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Big Elk Lake

Day 2 of 3

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Saturday, July 6th
Big Elk Lake to Spirit Lake and back
7.8 miles
1005 vertical feet (ascent)
1005 vertical feet (descent)

Big Elk Lake

I got up around 6:30am, and it was already light. I spent 45 minutes in photographer mode, moseying around the lake with my tripod. I caught the reflection of the mountains in the lake, and the wildflowers on the ground. I could spend a lot of time just photographing in the area around the lake -- there are lots of opportunities.

Blue flowers near the lake

Big Elk Lake

The other campers at the lake left around 9am, headed out toward Marble Valley. We now had the entire lake to ourselves. We took our time getting ready, finally heading out around 11am. The trail heads through the large meadow I mentioned yesterday, then heads up the hill to the southwest of the lake. It climbs about 350 feet, providing nice views of the lake below. About halfway up it enters the forest. We saw patches of snow here and there, but nothing we couldn't easily walk around.

Big Elk Lake as seen from the hill

Meadow above Big Elk Lake

After topping out on the climb, the trail levels out. Well, it does descend 300-400 feet to Spirit Lake, but it does so very gradually, almost imperceptibly at times. We walked through some forest before emerging for some views of mountains to our left. The whole time the trail follows a line with drop-offs and views to the left and mountain side on the right.

View from the trail

View from the trail

After an hour of leisurely walking we stopped for a break to eat. Shortly after we started up again, we passed the intersection for the Marble Rim Trail. We then continued along the trail, passing through an amazing assortment of wildflowers of every color imaginable. Reds, yellows, blues, purples -- they were all there. Wildflowers line the trail almost the entire way. At times, the vegetation is a bit overgrown, as well, crowding onto the trail and you have to push your way through.

Today was a hot day, and every time we emerged into the sun we tried as quickly as we could to continue to the shaded portions of the trail. I would guess a third of the trail between Big Elk Lake and Spirit Lake is exposed to the sun. We passed another pair of backpackers, the first we'd seen on the trail today so far. I kept looking for the trail to Rainy Lake; I didn't want to go there, but I wanted to gauge our progress. I never did see it on our way in.


View from the trail looking west

Finally, after walking for a long time with no trail intersections visible, we stopped for a rest. I walked over a small rise and down a bit to find the next trail intersection, Spirit Lake visible below between the trees. I returned to tell Jean and we returned to the trail, descending 100 feet down into the bowl around Spirit Lake.

There were a couple pairs of backpackers at Spirit Lake. One was preparing to set up camp. The other pair was leaving after a successful day of fishing at the lake. We chatted a bit and, on hearing that we were the only ones there, they said they might join us at Big Elk Lake that night. We never did see them again, though. I'm guessing they either dropped down to Rainy Lake for the night, or went on to Marble Valley.

Spirit Lake

Flowers next to the Spirit Lake trail

We finally reached the lake at 1:45pm. Jean settled down for a nap while I circled the lake, looking for photographic opportunities. I followed an increasingly narrow path over an inlet creek and along a cliff wall above the lake. I eventually did find a nice place to set down my tripod before returning to Jean's resting spot. We only saw the one other couple set up camp here. There are about 3 or 4 camp sites, but the lake is rather cramped, with the land rising steeply all around the lake. Still, if you're the only one camping there (and you might be), it gives a nice intimate feel.

Close-up of the flowers

Spirit Lake from the spur trail

After a long rest we finally left the lake around 3:15pm. We made the steep climb out of the lake basin and continued along the trail back toward Big Elk Lake. Thirty minutes later I saw the sign for Rainy Lake, lying unobviously on the ground. We continued on up the trail, seeing no other hikers the rest of the day. In fact, when we arrived back at camp, we were somewhat surprised to find we were still the only ones at Big Elk Lake. We'd get the lake all to ourselves.

Back at camp at Big Elk Lake

Dinner tonight consisted of MSR couscous and a package of albacore tuna. It was much better than the previous night; definitely not as salty. After dinner I watched as the deer foraged and played, chasing after each other around our knoll and off in the meadow below the hill. I went out with my flash and fast film and hoped the 24 meter range the flash said was really correct. We'll see how those pictures turn out.

Deer in the headlamp

Then, once again, we went to sleep to the sound of frogs.

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