My sister and her boyfriend were coming out to visit me the week of Thanksgiving, and with substantial amounts of snowfall beginning to stay around, what better way to show them my lifestyle than a day filled with snowshoeing to one of the most beautiful places nearby?
In my opinion, Dream Lake is one of the most accessible places in Rocky Mountain National Park for “tourists” to visit. At about 1 mile from the Bear Lake Trailhead with minimal elevation gain, it is a very friendly trek offering spectacular views of both Hallett Peak and Flattop Mountain. Also in my opinion, The Loch is one of the most beautiful places in Rocky Mountain National Park for everyone! We found a connecting trail on the map located at the trailhead, and decided to visit both lakes!
The night before was spent drinking, laughing, and playing games late into the night as we caught up for the first time in several months. This resulted in a slow and lazy morning, but we were in no rush. We stopped at Notch Top in Estes Park for breakfast (still our favorite place!) and then headed into the park. The time was around 10:30 or 11am, and I nervously drove up the road to the (notoriously crowded) parking lot at Bear Lake but was pleasantly surprised to find it mostly empty. Praise the off season! We put on our layers, backpacks, and showshoes, and headed out and up!
We could not have asked for a more perfect day; nearly no people on the trail, temperatures in the low 30’s, and not a cloud in the sky. We made our way easily to Dream Lake, where we were met with blistering winds. But what else is new for an alpine lake? The lake was quite frozen, but not enough for us to safely stand or walk on it just yet. We took some pictures, took in the sights, and headed back to find our connecting trail to The Loch.
Now, this is where things took a turn for the worst. The trail was faintly outlined by a single set of cross country ski tracks, and we followed it up the mountainside. This skier had much better weight distribution than the four of us snowshoers, and falling through the top layer of snow up to our knees was becoming normal as we continued on. The sun was still shining and we kept our spirits high, laughing at each other as we took turns punching through the snow and scrambling to get back up. We made our descent to the other side of the mountain.. and this is where the tracks that we had been following stopped. We wandered around for a while, thinking we knew where we were going, until we realized that, well, we in fact did not know where we were or where we were going. We knew we were close, but that does not help you when you are in the middle of the forest after a snow storm with no trail (or people) in sight.
We remained lost for approximately an hour. We tried getting up high to get a better view of our location (we knew that Lake Helene should be nearby– with the trail connecting to it) but did not have any luck in orienting ourselves. Our last resort before backtracking was to follow the river downstream until we came across the trail or a bridge (that was shown on the trail map). We made our way along the river when suddenly Ryan stepped on some buried baby trees and fell into their tree wells up to his armpits. We all froze, unsure of how solid the snowpack was below us. As Ryan began to roll about attempting to get back on the surface, I spotted movement in the trees. Upon further inspection.. it was a group of people! We shouted in joy and ran over to the group, suddenly unconcerned with the sinking of our snowshoes into the fresh powder.
We met up with the couple and realized that they were lost as well! Luckily for both of us, they were coming from The Loch and wanted to get to Dream Lake.. the opposite of us! So we simply gave brief directions before setting off, following each other’s trails in the snow. With our spirits lifted, we carried on our way.
Unfortunately due to our little hour long “detour”, by the time we reached the trail junction for The Loch the sun had already begun to go down, casting shadows in the forest around us (although the time was only around 3pm– darn these short winter days!). The snow on our boots and gloves had begun to melt, so we decided to take the adventure for what it was, skip The Loch, and continue on towards the car.
We made a quick detour around Bear Lake, appreciating the beauty around us as the sun set. It was quiet and the cold was beginning to hurt our faces, so we finally returned to the car where we blasted the heater and devoured our sandwiches. Reminiscing on the day, we did not see every destination but an epic adventure was had. We all got a little sun, made fresh tracks in the early season powder, and got some exercise, all the while surrounded by breathtaking scenery of Rocky Mountain National Park as well as the best company that a girl could ask for.
My sister and her boyfriend were exhausted. While Ryan and I are used to this sort of “longer than expected” type adventure, these two Californians are not! They both fell asleep within ten minutes of our drive back home, although not a single complaint escaped their lips throughout the entire day; just laughter. While new experiences can be challenging, that does not mean that they aren’t fun!
“Always remember, it’s simply not an adventure worth telling if there aren’t any dragons”
-Sarah Ban Breathnach