Dream Lake Sunrise
Trailhead: Bear Lake, RMNP
Distance: 2.2 miles (easy)
A few weeks ago, a girl I follow on Instagram posted in a Facebook group asking if anyone would want to join her on a sunrise hike in RMNP. I try to get out to Rocky for the sunrise around Daylight Savings because the sunrise is so much later than usual...so I responded and we made a plan. The sunrise was at 6:58 am on the 25th, but we wanted to be at Dream Lake for it so Rachel set a departure time for 5:30 (in retrospect, that was too early, but more on that later). I met her and Nisha (another girl from the Facebook group) at the Beaver Meadows Visitor Center to hitch a ride to Bear Lake.
The night before the hike I was a ball of anxiety - my mom had accidentally planted the seed about bears and my car needs an oil change and I woke up an hour before my alarm (at 1:30 in the morning) sweaty and heart racing thinking about everything that could go wrong. Because I was meeting Rachel, I made myself get up with my alarm at 2:30 to start getting ready despite having fully convinced myself I would be facing a hungry black bear on the trail and that my car would end up in the river going down the canyon into Lyons (spoiler alert: none of those things happened). I left the apartment around 3:15, and turned on Nathaniel Rateliff's new album to cheer myself up.
I met the girls at the parking lot at 5:00. It was pitch black, and probably the sketchiest park-n-ride situation I've ever experienced...Rachel pulled in and I had to just assume it was her, it was so dark I couldn't see her! We acknowledged each other's presence with a quick "Hey, are you Rachel?" "Yeah, are you Haley?" and I jumped in her front seat. We waited as Nisha gathered her things and then we started into the park. If you've never been in Rocky at night, or at this perfectly still, just-before-dawn time, there's something you're missing out on. This park is my favorite place on earth, and these quiet moments where you feel like you're the only one around are magical in a way I can't describe. We got out of the car and our headlamps cut through the darkness in a way that gave me goosebumps. I couldn't stop looking up at the stars - I was about to hike beneath the stars for the first time and I was feeling connected to the universe and grateful that I got out of bed that morning.
We waited until about 5:45 to start hiking - there were a few more girls who said they were interested in joining us, but didn't say anything about meeting us at the visitor's center. A few cars pulled in, but no one else came up to the ranger station, so we opted to get going. Nisha told us that this was her first time ever in Rocky Mountain, and Rachel and I were both giddy excited to watch her experience it for the first time. We flew up the trail to Nymph Lake, pausing momentarily to look out where we knew Longs Peak was located (though we couldn't see it in the blackness), and catch a hint of orange in the distance. When we broke through the trees and onto Nymph I knew my nerves had been ridiculous. I was in my favorite place on earth, sharing it with only two other people who loved it as much as I did. The stars were INSANE and I kept giggling to myself - I was so happy to be there.
We caught a glimpse of two other headlamps on the overlook above Nymph, but they quickly disappeared and once again we were the only ones. We again made quick work of the trail until we got to the overlook and then we stopped to stare (gawk may be a better word for it...). The horizon was just beginning to turn orange and the sky was starting to turn into a dark purple. The stars were still out, and it felt like we were the only ones in the universe.
We stopped and took pictures that did not do the scene justice at all, and then continued up the trail. The parts just before and just after this overlook were the parts I was most nervous about in the dark - I was wearing yaktrax, but I knew both parts can be relatively steep and narrow, so I brought my trekking poles to help with my balance. I made it through with no problem (again, worrying for nothing), and we quickly reached Dream Lake.
All in all, the hike took us maybe 30 minutes. Rachel remarked that when it's dark out, there's nothing to take pictures of so you can walk a lot faster, and I think she's onto something. I may have stopped and gotten my tripod out a few times if I realized we would be at Dream almost 45 minutes before the sunrise, but it was pretty amazing to watch the sky change and light up the mountains in one sitting.
We stood there trying to stay warm, taking entirely too many pictures of the sky changing colors, and marveling at how lucky we were to be there. And then, almost suddenly, the sky caught fire. We got so entranced with watching it, we almost forgot to turn around and watch the alpenglow on Hallet and Flattop!
Just then, Nisha or Rachel (I can’t remember which) turned around and exclaimed. The mountain was starting to turn colors, it was pink at that moment! We had gotten so caught up in watching the cloud start changing colors, that we forgot to look behind us! Rachel scrambled down to the lake first, Nisha and I following behind her. A few other photographers had shown up while the sun was rising, so we had to share our serene moment with 4 others. Either way, it was absolutely stunning and magical and one of those moments where I was just thankful to be alive and right at that exact spot. As we stood there, the mountains continued to change colors, going from pink to orange to yellow as the sun got higher in the sky.
Eventually the sun was all the way up and my stomach was growling and we decided to head back down to the parking lot. Generally, going down is so much faster than going up. And in theory, it would have been this day too, but we got distracted with how beautiful Longs Peak was and watching the clouds roll over it and the way the light was hitting the trees and the snow…it probably took us just as long to get down as it did to go up!
I think the feeling of this hike is one I'm going to be chasing after for quite some time.