Local Adventures: Lost Man Loop
Written by: Ben Moscona
One of my favorite hikes on Independence Pass is Lost Man Loop. First off, it’s not really a loop. You actually take a C-shaped path from Lost Man Reservoir to the upper trailhead four miles up Highway 82. You can either shuttle a car, hitchhike, or (not recommended) walk down the highway back to the reservoir.
Two of my friends from college met up with me on top of the pass a couple weekends ago and we set out ready for snow and adventure. This past winter was monumental. Not only did we have a record snowpack, but also historic-sized avalanches that left massive fields of debris scattered around our valley floors. This has made for an exciting summer season in the alpine. Expecting a chill hike with some beautiful wildflowers? You still got that this summer (the flowers were especially vibrant and plentiful this year), but with a healthy dose of post-holing and climbing over downed trees. I like to think about it as adventure… amplified.
We set out in the morning around 8 am from the lower trailhead and passed some people camped by the reservoir. The three of us caught up and enjoyed the cool morning air. Right as we passed the first creek crossing, I spotted a monstrous Bear’s Tooth mushroom on a log. One stream crossing became many and soon we were walking through the numerous summer-long puddles that define this hike. Jason and Tristan would not give in and kept trying to keep their feet dry. I told them their time would come eventually.
About five miles in we hit our first patches of snow. Incredible red streaks covered the sun-cupped surface. These are algal blooms, caused by a reaction between ultraviolet rays and an algae known as chlamydomonas nivalis. While beautiful, these patches of watermelon colored snow lower the albedo (reflectivity) of the snow surface, making it melt faster.
We also started getting into marmot and pika habitat. The “eeeeeep” sound of the pika makes me feel at home. It is truly one of my favorite sounds. Sometimes I do my best at inter-species communication and make my own “eeeep” right back at a pika. They usually respond, so I’m quite confident in my ability to communicate with them. Marmots are also fascinating little alpine creatures. They make masses of tunnels in the soft mounds of dirt where they run underground. This has the benefit of aerating soil and helping flowers and shrubs propagate and survive in the harsh environmental conditions found above 11,000 feet.
Getting to Lost Man Lake was our first slog through the snow. Luckily, a human and a dog had preceded us and made a bootpack. We still fell through the snow several times and our shoes started soaking up cold moisture from the snow. When we finally made it to the lake, I decided to quickly jump in because why hike to a lake if you aren’t going to swim…
Now we began our journey to the top of Lost Man Pass. We were expecting to see mostly dirt on the other side but the pleasant surprise of another two miles of post-holing awaited us. We stopped at the top of the pass and replenished ourselves with some Mountain Munch. We glissaded down a couple hundred feet and then the real slog began. Every time we saw a rock to stand on we would stop, take off our shoes, and dry our feet. The snow created a bizarre sensation where all the reflected heat made it feel like the outside temperature was over 100 degrees but with freezing feet and ankles. A couple hours later we made it back to the car, seven hours after we started, and talked about all the food we would eat back in town.
Sore legs and a full day of adventure!