librarian + adventurer


Hanging Lake

November 12, 2016

Hanging Lake
Trailhead: Hanging Lake Trailhead
Distance: 2.4 miles (moderate)

This was my first official hike with Claire! We did some hiking on Mount Tamalpais and in Muir Woods when Logan + I visited her in San Fransisco. But that wasn't hiking hiking, so I'm still counting this as our first official hike. We had planned to get on the road at 4:30 am (its about 2.5 hours away), but knowing that Einstein's Bagels didn't open until 6:00 helped motivate us to sleep in a little longer. 

We got our bagels and hit the road. I love driving west on 70, its one of my favorite drives and this particular morning was no different. We saw 14 big horned sheep grazing along the side of the road, the mountains were putting on a show, and it was a gorgeous day. Unfortunately, 70 was closed around Vail because of a tractor trailer fire, and we had to get off at Copper Mountain and make a "V" to get around the accident. The detour was beautiful, if only a little time consuming, and we eventually made it to the parking lot at 9:45 or so.

The parking lot is confusing to get to if you've never been before (or if you haven't spent time obsessing over other peoples photos and reviews of this hike). You go west on 70 until exit 121, turn around and go east on 70 to exit 125. The parking lot isn't very big and there aren't overflow options: once its full, it's full. In the summer you'd better plan to get there early. In late fall, plan to get there before 11 am. The main lot was full by the time we arrived and only the parallel parking along the curb and a few diagonal spots were left. It's worth the early wake up, I promise.

The beginning section of the trail is flat and well groomed and paved. It's like their buttering you up for the mile long hill you're about to climb (it worked). This hike is 1.2 miles one way with 1,020 feet of elevation gain. If you don't have context for how much elevation gain that is, take my word for it, it's a lot. It's like climbing the Eiffel Tower (1,060 feet). IT'S A WHOLE LOT. And it's the reason I give this hike a moderate rating instead of easy.

Before we even began hiking, we stopped and shed layers - even though it was in the 30s/40s, we knew our puffies were going to be too warm for the hike. We got started and settled into a pace that would keep us going without killing us. I'm not usually in a rush to get to the top of trails - hiking is about both the destination and the journey. Its my moving meditation, and I don't want to rush it.

Hanging Lake is right at the top of this waterfall. The runoff made everything so green and lush and lovely.

The last bit of this trail is a pretty steep incline - complete with giant rock steps and handrails and one or two stomach-wrenching drops. These parts of hikes always make me incredibly anxious, but if I have learned anything in the past year and a half of living in Colorado, it's that my body can do far more than I expect it can, and that I am braver than I thought. 

I hike to a lot of lakes, but this one might be my favorite. It's so gorgeous and has such an interesting geological history - it was formed because the limestone it sits on eroded and fell a few dozen feet from the shelf it was originally attached to. It's a very protected area, and there are boardwalks all along the outside so that people can sit and enjoy without harming the ecosystem. 

I haven't seen water this clear and this blue since I went to the Bahamas. 

If you put forth the effort to go to Hanging Lake, make sure you hike the extra 200 yards to Spouting Rock as well. It's such a cool waterfall - it comes directly from the rock face so you can't see it's source. There's room to walk back behind it and it offers great views of the canyon you climbed up on the way there.

This picture makes me happy in unexplainable ways.

I tried to get some perspective of just how steep that last section was, but this doesn't really do it justice. Just take my word for it.