Hiking Chasm Lake in Winter

Hi everyone!  David here.  Today you get a blog post about a winter hike of Chasm Lake from yours truly, because Laura tweaked her knee falling in various snowdrifts on our Haiyaha Lake hike and didn’t join us.  So Matt and I rudely abandoned Laura and headed up to Chasm Lake at 11,800 feet.


Matt heading up to the junction

Chasm Lake is right in the shadow of Long’s Peak, and you get there by going up the Long’s Peak trail to the junction at 11,000-ish feet.  The Longs Peak trailhead is just about 20 minutes outside of Estes Park on highway 7.  Pro tip: look up directions for how to get back to Denver before you drive there, because there’s no cell service near the trailhead.  We’ve gotten lost twice…

Chasm Lake is only a mile further off the Longs Peak trail, but Laura and I were too beat after we climbed Longs a couple of summers ago to do the extra distance.  Plus, we were trying to get to Casa Bonita


View of Twin Sisters on the way back down

The first part of the trail climbs you up above tree line where you get a great view of Twin Sisters.  There was some snow in the trees, but it really thinned out once we got above treeline.  We didn’t need any microspikes or other traction on our feet until we started on the last mile, though they helped on the way down.  It’s also really easy to lose the trail in the snow and trample the delicate alpine terrain, so we spent a good amount of time boulder-hopping when we got off track.

At the Chasm Lake junction, there’s a random roofless outhouse bolted down to the rocks!  For people like Laura, who often go all day without peeing and get dehydrated, this is very helpful (editor note – whatever, my system of slowly poisoning my body for hours at a time works GREAT).  Plus, you can see out the top while you’re peeing and wave to your friends.


Me, heading to the conveniently located outhouse at Chasm Junction

After the junction, there’s a steep 40-degree snowfield to cross and then a short scramble up rock and ice to get to the lake.  The snowfield can be a cumbersome and dangerous winter obstacle in the right conditions, so we called the Rocky Mountain National Park wilderness office the day before our hike to ask about current conditions.  We were told that there wasn’t any avalanche danger due to the lack of snow, but that the traverse was a sheet of ice.  Apparently, though, they were full of lies, and it turned out slick snow was the only thing we had to worry about.  In years of heavy snowfall or for early spring hiking, however, we got the impression that Chasm can often be inaccessible due to the avalanche risk.


Starting towards the snowfield on the last mile to Chasm

At any rate, that snowfield was steep!  At least we were rewarded with awesome frozen lake views and a close-up of Longs Peak for our efforts.  We saw a couple of people on the way down who were thinking about heading to the lake without any microspikes, crampons, or ice axes.  One of them fell down right as they were asking us whether we thought traction was necessary.  Yep, it’s necessary :).


Matt heading across the snowfield.  Steeper than it looks!

The ice/rock on the first part of way down was a little sketchy, but not too bad.  And you get a nice view of Twin Sisters almost the whole way.  Plus, you get to pass the outhouse again.  And no Rocky Mountain trip would be complete without spotting the rats of the rockies, so a marmot kindly presented itself to us, and thus our hike was concluded, and we were content.


Standing at Chasm Lake in the shadow of Longs Peak summit (PC: Matt)

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