The wave of summer heat settles in, but the lingering snow in the high alpine is enough to continue to stay low for the time being. Kelly and I made the drive northwest to the Flat Tops in order to find dry land and to bank some decent miles in a Wilderness close to home.

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Marvine Creek as seen not far from Marvine Campground, where we car camped the night prior.

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Red Columbine

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The easier-to-access trails of the Flat Tops are popular for the folks on horseback, and the trail to Marvine Lake is a great reflection of that.

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Rocky Mountain Columbine

It was an easy-going feat to accomplish good time to pass Slide Lake and make our way to Marvine Lakes; surrounded by dramatic relief on both of the valley walls.

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One of two Marvine Lakes

Through a friend I had heard of an above average campsite between the two, larger-than-average for Colorado, Wilderness lakes. When we rounded the bend of the western most lake, horses were grazing in the field next to the intended camp.

We moved up valley to the second lake. A group of riders had just arrived at another prime site. The gnats were horrendous there anyway.

The dumbest thing I did for the remainder of the trip would be to assume that there was a passable trail on the southern end of the “upper” Marvine Lake; a possible hidden and private impromptu camp with good fishing access. It wasn’t a horrible assumption based on the popularity of these lakes. Lunch included, it ended up taking us more than two hours to go from one side of the lake to the other. Deadfall every which direction hindered progress.

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Kel put up with my ridiculous first day route in order to obtain the perfect campsite.

Eventually we came to the mutual decision to head to nearby Pine Isle Lake. The shores of Marvine meanwhile were busy with day tripping anglers, while three people in belly boats casted from the surface of the deep water.

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Pine Isle Lake

We eventually found a formidable campsite on the shore that featured few. After a long swim to tame the heat of the day, I fished for dinner. We wouldn’t see another person until the following day.

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Rainbow trout with homemade seasoning and thinly sliced shallots

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 Near nightfall view from camp

The next morning our hesitation to leave Pine Isle resulted in a late start. We followed the trail near Marvine Creek to the intersection of the Oyster Lake trail. Well on our way to knocking out a decent chunk of our 30 mile loop.

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Tributary stream of Marvine Creek

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Big Marvine Peak and our first introductory to the aptly named, but elementary description of geology: The Flat Tops. A small human figure in the northern distance moved quickly near the general area of East Marvine Trail. Despite feeling it, we really hadn’t been alone.

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I was relieved to see mostly green vegetation up high and minor patches of snow. We easily skirted around drifts of white when following the single track trail west.

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Volunteer trail maintenance

The wood posts are a commonality up here. A level plain and the lack of bigger mountains for reference. A large stand of trees here, mixed in with wide, open grassy fields over there.Trail becomes faint or non-existent between timbered sections. Trails markers such as the one above are appreciated.

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Elk cows and their calves bed and graze in an open meadow. Our efforts to not scare them failed. The herd revealed itself in the dozens, (upon dozens) which were spread from left to right in their once peaceful state.

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Oyster lake turned out to be a dead lake. We hiked to the smaller unnamed ponds south, got swarmed by a cloud of gnats, and eventually came to the same conclusion in terms of their fruitless waters too.

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We made camp on the western edge of Oyster, in a small stand of spruce and fir.

As we bathed our feet in a small stream next to camp, a young group of what could have been NOLS, found their claim just a couple hundred yards from ours.

A lone elk cow makes quick stride up valley, her head down to the infantile, but quickly developing grass. We wait in our small stand of trees which envelop camp and watch as she comes in closer. We look back to the group of students, oblivious to the giant mammal coming right for them. She catches their scent, and peers around the bend to see their tents staked to an aggressive slope. We then watched as the cow disappears back down valley from where she came.

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Evening glow

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Patches of snow still a stronghold around 10,250′ on north facing, treed aspects; two days remaining in June.

The spur off of the Ute Creek trail which begins to follow West Marvine Creek is color coded as an “unmaintained trail” (this according to the Nat Geo “122” map). Up until the trail leaves West Marvine Creek, the path was very easy to follow, void of needing much maintenance, if any. The fork in the trail on map to return to Marvine trailhead is inaccurate. My topo from here on out proved to be mostly useless.

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Wild Rose Flower

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Eventually having to trust my gut instead of the map, we made it back to the car in the hot afternoon sun. A lukewarm beer waiting in the car for us.