Sunday, August 29, 2010

Mohawk Lakes - August 23, 2010

The weather forecast for Breckenridge last Monday looked iffy at best, but we packed up our gear and headed out with our fingers crossed for sunshine. After a busy summer, our son Steve and his girlfriend Lauren were finally going to be home long enough, and have some time off of work together, so that we could try a hike we've been talking about doing for a long time. Plan B was to drive west and hike to Hanging Lake, but we all really hoped to do Mohawk lakes.

We decided to stay two nights in Breck so we wouldn't have to do any driving the day we hiked and could take our time on a scenic route. On Sunday, clear skies prevailed all across Trail Ridge Road and the construction delays were minimal. The newly paved road is wonderful, by the way. (Just stay away from the asphalt strippers when driving top down in a convertible! But that's another story...)

On the other side at Kawuneeche Valley beaver ponds, two young bull moose were happily grazing, and the sunshine gave their coats a beautiful rich glow. I loved seeing these guys! At noon, we noticed stopped at the recently reopened Grand Lake Lodge for a snack on the patio. Then down the road, thanks to a tip from Sandi at GLL, we watched an Osprey nest across from Lake Granby visited by three very vocal and active young birds.

Finally arriving in Breckenridge in time for dinner with Steve (Lauren was working), we ate pizza at Fatty's, then checked into our room at The Lodge & Spa at Breckenridge. This was the best place we've ever stayed in Breck. A spacious room with a wall of windows to take in Baldy at sunrise, plus a decent breakfast included in the bargain summer rates. The lodge is very 1980's rustic, but unlike some newer places we've stayed, the windows open. You need that in the summer!

Steve and Lauren met us Monday morning at our lodge for breakfast, then we hit the trailhead before 9AM. Quite an accomplishment for this group! The first mile and a half was a quiet walk through the forest, with the trail softened by pine needles. Just off the main trail, we stopped to admire a secluded meadow and lovely little pond. As we walked on, we started noticing mushrooms of all kinds along the way, more than I'd ever seen before on a trail. Besides the usual looking ones, we saw bright red ones with little white lumps, amorphous yellow ones that Steve thought resembled some sort of human organ, medium brown bumpy ones that reminded me of potatoes, teeny dark brown ones growing out of dead tree stumps, gigantic ones with toasted marshmallow crinkly tops, and many more. We had our "mushroom eyes" on now and under the junipers and on hillsides saw entire groves of them clustered together, just waiting for someone to place mini gnome figurines under their caps.

Now the forest opened up and the trail became a dirt road for a short stretch. It would be possible to drive up to this point, but we decided that would be cheating. After passing Mayflower Lake, we came across the unexpected "last bastion of freedom in this here Summit County" Continental Cabin. Log books with entries beginning in the 1980's were kept inside the shelter cabin, along with a wood stove, desk, snow shovel and hammock that had seen better days. We were sure to latch the door upon leaving so no animals would decide to call it home.

In the area around Continental Falls and another smaller falls below it which we saved to explore on our way down, we started seeing more wildflowers. The gentians were particularly plentiful. Parry Primrose plants were also common, but the blooms long gone. They must have been spectacular in July.

Ruins of mining cabins dotted the landscape as we approached Lower Mohawk Lake. We rested next to an old mining tower, perched on a flat rock outcropping with great views towards Breckenridge and beyond.

Large rocks protruded out of the lower lake, and we looked up wondering in what direction the trail would take us up over the ridge to Upper Mohawk lake. Assuming the lake was just beyond a waterfall towards the right, we headed in that general direction. Just past another large cluster of mushrooms sat a marmot. He let us approach fairly close before darting into his burrow under a big rock. At the top of some mine tailings, we consulted Mike's GPS and determined we'd gotten off trail. Heading back to the east, we continued to walk on lightly traveled paths towards another cascading waterfall. To the right, a straight but steep approach on loose rocks led to Upper Mohawk Lake. To the left across a stream, over slabby rock outcroppings was a longer, winding route. After some debate, and flip-flopping on my part, Mike and Lauren started their scramble up the steeper approach, while Steve and I went left. They made it to the top much faster, but we all agreed going back it would be safer to take the more gradual descent.

Upper Mohawk Lake was a beautiful emerald color even under increasingly dark skies. To our left we heard pikas, and saw one of the more curious little guys checking us out from below. We ate our lunch and relaxed until the winds picked up and it started to sprinkle. Luckily, the clouds dispersed and we had great weather all the way down. We noted a small cairn at the turnoff we should have taken heading out of Lower Mohawk Lakes, so we took a few minutes to build it into something more substantial.

Back in Breckenridge, we wanted to have dinner right away and opted to eat on the outdoor patio of Kenosha Steakhouse so we wouldn't have to take time to clean up. Yummy crème brûlée at Briar Rose concluded our evening. What a great day it was! We said goodbye to Lauren and Steve because they both worked early on Tuesday.

In the morning we headed back home via Hwy 9 again to check out a huge osprey nest we'd noticed in Silverthorne on the way down. It was empty then, but this morning another three young osprey were busy chatting and flying around. A woman who lived in the area told us the nesting site, a power pole, had been detached from the power lines and moved slightly one winter for the birds' safety. The site is right off a golf course and even has an observation bench.

We zig zagged our way home through the Arapaho NWR, Hebron Waterfowl Area, Walden, Gould but unfortunately arrived at the Moose Visitor Center just after their 5PM closing. The center's back porch was filled with birds, enticed by multiple feeders and we were thrilled to spot our first Black-headed Grosbeak.

Our not so short shortcut home took us on an unpaved, narrow, winding and very rocky road between Rts 14 and 125. Don't go this way unless your intent is to go 4-wheeling! Next time we'll take the road that ends up at Rand.

Back at the west entrance to RMNP much later than expected, we watched the moon rising over the "back" side of the divide. The ride home over Trail Ridge Road was fantastically surreal, looking down at thick moonlit cloud banks which filled Forest Canyon.

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