This is such a great trail. It's busy, but rightly so, because it is scenic and has the feeling of wilderness without being too far from Denver. Every time I'm up here, I feel like I'm in the middle of nowhere, even though people are driving to the top of Mount Evans barely a mile away. It's rugged and beautiful.
There was much running until reaching Chicago Lakes. Up, up, up.
Rain was incoming when I hit the lakes, so I donned my shell and gloves. It was getting cold enough that I was thinking snow was coming, not rain. It turned out it was only showers. Perhaps due to recent catastrophic rainfall, there was a rock/mud slide that erased the first part of the trail that went from Chicago Lakes up to Summit Lake. You can see the slide angling to the upper left. It was huge.
I walked lightly, a bit worried that unstable soil would collapse under my feet. Didn't happen. This is looking back down the valley I ascended:
Up at Summit Lake:
And back down at Upper Chicago Lake.
Distance was 11.77 miles, time 4:17 (moving 3:00), elevation gain/loss 3,375 feet, avg. pace 21:55 (moving 15:21), and best pace ~9:00.
Act Two: A Minor Rescue
There is a second part to this story.
Rewind to several hours prior. I'm running uphill, and I pass a middle-aged Indian man on the trail, walking downhill. He was dressed in casual clothes, carrying a plastic shopping bag; not your typical Colorado hiker. I passed him again on the way down, as he was looking at the sign for the turnoff back to Echo Lake, and I said something like "This is the way back", which he seemed to appreciate, and I kept running. That was around 30 minutes before sunset. Still light out -- about 45 minutes of decent vision left -- and still a comfortable temperature.
Some time later, I get back to my car, and I started thinking about this guy. By now, it's nearly dark, it's getting chilly, I had no idea if he had a light with him, and by now the sky is dark blue trending towards black -- and fast. I'm thinking someone needs to check up on him to make sure he's OK. I drive around a bit to see if there's a ranger, but there isn't one around.
So, I drive back to the trailhead, grab my headlamp and and extra lantern, and head back out on the trail.
To anyone who has not been on this trail, this may not compute, but the last mile of the Chicago Lakes trail is rugged. Not only that, but there is a steep drop-off, so that if you take a wrong step, you could be in big trouble. In the dark, it's a recipe for disaster.
I questioned some climbers coming back: "So, did you see an Indian guy on the trail?" to which they responded "Yeah, he's a little ways back, coming up the switchbacks". "Did he have a light?" "No". Hmm. After they left and I thought about that, I'm starting to get pissed off, because anyone with an ounce of brain power would not leave someone in the pitch dark without a light.
It seemed like forever until I ran into him, and I felt worse and worse about it; jeez, why did people just walk right by this guy? I said "Hey, I just wanted to make sure you were OK". I gave him my extra flashlight and we started walking back. Surpsrisingly, we were not the only people still out there; probably 10 people passed us while we were walking back to the parking lot.
The story was that Vijay (or VJ?) decided to walk down from Summit Lake on a lark, not realizing how hard it was to get down to civilization. That is NOT an easy trail. But honestly, I've been there myself. You want to try something new, you don't necessarily know everything, but you figure you can deal with it; I get it. But this time, the Kansas resident bit off a little more than he could chew.
Vijay was a systems engineer, and being a software engineer we had at least a bit in common to talk about. He was a super-nice guy, and had a nice walk in the dark, in the pitch black of the CO wilderness. As it turns out, I was planning to drive back through Idaho Springs anyway, so I dropped him off at his hotel. He offered to pay for gas, etc. but I believe good acts are their own reward. I was having none of it; I was just glad he was safe. Definitely not my typical day.