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      Close to Heaven… Down to Earth


Lily Lake Trail
San Isabel National Forest
Upper Huerfano Valley

“The Lily Lake Trail begins at the end of the road in the Upper Huerfano
Valley. At this point, everything except the road behind you and the pack trail
leading through the lower valley ahead is part of the Sangre de Cristo National Wilderness
. About a mile past the end of the road the trail goes west along the
edge of a large meadow before a hairpin turn that heads south up the hillside into
the forest. For the next several miles the trail follows a narrow shelf (perhaps
an old bulldozer cut?) continually upwards until you come to an area where the landscape
opens up a bit under big pines with the north rock face of Blanca and Ellingwood
right in your face. The views just get better and better as you traverse that narrow
shelf until you reach this bend under the pines and spruces.

“Here, there are several rough campsites under the trees and you can wander around
a bit taking in the views of the huge granite wall. We were here in late July and
there was still a lot of snow-melt running off the rock wall. Some of that snowpile
is classed as North America’s southernmost glacier. Later in the afternoon some
of those cascades of water were falling several hundred feet to reach the bottom
of the wall before rushing across the talus and forming the headwaters of Huerfano

“From this open area the trail continues northeast up the hill and follows old jeep
trails part of the way. It’s not too long before you come to the stream exiting
Lily Lake as it cascades down the hill and into the larger valley. This is another
of those cases when you think you are almost there and the trail just continues
on. At one point there was a large snow cave with the stream flowing below and we
found a couple from the Netherlands climbing around in there. In this area the trees
opened up and we were right at treeline. It wasn’t too far up the hill from here
that we actually came to Lily Lake.

“There were trout jumping in the lake but in order to reach a large rock and sit
to watch, we had to untangle a bunch of monofilament from our boots. Looking around
we saw old fishing lures and empty bottles and cans just dumped along the shoreline.
As soon as our eyes rose above the shoreline though, the true majesty of this place
manifested itself: this is one of the greatest cathedrals on Earth. To the north
was the slope leading up towards California Peak. To the west was the ridgeline
connecting California Peak with Ellingwood Point (there’s several saddles in between).
To the south was that huge, vertical granite wall atop which is Ellingwood Point
and Blanca Peak. Just east of Blanca Peak was Gash Ridge, descending to the ridgeline
of the Sierra Blanca before traversing eastwards to the connecting ridges to the
Iron Nipple and Mt. Lindsey. North of the Iron Nipple was the ridge topping Huerfano
Peak before descending into the Upper Huerfano Valley. “Majestic, magnificent, incomparable,”
these words are too small…

“We had lunch, shot lots of photos, then started back out. Taking our time and enjoying
the hike, the round-trip was about six hours. Except for search and rescue teams
hunting a lost fisherman, there was almost no one in this whole valley (7/24/05).”

Selecting any of the photos below will bring you a larger version of
that photo.
(horizontals: 800×600, verticals: 450×600) To return, use the Back button of your
North wall of Blanca
The north wall of Blanca
north wall of blanca
The north wall from Lily Lake
Gash Ridge
Gash Ridge
looking towards Huerfano Peak
Looking across the valley along the trail
looking towards Huerfano Peak
Looking across the valley along the trail
Huerfano Peak in the distance
Huerfano Peak in the distance
Mt. Lindsey just sticking up
Mt. Lindsey just beginning to appear
Mt. Lindsey showing more
A bit more of Lindsey
the snow cave over the stream
The snow cave over the stream
the stream below Lily Lake
A cascade just below the lake
the stream below Lily Lake
Another cascade below the lake
Lily Lake
Lily Lake
Gash Ridge
Gash Ridge
Lily Lake
Lily Lake
the slope to California Peak
Lily Lake
Lily Lake stream
Another cascade below the lake