Tuesday, September 19, 2023

Rocky Mountain National Park - Day 4 - The Lakes

[Composed 7/26/2023]

After two hours of hiking we found ourselves at the edge of The Loch. This alpine lake was out of a story book with crystal clear water surrounded by quaint forest, which was surrounded by towering mountains. But, with two more lakes ahead of us, including our destination of Sky Pond, we didn't stay long at The Loch.

As we hiked away from The Loch, I stepped into a nearby alpine field to capture the view. In the distance, I saw a larger waterfall pouring over a cliff.

After patting myself on the back for noticing such an interesting part of the landscape, I had two more thoughts: first, wow, how beautiful. Second, as hard as today was, at least we weren't going to have to deal with that landscape feature.

As we countined on our journey to Sky Pond, I realized that the distant waterfall was getting less and less distant by the minute. And then it hit me: the trail notes for the Sky Pond hike mention that the trickiest part of the hike was a hand-over-hand climb involving a waterfall. It then all clicked: we were in fact on a collision course for the very water feature I was hoping we'd avoid.

Completely winded from the elevation, we all arrived at the base of the notorious waterfall. We had some snacks and mentally prepared ourselves for the most technical challenge on today's hike. We found that the waterfall section contained two logical chunks. The first, if you were willing to get your feet wet, had a pretty clear path forward. For those who wanted to stay dry, there was a narrow strip of rock that you had to stick to. The second bit of the waterfall involved making your way up a large boulder, which involved one momentary placement of hands and feet that wasn't obvious. But, once you got over that boulder, you were in the clear. Ultimately, the guidance we were given was correct: expect to move slowly through the area, and it's not trivial hiking; but it's not real rock climbing either. Take your time, and like us, you'll be fine.

Shira and I had two different strategies for the waterfall, both of which helped. Shira brought a change of clothes in plastic, so she could get as wet as she wanted on the waterfall and knew she could change into dry clothes afterwards. I had a pair of nitrile work gloves with me that I like to bring on all our hikes. They were especially useful, as they kept my hands relatively dry and warm, and added a significant amount of stickiness to my grip.

Once we were through the waterfall section, we re-grouped by adding on as many layers as we had and having some snacks. We pushed on and took in our second alpine lake, the Lake of Glass. It was colder and windier at this new elevation, and we were within striking distance of our destination, Sky Pond.

A relatively short and easy hike later, we found ourselves at Sky Pond. There was much celebration as we made it to nearly 11,000 feet above sea level. I considered taking a dip in the water, but given that Sky Pond is a glacier fed lake, the water was absolutely frigid. I didn't think it was wise to risk hypothermia just to try to collect one more memory.

The scene was absolutely breathtaking, and was more than worth the 4am start.

After savoring the views, eating a meal and taking many, many pictures, we started our descent. While we still had hours of hiking ahead of us, we'd managed to reach our goal. Today was a good day.

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