Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Bear Lake, Alberta Falls, Mills Lake, Glacier Gorge

Tuesday, June 14

I could see right away it was going to be the beautiful day that had been predicted.

Today I would go up to the Bear Lake area Mahtaj had told me about -- probably one of the most popular destinations in the park. I would not be alone, for sure, but what a day to do it.

After the morning breakfast and cleanup I drove up to the Bear Lake parking lot. This time I decided to use the daypack instead of the fanny pack after yesterday's experience. I had everything you're supposed to take with you on a mountain hike, including my fleece and outer layer. Compression shirt, my teflon pants and shirt I got at Bass Pro -- thin socks under thick socks. Water. Trail mix. Hat. A few emergency supplies.... and treked the 500 feet to Bear Lake. Whew. Glad I brought all this stuff!

Truth be told, the fleece and outer shell took up most of the room in my daypack. It's lightweight, but bulky.

Bear Lake was very pretty. There's a trail all the way around it, and lots of people were there from all over the world and from all walks of life. My camera was acting up. Couldn't get it to turn on for quite a bit -- and then finally, it snapped out of it. I swapped photo-shoots with a man and his wife, and went around the lake, then headed down the path towards Glacier Gorge, Lake Hiyaha, Loch Vale, and other points. Not sure where I'd end up.

The ranger at the trailhead cautioned against Hiyaha without hiking poles as the snow on the trail apparently got very deep. So I headed toward Alberta Falls.

I ran into a pretty big cascade that I thought was it, and hung out there for a while, taking pictures and soaking it in. I was getting warm so I zipped my pants legs off and rolled up my sleeves before pressing on.

And then maybe another 1/4 mile up the trail I came upon the real thing. I probably spent about an hour here, too. The area was made up of gigantic slabs of granite with a few boulders, and the falls surged and turned around a boulder, slicing a narrow channel through the solid rock maybe 4 feet wide at one point. I don't know how deep, but that water was movin'! It cascaded down a little ways and then plunged maybe 30 feet for the "falls" part of the falls. There were lots of people around, and it was about lunch time so I sat and ate some trail mix and jerky I'd brought along.

So Glacier Gorge was further down the trail -- although you could bypass it and go to Boulder Brook -- I was pretty sure Glacier Gorge and Mills Lake would be my final destination. Don't like to try to "Do" the area, I want time to enjoy it. The trail got a bit steeper and rougher as it wound up around Glacier Knob. At one switchback I turned to look at the view and I could see Estes Park in the distance. I decided to turn my cell phone on and see if I got reception. I was a little surprised, but not shocked, to get one bar! I tried calling Vicki, but the call wouldn't go through. So I hiked on.

On the next switchback, I was a little higher and I saw a boulder to stand on, so I hopped up, turned the phone on and got 3 bars! So I called Vicki and chatted with her a while while a chipmunk pretened not to be begging for food at my feet. Told her where I was and to be sure to tell Sam, and what a beautiful day it was. And continued up the trial. A couple of guys passed me with lightweight gear heading for a backcountry site in Glacier Gorge. That had been my original plan before I drove up here but this trip would be a dayhike-trip-only for me, and that was fine. Still, I couldn't help wishing I were heading up there to do what they were doing for a bit.

A couple passed me -- the guy had a Mizzou hat on. He went to Mizzou, and lives in Kansas City. Another couple really floored me. The young woman was hiking in very good hiking boots, a red plaid skirt cut a little above the knee, a cotton shell, and a pink woven bonnet. She had a backpack on, too. I got the impression that she was no stranger to any of this. Now there's an oudoors woman who's proud to be a GIRL, I thought. And you all probably know how I feel about that.... so I was impressed.

I hiked over streams on little plank bridges with one rail, and the trail varied from granite slabs where you couldn't really tell right off where the trail WAS to very well tailored steps to curb erosion to nice bridges with two rails to very rocky and sometimes loose "gravel".

Started seeing snow around 9,700 feet, and ended up with a stunning view when I got to Mills Lake.

My feet were very hot, and one of them was threatening to blister. A John Denver song (imagine that! Actually written by Eric Andersen) had been playing over and over in my head for about the last hour

Take off your thirsty boots and stay for a while
Your feet are hot and weary, from a dusty mile...
My feet were goin' in that lake!!!!!

I rounded the left side of the lake and found a large granite slab that went out into the water about 40 feet with a couple of glacial boulders sitting on it. The veiw was stunning. I didn't realize it, but Longs was just ahead to my left. From this angle, it looked like just another peak in a series of spires to the south. Cheif's Head is prominent at the end of the valley. Snow came down to the shoreline on the other side of the lake. Everywhere you looked -- breathtaking.

I took my socks off to dry and sat with my feet in the water for a good while. Then I decided to strip down to my compression shorts and shirt and get in. It's a shallow lake, probably not more than 4 feet deep through most of it as far as I could tell, so it wasn't nearly as cold as I expected -- not that it wasn't very, very cold. All I'm saying is a quick dip of my head didn't cause a brain freeze like in West Fork Chicago Creek two years ago.

I hadn't been completely wet in days, and it felt good. I knew the microfiber would dry fast, and it was black so I'd stay pretty warm in the sunshine while it did so.

The socks were pretty much microfiber, too and they dried quickly. I was probably at the lake for two hours, but as 3:00 started to roll around, I knew I'd better start back down.

I met many of the people I'd seen on the way up on the way back down, including the Mizzou couple and the couple with the woman in the plaid skirt. When I passed the point from where I'd called Vicki, some people who'd passed me while I was on the phone were there on the way down. I mentioned that and they said they thought I was on the phone with the office.

Clearly, they don't know me ;-)

Now I'd decided to spend another day since today was so nice. I got back down to Moraine Park and took some sunset shots of a cascade, a bunch of Elk, and a coyote -- then decided I didn't feel like cooking (well, I didn't feel like cleaning would be a better way to put it) and I went in to Estes Park for maybe some Pizza.

Called Vicki, and she talked me in to going to Grubsteakk or something like that where I had an elkburger served up by a pretty northern European waitress with an endearing accent. It was a good burger - a little expensive but I expected that.

And I gassed up as I headed back to camp and the dreaded blue pad.

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