Lower Cataract Loop Trail is a lovely two point two-five [2.25] mile trail which circles, you guessed it, Lower Cataract Lake. With picnic areas and minimal elevation change, it is an ideal walk for families and guests. From the lake one can see and hear roaring Cataract Falls. This trails crosses the feed into the lower lake, though trees obscure the view until meadows of wildflowers open back up and one can look back to see the white threads of cascading water.
Upper Cataract Loop comes in just over 10 miles and takes hikers across the top of the falls which pour from the many lakes dotting Gore Range. It would be a perfect overnight for a beginner backpacker.
Dusty and I determined we did this loop trail ‘backwards’ (taking the less than ideal route as it pertains to uphill) I might recommend hiking it in the opposite direction. On the other hand, either way you go there will be a fair amount of uphill; as is the reality hereabouts.
Beginning at Surprise Lake Trailhead (Trail #62) this feeder trail crosses a footbridge over Cataract Creek before an earnest climb into the foothills of Gore range which, while crisscrossed with trails, maintains a great degree of ruggedness. This was a Sylvester Stallone trail; well cut and Rocky.
Turn right (West) at the junction with the Gore Range Trail; soon passing Surprise Lake to the left (South). Well established campsites alongside the lake offer spectacular views of the peaks and a feeding ground for mosquitoes and black flies.
A roller-coaster (many smaller ups and downs) through dense pine, I was impressed at the size of trees up here. Some rings tell of standing for over a hundred years. Thanks to a recent outing with Friends of Eagles Nest Wilderness, I took particular note of the many trees which had been removed of the trail by hand with cross-cut saws, as this is a Wilderness area and no mechanized instruments are allowed.
Another mile to the next trail junction. Take Mirror Lake Trail (#63) 2 [two] miles further up to reach Upper Cataract Lake.
We stayed on the Gore trail, another 1.4 miles to pass a spur trail to lush looking Tippereary Lake. Roughly .5 [point five] miles past this, the trees give way to a wide corridor of open space defined by smooth, undulating rock faces. A preemptive inspection of a a cliff just above the trail looked like an awesome climb, though we did not see anything in the way of sport routes.
Soon approaching Cataract Creek, a vividly green meadow surrounded deep and strong Cataract Creek. Astounding views across planes of rock to the meadow and up to the peaks were so striking they apparently knocked the poop right out of one hiker, as the beautiful open rock face was marred by a huge wad of toilet paper. Who knew our dog doo bag would have to be re-appropriated for humans (glad I am writing this as I am now reminded to remove the bag of poo from my backpack!).
Educate yourself on how to poo in the great outdoors.
Several beautiful, small established campsites dotted the area, tucked down amoung large boulders just along the creek. A well built footbridge made clearing the deep, clear water a cinch and expansive slabs of rock opened up the views of which we had as yet caught little more than glimpses. In my mind, this is a strong argument TO follow the same route we took; I am a big proponent of ‘save the best views for last’.
Roughly .75 [point seven-five] past this we took a right (North) off the Gore onto Eaglesmere (Fidgit pronunciation: Eagle Smear) Trail #61. A business-like 2.75 mile descent through Aspen forests and elaborate fields of all variety of wildflowers dropped us out at Eaglesmere Trailhead. Head down the dirt road and a right on Cataract Road quickly returned us to the car, just as a wall of rain moved in.
Weather reports have been threatening these past days, though, after a few years up here, one learns that if decisions are entirely shaped by such, you’ll never get out there. Do it anyway; bring a rain jacket.