RMNP: Chasm Lake | Colorado | 10/28/18

Chasm Lake | Rocky Mountain National Park

Estes Park, CO | 10/28/18 | 9.70 miles | 2,392′ gain

I needed this hike. I mean, really NEEDED it. Now that alpine winter has descended upon the high country, my opportunities for high-altitude hiking have become limited. Many access roads are gated off for the winter, increasing hiking distances by many miles. Plus there’s snow and ice and cold (not to mention avalanche danger), and I don’t really have much winter mountaineering experience. So mostly I stay home, waiting for a break in the weather, or I’ll go to lower elevation trails that are snow-free or at least accessible. And while these hikes are always fun and beautiful in their own way, they just don’t call to me like the high peaks do. My soul definitely lives above treeline. That’s where I’m most at peace and where I can truly recharge.

I was lucky enough to get a break in the weather on Sunday and made plans to go for a hike. It seems that lately I’ve been hiking alone but this time I had a few friends that wanted to come with, so we had an awesome girls hiking day! The chosen hike was Chasm Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park, which has been on my list for FOREVER but I’d never gotten around to doing. The hike starts at the Longs Peak Trailhead, which is one of the busiest spots in the park, so I’ve avoided it like the plague. But it’s not so busy now as most of the tourists are gone and not many attempt Longs Peak in the winter months.

I’d heard that Chasm Lake was beautiful, and of course I’d seen pictures so I knew that was accurate, but there’s always something about going to a place that is absolutely magical. Pictures never quite show the true beauty of a lake or mountain, you have to actually go there to get the full effect! And as a bonus, Chasm Lake shares much of it’s trail with the Long’s Peak Trail. Long’s Peak (14,255′) is one of the most well known 14ers in Colorado, and it’s on my list for 2019, so I was really interested in scoping out the trail to see what I could expect.

I met the girls in Lyons and we carpooled up to the Long’s Peak Trailhead. The 45 minute drive before sunrise was amazingly full of wildlife and we saw a moose, a fox, and almost hit a deer (which is definitely as terrible as it sounds). We started up the Long’s Peak Trail around 7:15 am. I was surprised to see that the parking lot was mostly empty. (In the summer, the lot is usually full by 3 or 4am, as people start climbing Long’s in the wee hours of the morning in order to get off the top before the afternoon thunderstorms roll in.) The trailhead sign had a missing hiker flyer. Someone had been hiking/climbing in the area and still hasn’t been found. Long’s is one of those mountains that everyone thinks is easy but is actually extremely dangerous. Just this year, a few people have gone missing and been found dead on Long’s and neighboring Mt. Meeker (13,911′). It’s very easy for a small trip to become a fatal fall along the cliff edges of these mountains.

The trail started out in the forest and occasionally passed a creek called Alpine Brook and a few waterfalls. (I now regret not taking pictures along the way so you guys could see this! I’ll try to do this next time!) We slowly climbed out of the forest and above treeline, where we were rewarded with amazing views of Long’s Peak and Mt. Lady Washington (13,281′). Once we crested a ridge, a trail junction stated that Chasm Lake was to the left, and the Long’s Peak Trail continued to the right. We kept left and soon saw Peacock Pool (again no picture, I’m the worst) but knew that we hadn’t gone far enough to be at Chasm. As we neared our destination, we came upon a steep, snowy slope that looked absolutely horrendous. Tori and I decided to climb the rock face instead of the snow and we were so glad we did! We got to practice some Class 3 moves in a spot that didn’t have much exposure so I stayed relatively comfortable the entire time. Steph took the snow route and beat us to the top.

The final slog to Chasm Lake. Standard route is up the snow on the left. We climbed the rock face on the right. Chasm Lake is just beyond this ridge and you can see Long’s Peak dead center.

Once we got to the top, we finally saw Chasm lake, after at least a year thinking about this hike.

Chasm Lake with the diamond face of Long’s Peak towering over.
Another view of Chasm Lake.

We lost Steph for a few minutes at the top as she’d expected us to come up a different way than we did, and we were in completely different spots. Luckily we reunited quick enough and found a good snack spot behind a large boulder, out of the winds that were starting to pick up. It was pretty cold at 11,760′ so we headed back down shortly after we arrived. We decided to descend via the standard route in the snow, instead of downclimbing the rock face. It was definitely as slippery as it looked but I had fun glissading down the ice and snow and hitting rocks along the way. (That’s all just part of glissading!) At this point the wind was blowing so hard we could barely stand up straight, and it whipped snow and ice crystals into our faces. (It hurts worse than you’d think.)

Once we got back to the trail junction, the wind had died down and we had a nice, warm hike back to the car. It was a great day and I’m so glad that I finally made it to Chasm Lake!


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