So remember a couple of weeks ago when Logan and I drove through a stowstorm and camped in almost freezing weather? What a joke... its been in the 80s almost every day since then. Granted, we are about 4,000 feet lower at home than we were then, but October has been such a tease! It's hard to stay out of the mountains when the weather is as nice as it is, but we keep having plans at LOW ELEVATION because everyone told us we would start getting snow in the mountains at the end of September. Those jokesters apparently forgot to let Mother Nature in on that, because this indian summer is hanging on for dear life.
Sitting down at a mere one mile above sea level was starting to drive me crazy - I needed high altitude and mountains and fresh air. I gave Logan about a week's heads up that we would be going into RMNP to catch the sunrise, and that it would mean leaving the apartment at 4:45 in the morning. He was such a trooper and didn't complain at all [though he did try to hide in the closet in hopes we wouldn't have to go...] and we got on the road at 5 am. It was so nice to drive on I25 at that time - there was no one there and the night construction crews had already left so all the lanes were open [which NEVER happens] so I thoroughly enjoyed the drive. The sun started coming up as we were in the canyon heading into Estes, so the mountains surrounding the town had a gorgeous alpenglow on them while the sky was the prettiest shade of blue in my rearview mirror.
When we were in Estes, the temperature was a lovely 33 degrees, but by the time we got into the park, it was almost 40. Right past the ranger station at the Beaver Creek entrance, there was a herd of elk just waking up. And by herd I mean there were hundreds of elk laying in a field and it was the coolest thing I've ever seen [but I'll probably say that again the next time I see a herd of elk, I just think they're wonderful]. Once at Bear Lake, we layered up - I got to try out the warmth of my new Patagonia - and started walking to the west side of the lake. The mountains were gorgeous and golden hour magic is definitely real, I was so in awe the whole time.
After wandering around the Bear Lake Trail, we went back to the car and got our packs to do the hike up to Emerald Lake. I love lakes, especially alpine lakes, so I was incredibly excited for this hike. Its short, 3.6 miles roundtrip, and it passes by two other lakes on the way, Nymph and Dream, so it's a pretty popular destination for tourists. Thankfully, because it was only 8:00 at that time, there weren't many other people on the trails and we were able to thoroughly enjoy ourselves and the views, mostly uninterrupted. I love that RMNP makes everything so accessible and visitor friendly, but there is something to be said for walking in the woods alone [but not quietly because bears].
Nymph Lake is about 0.2 miles from the trail head, and it made me decide that I want every trail I hike to periodically have lakes. It is so gratifying to reach something so beautiful and know you're not even all the way done! We explored along the shore for a little bit, and then continued onto Dream Lake! It was interesting to compare our breathing abilities this trip to our first one to Mills Lake. Essentially, any trouble breathing we have now is because we are over 11,000 feet in elevation, or because we both have asthma. These simple hikes at around 9,000-10,000 feet don't cause that same shortness of breath like they used to - which is a relief.
We had been pretty warm the whole hike - I had already stripped down to just my tshirt - but when we got up to Dream Lake, the sun wasn't quite over those mountains yet, so it got chilly again. Thankfully [hint of sarcasm] there were almost 80 flights of stairs worth of elevation gain on this hike, so even in the shade, we stayed warm. Reaching Emerald Lake was one of the coolest approaches, probably because there were only 4 other people there and it was such a still morning. Either way, I got all giddy and excited like I do when we've reached the best part of the hike, and immediately picked out a spot to hammock.
We hammocked for about an hour, relaxing until the trail got too busy for us to be able to sit peacefully anymore. It is pretty incredible to sit at 10,110 feet and look at this view the whole time. I was constantly scanning those rocks for mountain goats, but I couldn't see any with my naked eye [so if anyone wants to buy me binoculars, I wouldn't be upset...]. We did see a couple get bombarded by 4 or 5 chipmunks though, which was almost as good. Once a group of about 10 kids showed up, Logan and I decided it was high time to head back down the trail. We passed probably another 50 on the way down, so we learned to always do this hike in the early morning to avoid rush hour.
I always feel so refreshed coming back from the mountains, and it was nice to get in one more hike before the season ends for us.