Trail Report: Lake Agnes

 

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Know Before You Go:

  • Trailhead: Winter is a little tricky!  You park on Hwy 14 at the turnoff for the Crags Campground/Lake Agnes Trailhead/American Lakes Trailhead.  See State Forest State Park Winter Recreation Map for details.
  • Website: State Forest State Park; Horseback Riding Trail Map/Brochure
  • Length: ~5 miles round-trip (winter)
  • Closest Town: Walden, CO
  • Green Horse Friendly: Will re-evaluate in summer…
  • Senior Horse Friendly: Will re-evaluate in summer…
  • Barefoot Horse Friendly: Will re-evaluate in summer…
  • Beer Friendly: Yes (3.2% only)
  • Firearm Friendly: Yes, see regulations.
  • Dog Friendly: Yes, on a leash.  See full regulations.
  • Obstacles: Bridges, water, bikes, hikers, dogs, wildlife.
  • Parking: On Hwy 14 in the winter, at Agnes Lake Trailhead in summer.

The Nitty Gritty: 

This was one of the first hikes I organized for the new Hike Like a Woman Locals group I’m leading in Northern Colorado.  We had a great group of women join us who were eager to get out on snowshoes one last time before the snow melted.  Some were seasoned snowshoers and some were first timers but all had a great time!

In winter this trail is a little tough to get to and hike.  Driving up highway 14, you’ll go just over Cameron Pass and on the western slope (heading toward Walden) you’ll see the trailhead sign almost immediately on your left.  In the summer, you can turn on this road and navigate to the Crags Campground and park there for a quick jaunt to the Agnes Lake Trail.  In the winter, this road is closed and you will need to park at the top of the hill just off the highway adding about a mile onto your trek both directions.

There is only parking there for about 10 cars, so try and get there early as this is a popular spot for backcountry skiers and snowsport enthusiasts.  At the parking area, there is a self-pay station and the fee was $7 at the time of this writing.  Those fees can always be checked by visiting the State Forest State Park website.

State Forest State Park is by far one of my favorite places to hike and ride in Northern Colorado.  Its a good bit off the beaten path so it weeds out a lot of the tourists, leaving it far less crowded than other options in the area.  This park borders the northern edge of Rocky Mountain National Park, the southern edge of the Rawah Wilderness and the western edge of the Comanche Peak Wilderness so there is no shortage of day hikes, trail rides and multi-day trips you can make here.

I’ve done some other hikes and rides in the area, but hadn’t spent much time exploring via snowshoes until this day.  It was glorious. Due the variations in this trail with the seasons, it was difficult to find accurate information on regarding winter routes and conditions so we had to wing it somewhat. The State Forest State Park site provided the closest to accurate info I could find which quoted it at a 5 mile round trip length.

Their Winter Recreation Guide provides a wealth of helpful information.

The first part of the trail heads downhill from highway 14 and follows a rough, single track road. About 1/2 to 3/4 mile down, you’ll spot a sign for the Crags Campground and the Lake Agnes trailhead directing you to the right. You’ll pass over a fair sized creek and continue following the trail upward. This is a well traveled trail and easy to follow in most places.

The lower part of the trail winds upward through dense forest until you get to the Lake Agnes cabin.  This cabin was built in 1925 and was used seasonally by rangers until 2000.  It was added to the National Historic Register in 2007.

After the cabin, the trail opens into a beautiful valley which, I assume, is absolutely stunning in summer since it was stunning covered in 3 feet of snow. There appeared to be several route options here – mostly for backcountry skiers which were in abundance this day – but we chose to follow the most direct route to Lake Agnes which skirts the eastern side of the meadow.

You’ll return to a brief patch of forest before popping over a small hill and dropping into a bare hillside.  From here, you simply find the most comfortable route up the hill following the vein.  On this day, the headwind was blowing so hard we could barely stand upright and felt as though we were climbing Everest. In reality, on a nice day, I’m sure this climb is rather quick and painless but, on this day, it seemed almost endless.

Despite that, the views from here are nothing short of spectacular. I found myself taking a few steps at a time and then feeling the need to stop (yet again) for the “perfect” shot.

Lake Agnes herself is at the top of the hill, nestled in the Nokhu Crags.  The views here are absolutely amazing and there is no shortage of photo ops.  We were able to catch glimpses of backcountry skiers making clean lines down the slopes to the south of us across the lake as well.  We didn’t linger here due to the windy conditions, but I can assure you that a summer trip will be an order!

While a relatively short hike, this was an exhausting one on snowshoes.  The trail varies greatly with the season.  In summer, it is a mere 1.6 mile hike with a 400 foot gain and in winter, it increases to a 5 mile hike with a 1000 foot gain.

I highly recommend it and will definitely do it again but, be sure you wear comfortable shoes and good socks as I think we all ended up with pretty significant blisters by the time we made it back to the parking lot.  In retrospect, I could’ve left the winter boots at home and just worn my regular hiking boots given the conditions of the snow.

