2010 RUNNING & TRAVEL ADVENTURES

 

   
 
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   CLEAR LAKE: GORGEOUS VIEWS,
FLORAL FANTASYLAND

THURSDAY, JUNE 24

 
"Our nature lies in movement; complete calm is death."
~ Blaise Pascal
 
 

This entry is all about movement: hiking or running up a scenic mountain road with interesting views all along the way. You could get the benefit of movement on a bike but you'd surely miss more of the scenery and details that way.

Just about exactly three miles west of our campground on South Mineral Creek Road there is a little 4WD road (FSR 815) going up to Clear Lake, a beautiful alpine lake I've featured in this journal previously:

The road is 4.4 miles long and rises at a moderate grade from ~ 9,750 feet to ~ 12,000 feet elevation.

If you climb one of the slopes above the lake, as we did several years ago (right into a storm!), you can get up even higher. I took this photo from the north ridge in July, 2006:


Into the storm on 7-6-06:  not the best idea in the world, but the views were dramatic!

If I'd remembered how pretty the canyon is on the other side, I would have climbed back up there sometime since -- when the weather was better, of course.

It's not called Paradise Basin for nothing!

This next photo is from the same day in 2006. Paradise Basin is just east of and parallel to Swamp Canyon, the gulch Hardrock runners go up or down (the loop course reverses direction each year) between Grant-Swamp Pass and the Chapman aid station:


Looking down into misty Paradise Basin just east of South Lookout Peak and Grant-Swamp Pass

VARIATIONS ON A THEME

Over the years Jim and I have done various combinations of runs/hikes from our campground on South Mineral Creek Road and the road up to Clear Lake. The total distance round trip is just under fifteen miles.

When we want to run or hike less, we drive the truck three miles to a little parking area at the beginning of the Clear Lake Road. Up and back gives us almost nine miles. That's what Cody and I did today.


Cody and Jim head into the aspen zone from about 9,800 to 10,500 feet elevation.

Jim added a different twist by hiking up with us, then running back down Clear Lake Road (Cody and I walked down so my knees didn't suffer).

Then Jim kept on going past the truck, running an additional three miles on South Mineral Creek Road to our camper, for a total of almost twelve miles. I drove the truck back when I got down to SMC Road.


I marked part of the Hardrock course in yellow  on the picture above:
there are many good views of the Kamm Traverse (KT) from Clear Creek Road.

That may not sound like a lot of distance for either of us but we aren't acclimated to 12,000-foot elevations yet! This was quite enough for our first real training run/hike here.


Higher up the road, the aspen groves morph into pine forests.
There's a fair amount of shade until you reach timberline.

My hike took about four hours, including a 20-minute stop at the lake to enjoy the stunning scenery. It also includes the time it took me to take lots of pictures. 

Jim started back a few minutes earlier and got done quite a bit faster because he ran almost all of the last 7 miles.

PHOTOS FROM TODAY'S RUN/HIKE

All the photos in this entry except the two cloudy ones I took in 2006 are ones I took today on the way up to and down from Clear Lake. We had great weather and few to no clouds -- until we reached the lake in the basin at the top of the road.

Fortunately they weren't rain clouds like we sometimes encounter up in the basin, just the billowy white kind that add interest to the views:

Most of the photos in this entry except the flowers are in order going up, then down. They are not in the order I took them, however. I took a lot more when I was alone on the way down, and those have more clouds in them.

Because there are so many pictures I want to show you, I'll put them on two pages. I took a whopping 236 photos in almost nine miles of walking (don't tell Jim!). As usual, it's a wonder I got done in four hours. I whittled that bunch down to 187 pictures when I edited them.


My favorite views up and down Clear Lake Road are of the Ice Lake Basin in the background
of this photo. Even Jim had to stop and look. Just wait till I go up there and take pictures close up!!

Obviously, I'm not a very good whittler . . . I spend more time editing photos (cropping, downsizing, etc.) and then choosing which ones to include in this website than I do writing it.

It's even harder to delete or exclude photos when we visit beautiful places like the Bighorns and San Juans. Clear Lake is a gorgeous hike, run, or ride on a sunny day and I hope to entice more folks to try it for themselves -- just don't run us off the road, please!

THE VIEWS JUST GET BETTER AS YOU CLIMB

Because Clear Creek Road switchbacks up the western side of an unnamed (on my map) 13,156-foot peak, most of the views going up the road are to the west and north. They include many magnificent mountains and the lovely Clear Creek and South Mineral Creek drainage areas:


Still looking up at Ice Lake Basin: Vermillion Peak, Golden Horn, and Pilot Knob are visible.


Now we're above tree line, looking SW toward the Twin Sisters (L), Rolling Mtn., and Fuller Peak (R)

The San Juan Mountains are full of drainage areas, a utilitarian name for creeks and waterfalls and lakes of all sizes! In early summer I don't worry about Cody having enough water to drink on hikes. Snow is still melting in the high country and the streams are at their finest right now -- not flooding, not dry.

We passed several little waterfalls in the first couple miles of the road, as well as some runoff in the ditches along the side of the road:

About half a mile above tree line is this much larger waterfall coming from Clear Lake. This is the largest drop, perhaps thirty feet, that is visible close-up from the road:

 

There are a several other large drops of Clear Creek that can be seen farther downstream at two places along the Ice Lake Trail. I'll show a couple of those waterfalls in another entry.

WHERE IS EVERYBODY TODAY?

Yes, this is a Thursday but it's the end of June, it's a gorgeous day, and there is hardly any traffic on Clear Lake Road.

What's wrong with this picture??


Looking back down some of the switchbacks above tree line,
before and after the mine (marked with red arrow); where are all the Jeeps?

Sometimes Clear Lake Road is as obnoxiously full of traffic as South Mineral Creek Road, which is particularly a problem when it's as dry and dusty as it has been this week.

Today there weren't that many vehicles on either road. That made us pedestrians very happy, but we wondered why that was.

Well, here's one reason Clear Lake Road may have had so few vehicles on it today (three motor bikes and only six or seven Jeeps and other vehicles):

A little over a mile before the basin that holds the lake are remnants of an old mine. There is a tight switchback here and today it was still covered in a snowdrift. It's the first time we've ever seen a drift here.

Ahead of us we could see a Jeep trying (at first, in vain) to get up the steep little hill on the loose rocks to the left of the snowdrift. Only about three feet of the real road was free of snow; the rest of the hillside is scree.

The Jeep driver eventually made it, and we talked with him when we got up to the lake:

He's a tour operator in Silverton and was taking an elderly client up to the lake to take photos. The visitor was determined to get up there after paying his fee (which was also probably rather steep!) so the driver pretty much bullied his way through the loose rocks and deep snow in an effort not to disappoint his client.

Everyone else we could see from above and below that point turned around at the mine and went back down. Perhaps other folks knew about the snow and didn't even attempt going up the mountain yet. Even on a weekday in early summer, there is usually more traffic on this little road than there was today.


This guy gave up and turned around.

That made it all the more sweet for Jim and me. By the time we made it up to the basin, we had it all to ourselves!

Well, us and the marmots and the pikas. We always see a lot of marmots and pikas here. For rodents, they're pretty darn cute.

CLEAR LAKE BASIN: IN OUR OWN LITTLE WORLD

It's a little over a mile past the mine until you reach the basin and Clear Lake. At this elevation there are views of the basin in front of you but you can't see the lake until you're right above it.


Don't let this little downhill section fool you; you still have to do some climbing to the lake.
Clear Creek is down on the left;  it flows from the lake and down to South Mineral Creek.

The road becomes even more narrow and rocky after the switchback at the mine. You could probably get up to the lake in a 2WD vehicle when the road is dry but there would be a lot of bouncing around and potential problems on hills with loose rocks:

There is still some snow up here at 12,000 feet, to Cody's delight. I especially like the "creek cornices" with water flowing underneath and flowers (these are yellow alpine avens) popping up as soon as they start getting some sunshine:

There are a couple of even smaller roads branching off from Clear Creek Road between the mine and the lake. We've never taken the time to go up either one -- and I'm wondering why because the views would be great!

The little track to the left in the next photo might take us high enough to look over the ridge and give us views down to the Lower Ice Lake Basin, which has trails leading to both Grant-Swamp Pass (in the Hardrock race) and the Upper Ice Lake basins:


"Someday" we need to hike up the little jeep track to the left and look down to the
Lower Ice Lake Basin. Today we kept moving forward to the basin beyond Jim and Cody.

As we climbed higher we entered the tundra marshlands that are typical of the San Juans: creek headwaters, pools of water, lots of marsh marigolds and other alpine flowers that love wet feet and frigid temperatures:

 


Marsh marigolds


Cody thinks snow is pretty useless if he can't roll around in it.
He'd slide right off these hard, sloped snow banks.

Right past this snow bank is a great view of the lower part of Clear Lake Basin and no, not Clear Lake, but a pretty pool formed by creek water next to the road:

This is the view from the other side of the pool of water. Note all the marsh marigolds:

I think that view alone would be worth the trip up to the basin, but we aren't even to the lake yet! That's up another rise:


I like this picture because it looks so doggone remote.

OK, enough teasing.

Here are some pictures of Clear Lake from lake level. The color of the water changes with the different angles from which I took the photos:

 

To see what the whole lake looks like (it's not real big), check out the photos in my July, 2006 entry when we went up on one of the ridges.

It was breezy but sunny and quite pleasant by the lake so we spent a while absorbing the beauty of the place. It was very calming, especially since no one else was there. The Jeep tour guide and his guest left before we reached the lake itself.

 

Although there was still some snow above 10,000 feet in crevices, cirques, and the creek, there was no ice on the lake like we've sometimes seen before in June.

The lake water was ice cold, however. Cody was able to drink water in Clear Lake, the beautiful creek that flows from it (below), and some runoff along the road, but he wasn't keen on swimming around in the frigid water!

The only place Cody couldn't drink water was at the mine and from the stream directly below it:

Yuck. We don't know what chemicals are in there. Can't be good for people, either.

After about fifteen minutes Jim decided to head back down to the campground, running as much as possible. I took this shot of him from the little hillock above the lake. He's the white speck on the road, already looking like he's far away. This perspective shows the view northeast of the lake and lower pond by the road:

Cody and I stayed at the lake for a few more minutes to nose around and take more pictures, respectively.

Since I have so many photos to share, I'll continue in the next entry with shots I took on my hike back down the mountain and include some of the flowers I saw. The scenery looks different going the opposite direction!

Happy trails,

Sue
"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil, and Cody the Ultra Lab

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2010 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil

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