This is the second of a series of blogs on the Rocky Mountains of Colorado. I visited for a week in mid September 2018. This spectacular part of the world comprises rugged mountain ranges that tower over the Mile High City of Denver. Today I will talk about a difficult-to-get-to gem in the hills above the Colorado River.
If you drive east from Glenwood Springs along Interstate I-70 towards Denver you pass into the incredible Glenwood Canyon. Twelve miles of precipitous sandstone walls loom beyond 1,000 feet above the Colorado River. Nestled in these cliffs is Hanging Lake. A short spur off the Highway takes you to the river where you need to arrive early if you want a park. There is a level concrete bike path that runs along the Colorado River and accesses the trail head, which follows the charmingly named tributary, Dead Horse Creek.
You get a temporary respite with the incredible beauty of the steep hills reflected in the calm river waters but make no mistake, this is the toughest hike I have done in a long long time.
The trail climbs relentlessly for more than 300m over the relatively short distance of 2 km. You traverse rough steps or traipse over boulder covered slopes and scree or over exposed tree roots; you have to carefully place every step to be sure of your foothold. I do not recall any downward sections. Every step is up. The trail crosses the creek a few times on wooden bridges and you get delightful views of the mountain stream cascading over moss covered rocks and logs.
When you think you can’t go on, it gets steeper. The worst is right at the end where giant steps are cut into the rock and you are grateful for the sturdy railing that provides some sort of barrier to the steep drop on your right. But then you are there. The trail guide says to allow one hour. It took me two.
At an elevation of 7,200 feet (2,200m – that’s roughly the height of Mt Kosciusko, Australia’s highest mountain!) you reach Hanging Lake and all that strenuous effort is soon forgotten. Fed by a bridal veil falls, it was created by a fault with its waters dammed by travertine deposits created from the underlying limestone. Only 1.5 acres in area, the crystal clear turquoise, blue and aquamarine coloured waters reflect the verdant growth that drapes the cliffs and over which the water trickles. Autumn colours and fallen logs enhance and add texture to this exquisite scene.
Travertine is formed from the re-precipitation of dissolved limestone which contributes the carbonates that give the water its unique colours. You can see small trout darting about in this mountain pool. The thin air, the high cliffs and the still waters (and a little exhaustion) create a calm contemplative quietude which infects all that make it here. But nature has one more little surprise.
A further short climb takes you to the Spouting Rock. An impressive waterfall feeds the creek above the lake and dramatically spouts from a crack in the face of the cliff. You can easily walk behind the falls into a cave eroded into the limestone. Many miss this little gem and walk right on past the turn off.
Spouting Rock I
Time to return down the same path. Any thought that the homeward journey would be easier soon dissipates. The descent is treacherous. A wooden pole, thoughtfully left by a previous hiker was an essential aid in negotiating the rocky stretches. I took my time. Another two hours before I was at the bottom. Plenty of time to chat with and provide sage advice and support to the many climbers who pass you on their way up.
Well that’s Hanging Lake. For me it was Hang-in-there Lake. So glad I did.