librarian + adventurer


Up the Creek

Mills Lake
Trailhead: Glacier Gorge
Distance: 6 miles (moderate)

On Saturday a group of seven of us (myself, Logan, Dylan, Michaela, Trent, Jon, and Sam) met up at Kind Coffee in Estes Park to head into RMNP to snowshoe to Loch Vale. We started the hike at around 9:30 and the beginning part of the trail was mainly dirt so we carried our snowshoes for a few minutes. Once Jon began sliding backwards down hills, we decided it was probably time to strap in. We continued the 0.85 miles up to Alberta Falls, which was snowed over and had ski tracks going down it!

From Alberta Falls we headed up. Unknowingly we missed the turn for the trail, so we ended up on Glacier Creek, slightly frozen over and covered in snow for the most part. We were able to follow snowshoe, boot, and ski tracks for a while, and then we lost the trail. 

"So, who wants to lead?" This is where we lost the path and had to break trail ourselves.

Snowshoes are a phenomenal invention. Without them, you take a step and almost immediately sink up to your knee or deeper (I ended up sinking to my mid-thigh at the lake), with them you stay on top of the snow most of the time and only sink in if you're on really unstable snow (check out the giant footprint behind Michaela and how far in Logan's back leg is). This meant breaking trail was an absolute adventure, one of the best kinds. At one point, everyone was standing on some snow watching fish move around in an open section of the creek and the snow just cracked - everyone jumped backwards and stared at the line in the snow where it had started to crack off. At another point, Jon, Sam, and Dylan decided we needed to cross the creek. They did so by jumping - Jon fell completely backwards, landed in the snow. Sam made it but kicked snow up into his pants. And Dylan almost made it, fell backwards, and was rescued by Sam. I don't think I've ever laughed so hard while hiking in my life! They ended up deciding that that actually wasn't the best way to go, so they had to cross back over a sketchy fallen log. 

At one point we found the actual trail and decided it was more fun to walk up the creek so we turned away from it. We knew this might mean that we missed the turn for Loch Vale, but we also knew the creek would eventually lead us to a lake so it was okay. We ended up walking up two different waterfalls. The first one was just a slightly more increased incline, it was kinda hard to tell it was a waterfall till we reached the top and could see the water underneath of us rushing by. The second one was so steep we were slipping backwards even in our snowshoes. Logan and I had stopped to take pictures of that waterfall in August when we hiked this, and I distinctly remember thinking how powerful it we were walking straight up it! There were also bobcat tracks along this waterfall, which was pretty awesome. We eventually crossed paths with the trail again and found an awesome rock to climb up on with gorgeous views. 

Sam rescuing Dylan from the creek jump

We had some fun uphills to climb before we reached the lake, but when we walked out from between the rocks and saw this, it was worth it (Side note, I should definitely mention the fact that this is not Loch Vale - we did in fact miss the turn for that lake and ended up at Mills Lake). The wind was blowing like crazy, so even though we were all hiking in either t-shirts or long sleeved t-shirts because the sun was blazing and it was in the mid-50s, we put on extra layers. John, Dylan, and Sam all went to the right and explored on top of some rocks. Logan, Trent, Michaela, and I went to the left to get a closer look at the lake itself. I found the rock that Logan and I had picnicked on in August and enjoyed a few minutes of solitude to lay down and just soak in the beauty around me. Mindfulness and meditation just come easier in places like this.

I went over and joined the other three and we enjoyed some snacks and then the lake started to call to us... We tested the ice by throwing rocks and seeing if we could break it, which we couldn't, not even in the spots that looked like straight water. Trent and I tentatively walked out on the ice and it wasn't breaking or even making noise, so we felt more comfortable and all four of us ended up out there. If you haven't stood on a frozen lake, you need to make it a priority in your life to do so. I can't explain the experience or why I love it so much, but it is easily one of my favorite activities. 

Listening very carefully for the sounds of cracking

"WHAT WAS THAT?!" There were pieces of ice blowing across the lake in the high winds that made it sound like cracks.

And then we realized we were safe!

Building a cairn

On our way back, we decided we should take the actual trail - there had been some sketchy ledges we crossed and that second waterfall was so steep the only way we could have gotten down was sliding/falling. There was a hill right past the lake that we decided to "sled" down on our butts - definitely the right choice. 15 minutes into our hike back, Dylan realized he had lost his knife, so he and Logan went back to the lake to find it (it was where we had been sledding) while the rest of us kept going. Since we were on the actual trail back, there were a lot more people walking it and the snow had worn down and parts had no snow at all.

Some of the paths back were just dirt and rock, no snow, which meant a lot of removing snowshoes just to put them back on again when the path got slippery.

Sadly, I think this really will be my last snowshoeing adventure this season. The snow is just too inconsistent (though it's calling for more two days next week), and walking up creeks probably won't be possible anymore since the sun is out in full force. What a great hike to end on, though, and with some amazing people.