Friday, August 15, 2014

New Ground

I've never hiked up Forest or Spruce Canyons at all, really.  No Fern Lake, no Cub lake.  I wanted to take it easy on Vicki so I picked the shorter of the two hikes for our last hurrah.  It involves hiking across Moraine Park right were a low granite ridge noses out into the flat valley -- the trail actually goes up and over the end of it, then along the south side of that ridge, and eventually up to Cub Lake.  Not much elevation gain, and mostly at the end.

It's a rule of thumb that it's a better idea to hike in the morning in the summertime mountains if you want to avoid a shower.  It's not as big a deal if you're not going to be out exposed above the treeline.  I've been out in the rain before - if you're prepared for it it's not so bad.

We headed out about 9:15 on a pretty morning.  The Moraine Park Meadow is a pretty one with the Big Thompson and Cub Creek meandering through it.  Hadn't really ever seen it from this end.

When we'd been up the Fern Lake trail looking for Windy Gulch Cascade Vicki had pointed out some burn marks on some of the aspen, but I didn't think much of it until I saw a sign near the Cub Lake trailhead that talked about the Fern Lake Fire of 2012.  As we walked along we could see trees that had been scorched and even killed by it.

It was evidently quite destructive.  On the flip side, so many trees had recovered, and so much new vegetation was coming up just a year later.  We walked through a big grove of dead aspen, but the thick stand of shoots coming up from the root system was 4 or 5 feet high already.  It was interesting to see the contrast between the obvious destruction and the rapid renewal in its wake.

One thing I haven't mentioned yet is the pine beetle destruction.  Back in 2010, the swaths of brown trees pretty pretty pervasive.  Today, those trees have lost their needles and are grey forms of trunks and branches that blend in with the live trees much better.  While you can still see that there is damage, it's not as stark looking as it was a few years ago.  I also can't help but wonder if, in the end, this isn't a good thing for the forest, especially after seeing how it is coming back after the fire.  We let these trees stand, stamp out fires -- they get thicker and thicker... one has to wonder if the pine beetles aren't an alternate method for Mother Nature to thin the forest.  At any rate, the fact that there aren't a lot of brown needled trees left around tells me that the problem has waned ... if large numbers of trees were still being killed, we'd see lots more brown needles.  But for now, it looks like the epidemic is over.  A few seasons with normal rain and the remaining trees, which were the strong ones to begin with, should be able to recover from the damage they've been dealt.

Lots of pretty wildflowers and grasses along the way.  Glacial boulders, burnt logs from the fire (some of the hollowed out burnt logs had rocks placed in them ... I had to wonder if this wasn't a part of the fire fighting effort).  We ran across a large mountain hare in the middle of the trail.

Farther up the trail as it began to rise toward Cub Lake little streamlets springing out of the mountainside trickled down and crossed the trail in places.   You could hear the water all around, and a lush stand of ferns grew in the area. Fern Lake is in this same area - it's not hard to imagine how it got its name.


Cub Lake itself was a little disappointing, but it wasn't its fault. The trees around it had been killed by beetles and the fire -- all of them. The water lilies were pretty, as was the backdrop. You could see a bit of Little Matterhorn poking out from behind Mt. Wuh in front of us, and Gable Top Mountain framed by the end of the gorge.

We had lunch on a lake shore boulder sticking out into the water before turning back for the hike back down.

It was a very warm hike ... temperatures were creeping into the mid 80's, and the sun was intense.  By the time we got back to the car, we were pretty sweaty and a bit tired.  But the sun meant one good thing ....

That solar shower water was bound to be good and hot.  And I knew what we'd be doing when we got back to camp.  There was plenty of water for both of us.

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