Supposedly Colorado has great fall foliage but I had my doubts. I grew up in New Hampshire, after all, and the maples, birches and oaks there put on a show to defy description. How nice could Colorado be?
Early one Saturday morning, our friend Kimberly showed up and we headed out to pick up Jack and Pam; even more recent Mid-Atlantic transplants. On a tip from a co-worker, we headed up Boulder Canyon to Nederland and thence north on the Peak-to-Peak highway. The day was gloriously clear and sunny and we got quite a show. Amongst the deep green of spruce and fir trees were occasional swaths of brilliant yellow of the changing aspens. Of course, it didn't hurt that the background for this were the glorious, frosted peaks of the continental divide.
After a dozen miles on the Peak-to-Peak, we reached the turnoff for the Brainard Lake trailheads and headed west. Amy's car is not designed for off-road travel even without five passengers, and I was pleased to find the road paved and in good condition without any terribly steep sections. Brainard Lake and its sattellite trailheads were quite crowded, but we managed to find a parking spot not far from the Mitchell Lake Trailhead (the northern TH).
We left the pavement after an easy tenth of a mile and started on gentle trail up the valley. The Blue Lake Trail is an easy one with only about a thousand feet of climb encountered in its three mile length. We wound up the valley between the tallus-covered south-east ridge of Mt. Audubon to the north and the more rugged cliffs of the Pawnee Peak east ridge to our south.
We stopped briefly at Mitchell Lake and got our first good view up the valley, then continued on as the trail got a bit steeper and the footing rougher. A couple other small ponds were passed. Eventually we got above treeline and could see the cirque at the head of the valley. To the right were the broad summits of Mt. Audubon and Paiute Peak. To the left, the cliffs of Pawnee became even steeper and the ridgeline was interupted by various gendarmes and clefts. Dead ahead the impressive pyramid of Mt. Toll inturupted the smooth sweep of tallus and snow of the Divide. None of this looks all that large until you realize that the tiny figures moving around up there are people. Suddenly, the scale slams home.
The weather was still exceptionally clear and we reached the stunning Blue Lake without incident. The lake was, as advertised, quite blue with clear water dropping off steeply from the rocky shoreline. We picnicked on the eastern shore near some glacial erratics and took in the sights. On the far shore, a low band of cliffs plunged directly into the water and a short waterfall could be seen. Spectacular in every way!
After lunch, Jack and I headed northwest around the lake on an ill-defined mission to either find Little Blue Lake in the bowl above or slide around on the snowfields in the shaddow of Mt. Toll or perhaps something else entirely. Leaving behind the common-sense of the womenfolk (who were more than content to sit and chat in the noon-time sun), we set a blistering pace. The upper lake didn't seem that attractive now that we could see the steep tallus slope required to reach it. Instead, we reached the foot of a modest snowfield and found it to be more slippery than we'd bargained on. In the process, we also discovered that the Lake was conciderably larger than we'd thought and the small waterfall onthe far side (now the near side) was not particularly small after all; perhaps 30'.
Having come this far, however, we elected to continue and circumnavigate Blue Lake. This didn't turn out to be all that hard, but did require some bits of third-class scrambling down rocky slopes and quite a lot of boulder ballet. At length we were reunited with our better halves and, feeling quite smug, set off back down the valley.
The retreat went smoothly and we were back to the cars by 3pm, a round-trip of about 4.5 hours. Not counting the lake circumambulations, the hike was about 6 miles with moderate elevation gain. Jack and Pam agreed that it was a good trip for their still-acclimating, been-here-only-three-weeks lungs and that they were eager for more in the near future.
The Wilderness Journal