We came out to Colorado for my family reunion because it was determined “the middle” of the East and West coasts. John and I were elated at the prospect of the Rocky Mountains because it meant we could center a road trip around the destination and explore a place neither of us had really been before. During the five day whirlwind which is the 40+ person Case Family reunion we fly fished, went to a local rodeo and just barely grazed the surface of local hikes.My family really knows how to pack in the activities so when my cousin Brian, John and I initially hiked the Fancy Lakes trail we were about three miles away from the summit before we had to turn around and meet up for the final night family banquet.
Yesterday we finally got down to business determined to summit the Fancy Pass and continue the rest of the 9 mile loop back through the Missouri Lake trail. Having already previewed the beginning part of the loop, read the trail descriptions and scanned the maps, we felt prepared.We knew the ultimate 12,600 ft elevation would be tough on our East coast lungs but we had done similar hikes before …
Nothing I have ever done to date can compare to this hike. The first 3.5 miles or so were easy as pie - well groomed packed earth trails lead into gently elevated rocky creek beds after the first glacial lake. Up to this point we had experienced a little pearl couscous sized hail while in the woods, but for the most part the day was blazing hot. As we started the 3 mile ascent to the top we leisurely passed other hikers and were feeling overall pretty good.
About a mile to the summit "shit got real". The 700 ft gain in a quarter mile scramble we had read about was still covered in about half a foot of slushy snow. This was also the time that the altitude really kicked in. What visually appeared to be a short hardcore climb to the peak turned into shuffling a couple steps, pausing to catch our breaths and then scrambling on all fours upward on snow. In this stint I will say my yoga instincts kicked in and “breath of fire” seemed to be the only way I could achieve enough oxygen.
What awaited us at the top though was well worth the effort - a panoramic view on all sides of snow capped mountains, a valley of wildflowers and glacial pools below. As we re-grouped with some granola bars and water, Yellow Bellied Marmots and Pika scurried all around us. The rest of the mostly downward descent was through a pretty raucous thunder storm which caused the temperature to drop and soaked us pretty good. The winding trail brought us past gold rush mining ruins, a dozen finger lakes and through dense river crossed forest. We chanted “burgers and fries” to keep up our moral for the last mile and cheered as we finally caught sight of our tiny Honda Fit.
Fancy Pass -Missouri Lake Loop Checklist ( Summer 2017 ) :
Bring lots of snacks and water ( We brought about ten granola bars, a bag of peanuts and four large water bottles of water)
Sunblock, Sunglasses & “ neckerchief “ ( Aka a bandana, impromptu flap of fabric to tuck into your hat...whatever keeps the sun off the back of your neck)
Beanie & lightweight gloves ( Halfway through the hike the weather shifted with rain and a significant drop in temperature )
Waterproof layer ( John was rocking the Patagonia “Torrentshell Jacket” which is lightweight, warm and water repellent)
Wick-away base layer ( REI has a an affordable zip up we both invested in otherwise you can find them at Marhshalls, Target etc)
Waterproof hiking boots ( Something with grip that also will keep your feet dry as you are hiking through melting snow and river beds)
Take a photo of the directions / trail map ( As the markers are few and far between and at points the trail diverges off in several directions)
Leave a note in your car with your route/contact info ( Even if you’re not camping overnight which you can do here it's just a good idea if you’re not familiar with a trail/from the area )
Hiking poles ( We do not have these but I wish we did for the climb up the snow covered parts and steep rocky descents - if you’re carrying a overnight pack I could see these coming in handy for balance)