Hiking in a new home: Sports editor takes in Heeney from Lower Cataract Lake, Ute Pass
As we disembarked our vehicles at the closed-off gate leading to Lower Cataract Lake, Tom Davies warned the four of us: Don’t feed the wildlife, especially the moose.
Mere seconds after we had parked, Davies, the district wildlife manager for Summit County West, pulled his Colorado Wildlife Officer vehicle behind my Honda Civic and the Ford Expedition that transported a trio of men to this location. It’s a dirt and rocky road about a quarter-mile from the Lower Cataract Lake loop trailhead.
I was here for an initial, easy hike to get to know my new home, Heeney, after I’d moved in the week prior. The trio was here “for an adventure” while vacationing at Beaver Creek Resort.
Davies arrived so quickly after we’d parked our cars at the end of the roughly two-and-a-half mile hardscrabble road that it seemed he was here to deliver a message. Perhaps he spotted us meandering our vehicles slowly up the steep Cataract Creek Road from Heeney Road down in the valley.
If Davies was harboring any knowledge to pass along it was that the most prevalent problem he’d been dealing with lately was that of hikers feeding animals, particularly attracting area moose via salt blocks.
We listened intently as Davies described how the increased feeding of wildlife by recreators was harming the animals and making CPW’s job more difficult. Not soon after, the trio took off for their adventure while I chatted with Davies for a few minutes more.
Relaying that I was here to gain a different perspective of Heeney as a new resident, Davies suggested after I completed my loop hike I also drive up to Ute Pass to catch a better perspective of the Gore Range and Eagles Nest Wilderness to the east. With several hours till sundown, the plan seemed solid.
And before I left him, I asked Davies if there was a chance I’d see moose for myself on the 2.25-mile loop around Lower Cataract Lake.
“There’s been a pair hanging out near the western side of the lake,” Davies said. “You just might see them.”
Starting around the lake in a clockwise direction, the condition of the trail reminded me of the varying nature of the Adirondacks this time of year. In spots there was sheer ice. In spots there was slushy ice. In spots there was straight snow. And in other spots, mud deeper than my boot-tops reminded me that winter is not quite here yet.
Climbing along the southwest shore of the lake, this alcove didn’t provide quite the perspective of the small reservoir-side municipality of Heeney compared to the drive along Heeney Road from about a half-hour prior.
Driving from my cabin in the valley to the south, I passed the ranches located alongside the Blue River as it merged with the Green Mountain Reservoir. The scene was of hills and mountains surrounding seemingly endless cattle. It was certainly not a reminder of the Adirondacks, rather a “Welcome to the West.”
Glancing to the northeast as I drove, a nubble peak to the north of the reservoir caught my eye. Perhaps it’s Little Green Mountain. Whatever it’s name, my one thought was, “Hopefully sometime soon I’ll hike it.”
As I neared the west edge of the lake, about halfway finished with the counterclockwise loop, no moose were within sight or sound. As much as part of me didn’t want to run into a pair of moose while hiking solo, a different part of me certainly craved the experience. That’s because back in the Adirondacks, seeing a moose is as rare for many locals as a once-in-a-lifetime experience. In fact, several friends of mine who’d hiked all 46 Adirondack High Peaks have still never seen one.
Since I’d been in Colorado, most told me it was just a matter of time before I saw my first moose. On this blue sky Saturday, that specific moment would have to wait.
Looping around the northern side of the lake, my first glimpses back at the paramount peaks of the northern terminus of the Gore Range in the Eagles Nest Wilderness finally came into view. Framed through evergreens dozens of feet high, this perspective of Eagles Nest Peak was the best yet here in Heeney.
Rounding out the loop heading east, it was clear to see how Lower Cataract Lake got its name. Thanks to the recent warm late November temperatures, the water body was still transitioning from autumn to full-on winter. And the distinct ice line crept ever closer to the western shore. It truly was quite the cataract over this lake.
Back at my Civic, the trio from Beaver Creek was already gone. Heading over to Ute Pass, the view of those same grazing black cattle with the Williams Fork Mountains behind them was equally as stunning as the view of the same animals earlier.
Once atop Ute Pass, the views back at the other side of the valley — where I’d just come from — were indeed the best glimpses yet of the Gore Range for this Heeney newbie.
Davies was right. Pairing this view from the east with the perspective at west from earlier in the day provided quite the “Welcome to Heeney” afternoon.
And the sun hadn’t yet set behind the Gore Range. Though the clouds hadn’t yet turned the slightest shade pink, on this day, the first hike in a new home, it’ll have to qualify as a sunset hike.
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