Some cousins see each other once a year at family gatherings and Thanksgiving. My cousin and I take a different approach, with multiple cousin ski dates, cousin 14ers and cousin wine dates throughout the year. Definitely one of the coolest things about living in Colorado has been reconnecting with my cousin Jen who lives in Boulder, and though we didn’t see each other a lot when we were kids we are definitely making up for lost time these days!
This past Saturday we were long overdue for a cousin hike. Jen and I had originally planned on doing a 14er, but we were both tired from long weeks, so we instead decided to do a more “low-key” hike at Rocky Mountain National Park. I asked my brother Derek for a suggestion, and he steered us toward Spectacle Lakes, a 10 mile alpine lake hike with some class 3 scrambling at the final section. That totally sounds more low-key than a 14er, right?
The first part of the hike to Ypsilon Lake went by fairly quickly. Through the forest behind us we got glimpses of Long’s Peak every once in awhile, which was quite the treat.
The hike to Ypsilon Lake was 4.5 miles one way, and the real adventure began after we reached this lake. There is no actual officially marked trail to Spectacle Lake, but it’s popular enough that there are some social trails. The directions that Jen and I had were a little confusing, and we probably made our lives harder by bushwacking more than necessary. For future reference, follow the sound of the waterfall and there is a pretty decent trail up to the Spectacle Lake valley.
Once we got up through the valley, crossing some fairly well-marked bridges, we reached a section with a waterfall. Jen and I decided that there was no way that the trail had us cross the waterfall, and we climbed up some semi-technical boulders. “Well, it did say there were some class 3 climbs,” I thought to myself as we made our way up the rock.
Once we made it up the first rock, we had to climb up the steep side of another mountain to reach the lakes. Again, we assumed that there was no way that the trail took us through the waterfall, and our trail directions were completely vague and non-helpful. We again started climbing up the rock.
Multiple times during this climb I wished that I had brought my climbing shoes. That probably should have been the warning sign to us that perhaps we weren’t scrambling over class 3 boulders. In fact, we were actually free climbing a 5.2 in hiking boots. After we later got back down to the car, I texted my climber brother Derek a picture of the rock face and asked him what kind of grade it was. He confirmed: my cousin and I definitely had free climbed on accident. It’s a good thing Jen and I both are comfortable climbing.
Jen and I probably took the road less traveled up to Spectacle Lake (I wouldn’t recommend our route), but the payoff was spectacular. Alpine lakes above treeline are an amazing thing.
You can see the second lake.
Don’t worry, you’ll be happy to know that Jen and I did NOT down climb a 5.2. We found the correct trail down the waterfall, and took the more moderate class 3 route down. Our next big adventure is Long’s Peak, which we are planning to do the day after Labor Day, as long as we get no early snow storms. We’re going to try to avoid free climbing that one.