Today we did a great hike in Rocky Mountain National Park. We had to hike through some snow, but the skies were blue and the scenery was fantastic.
We were so glad to see some blue skies this morning when we got up, but it was a chilly 35 degrees.
Mount Meeker was visible out our rear window.
Mount Meeker is 13,911 feet, just short of being another of Colorado's 14ers (14,000 feet and above).
I picked out a hike for today that required us to drive on Bear Lake Road to get to the trailhead. We were hoping to beat the crowds on this Friday morning and avoid the construction on Bear Lake Road. We managed to get ourselves going early and left the campground at 7:30.
There are hikes in the Wild Basin area of the park which is only a couple miles from Olive Ridge Campground, but we're going to save that for the weekend. About half-way between our campground and Estes Park is Lily Lake.
It has an easy trail around it and it is a popular catch-and-release trout fishing lake. Here is a view of Longs Peak to the south.
The Longs Peak area is another part of Rocky Mountain National Park that isn't far from our campground.
We went into the main part of the park and stopped at the Beaver Meadows Visitors Center to put water in our Camelbak bladders. We were surprised to find they didn't have an external water spigot we could use, so it was suggested we go to the Moraine Park Campground.
One the way to Moraine Park, some Mule Deer crossed the road in front of us.
We got our water at the campground. Here's a view of Moraine Park with the Big Thompson River meandering through. Today's view was much better than the cloudy view we had yesterday.
A large herd of Elk were out in the meadow. Of course, Elk have been quite common already, so the thrill has worn off a bit.
Soon, we were on Bear Lake Road. We had hoped to have to avoid any construction waits, but we got stopped. Fortunately, it was less than ten minutes when the escort vehicle arrived to lead us through the construction.
Once through the construction, it was smooth sailing and we had nice views of the mountains all the way to our trailhead.
It was about 8:45 when we arrived at the Glacier Gorge Trailhead.
It's a popular trailhead because it leads to Alberta Falls only eight tenths of a mile away. They say the parking lot can be full by 8:00 a.m. in the summer, but there were fewer than ten cars there when we arrived.
We started out and crossed a bridge over a rushing stream.
Almost immediately, we were walking in snow. Uh oh. I hadn't considered that. We started at almost 9,200 feet and were going up to 10,100. This could be a little tougher than the "moderate" rating for our 6.2-mile roundtrip hike to "The Loch".
We quickly came to the first junction on the trail.
We were headed to Loch Vale and "The Loch", a mountain lake in the vale.
Hard-packed snow covered the trail everywhere there was shade, and in many places where there was only partial shade. Only where the trail received nearly full sun most of the day, was it clear of snow.
Linda took another video of the trail-side stream tumbling down between the snow-covered banks.
We were happy that others had gone before us and packed the snow on the trail. It wasn't too bad as we made our way to Alberta Falls.
Linda took some video to add sound to the beauty.
Most people turn around at Alberta Falls and, today, wisely so unless they were prepared for hiking in snow anywhere from six inches to three or four feet deep.
With just a few others, we continued to climb admiring the views both in front and behind us.
We had hiked a little over a mile (and covered about a third of our elevation change) when the stream was roaring again. Just off the trail, in a rocky area that looked like a great place for a rest, we were able to get a look at this waterfall.
Linda took some more video .... with me in the way getting pictures.
The cool thing about this waterfall, other than it being very pretty, was that it was shooting out from under a blanket of snow which covered the stream.
We rested there for a few minutes before continuing. As we were leaving, another couple arrived, and I used them for perspective while taking a shot of the distant mountains.
The sun was warming us quickly and felt good as we went higher.
We came to another junction and stayed to the right.
Though the trail to the left was dry, the snow was deep in our direction. But, eventually, we turned a corner where the snow was gone, the trail leveled out, and the scenery was gorgeous.
A brisk wind was blowing in our face, but we were just happy to be on level, dry ground with the sound of the rushing stream below us to our left and nothing obstructing the mountains in front of us.
But soon, we came to our last major junction and we were back in the snow.
