Chasm Lake – Rocky Mountain National Park
Date: August 12, 2017
Elevation Gain: 2,684 ft
Start Time: 6:17 am
Duration: 5:41 hours
Chasm Lake starts from the Longs Peak trailhead about 10 miles south of Estes Park. We thought we got an early start because we turned onto the trailhead road at 6 am, however we were soon overwhelmed by the number of cars that were parked along the side of the road as we approached the actual trailhead. The trailhead parking lot was full. We noticed one spot that was too small for our SUV but we gave it a go anyway. It was a tight fit but after squeezing out and pushing in the rear view mirrors it didn’t look too bad.
We’ve showed up at trailheads before 7 am at some of the most crowded National Parks in the world and generally had the place to ourselves. But Yosemite, Yellowstone, the Tetons and Glacier did not have a major metropolitan area just an hour away. On top of that, Longs Peak is the biggest peak in Colorado, at 14,255 feet, and is a huge draw for extreme hikers from beyond the Denver area. Most of these cars likely showed up in the middle of the night. We knew now that we were going to be starting all of our other hikes during the week even earlier.
While we were preparing to leave the car I could overhear a woman talking loudly over by a ranger hut on the other side of the car. She was reporting on an emergency phone that her husband was supposed to be back the day before but he wasn’t back yet. I could sense some tension in her voice but she seemed to have it together as she gave the details. This was a grim reminder of what can happen in the back country if you’re not careful.
For the first couple of miles the trail made its way through the trees while offering occasional views of a beautiful stream until we eventually crossed over it. Another half mile further we reached a stunted and deformed section of trees that was the signal that we always received that we were reaching the tree line. The trail then turned west with Long’s Peak directly in our sights until we eventually reached the canyon to our left.
As we crossed over the ridge into the main canyon that lead down from Chasm Lake we were treated to our first views of Columbine Falls feeding into Peacock Pond below us and a full view of Longs Peak above us. The trail continued down to the top of the falls where we cross the stream that lead us south into a nice flat meadow area with another waterfall coming off the rocks to the west. Before we reached the end of the meadow we discovered a very pleasant surprise. There was a privy located on the other side of the falls near the cliff below us. It appeared to be fairly high tech with several tanks, hoses and a solar panel. I’m just sorry I didn’t get a photo of it.
After Sandy took full advantage of the facilities we headed across the field to the rocks between us and Chasm Lake. This next section turned out to be much more than I anticipated. A very steep climb through the rocks eventually reached a point where we could not tell which steep rock climb we were supposed to go up next. After traversing the bottom of the rock Sandy headed up in one place and I headed up in another. It wasn’t a long climb but it was definitely rock climbing. Fortunately, after that section the rocks leveled off revealing our first view of Chasm Lake.
We appeared to be one of the first ones to the lake. We made our way down to the shoreline and took off our packs. Chasm Lake was striking in its beauty bordered on three sides by huge cliffs. It was very clear allowing us to see deep into depths. Most of the cars in the parking lot were people obviously hiking to Longs Peak because they weren’t at the lake. I can’t imagine how crowded it must have been going up some very technical sections of that climb.
Here’s a video of our hike: