I didn’t feel much like hiking at Independence Pass, thanks to the full-on assault being delivered by a brutally cold wind. I’ll never understand how air can be that thin and that strong, all at the same time. But thankfully, once I was on the west side of the pass, and just a few hundred feet below it, the wind had calmed. I swerved into a crowded parking area, and discovered a worthwhile hike — not too long, and not too strenuous, but with big rewards.
In fact, two hikes begin here, at this parking area and waterfall, about two miles west of Independence Pass. Both of them run together at first, as they follow the tumbling creek known as Roaring Fork River.
If you don’t want to hike at all, you can stop here for just a few minutes and enjoy the waterfall. If you want a really long hike, you can venture onto the Lost Man Trail (8.8 miles, plus 4 more miles on the highway to complete the loop). But if a short hike is what you’re looking for, I’d suggest the hike up to Linkins Lake.
The hike is about 6/10 of a mile, one way. That’s pretty short, but there is a 500 foot elevation gain, so it will still require some effort — remember, you’re starting out at 11,506 feet, and ending at 12,008 feet, elevations which make even the easiest hike more challenging.
This faded sign marks the entrance to the Hunter-Fryingpan Wilderness.
The Lost Man and Linkins Lake trails quickly split. And the truth is, Lost Man looks more tempting at this point. Instead of a steep climb, Lost Man gains elevation gradually…
… as it stays near the bottom of this valley. Eventually, it passes by Independence Lake and Lost Man Lake, then makes a counter-clockwise turn to circle around 13,380 foot Geissler Mountain.
The Linkins Lake trail climbs out of the valley, to the left.
There’s a good chance that you’ll spot a marmot or two, scampering around the rocks.
Do you think they appreciate their home’s view?
About halfway up the trail, turn around and look back to the south. You can see Highway 82 climbing the hillside. Independence Pass is just around the corner, in the distance.
You’ve almost finished climbing when you reach this point. Here, the outflow creek from Linkins Lake runs alongside the trail, and in places, the two combine, causing you to choose your steps carefully.
Just beyond the small waterfall…
… the land levels out. This is the view looking back towards the trailhead.
That little creek flows out of Linkins Lake. You might have trouble walking all the way down to the edge of the water, since the land gets marshy.
A trail runs across mostly dry ground, along the east side of the lake. In the distance, you’re probably seeing one of the peaks of Geissler Mountain. Its western peak is slightly lower than the eastern peak, at 13,301 and 13,380, respectively.
Truth be told, this lake would probably be more beautiful in the early morning hours, when the wind is calm and the sun is low in the eastern sky. By early afternoon, the mountains that surround Linkins Lake are getting shadowy — and I’d guess that by evening, the light would be especially harsh.
I hiked along the edge of the lake until the trail faded, and the ground became too swampy. Then, I turned around and hiked back.