Eaglesmere Lakes Trail in Eagles Nest Wilderness is a gateway to wildlife sightings
June 20, 2015
Eaglesmere Lakes are found tucked into the Elliott Creek watershed in the Eagles Nest Wilderness Area west of Green Mountain Reservoir. The hike involves five hours of hiking with a little less than 2,000 feet of elevation gain, from 8,700 feet to 10,400 feet. The ascent is a typical intermediate hike for Summit County on soft trail, without any mandatory boulder scrambling. Backcountry camping is allowed on the shore, with no campfires. Dogs must be leashed in the wilderness area for the protection of wildlife and hikers.
The hike begins in the montane community of a rich variety of wildflowers among aspen groves and sagebrush meadows. More than a hundred species of wildflowers bloom in the vicinity, including monument plant, wild iris, monkshood, wild geranium, larkspur delphinium and columbine. The small lakes are nestled in a cooler sub-alpine community of dense fir trees.
For this hike, I carried 2 liters of ice water, mixed nuts, a fleece, rain jacket, GPS, sunglasses, reading glasses, sunscreen, lip balm, fire starter, two headlamps, pocket knife, cell phone, a few adhesive bandages, camera and notebook. Mosquito repellent is optional.
I proceeded west through aspen-covered slopes on a moderate and steady ascent, stopping to photograph wildflowers and views of the rugged Eagles Nest ridge on the south side of the Cataract Creek watershed. After 1.8 miles of climbing to about 10,200 feet, two hours from the trailhead, I found a stack of large dead spruce logs marking the junction with the Gore Range Trail.
After stopping to finish my first liter of water and swat a few mosquitoes, I headed north on the Gore Range Trail for 15 minutes. At 2.2 miles, I turned west onto the Eaglesmere spur and followed a stream that drained the lower lake.
The gurgling of the stream drowned the noise of my footsteps and, as I rounded a bend, I met a bear approaching me about 15 steps down the trail. Startled, the bear spun and bounded uphill, rippling its muscular shoulders. The bear's golden brown fur and powerful shoulder muscles, thickened from digging for roots and grubs, closely mimicked the form of a grizzly, explaining why there are often false sightings in Colorado. This sun-bleached black bear was only slightly bigger than me and quite shy. From my experiences, a grizzly bear will either politely turn and slowly amble off a path, or proceed forward, requiring a hiker to step aside.
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Bears and other wildlife frequent hiking trails because of the ease of travel compared with beating through brush, picking through boulder fields, and climbing over deadfall trees. Since I also frequent hiking trails and travel quietly, I often bump into bears, elk, mountain goats, ptarmigan, marmots and other wildlife sharing the paths. I followed the fresh bear tracks through a trace of melting snow to the open space of a campsite on the southern shore of the primary lake.
Hoping to view the tumbling cataracts that feed the lake and get a glimpse of Mount Powell (13,534 feet) towering over the south side of the valley, I began the slow trek through the forest to circle the lake. Traces of a path occasionally dipped into soggy wetlands filled by the early summer snowmelt. Several streams entering the lake at the west end offered a small challenge to finding a dry crossing. At the north end of the lake, I found several campsites with the remains of illegal campfire rings.
I also enjoyed magnificent views of Mount Powell reflected in the still water. After an hour of circling the lake, leaping from boulder to boulder across the cataracts of Elliott Creek, I retreated back down toward the trailhead as the sun dipped toward the rim of the Elliott Ridge.
How to get there
From the interchange of I-70 and Highway 9 in Silverthorne, drive north for 17 miles to Mile Marker 118 and turn northwest onto Heeney Road. After passing Mile Marker 5, 22.5 miles from Silverthorne, turn west onto Cataract Creek Road. Travel up a gravel road for 2 miles. When you reach a junction, turn right and drive 0.3 miles to reach the Eaglesmere Trailhead Parking Area.
Author: Kim Fenske has written extensively on hiking trails throughout Colorado. His writing includes "Greatest Hikes in Central Colorado: Summit and Eagle Counties" and "Hiking Colorado: Holy Cross Wilderness," available from Amazon Kindle Books.
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