The State Forest State Park ranger station is very helpful and can generally give you the most up to date conditions for all of the trails in their jurisdiction.  This state park has yet to disappoint me and remains one of my favorites!

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Horseman’s Holiday Gift Guide

If you’re like me, you’ve managed to leave your holiday shopping to the very last possible second.  Thank goodness for Amazon!  Here are some great gift ideas for the horsey/outdoorsy person in your life and, for anyone keeping track, these are on my wishlist as well…


Big Agnes Helinox Chair

helinox-chair

I’m always at a loss on how to best transport a chair to the backcountry.  Usually, this item falls under the non-essential category due to weight and awkwardness but, at just 1.9 pounds and packing down to 14″x4″x5″, the Helinox Chair from Big Agnes has put itself closer to the top of my list!

 

 

 


Sea to Summit Aeros Pillow

pillow

I freely admit I am a bit of a princess.  I love pillows and feel strongly that you should not have to give up on comfort in the backcountry.  This pillow gets excellent reviews on Amazon and comes highly recommended from my Hike Like A Woman counterparts.  Best of all, it fits nicely into a tiny little stuff sack about the size of your hand and weighs in at next to nothing!

 


Wealers 7 Piece Camping Cookware Set

utensil-kit

 

Again, due to awkwardness and size, utensils almost never make it onto the trail with me.  This little kit provides all the essentials wrapped in a neat little package!  Tongs, spatula, ladle, knife, scissors, rice paddle and even a small cutting board – what else do you need?

 

 


Etekcity Ultralight Camping Stove

stove

 

Let’s face it, having a JetBoil would be nice but not all of us are millionaires!  I got this $10 beauty for Christmas last year and it gets the job done.  This little stove packs into a small plastic case that could fit into your pocket and works with any commercially available propane base.

 

 


Ultralight Camping Hammock 

hammock

 

One word: hammock.  If you haven’t jumped on the bandwagon, you should.  I bought myself one of these ultralight hammocks from Appalachian Outdoor Supply a few years back and it goes EVERYWHERE with me.  And, at just 1 pound and only $19.95, why wouldn’t it?

 


Ruffwear Approach Dog Pack

pack

Our dogs carry their weight when they come with us and the Ruffwear packs are great.  They are equipped with plenty of room for all your dog’s essentials, very adjustable and ergonomic.  With 5 sizes to choose from, there’s a perfect fit for every dog!

 

 


Lawson Hammock Blue Ridge Camping Hammock

tent

As an avid hammock fan, the tent-hammock combo has been intriguing to me, both from a comfort and practicality standpoint.  It’s hard to find tents that fit well into a backpack or in a saddle bag and this tent hammock weighs in at just 4.25 pounds and eliminates the need for a sleeping pad all together!

 


Cashel Medium Pommel Saddle Bag

saddle-bagIn all seriousness, this is one of the best purchases I ever made.  I use this bag every single time I ride as it’s small, lightweight, holds what I need for a day ride and provides easy access while still being out of the way.  There are pockets that hold two water bottles (or 4 cans of bee…coke), an outside pocket for your phone and a clip for your keys so they don’t get lost.  This company makes plenty of options for English riders, too!

 


Diamond Wool Saddle Pad

padLet’s face it, your saddle pad can make or break your ride (and your horse).  I have had incredibly good luck with the Diamond Wool pads.  My horses have never had a saddle sore, ingrown hair and are never excessively sweaty.  Also, these pads dry pretty quickly are easy to care for and don’t break the bank.

5 REASONS BACKCOUNTRY RIDERS ARE DIRTBAGS, TOO.

dirtbag

A person who is committed to a given (usually extreme) lifestyle to the point of abandoning employment and other societal norms in order to pursue said lifestyle. Dirtbags can be distinguished from hippies by the fact that dirtbags have a specific reason for their living communaly and generally non-hygenically; dirtbags are seeking to spend all of their moments pursuing their lifestyle.

Urban Dictionary 

Who would’ve thought that the term “dirtbag” would become one of endearment?  The ever-evolving term still embraces the above definition but, on the whole, you don’t necessarily need to be unemployed and homeless to be considered a part of the dirtbag community anymore.

1185067_10151949969984180_2103682320_nThere are literally thousands of self-proclaimed dirtbags embracing the term and all it entails.  They live life to the fullest extent they can, honing their skills and searching for the next adrenaline rush.

So, here’s my problem:  Why are backcountry riders excluded?

In fact, its my experience that the outdoor community as a whole tends to exclude riders as members of the dirtbag crew.  While I’m sure part of it is the stigma that surrounds the mounted community (the same one that labels us as gun-toting, Copenhagen chewing, cowboy hat wearing, shit kicking hicks), I submit that we are of the same extreme, gutsy, carpe diem embracing, athletic caliber as any run-of-the-mill dirtbag.

11817279_10153680112749180_6867035685571912994_nYes, I do carry a gun, and wear a cowboy hat a lot of the time, and my significant other always has a dip in, and am often kicking shit off my boots, but why does that exclude me and my kind from the extreme outdoor sporting community?

