High country calling?

Stillwater still snowy, but Mosquito an option

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Steamboat hikers desperate to get into the high country may consider zipping a pair of snow gaiters onto their boots and heading for Stillwater Reservoir in the Flat Tops southwest of Yampa this weekend.

Stillwater symbolizes the gateway to the Devil's Causeway for many in Northwest Colorado. But as of June 13, the steep bowl leading to the narrow bridge of rock known as the causeway was full of snow and not a practical hiking destination.

Forest Trail 1122 to Hooper and Keener lakes is a possibility this weekend, but it will be necessary to climb through snow to the pass that leads to the lakes. Forest Trail 1121 leading to the Mandall Lakes, which begins at the lower end of Yamcolo Reservoir, also is a good bet.

For sheer beauty and an easy hike, it's tough to beat the quick two-mile walk along the west shore of Stillwater and beyond the reservoir into the high meadow next to Mosquito Lake on Forest Trail 1120. You can leave home in Steamboat after lunch, comfortably make the hike, and be home for dinner.

Just beyond the inlet to Stillwater, hikers will come to the boundary of the Flat Tops Wilderness Area.

Fortunately, the lake didn't live up to its reputation last weekend, and our party slapped just one mosquito. We saw more elk than biting insects.

Expect to posthole through at least a dozen snowdrifts on the way to the lake, depending upon how much melting has taken place during the intervening week. Hikers will be rewarded with views of waterfalls cascading off the upper levels of the Flat Tops.

The hike begins to get interesting beyond Mosquito Lake, where the trail follows switchbacks to the tundra-like plateau atop the Flat Tops. There are broad expanses of snow to be crossed, and hikers who break through the crust likely will fall in up to their hips.

Trail 1120 merges with Trail 1814, which leads to Trappers Lake, but June is early for that adventure, even in a low snow year. More realistically, hike across 200 feet of snow on the switchbacks above Mosquito Lake to enjoy the views.

On the return hike, brook trout were slurping bugs in the meanders of a creek that represent the headwaters of Bear River. Nearby, three chestnut brown cow elk were grazing unperturbed in the meadow.

You can't ask much more of a June day hike.

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