Trailhead: Glacier Gorge Trailhead
Distance: 5.7 miles (moderate)
So for Christmas, Logan and I both got a pair of snowshoes! After going a few times last winter, I realized this was something I wanted to have quick and easy access to. Last season, we rented all of our supplies (including boots) from Estes Park Mountain Shop. I cannot recommend them highly enough - their staff is nice and helpful and knowledgable. We always felt welcomed when we went in and you can hardly beat $5 for a set of snowshoes...
So, as much as we love snowshoeing, we've only ever done two trails (we've done those two a lot, but only ever the two). For our first adventure on our own snowshoes I wanted to go somewhere new, and somewhere I had been trying to get to for a while : The Loch (or Loch Vale, or Loch Lake...I never know what to call it).
Just under a mile into the hike comes Alberta Falls. Typically, this is a cliff with a drop of 25-30 feet, but during the winter it's just a gentle slope covered in snow (and the waterfall typically has ski tracks on it!). Here we met another couple who was trying to make it to the Loch, and we ended up being super thankful they were there. I love snowshoeing because you can just go anywhere without worrying about being off the trail or causing erosion. But that same fact can make it difficult to find the trail you're looking for. We went straight uphill for about 25 meters after the falls and turns out that's not where we wanted to be... combing our knowledge with the other couple's (and Logan's running ahead to check things out) we managed to get back to the regular trail.
Or, at least we thought it was the regular trail. When we reached this rock formation, we realized we had gotten sidetracked again. (We went around this rock when we came out to Mills Lake with Jon last year). It was fine, it was much more solid than it was last year and I made it up no problem. From there, we made it to the real regular trail and were on our way!
The trail here splits, with the left fork heading to Mills and the right to Loch (or so we thought, but more on that later). We took the right fork and wound our way through pine trees to the base of a giant hill. I legitimately don't know if I would have made it up had it not been for some strangers at the top waiting on us so they could go down. So, thank you random strangers.
At the top of that insane hill was the lake! It was freezing! The winds were gusting at at least 30 mph, there was no shelter, and all of our sweat from that hill had frozen. We spent maybe 5 minutes at the top before heading back down to safety from the wind.
On our way back down, we found a group of people just standing in the middle of the trail. At first I was annoyed, but then I realized one of their party was injured. THANKFULLY they were beyond prepared for an injury - they had her bundled up, sitting on a sleeping pad, with a splint made (utilizing her ski boot), and an emergency blanket around her leg. All I could offer was some granola bars, but they were stocked on those, too.
Logan and I sped up our descent so that we could go find a park ranger and let them know about the injury. There was one sitting at the trailhead so we had him roll down his window and let him know (and then I got to listen to the radio call made planning the rescue and it was one of the coolest things I have ever seen. THANK A PARK RANGER - THEY DO GREAT, AND DIFFICULT, WORK)
I'm not going to lie, that last hill was killer and my legs were sore for a few days afterwards. But it's hard to beat RMNP in the winter, and the Loch was no exception to that.