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Jasper Lake / Devils Thumb Lake

July 26, 1997
Roosevelt National Forest
Starting Elevation:
9,000 feet
Highest Elevation:
11,2XX feet ?
Distance (round trip):
~ 12 miles
In keeping with the general theme of this web site I decided that I should add a hike to the list that didn't end on the summit of some desolate mountain or at a windy pass between jagged peaks. This hike took us high up in the Indian Peaks Wilderness to Devils Thumb Lake just below Devils Thumb - a magnificent rock outcropping along the Continental Divide.

Your reference point for beginning this hike is the town of Nederland, Colorado. From the roundabout in the center of town, drive a little more than a quarter mile south on Colorado State Highway 119. Turn right (west) on County Road 130 which heads to the Eldora Ski area and beyond. About two miles beyond the turn off to the ski area you will pass through the town of Eldora where the road turns to gravel. Less than a mile further the road forks, either right towards Fourth of July Basin or left towards what is left of the town of Hessie (Elevation 9,000 feet). If you are equipped with a high clearance or four-wheel-drive vehicle, turn left - otherwise, turn around at the fork and as you are now headed back towards the town of Eldora, you will see where parking is allowed along the right hand side of the road.

The left fork of the road quickly turned into a river of sorts as there was still plenty of runoff coming out of the mountains (hence the need for 4WD). After about a hundred yards or so of driving "up the creek" is the "town" of Hessie. As this hike was on a Saturday and our arrival "in town" was around 10:00 a.m. we were lucky to find a parking space. Additional parking further up the road towards the trailhead was also full.

The trail itself really begins after crossing the North Fork (Boulder Creek) on a relatively new foot-bridge. Head up this trail as it follows an old mountain road which has since been closed to vehicles. [Note: Most of the hike to Jasper Lake includes sections of trail interspersed by sections of abandoned roadway.] After following this road through the woods and up several swithbacks (a distance of about a mile) you come to another bridge. Here you have the option of crossing the South Fork (Boulder Creek) or turning right on the trail which leads to Lake Jasper and Devils Thumb (Lake and Pass). Turn Right!

The trial climbs a little steeper now as you follow the creek as it roars ever higher towards the mountains above. This section of trail is covered by a canopy of trees and your footing is dirt and loose rock along the abandoned road. After winding for about a mile through the trees you will find yourself in a beautiful meadow framed by the Indian Peaks! Our walk through the meadow was punctuated by plenty of stops in which the abundant wildflowers were photographed. At the end of some distance of hiking through this beautiful meadow the hike once again finds the old road and begins to climb. The climb is not too steep but it does gain elevation as you traverse around the south side of Chittenden Mountain. Several times along this stretch we found that the trail had become somewhat wet but early trail builders were very helpful in virtually constructing a virtual sidewalk for us out of timbers laid perpendicularly across the trail.

After about 4 or 4 1/2 miles of cumulative hiking you will get the feeling that there must be a lake at the head of the valley ahead of you and to your left. The trail climbs a little more and then levels off once again. You will pass several (I'm coining a word here...) "lakelets" which only wet your appetite for the lakes to come (no pun intended). After less than half a mile of hiking (again in the trees) the abundant mosquitoes give away the fact that you are at Jasper Lake.

Upon our arrival at Jasper Lake I immediately notices several campsites set up in the woods overlooking the lake. Hmmm - crowded. After first hearing them I am also able to spy several waterfalls high up in the cliffs above the lake to the Northwest. Beyond that was a backdrop of rock formed by the mountains above. We stopped for a while to refuel while trying not to be eaten alive by the mosquitoes. After realizing that we were a much harder target while we were moving we decide it was time to press on towards Devils Thumb Lake. Although we back-tracked somewhat to reach a crossing about a hundred yards below the outlet of the lake it appeared as though there were plenty of other opportunities to cross around to the south side of the lake where the trail continues on towards Devils Thumb.

Passing another beautiful lake we were once again in hiking thorough the trees. By now the trail was all trail - no more abandoned road. After gaining several hundred feet we were spotted our first snow and I enjoyed a little hiking boot telemark skiing with several other hikers that were doing likewise. Several hundred more feet of vertical brought us nearly to treeline in a side valley of the one that contains Jasper Lake. The trail began to level off and as it did one could sense the lake in front of us. Gaining a few more feet of elevation exposed the entire lake nestled just below the magnificent rock outcropping called Devils Thumb high up on the Continental Divide. We could see the trail climbing to the Divide ahead of us as we continued further around the south side of Devils Thumb Lake to a vantage point slightly higher.

After chatting briefly with another couple of hikers we learned that the inlet to the lake contained a snow cave/bridge. We left the trail to explore this phenomenon. Much to my surprise the snow structure in front of us was much larger than I had expected! At the outlet of the cave the snow topped out about 15 feet above the inch-deep water filling the lake. The cave itself was probably 150-200 feet long and if you lowered yourself almost to the water you could see light at the far end of the tunnel. The surface of the structure was firm and unnaturally (one might think) smooth. I barely made a mark in the snow as I stroked my hand across natures cold, white sculpture.

As the mosquitoes in this area seemed a little bit less aggressive we took time out to lighten our load by eating/drinking as much out of our respective packs as our stomachs were interested in. After about a half-hour of hanging out in this semi private enclave it was once again time to head back. [It seems as though you always have to head back too soon.]

The trip down was just like the trip up - only backwards. Back down the hill to Jasper Lake. Mosquitoes, mosquitoes, mosquitoes. Back down and around Chittenden Mountain, past an entire family of campers (including small children), through the meadow (one last break), through the woods, down the road, across the creek and back to the car. Our total round-trip hiking distance this day was around 12 miles.
Along on this hike with me: Sue.