The trail to Mills Lake was to the left and the trail to Lake Haiyaha was to the right. But we were going straight.
The snow deepened and the trail started climbing again. In some places, we could walk on the rocks beside the trail, but most of the last mile required careful walking on the top of a narrow ridge of packed snow. A step to the right or the left, and we would sink up to our knees or thighs, and that happened a couple times.
We made it to this point in Loch Vale, ....
but then we couldn't really tell where the trail went. There were footprints straight, but that didn't look right. There were footprints that crossed the stream to our left, but that didn't look right either.
I checked the trail guide and it mentioned switchbacks. We looked up and saw the couple that had been behind us. We completely missed the sharp right turn going up the switchbacks - it was right behind us, but the snow cover made it difficult to see. Once we realized our mistake, however, it was pretty clear.
On the switchbacks, we came to this overlook of the stream and cascades below.
The water ran under the snow and then appeared in a series of melted openings.
We trudged through the snow until there were no rocks or signs of the trail, only footprints to follow.
Fortunately, we were almost to "The Loch". A few minutes more and we reached the mostly frozen lake.
The scene was breathtaking.
We arrived with another couple and a group of four. All of us walked up onto a rocky peninsula where we staked out our spots to admire the beauty.
We had some lunch and Linda took a short video while I wandered off to take more pictures.
Bear with me through this montage of photos. I couldn't help myself.
I left Linda relaxing in the sun ....
to scramble through the snow to get to the rocks to our right. I took another photo or two along the way.
I finally made it out to the end of another peninsula, without breaking or spraining anything, and enjoyed some alone time with nature.
Unbeknownst to me, Linda caught me on camera.
I sat down and admired the surroundings. The silence was broken by the sounds of the ice breaking apart in the water.
Little pillars of ice crystals had formed and they would suddenly shatter like a chandelier being dropped in the lake in slow motion.
After awhile, I thought I'd better get back to the other side. On the way, I circled around to the lake's outlet and took this shot. Magical.
While I was gone, Linda was being harassed by chipmunks, Stellar Jays, and this Clark's Nutcracker.
Shortly after she took that video, all the other people left. So, we had "The Loch" to ourselves for a good half an hour before we decided to head back down.
Before leaving our spring winter wonderland, I got a couple shots of this baby Stellar's Jay trying to get fed.
As soon as we left, it was clear the snow was melting. The hard-pack we walked up on wasn't as stable and had become quite slick. We fell through the snow in places we had safely stepped on the way up.
In fact, both my hiking poles went through the snow, my foot slipped, and I went down completely. When I managed to get back on my feet, I pulled my bent hiking pole out of the snow. I tried to bend it back in place, but that just made it worse.
Any thoughts of taking a side trail to one of the other lakes vanished. We were just happy to get through the worst of the snow without getting injured.
When we reached our dry, level section we were surprised to see two Elk on the narrow trail. And they didn't seem to care we were there at all.
Linda took a 3-minute video of the encounter. :)
Finally, they exited the trail long enough for us to pass. Looking back, I couldn't pass up this shot. :)
We continued down the trail, slipping and sliding until we took a break at the waterfall we stopped at earlier. The snow that had covered the brink of the falls before was gone.
The rushing stream below Alberta Falls was out of the shadows on our return.
By that time, we were quite ready to be out of the snow. Our feet were soaked from the snow going over the top of our boots each time we sank after taking a step.
Of course, there were people heading up the trail in tennis shoes, sandals, and flip-flops, so we were feeling pretty fortunate we did the hike early before the snow started to melt and at least half of the hike wasn't too bad.
What a wonderful hike! I'd highly recommend it, but you might want to give the snow a little more time to melt completely. Clearly, I hadn't thought that through, and we may be here at Rocky Mountain National Park a tad early for many of the scenic hikes in higher elevations.
Apparently the road construction crews got off early for the holiday weekend 'cause there was no construction or delays on the way out on Bear Lake Road. We lucked out.
Hiking through deep snow wasn't any fun, but it was a gorgeous day and the sights and sounds were more than enough reward for the effort.
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