore as I admired the sunlight glistening on the clear water.

Upon reaching the south end of the lake I began my steep scramble up the bowl, weaving my way 500 feet up through conifers until I reached the treeline – where the rocky alpine ecosystem became suddenly predominant. I spent a few minutes walking parallel to the ridge scouting a couple possible routes up and waiting for my legs to recover, until I had the realization that though the lactic acid had long since dissipated, the heaviness and fatigue in my muscles had not. I did some math: My on- and off-trail wanderings only totaled perhaps 10 miles and 4,000 feet in elevation gain at this point, but my legs were telling me this last 700 feet of scramble up the ridge would be almost too much. Plus I had 6+ miles of hiking ahead of me from here to the trailhead. I hemmed and hawed, and finally concluded that while I was certain I could ascend the loose rocky scree, I was not sure that descending without taking a tumble was in the cards. It annoyed me since I knew if I had not spent the time and energy trying to find a way up Jicarilla I would have easily been able to manage this scramble, but I knew that descending was the right thing to do.

As a consolation prize I decided to bushwack back to the trail via the far side of the lake; with the sun almost behind me, the clarity of the water permitted me to see quite far into the depths. About halfway down I spotted the first of many trout. I stood still on the shore watching as more emerged from the depths and began an elaborate dance as Abby cruised around far behind me. Entranced, I pulled out my phone began shooting video. I then walked a few more steps to watch another groups of fish, phone still in hand. This cluster of trout were partially obscured by the sun however so I crouched down and began filming. After a minute or so I stood up, ready to move on. It was then that I heard the low growl and a snort from right behind me. A bear. I whirled around, looking simultaneously for both Abby and the culprit. Abbs was already bounding towards me, clearly perturbed that she had failed to detect the threat, as I yelled, “Stay!” She stopped short right between me and the location from which the noise came, her fur puffed up beyond recognition and a throaty, defensive growl coming from her chest. I continued yelling commands while looking into the sun, into the trees, trying to locate the animal. I saw nothing. Another snort was issued. I raised my arms and began walking backward into the lake, yelling new commands at Abby to follow me. She listened and we began moving away with her staying between me and the bear. Once I felt we’d put a hundred feet or so between us I turned and began making faster forward progress; a protest in the way of a growl was heard behind us which made us both spin around and necessitated me yelling more commands to Abby – though to her credit she merely moved closer to me in a protective stance. By the time we reached the end of the lake we were free of forest cover and I picked up the pace as we began our descent down-canyon.

After a half hour my guard lowered and we resumed our normal casual hiking pattern in which I hike and take photos and she does whatever she wants within a quarter mile of me. By the time we encountered a small stand of aspen alight in the sunshine four miles from the lake and two miles from the trailhead I felt more than comfortable taking a couple side-trips to inspect the glowing leaves overhead. It was a calm and lovely end to what had been an eventful hike.