I recently finished reading A Lady's Life in the Rocky Mountains by Isabella Bird. It is a firsthand account of a middle-aged English lady traveling alone by horseback in the autumn and winter of 1873. Widely travelled, she found Estes Park "surely one of the most entrancing spots on earth" and "no region for tourists or women" -- how things have changed! She made her way to the top of Longs Peak (only 5 years after it had first been climbed) with a one-eyed desperado named Mountain Jim as her guide. She rode her borrowed horse up and down the St Vrain from Longmont during a ferocious storm and stayed in an Estes Park log cabin without chinking (can you hear the wind howling through those logs?), awakening to a fresh covering of fine snow. Her keen observations of the people she encountered and the "wild west" Colorado mountain lifestyle of another era make the book a good read for modern day armchair adventurers familiar with Estes Park and the surrounding terrain.
You can find this book on Amazon.com.
With the fall colors in full swing and this Indian summer hanging on, I decided a day on the trails was just what I needed! With the company of a good friend, I picked a few classic destinations on a loop that would take us through some of the parks most spectacular terrain. We arrived at the Bear Lake parking lot at about 8:00am with a blue sky overhead and cool, crisp air greeting us as we walked toward the lake. Our first destination would be Bierstadt Lake, about two miles from Bear Lake. This is a gently rolling trail through beautiful sub-alpine forest. It’s one of my favorite trails in the park and one I hike often. Before long we were cruising around Bierstadt Lake and heading down toward the Bierstadt Lake trail head.
This section of trail is steep with a series of switchbacks to ease the burden. The aspen trees were spectacular and we had to try to make ourselves keep moving as it was easy to stop for extended periods to gaze at all of the color. And the color is just the beginning of the views this trail offers. One can see for miles along the Continental Divide and Longs Peak, directly to the south. Truly amazing! We were soon crossing Bear Lake Rd. and heading up the Storm Pass Trail to the connector trail that would take us into Glacier Gorge. The next stop was to be Sky Pond, by way of The Loch, Timberline Falls, and Lake of Glass.
This hike embodies Rocky Mountain National Park. The deeper you get into Glacier Gorge and Loch Vale, the more you see why this place is so special. The waterfalls, sheer cliffs, high mountain peaks, pristine alpine lakes, and slap-you-in-the-face beauty awaken the senses and let you know you are in the presence of perfection. We spent a little time at The Loch trying to count all of the trout (we lost count at 20 just near the outlet stream), and soaking in the day. We forced ourselves to mosey along higher into the valley and before we knew it were climbing the steep trail towards Timberline Falls. This time of year it’s not flowing as dramatically as it does in the spring and summer months, but it’s still an amazing sight. From here, the trail scrambles up beside the waterfall, making it hard to keep your feet dry. This is a 3rd class scramble and caution needs to be used as a slip here would not be good! But the effort is rewarded with one of the most breathtaking basins in the state of Colorado. You reach Lake of Glass first, a beautiful emerald colored lake with towering spires and 13,000 foot peaks surrounding it. We also lost count of the trout in this lake at about 35. A great place to throw out a fly if one were so inclined. From Lake of Glass we wound our way through stunted pines, rock outcroppings, and more dramatic scenery until we reached Sky Pond. Again, a lake that needs to be visited to understand exactly what you’re dealing with. Unmatched beauty. And the weather was absolutely perfect. There was not a breath of wind, the temperature was probably 55, and there were just a handful of pretty white and fluffy clouds. These are the days you dream about!
We now had about another 5 miles to hike to get back to the Bear Lake parking lot. We made quick work of the trail and were soon climbing the final hill that dumps you out at Bear Lake. What a spectacular day on a few of my favorite trails to a few of my favorite lakes!
Guest Blogger Michael Hodges