Sandbeach Lake (10,283 ft), 03/09/2003
We started from the Sandbeach Lake Trailhead (8,312 ft) at 10:04. The trailhead is next to the Wild Basin entrance station of RMNP. There were only three other cars at the trailhead when we got there. This place is usually teeming with people in the summer. The trail starts out by climbing up a south facing slope to a ridge. This part of the trail does not usually have much snow on it and the skiing here is not very good anyway so we decided to load the skis onto the backpacks and carry them up this part. As we headed up the trail it was obvious that it had snowed quite a bit here in the last week since there was more snow than usual. On the way up we noticed that the snow along the trail was covered by millions of almost microscopic black particles. If you looked at the particles very closely you could see that they moved and that they were actually tiny insects. If anyone reading this has any idea what kind of insects these might be, please let us know. We ended up carrying the skis almost 2 miles up to where the trail flattens out onto a shelf below Lookout Mountain. Here we strapped them on and began to make faster progress. The trail was packed down by snowshoe tracks but there was no sign of anyone having skied here recently. After awhile the trail begins to climb up again to where it crosses Camper's Creek. From Camper's Creek it continues to climb for a short distance until it comes out onto a relatively flat area with a few long ups and some short downs. After Camper's Creek the number of snowshoe tracks began to decrease until there was only one. We soon met the owner of those tracks heading back the other way. He said he turned around because he could no longer tell which way the trail continued. It can be difficult to follow a trail with very deep snow in the winter even if you are familiar with it. He asked us if we knew which way the trail went. We told him we did and he said that he would follow us. He followed us up to Hunter's creek after which we lost sight of him. After Hunter's creek the trail begins to climb steeply (at least for skis) for a short stretch. At the top there is only a short distance left to the lake but the trail can be very difficult to follow here in the snow. After awhile we realized that we had made a wrong turn and had actualy climbed a bit above the lake. We continued climbing until we had a good view of where the lake was and then skied down toward it. We got to the lake at 13:30, ending up on the opposite side of the lake to where the trail ended. At the lake the wind was roaring in from the west like a freight train. We put on extra clothes and took some pictures. There was a good view to the south of a recent avalanche on the north side of St. Vrain Mt. It was too cold and windy to eat lunch at the lake so after we took a few pictures we started to head back. We left the lake at 14:00. The sking on the way back was fun but a few of the steeper downhill sections were definitely challenging. This is not a good trail for an inexperienced skier. We got back to the trailhead at 16:15.
The official distance to the lake is 4.8 miles, with an elevation gain of 1971 feet. We stretched this out a bit due to our loosing the trail near the lake.