Yes, folks, another post about Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP), one of the most spectacular parks in our very spectacular National Park System. This time I have a story about a hike that started out mild and ended up wild! As usual, this hike took place a couple of weeks ago, on August 9th. We thought some of the summer crowds might be dissipated due to school starting in some areas of the country, so we headed off to the most popular trailhead in the park, Bear Lake, where you can access no less than 10 magnificent hikes. Warning: This is a long post with tons of pics. 🙂
Well, as is the case most mornings in the summer, Bear Lake parking was full, so we parked at the Park and Ride facility and hopped on a shuttle bus to the Bear Lake Trailhead. I say ‘hopped on’, but actually we caught the second shuttle after we joined the line since the first one reached capacity before we got to board. This is the price of a wonderful park, I guess, crowds.
We arrived at the trailhead about an hour after leaving the campground and started hiking toward The Loch, which is about a 6-mile round trip. We had talked the night before about going to Sky Pond, 10 miles roundtrip, but that morning we weren’t feeling the distance. The start of the hike is the same from Bear Lake; you head off toward Alberta Falls, which we had hiked to in the early days of our stay in Estes. It is about a mile each way, not aggressive, and with beautiful views of the falls. We were feeling great at this point and headed past the falls after a quick photo opp.
We stopped and admired the view once we got above the trees and could see further into the park.
At a little over two miles in, we reached Mills Junction, the turnoff to Mills Lake and Black Lake. We kept going towards The Loch at this point. We then started hiking up a deep gorger along Icy Brook, which cascades down the valley as you begin hiking more steeply upward.
Then the climb became serious, and we hiked along an impressive gorge through a series of switchbacks that were no joke. Icy Brook continued to accompany us, the sound of the water soothing despite the effort.
At about 2.8 miles, we reached The Loch, named for the Scottish, Gaelic, and Irish term for a lake. We had previously met hikers at Alberta Falls who raved about the beauty of The Loch. It did not disappoint!
At this point, we decided to hike on to the northern end of The Loch and decide whether to continue or head back.
We were feeling good, so we decided to hike on to Timberline Falls. We had read about the entire Sky Pond hike, including Timberline, and the descriptions of the falls were impressive, so on we went! The gorge walls and rock formations were impressive as we hiked toward the Falls.
We were still climbing, and the stone steps and boulders were a real workout! We took the opportunity to observe the beauty and rest now and again. 😉
About 4 miles in, after a short rock scramble at the end of the stone steps, and there it is, Timberline Falls! The angle of approach is not the best view, so I hiked across the base of the waterfall to get better photos and video.
Timberline is spectacular and requires a video to fully experience the beauty.
At this point, we knew we were only about a mile from Sky Pond, so we decided to go for it! This hike is unusual in that you have to climb up through a chute at the edge of the waterfall to proceed up the trail. This is a challenging scramble that climbs about 100 feet, requires handholds and the use of all four limbs while ascending, and has water flowing down the rock. I felt
a little trepidation about this, not being an experienced rock climber (or a rock climber at all), so there are no photos of the climb up, but we made it! There will be a few on the way down…
There is another lake just above Timberline Falls called Lake of Glass. It is gorgeous, and I believe many folks may arrive there and think they have reached Sky Pond because there were many hikers behind us that we never saw at Sky Pond or on the way back down. We were on a mission, so I only have one shot of Lake of Glass.
The trail became more rugged and rocky as we passed around Lake of Glass. And then we reached the main attraction: Sky Pond! It was hard to believe we were 5 MILES up from Bear Lake and had scrambled up switchbacks, stone steps, a flowing waterfall, AND a boulder field to get here and we MADE IT! Woohoo!
The alpine lake fills a cirque basin and is surrounded on three sides by sheer cliff walls. The views are incredible!
And the obligatory 360-degree video, please ignore the hiking app interruption! 😉
We settled down by the lake for our picnic lunch while enjoying the views, and there was only one other couple there. So peaceful to have the place nearly to ourselves!
Reluctantly, we began our hike back down, although the weather was beautiful so we were not under threat of storms, fortunately. As we started back toward Lake of Glass, we caught this incredible view.
Since I didn’t document the climb up the waterfall, here is a slideshow of Jerry and the view on the way down. 😉
Views of the hike just below the falls in a slideshow.
It was at this point, where we met both young and old hikers huffing and puffing their way up, that we realized just how tough a hike we had completed (so far). And we weren’t done yet!!! There is nothing easy about hiking down a really steep slope, but we kept putting one foot in front of the other and enjoying the amazing scenery as well.
We were seriously tired now, but feeling accomplished. We did not stop at Alberta Falls on the way down, mostly because it was packed with people.
We did stop for one last overlook of the mountains. I never tire of the extreme beauty of this park.
We made our way to the Glacier Gorge parking area and caught the first shuttle back to the park and ride. We were lucky because, like Alberta Falls, it was packed with people waiting for the bus. On the bus, and in the car later, we reflected on the day. We had extended a 6-mile hike to a total of 10 miles, making Sky Pond our longest hike to date. We were tired but also had a great feeling that we completed a huge hike, and no one died. 😀
For another post on our exploits in Rocky, albeit much less ambitious, you can go directly here.