I know our friends think Carol and I are a bit crazy. Our recent “Spring vacation” supports their case. While everyone we knew was heading to the beach to soak up the sun and dip their toes in the ocean and warm sand, we headed to the frigid mountains of Rocky Mountain National Park where temperatures were forecast with HIGHS of -7°F and windchills of -15°F (a different weather app was predicting a -27°F windchill).
The trip west from Missouri started out with a 70°F day in Hays, Kansas, where we overnighted. It felt like a beautiful warm Spring day.
It continued to be nice when we pulled into Estes Park, Colorado, the base for our forays into Rocky Mountain National Park next door. One of the workers where we were staying was doing his job in shorts. But temperatures quickly dropped to below zero that evening, with over a foot of new snow later that night.
Where is everyone?
All of our snowshoeing took place from the Bear Lake area. We were amazed how we were the only people at the lake on our first day. What makes this so unusual is that thousands of visitors can be at the lake area during the summer. Frankly, it’s not particularly pleasant with crowds and traffic. It gets so packed with cars that they limit the vehicles driving up to the lake. The parking lot at Bear Lake is routinely filled up by 9:00 a.m. Anyone arriving after that has to park their car down the mountain and take a shuttle bus to the lake. We didn’t have to worry about any of that, however. It was just us, the snow, and the occasional gust of wind. We even picnicked on a bench, though I must say that our frozen peanut butter sandwiches gave new meaning to “crunchy” peanut butter.
If you are cold, you probably don’t have the right gear
Being equipped with the right gear makes a big difference when wind chill temperatures are below zero (sometimes double digits below on our trip). Multiple clothing layers topped by a thick down coat kept us toasty. Because of the windchill, a baklava was a must on the face, along with mittens (with liners) instead of gloves. Because we were often breaking trail, serious snowshoes were very helpful, particularly in the new powder snow. Carol put good use to the new ones she received for Christmas.
The wildlife we saw on the trip was pretty typical of what you see at Rocky Mountain National Park. Easily spotted from the road, we saw mule deer (on the road to Bear Lake) and elk (at Sheep Lakes) feeding on vegetation and even a huge moose (on the way to Paradise Valley) lumbering up a road. While I didn’t get a photo of her (she quickly left the road into the willows), we got a disgusted look from her indicating she couldn’t believe that we had the audacity to be driving on her road.
2/22/22 @2:22 p.m.
National parks are becoming more popular for destination weddings. We ran into two weddings during our drives in the park. One occurred on February 22, 2022, at 2:22 p.m. We arrived upon the scene just after the wedding to see the couple pose for wedding photos. With temperatures likely in the teens, we don’t know how the couple, particularly the bride, could bear the cold. I guess love conquers all.
Up we go
For one of our snowshoe hikes, we decided to snowshoe up to a lake we have previously visited in the winter (Nymph Lake) and then push even further up the mountain to a lake that we have only seen during the summer (Dream Lake). Once again, we had the place to ourselves. At the first lake, we had a picnic lunch (again with “crunchy” peanut butter sandwiches). Because we had been to this lake before, we knew where a bench was to be found under a couple of feet of snow. After digging out the bench, we had a perfect picnic spot. What made the spot fun was that the last time we were here in 2018, two Steller Jays, tried to con us out of some of our lunch. Once we sat down, two Steller Jays again zeroed in on us and streaked across the lake to sit right above us in the tree to look for handouts.
Summer vs winter hiking
What made the trip interesting (besides the beautiful scenery) was that unlike the summer when you want to stay on the trail due to the potential to do damage, in the winter, with all the snow, you can go anywhere you want as long as you stay out of avalanche zones. So for our trip to the second, higher lake, we ditched the regular summer trail (which we couldn’t see anyway) and instead did the winter route indicated on the map we had. Using a GPS made this easy to keep on the route.
For those of you concerned about our safety, my GPS also has satellite texting capabilities along with an SOS button that you only press in matters of imminent death. Pressing it brings out Coast Guard helicopter rescue swimmers on the ocean or rescue teams from federal and local authorities if you are on land. In other words, you don’t unlock and press the big SOS button if you are whining, looking for an easy way home.
The effort to reach the second lake was worth it, but we couldn’t stay long as the snow began to get heavy, which would make it difficult to see the tracks we made on the way to the lake.
Yup, we got snow
We received messages from friends back in Missouri about the threat of several inches of snow during our trip. I so wanted to send this photo of Carol standing next to the side of the road to Bear Lake. The weather monitoring station at Bear Lake recorded 50” of snow on the ground. But even more impressive were where snowplows cut through snowdrifts on the side of the road to Bear Lake. This made the snow the 50” of snow at Bear Lake look like nothing.
Nothing to see here, folks
Our final snowshoe hike was to Alberta Falls. By now, word must have gotten out that the snowshoeing and hiking were good, as many more people were now on the trail. We had several choices for our final hike, but after researching winter images of Alberta Falls on Google, we thought that would be worthy of checking out. Most of the way to the falls was downhill, and we were a little worried that it was going to be quite the slog heading back to Bear Lake, but as it turns out, it wasn’t all that bad. However, when we finally reached the falls, they looked nothing like the photos of the frozen falls I saw on online. The issue was that all the snow buried the frozen falls. So much so that it wasn’t until we got back to the car that I realized that I hadn’t even bothered to get the camera out to shoot photos of the falls. The hike wasn’t a bust, though, as the golden canyon before the falls was beautiful and made for a good spot a photo of the two of us taken by a kind cross country skier.
On our last day, the sky above Bear Lake was clear, affording a beautiful view of Hallett Peak. We then descended the mountain for the last time, passing through the Moraine Park area of Rocky Mountain National Park. There we were afforded panoramic views of the park and some of the park’s historic cabins blanketed in snow.
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