If there’s one thing I’ve done in the last six months, it has been exploring Rocky Mountain National Park and area surrounding Estes Park more than I ever had. With the impending start to summer and timed entry reservation season at RMNP, I decided to squeeze in one last adventure before the hoards of tourists arrive and do the very popular hike to Chasm Lake. This would also give me a little bit of a chance to practice with my crampons and ice axe – yes, the crampons were overkill (I’d argue an ice axe is very smart for the final snowfield crossing to the lake), but practice makes perfect!
Chasm Lake sits at the base of Longs Peak, Rocky Mountain National Park’s highest peak and one of Colorado’s iconic “14ers.” This hike is classified as strenuous by the park service, as it is 8.6 miles long and climbs over 2500 feet, much of it above treeline. The hike begins at the Longs Peak Trailhead, which is at 9400 feet in elevation. Considering I just got back from spending eleven days at sea level, I must admit I was feeling the thin oxygen by the time I hit 11,000 feet by the lake! This trailhead is extremely popular, and will fill incredibly early in the summer months (most hikers begin a Longs Peak summit attempt at 2 or 3am). I arrived about 7:15am in mid-May, and was able to get a spot, but things looked pretty full by the time I finished in the afternoon.
I got started on the trail about 7:30am, which honestly was probably pushing it for temperature and snow conditions. This was going to be a hot day, and since I do not own snowshoes, I was hoping I could beat the postholing.
Much of the trail to Chasm Lake is shared with the route to Longs Peak, so I was happy to get a bit of a preview of the route that I’d be taking in August during my summit attempt. I quickly hit snow, and was happy to find it was still solid to support my weight. Thanks to my mountaineering boots, I had good traction and did not need to dig out my microspikes. The trail switchbacks, and never felt overly steep, which was nice as I thought about the overnight pack I’d be lugging up the trail in a few months.
After about nearly 3.5 miles I reached my second trail junction of the day, and headed left towards Chasm Lake. I took a chance to take a breather (damn lack of oxygen!) and eat a snack before tackling what I think was the funnest part of the day. the trail also levels out, and descends, which I am not always a fan of as that means climbing on the way back out, but it’s really not a bad descent.
Near the sketchy snowfield crossing, I sat down and put on my crampons, excited to finally use this new fancy piece of gear, and readied my ice axe. The snowfield was solid but a bit smooshy, so crampons weren’t needed, but it was good practice for me on footing techniques, and they really made my footing solid. Given the terrible run out off a cliff if one was to fall and start sliding on the snowfield, I was happy to have my ice axe.
I left my crampons on as I made my way to the final push up the headwall to Chasm Lake. In the dry months, this is a rocky scramble, so in a way it is easier when snow covered as there’s no thinking, just kick steps up!
I took my crampons off after the snowfield, and finished out the final scramble to be rewarded with the magnificent view of Chasm Lake and Longs Peak! Definitely breathtaking… or maybe that was the 11,800 feet of elevation?! Ha, either way! I made my way down to a rock on the shoreline and enjoyed another snack and soaked in the views.
I didn’t stay overly long at the lake as I knew the snow was softening by the second under the intense sun. I packed up and headed back, taking the glissade chute. People looked at me like I was crazy, but why walk down the snow when you can go, weeeeeeeeeee?! Once I reached the sketchy snowfield I applied my microspikes for the rest of the descent until I hit the dry dirt shortly before the trailhead. I must admit, I am not too sure the microspikes were helpful with the smooshy snow.
I took to hustling back, hoping things wouldn’t get postholey. I’m a slow descender, and I accidentally left my trekking poles in the car, so I took to slipping and sliding all the way back to the car. At treeline I spent about 10-15 minutes chatting with a gentleman who was stopped for a snack break about mountaineering, my pink ice axe, his upcoming Pakistan climbing trip, and how I need to climb Mount Baker (everyone keeps telling me that for some reason?). He was lugging a heavy pack up the trail for training, so I was happy I wasn’t the only one on the trail with gear that seemed a bit out of place! I did not catch his name, but it was a nice break and always so nice to chat up another mountain fanatic.
At 12:30pm I made it back to my car, so just about 5 hours on the money! By now there was a steady stream of people hiking up the trail and the parking lot was full. Chasm Lake was definitely a fantastic hike, even with the snowy conditions.
Date Hiked: May 15, 2022
Trailhead: Longs Peak Trailhead
Total Mileage: 8.92 miles per Strava/Garmin Vivoactive 4s
Total Elevation Gain: 2,560 feet
Total Time Spent: 5 hours 3 minutes
Weather: Clear, sunny, and warm
Trail Conditions: Snowpacked, with slush later on
Cell Service: Hit or miss, depending on where you are on the trail (Verizon), definitely nothing reliable
Special Considerations: Located in Rocky Mountain National Park, so fee applies. Also, if entering between 9am-3pm, you must have a timed entry reservation during peak season.