May 5, 2016
The week before finals are meant for studying, more studying, and even some more studying on top of that. But I have been procrastinating (as with all other aspects of my life), especially since the pressure is on.
So instead, I went hiking. The drive from Fort Collins to Estes Park is not only fast, but stunningly beautiful. It is one of the most picturesque drives you will ever take, guaranteed. You are gliding through the mountains for forty-five minutes before Estes amazingly appears before you. It is breathtaking.
Once you reach Estes, it is only about another fifteen minutes to reach the trailhead for Bear Lake. Parking was free for me, but some days it can upward of $10. There is a nice parking lot and picnic tables in the central start of all the trails, so you can bring a lunch for a break or tailgate as well.
It was May and 80 degrees that day in Fort Collins, so I was wearing shorts and a t-shirt. I hadn’t really thought about the altitude change heading up into the mountains from the foothills, and I hadn’t really thought about the change in temperature. It was about 10 degrees cooler at the top and surprise surprise, the trails still had snow. Once I got moving though, the temperature didn’t affect me, and it was actually really weird getting sunburnt with snow on the ground.
Lucky for me (and my running shoes), the snow wasn’t fluffy so I wasn’t sinking into it or my feet would’ve froze, and my shoes would’ve been soaked. Instead, I skated my way on the trails, slipping and sliding. It was actually pretty fun! There were a few close calls but I caught myself, of course that was after everyone heard me utter an “Oh sh*t!”.
The first trail I took was about 3.5 miles roundtrip; Alberta Falls. Heading to the falls was quick and slick, and I wasn’t feeling tired at all. Many people had been stopped along the trail and I felt lucky the altitude change hadn’t bothered me (yet). To be honest, the falls were an okay view. The water was rushing and there were a few photo opportunities, but the scenery on the way there seemed more gorgeous to me. The vibrant green of the trees was such a contrast to all the white, it seemed unnatural that such life was living in such a snowy environment.
While my friend was off shooting closer to the water, I had stopped to take a Polaroid. A grandpa and little granddaughter approached me, asking if my friend was my husband. It was one of those situations where you try not to laugh too hard, but I couldn’t completely stifle it. No, no that was not my husband.
“My wife and I have been married forty-five years,” he said, “And every place we would go to when we were your age, I would be taking pictures of her, not of that stuff,” he went on, nodding at my friend near the water. “I think he’s kind of silly.”
I smiled. It wasn’t one of those outright compliments girls get like the ever-so-often “You’re beautiful.” And I don’t think I’m anything special, I’m a firm believer in inner beauty. But his words stayed with me. It was like something out of a movie, its not something people just say. And this guy was older, he was genuinely saying that, without trying to hit on me. And I don’t think he was even talking about my looks, but about love and loyalty and pride in your significant other. It made me reflect not only on myself, but my long-distance relationship.
Before I left, he wanted a picture of his granddaughter. He captured people, I captured moments. I don’t think one is better than the other, but I think when you love someone enough, you capture their moments instead. And it becomes that much more meaningful to you.
Alberta Falls had a sharp incline at the start, which was slippery going up, but worse going down. It was actually dangerous because of the jagged rocks and one wrong move and you dropped into the falls. I slowly made my way down. Unfortunately, as our trail to the waterfall had been mostly downhill, going up was not as fun. My shoes had no traction so leg day was a success.
It took about an hour and half until getting back to the main trail start. I was tired from the climb, but I wanted to continue. Of course our next trail was about ten times worse for an incline than what we had just came from. About forty-five minutes later, we reached Dream Lake. Its like Twilight–walking out from the tree line and into a clearing where a lake was frozen over. You look to the south and there are booming mountains with white peaks of snow. I gasped at the sight. You forget you are actually in the mountains, since all you see are trees and tiny paths in front of you, until you step out and step back and get a spot to take it all in.
I was mesmerized.
At this point, I wanted to stop. I was getting a headache from the altitude and a lack of hydration, and in the open it was much colder. But I found the energy to continue on, uphill more, and steeper since it was getting rocky. The snow paths were less walked on and a lot less worn down. I couldn’t step in grooves of other peoples footprints so I felt like I was going two steps forward, one step back.
But we reached a rock with a great lookout. It was windy up there and cold, and I was getting hungry, but you kind of forget all of that when you are looking around. (Though the smell of someone using recreational drugs couldn’t seem to leave my nose.) The view was truly Colorado.
Lucky for my aching legs and rumbly stomach, the way back was a slipping slide of downhill fun. All the hard work on the way up, made it easy to run down. (And yes I ran, it was a lot easier than walking and trying to slow yourself down.)
Soon enough, we were at the main trail start again. But we came to Bear Lake right? Well, then I better see it. The sign pointed south, 256 feet. Now, I could handle that.
It was the same reaction as before. You don’t even realize where you are until you step out of the trees and into the sun, where a lake and clearing lay before you, with the mountains in the background. The lake was frozen over of course, and snow still sat on the peaks, but it was beautiful none-the-less.
If I could do this hike again (which I definitely will be), I would want to go in the summer time. I want to see the blue of the lakes again the green of the trees, and all the contrast of the intense summer colors.
For May, I suggest bringing a few types of shoes to figure out what would work best once you get to the trailhead. I would have worn shoes with better grip, hiking boots or trail shoes. Many people had poles to help with balance, something I wish I would have thought of. Others even wore snow shoes! You really never know with Colorado weather-especially in the mountains. Be prepared for anything. Dress warm, you can always take off layers. Go slow if you aren’t accustomed to the altitude and bring plenty of water.
Bear Lake was worth the drive and effort, and I would do it again in a heartbeat. It is one of my favorite hikes so far and I strongly recommend it (maybe just with less snow!). Best of luck and get out hiking this summer.