Not all the backpacking trips this summer have, or will, cover as much ground as the Weminuche Traverse posted earlier. The photo above shows us at Fuller Lake in the late afternoon where we camped at 12,800′ the first night of a three-day WIS trip to the Ice Lake Basin.
This photo alone could foster 500 words about the trip, but this was a WIS (Wilderness Information Specialist) trip and it might fitting to just show you our trip report for those 3-days. As the detail states this trip had the most “hiker interaction” we’ve ever experienced, mainly because we don’t frequent these hike traffic area as often. This trip was fun and worth sharing.
WIS Trip Report — Tom Galbraith & Mike Taylor — July 29-31, 2016
Day 1 Drove to South Mineral Creek Trail head. Hiked up Ice Lake trail thru lower Ice Lake campsites, up to Upper Ice Lakes and on to Fuller Lake basin.
Day 3 Island Lake down to Ice Lake Trail and out at South Mineral Trailhead.
Trip stats: 3 days, 15 miles hiking, driving 120 miles
There were hundreds of hikers using the Ice Lake trail not just on weekends but on Wednesday (Tom’s wife hiked it on Wed 7/27 and there were at least 30 hikers lunching at Upper Ice Lake and close to 100 on the trail) and Friday this summer. It may be time to consider having/asking WIS volunteers to visit the Ice Lake Basin just as they are encouraged to visit Chicago Basin. The response from all but one of the hikers was “glad to see you up here” to “thank you for being here”. (One solo backpacker didn’t want to hear anything from us).
- South Mineral Trailhead Parking lot was full at 7:30 AM
- Talked with 20+ people on the 2.8 mile uphill stretch to Lower Ice Lake Basin
- Walked thru every campsite in the lower Ice Lake Basin filling our trash bag with mostly aluminum from firepits, found tent stakes, socks, underwear, stove parts, an abandoned backpack stuck/snagged high in a tree, lots and lots of uncovered toilet paper (only twice associated with feces) and a freshly cut pine bough shelter with nylon cord tightly wrapped around small trees for ridgelines.
- Filled the small backpack with our almost 6 pounds of trash and talked father and son day-hikers into taking it down with them.
- By this time (noon) we’d seen close to 50 hikers on their way to Upper Ice Lakes.
- Checked on one young lady reportedly vomiting along the ledge trail to Ice Lakes. She appeared to be better at lake side, she had eaten something and had 3 liters of water. Declined any help and wasn’t going down until they got to Fuller Lake (Checked on her later in the day, she was fine)
- No one camped at Upper Ice Lake but several backpackers had come down as we came up.
- Before we left Ice Lake on Friday noon there were over 25 people enjoying the lake. Talking to most groups, they seemed to be either from Grand Junction or Albuquerque.
- At Fuller Lake we saw another 18 hikers that afternoon, four groups fishing, only one fish caught and released even though we could see numerous large (12”) and 6”+ fish swimming along the shoreline. Curious behavior (several hours) of a number of fish in shallow flats we thought might be spawning rituals.
- A couple from Grand Junction climbed Fuller peak while we were there.
- Saturday was the busiest by far in the Upper Ice Lake basin. By 10:30 there must have been 40 people there with more people streaming over the knoll the longer we talked with folks. It wouldn’t be too much of an exaggeration to say there were over 100 people who visited Upper Ice Lake basin on Saturday. Several took a dip, it looked more like the beach at Navajo Lake than Upper Ice Lake.
- One Denver photographer had pitched his tent Friday night about 40’ from the lake and we advised him of the 100’ regulation.
- On Saturday there were five tent camps in the Upper Ice Lake basin by noon.
- Almost every group we passed had a question or two about the lake or the area. The most frequent question was why is Ice Lake so aquamarine, turquoise or “tat color”. Next frequent was how to get to Fuller Lake or even Island Lake.
- At Island Lake we helped an international couple choose an alternative route down the mountain, rather than climb over the exposed rock between Ice Lake and Island Lake.
- Another family was trying to exit Island Lake via the outflow creek ravine rather than on the Grant/Swamp trail the Hard Rock 100 runners use. They were happy to learn there was an easier descent.
- After dinner and during a thunderstorm there were still people visiting Island Lake and at least four up on the ridgeline between Island Lake and Clear Lake.
- Sunday morning there were well over a hundred people ascending the Ice Lake trail: at least two backpacking groups, one totally overloaded.
- We checked a campsite north of the trail on a knoll below Lower Ice Lake basin and found a tent with an unattended fire with 6” and 4” logs burning. After no one responded, we extinguished the logs by carrying them down to a creek. We left a polite note asking them to be more careful in the future.
- On the trail down we were alerted to a Hotchkiss family group with an elderly lady experiencing problems getting down and her 16 year-old granddaughter was carrying two backpacks. (They’d overnighted in Lower Ice Lake basin for two nights.) It took a long time to catch them because almost every group coming up had something to say or ask. After learning the ailing lady wanted to walk slowing down by herself we offered to carry her backpack down. Mike went back up from the trailhead 1.5 miles to check on them once again. He carried a second backpack and stayed with them all the way down.
- Just above the “log creek crossing” we found a couple and two young children “scaling hand over hand” 100’ up from the creek crossing having missed the trail to the left of the creek. We blocked that bottom trail with downed trees so others might not choose the “elk trail”.
- We counted 91 vehicles in the parking lot while waiting for the ailing lady and about 12 of those switched out, all before noon.
This was the most rewarding day as a WIS volunteer I’ve had in four years as a volunteer. Everyone was happy to see us and talk. The exposure for the National Forest Service was excellent and 6 or 8 of the locals asked how they might learn about the WIS program. We learned late Saturday afternoon there was another “Forest Service” couple on the Ice Lake trail. We suspect it was the Schmaltz’s from Silverton since they’ve adopted that Ice Lake trail, which was in excellent shape. The trail looked liked it had been swept clean, in the lower section up to the log creek crossing. Hardly any micro-trash on the trail, but the trees and hidden spots are alive with TP.
As mentioned above in the Exec Summary, it might be a good thing to encourage more of the WIS volunteers to go up to Ice Lake and give Charlie and Paulette a hand. From noticing and hearing about Engineer Mountain trail the same might apply. The day hiker seems less experienced on those trails than those who visit Chicago Basin, and our help and volunteers might be needed as much on those two popular trails as in Chicago Basin.