A few weeks ago I took a spectacular backpacking trip into the Sangre de Cristo Wilderness of Colorado. These mountains are steep and rise dramatically out of the valleys below like pointy triangles. This makes for some good altitude gain on most of the hikes in this range, which can be quite punishing (and rewarding) with large format camera gear on your back.
My friend Tyler and I arrived at the trailhead around 11am after making a 5 hour drive from Greeley. From there, we started the steep 8 mile trek to the Macey Lakes area. The first half of the trail is along a multi-use trail that skirts the side of the range and gets you around private property before arriving at the actual Macey Lakes trail. From there you have about 4 more miles to go. Most of the hike is through forest, with only a few views of the higher peaks. The trail is continuously uphill, with a few places that are fairly level as well as some good uphill pushes. About a mile from the lake we came across this open meadow with a dramatic cliff to the north.
We made it to the lower lake about with a few hours of daylight, so we set up camp and ate. I spent some time scouting out locations for the sunrise. Being on the east side of the range, there isn't a whole lot of light for sunset, but I knew there should be a great sunrise. According to the map there is a Macey Lake and an Upper Macey Lake, but in reality there are three lakes in this area: one lower and two uppers. The one to the south of the lower lake doesn't really seem to be named.
I crawled out of the tent at 4:15 am to make the 3/4 mile hike to the western upper lake. Even though it was mid-July, there was a slight chilly breeze while waiting for the sun. It's always nice to break away from the heat of the plains in the summer. The lake was a bit choppy from the breeze, but I found a very calm and quiet part of the lake near the outlet. The water made a fantastic reflection of all the unnamed 13,000+ foot peaks that surround the valley! This is my personal favorite photo from the trip. The views and feeling of solitude here were incredible!
After sunrise, I wandered down to the stream between the lower lake and the southern upper lake. This stream was just covered in wildflowers!
Shortly after taking this photo, the clouds started growing and blocked the sun so I made my way back to the tent for some much needed rest. By the time we woke up there was thunder rumbling around the valleys. The summer monsoons had arrived. I was expecting some afternoon thunderstorms but had no idea how long the rain would last.
A little rain wouldn't stop us from exploring so we wandered up to the upper lake again. It looked quite different than it did several hours earlier at sunrise. Thanks Tyler for holding the darkcloth and keeping the rain of the lenses so I could take these photos!
We ventured far back into the bowl in the center of the image and gazed at how rugged these mountains really are. We had the whole places to ourselves too, which really makes you feel even deeper in the wilderness. On the way back down to the tent I took this photo between the two lakes.
We spent the rest of the evening drying off in the tent. My camera had become rather wet from the rain. At one point, I actually turned it upside-down and dumped water out of the rails and bellows. Good thing it doesn't have any electronics! The bag ended up getting pretty wet too, as I kept letting some water in as I reached for film/lenses/etc. I left the camera bag open inside the tent hoping things would air out, but when I woke up in the morning all of the lenses were completely covered in fog and looked like this:
Colorado being as dry as it is, I rarely have to worry about these kind of problems. In the future, I will have to pack the lenses into individual plastic bags to keep them from getting so humid. I'll also have to find a more waterproof darkcloth to keep the rain off the camera. Always good to learn new lessons!
On the way out, I was able to get this one more photo of lower Macey Lake completely covered in fog. It was quite the contrast from the enclosed view you normally have in these valleys, as if you could see forever into the fog. I'm glad this lens was able to de-fog after sitting in the open for a few minutes so I could get this one last image.
Also, I took a quick snap of Tyler gazing out into the fog with the digital camera:
All in all it was a great trip. I highly recommend this hike for anyone seeking solitude and a great wilderness experience. There were just a few other people camping at the lower lake, and hardly any people on the trail. The Sangres are becoming one of my favorite ranges here in Colorado, I'll be going back many more times for sure. Next time, I'll be ready for the rain!