So, with that, here are 5 solid reasons riders can be considered a legit part of the dirtbag community:

 


REASON #1: WE’RE DEDICATED.

Yes, my fellow dirtbaggers, we riders are just as dedicated to our sport and our lifestyle as you are.  When you get up before dawn to hit the road to the trailhead, we’ve already been up for hours feeding the horses, loading the trailer, checking tire pressure and readying our gear.  See, we have a considerable amount of logistics to take into account outside of our daily goal and that takes time and preparation.

15089_10151984030579180_1310855075_nWhile a few exceptions exist, the majority of riders I’ve met (myself included) have been in the saddle from an early age – some of us were riding before we could walk.  Traditionally thought of as a “rich person sport,” those of us without the steady cash flow to afford it, did whatever we could to stay in the saddle.  We adapt to fill the need for horse hair and dirt – just as you do in order to climb El Capitan.

Unfortunately, while inevitably appealing, the unemployed-I-live-in-my-van lifestyle doesn’t lend itself to our culture.  Much like a child (though arguably more fun), we have a being dependent on us for food, shelter and water.  Most backcountry riders have at least 2 jobs to make this happen (currently, I have 4).  If that’s not dedication I don’t know what is.

REASON #2: WE LOVE MINIMALISM.

940855_10154048180919180_4093242332917061510_nSure, we have a horse and that means we can carry a little bit more than you but, in truth, not much.  The fact of the matter is that, while pack strings are nice, they’re not a logical choice for many of the places we like to go (which just so happen to be many of the same places you like to go).  Having an extra horse or two, or even a llama, can be a definite advantage in certain circumstances but the majority of us hit the trail as a duo; 1 horse, 1 rider.

If you’re spending any amount of time in the backcountry, the same rules apply to riders as they do to backpackers.  Just as you do, we lighten our load, we make important decisions on what to include and what to cut and we do our best to make our packs comfortable.  The difference is, we not only have to pack and make our load comfortable for ourselves, but for our horses, too.

An ill fitting pack can rub, make your muscles unduly sore and lead to a truly crummy time on the trail.  As a rider, if your horse ends up with a saddle sore from an uneven or overweighted load, you’ll be carrying a 50lb saddle back along with your pack.  Needless to say, we’ve mastered the art of minimalism.

REASON #3: WE LIVE THE OUTDOORS.

12079149_10153822412279180_1234049767084560464_nAs a dirtbag, you live for the days when you are miles away from anything remotely resembling civilization.  Backcountry riders do, too.  You relish the anti-social lifestyle and long to be in the silence of nature.  Backcountry riders do, too.  In fact, many of us prefer the company of our horse over the company of people (I know I do).

A purveyor of the outdoor lifestyle, you dirtbags often spend time giving back to the areas you spend time in.  Backcountry riders do, too.  While you may think of us as walking poop machines, riders are actually extremely active in maintaining their local areas and advocates for the wilderness areas we frequent.

REASON #4: WE CAN GO (JUST ABOUT) ANYWHERE YOU CAN.

While my horse may have a hard time scaling a rock face or catching a wave, there are very few places we can’t get to…one way or another.  It can be a challenge to find an equine partner with the balls to take on questionable river crossings, shaky, shale rock trails and above treeline storms without question.  When you do, you know you’ve got a lifer.

200090_10151731143044180_1551779171_nOn foot, all you need to worry about is getting yourself from point A to point B.  On horseback, we’re constantly looking ahead for the next obstacle and determining the best route for our four-legged counterpart.  If you’re lucky, you end up with a “beer drinking” horse who is an expert navigator but, even then, it’s still our duty to know what lies ahead.

When in route, there’s little that can stop a true dirtbag from reaching their goal.  Riders are no different – we might just have to get a little creative.

REASON #5: WE LIVE FOR THE THRILL.

There is little else that can compare to the thrill of grabbing mane and trusting the 1100lb creature under you to carry you up a rocky face to a steep summit.  The 65306_10151633283199180_1170511237_nuneven ground beneath their feet wiggles and gives way between strides, your weight shifts in the saddle with each step and you glance backward for just a moment, forgetting the nearly 90 degree incline you’re on before turning back around quickly.

When you reach the top, you take a deep breath.  Your horse breathes heavy beneath you and you feel weak from the adrenaline coursing through your body.  He shifts his footing a bit as its still questionable and just then you realize if he shifts 2 more inches to the left, you’ll tumble down the way you came.  Oh lord, now you have to get back down…


When it comes down to it, we riders are just as dirtbag as the rest of you; we use the much of the same gear, travel the same trails and seek the same thrills.  So, why then, are we outcasts?  The outdoor community has long been inclusive of people from all walks of life, all backgrounds and all interests…except, seemingly, those of us on horseback.

If a voracious love of the outdoors is the basis of dirtbag life, then consider me, and my horse, a dirtbag.