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828 Upper Odessa Gorge 2013-07-03

Notchtop Mountain

It is wonderful to return to visit a familiar area. On June 26, Amy was still in Texas and I was in Rocky Mountain National Park, alone. I had to make the long drive to the airport to pick her up that evening and did not want a big day of activity. The Upper Odessa Gorge was a good answer for my adventures. The area has Notchtop Mountain, Little Matterhorn, the North Face of Flattop, the Ptarmigan Glacier, Lake Helene, and a couple of smaller lakes or tarns - providing plenty to see and re-visit.

Ptarmigan Glacier

Leaving Bear Lake, the trail follows the Flattop Mountain trail for the first mile. It is a steady climb. From a junction, the Odessa Lake Trail traverses the eastern slopes of Flattop Mountain to the upper sections of Odessa Gorge. Great views of Estes Valley are seen along the way.

Little Matterhorn

At Lake Helene, I climbed through the krumholtz to the small lakes above in the Flattop Mountain to Notchtop Mountain cirque. From my vantage point, every direction was another picture and every view reminded me of stories past, such as - when Amy and I were in a massive early morning thunder and rainstorm on our first trip together, when Ray and a group were hours late on returning to camp from a climb, climbing quickly with David up the spiral, all the fun of leading a group of kids up the glacier, climbing with Rose to Little Matterhorn, and more. The area holds such memories for me.

small bunny

On the hike back to Bear Lake, I saw a small animal crossing the path. Stopping to inspect, I found a small bunny hidden in the brush. His camouflage made him difficult to see. Finally I found him, he was hunkered down waiting for the big beast (me) to pass. I could not even detect a single motion in his stillness. It was a wonderful sight.

Now, a few Upper Odessa notes ...

The trail only gains 1100 feet to Lake Helene in about 3.25 miles. It is a moderate route.

Little Matterhorn is a Class 3 route, Notchtop's climbing routes are 5.4 and higher, and the snow slopes are rated from easy to difficult.

It is difficult to reach the upper small lakes. There is no trail. The route climbs through the tough krumholtz trees and over rocky slabs.

The Upper Gorge may also be reached from the Fern Lake Trailhead, but it is a longer and more difficult hike.

I didn't see any other hikers on the way to Lake Helene, but did see quite a few hikers on the return.

Information, water, and restrooms are available at the Bear Lake Trailhead.

Bear Lake to Lake Helene (and beyond) is a great hike for recalling memories or making new ones.

Happy Upper Odessa Gorge trails


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