Mills Lake & Loch Vale
Trailhead: Glacier Gorge (RMNP)
Distance: about 8 miles (easy)
Sam has come out to Colorado every year since I've lived here - sometimes more than once each year! So when his travel plans had to change after the crazy hurricane season, Denver it was.
Sam hiked every day he was out here, so by the time Sunday rolled around I was hoping there would still be something left to impress him! I chose to go back to Mills Lake, where we snowshoed earlier this year, so he could see what it looked like not covered in 3 feet of snow. We got up at 3:30 so that we could make it to the park in time for sunrise (which was slightly underwhelming, but still amazing) before we went on our hike.
Just before the sun was totally up, we went back to the Glacier Gorge trailhead. We bundled up and then hit the trail. Originally we had planned on going up to Black Lake (about 10 miles), but various things changed our plans to just go to Loch Vale instead. I think this ended up being the right decision, especially since Sam is going to live out here this summer.
Alberta Falls is just under a mile up the trail. It's a good mental marker for how much you have left in your hike - in either direction. It was also cool to show it to Sam before it freezes over - it looked a little different than the last time he was here. We didn't spend much time at the falls, just long enough for me to take off my jacket. We stopped every so often, not because we were tired or out of breath, but because it was such a beautiful day. The cloudless sky that made for a slightly underwhelming sunrise made for perfect hiking conditions and we were soaking it all in.
I love doing trails in both the summer and the winter. It was really fun for me to find the spots the winter trail deviated from the summer one, and reminisce on the ridiculousness of mine and Sam's last snowshoe trip. Sam has never really hiked in RMNP when there's not snow on the ground (he came out summer of 2016 and walked around Bear Lake and at the Alpine Visitor's Center, but no hiking), and it was kind of fun to show him how different it can be.
After goofing off (and Sam literally sprinting away from me mid-sentence...), we finally reached Mills. I've said it before and I'll say it again - this is my favorite lake in the entire park. It was the first hike Logan and I did in Colorado and RMNP, and it's always going to hold a special place in my heart for that reason. Plus, it has some of the best views of Longs Peak, in my opinion. Rounding the corner and seeing that view will always make my breath catch in the best possible way.
We worked our way along the edge of the lake, stopping to take some pictures on the rocks and wishing the ice was thick enough to venture out onto. It was insanely windy, so we took some shelter behind a tree and ate a quick snack before continuing on to Jewel lake.
We weren't quite ready to be done after Jewel lake, so we decided to head back down to the trail split and go up to Loch Vale, too. I was skeptical. Last time I was at Loch I was unimpressed, and I didn't want to show Sam something sub-par after we just spent all that time admiring Mills. Luckily, I was pleasantly surprised and it was gorgeous.
There's a guy ice climbing in these pictures - look for the orange dot towards the left of that ice!
We found a great spot on the edge of Loch Vale where we sat and ate and laughed and generally had a good time. I got to share moon cheese with Sam, which he was adequately impressed with, and we sat until we realized it was nearing 1:00 and we needed to get back to the trailhead so we could all shower and nap a little before Sam's flight.
I'm pretty lucky to have such a good brother. I'm always grateful for the time we get to spend together, and this weekend was no exception. Pumpkin pie and haunted houses and Stranger Things and frozen lakes - that's a pretty perfect combination, if you ask me.