Post from October, 2006

Ouzel Falls, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado – September 17th, 2006

Thursday, 19. October 2006 17:43

It was an amazing day, a once in a life time hike. I don’t mean the park would only look that way once in my lifetime, just that my timing will probably never be that good again. It was still summer by a few days, fall color was close to peaking, winter was making it’s first serious attempt to take over.

Click here for the Ouzel Falls album

I almost talked myself out of going several times. (It was chilly and lots of gusty wind. My husband had to work and I wasn’t sure I wanted to go alone. Did I really want to give up three or four hours of my weekend just driving there and back?) At the last minute I decided it might be my only good chance to catch a little fall color.There was almost no wind at the trail head, that was a nice surprise. Still, everyone else was all bundled up and the Ranger was chatting with another hiker about how the temperature had dropped below freezing the night before. I just had a fleece jacket over a long-sleeved t-shirt, I figured I would be lucky to make it to Copeland Falls before I got too cold. Oh well, I had a parks pass, so I wouldn’t even lose the entry fee if I wimped out. And there was plenty of the fall color I was looking for, the hillsides were speckled with gold and orange. When you think of fall color in Colorado beautiful groves of golden aspen come to mind but there are plenty of vibrant reds and oranges too.

About a third of a mile up the trail forks off to the first waterfall. Upper and lower Copeland Falls consist of two small drops of 5 or 6 feet, not the most spectacular falls in the park, but really pretty. The detour is short and meets back up with the main trail, it’s well worth a few extra steps. My eyes did not catch the first hint of ice but the camera saw a branch covered with icicles – third photo down in the right hand column. For all my worry about the temperature I was actually a little bit too warm and had to shed my cheap fleece for a while.

It’s another mile and a half up hill to the Calypso Cascades. The creek tumbles down the hill side over rocks and logs. Here I started to notice the changes wrought by the chilly night. Traces of snow on the evergreens and first bridge. Logs and branches in the shade were completely coated with ice ending in lots of drippy icicles.

Once you cross the second bridge there is a touch under a mile to go. Honestly, I might have turned back there except I knew I was closer to the privy at the top than the privy at the bottom. (Watch for the tiny brown shed a few feet off the trail. Hold your nose and bring your own TP, but it’s still a welcome sight.)

The trail will curve and you’ll hear the waterfall, it must be right around the corner. Then it curves back and there is silence. Again, the roar of the water is in reach, then you’re going the other way again. This happens a few times before you finally turn a corner and get a nice side view of the Falls. It takesĀ  a little bit of bushwacking at this point to get up closer to the waterfall. You can see where others have gone ahead and can get there without causing any new trail damage but it does include scrambling over some rocks and logs.

This spectacular waterfall plunges dramatically over the cliff. On this amazing fall day, everywhere the mist landed was frosty white with intricate ice patterns. The moist area fed by the mist was still lush and green in spots. A few branches still bright with summer green were weighed by thick, clear layer of ice and icicles. It was really amazing. I would love to see it later, when the edges start to freeze over, but I imagine the trail is impassable in the winter.

The trip downhill goes much faster of course, easier on the lungs but a little harder on the knees. The wind picked back up as I was leaving, or maybe the trailhead was in a protected area. I headed back via the Peak to Peak Highway (7, 72, 119). This scenic byway is an excellent route to catch fall color with several huge, beautiful aspen groves along the way. I was pretty well worn out and a little awed by my good luck in picking a day with such amazing contrasts.

If you would like to visit Wild Basin, the turn off to the entrance is on Highway 7 a few miles north of Allenspark. Although this area of the park is not as well known or crowded, the parking lot is tiny so keep in mind parking at the trail head can fill up early in the summer. I don’t know when the entrance station closes for the winter. The road is dirt and narrow, but the surface is maintained and fairly smooth. From the trail head at Wild Basin, Ouzel Falls is 5.4 miles round trip. It’s labeled as a moderate hike on most trail sites, it’s a lung burner for my out of shape self. It’s not climbing a fourteener, but keep in mind it is all uphill at a moderately high altitude.

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