The Greatest Lakes
You ever forget? Or just remember things not quite like they actually are?
I made it to Denver, hopped in the car and drove my ass to Estes Park where I’ll be staying before the big backpacking trip. By the time I got checked in it was quite late. But I really wanted to get to Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP) and get in some sort of a hike. I was so tired my skin was tingling. But it seemed depressing to come so far and spend the first evening just sitting in my hotel room.
I got checked in, threw on my hiking boots and hopped back in the car and headed to Bear Lake watching the clock the whole way calculating what type of hike I might be able to squeeze in. By the time I got into the park and to the trailhead it was 7pm. It was a beautiful night out but taking my exhaustion into account I didn’t think even a 2 mile hike would be a good idea so I settled for walking around Bear Lake itself.
Bear Lake Trailhead is one of the most popular trailheads in the Park. From there you can go on some long difficult hikes, moderate, or real easy. Bear Lake is only 256 feet from the parking lot and is a half-mile, completely flat, loop around the lake. I was a little disappointed I didn’t have time to do more. I wanted to catch some real scenery and test my fitness. Bear Lake is a pussy trail.
As I started my hike in a bit of a pout I realised just how stupid `I was being. Is Bear Lake easy? Yes. But the scenery is spectacular. The sun was starting to go down and as I ambled down the gravel path I looked around at everything and thought, I remembered it being beautiful. I forgot it was this beautiful! I looked at the water. Looked at the mountains. Saw a blue jay, a bunny, some chipmunks and dragon flies. I saw more wildlife in 15 minutes at Bear Lake than in 15 years of living in metropoleis.
Because it was so beautiful I walked around it twice. On the second round the setting sun completely changed the colour of the mountains. When I saw them for the second time just minutes after the first they were bright red. I audibly, mumbled, “Holy fuck.” to know one in particular. I’ve come to realise over the last few days there’s no bad scenery in Rocky Mountain National Park. Only bad attitudes.
I woke up bright and early (7am) had coffee made, packed my lunch and was out the door by 8am. I was headed back to Bear Lake to do a 5.2 mile loop that my book, Best Hikes Rocky Mountain National Park, classified as easy. It’d take me to Nymph Lake, Dream Lake, Lake Haiyaha and Alberta Falls. As I drove up to the park entrance I soon realised 8am was not early enough. There was a line of cars to get into the park. And of course there was. I’m not in the UK anymore it’s Labour-fucking-Day Weekend! The last long weekend of the summer before kids go back to school. Everyone is in RMNP.
Once I got into the park I headed to Bear Lake and saw a sign saying the parking lot was full. But surely, people had already come and gone. I thought. I drove to the lot anyway to see if I could squeeze into a space. Heading up the mountain I felt confident as I saw cars heading away from the trailhead. AHA! I thought I knew there’d be parking! I’m so smart! I reached Bear Lake only to find a Park Ranger blocking the entrance telling everyone to turn around. I was told to go to another trailhead parking lot further down the mountain. I drove down to Glacier Gorge and that parking lot was full. Drove down to Beirstadt Lake Trailhead, also full. Went down to Storm Pass and there was ONE SPACE! I right turned so hard I nearly left skid marks. I grabbed my coffee got out of the car and stood up in the mountain sunshine to celebrate my victory. I slammed the car door shut and realised I locked my keys in the car. Ohhhh no! I thought, I found parking but it turns out I’m a dumb ass.
As I stood there in sheer shock and panic a car pulled up beside me and asked hopefully if I was just leaving, “Ummm, no. I just got here, but ummm, if you see a park ranger can you tell them a person just locked themselves out of their car with everything in said car.
The man gestured to the back window that was opened a crack, “Can you get your arm through there?”
“No, I already tried.”
“Well I suggest you find yourself a stick.” He said in a southern twang and drove off. Absolutely heartbroken I might spend my first full day in Colorado doing car admin and annoyed by the this stranger mansplaining how to break into my own car I walked off to find a stick. Eventually I was able to unlock the back door, got my things and headed for the trail by 10am.
Three lakes in one day might seem a bit much but I promise you once you’ve seen one lake you haven’t seen them all. They’re not far apart at all in distance but each have their own personality. Nymph Lake is the smallest and easiest to get to but as I learned yesterday with Bear Lake never confuse simple with worthless. It’s covered in lily pads and looks like something out of a fairytale. I headed up to Dream Lake that is clear and beautiful and the mountains around it are shoot up from the tree line creating what looks like, (and sorry to be such a basic bitch) a Bob Ross painting. As I was heading back to the trail I saw a sign that said “Emerald Lake: 0.7 miles” and I thought; why not? If I collect all four maybe I’ll get a free coffee voucher!
Emerald Lake is exactly that. Emerald. It’s in a deep gorge and either side of the water is steep mountainside covered with huge boulders that have avalanched down into the lake. The entry point to Emerald Lake is narrow and because of the steepness on either side most people stop right there and sit to admire the lake. But there were so many people and I didn’t want to sit among these plebs and eat my Gourmet Rocky Mountain Lunch. I needed solitude and chance to reflect on the day. I decided to hike around to the other side of the lake where it was much quieter. I was sure that I wasn’t the first person to come up with this idea and once I’d start making my way around I’d see some sort of trail carved by those who came before me.
I was wrong. There wasn’t a trail. You just had to scramble over rocks. You couldn’t walk along the edge fo the lake, because there was no shoreline, just rocks then deep water. I began my scrambling thinking it’d be good practice for the Boulder Field on Longs Peak and I got about a quarter way round before I started to think this wasn’t the best idea. I was going from low to high, where ever I could get good hand and foot holds sometimes even stepping into the lake itself. (now I know my boots really are waterproof!) Looking at my watch thinking perhaps I should turn around and get back to my planned hike. It was going to take me longer than I thought and I didn’t want to wast time. As I was thinking this a voice in my head said, Where else do you have to be?
Good question the answer was nowhere. I didn’t have to get back home to shower and get ready for a show, or catch a train to some small town outside of London for a gig. Tom, by boyfriend, and I hadn’t planned a night in watching movies. I came to Colorado to do just what I was doing. So I kept scrambling.
I eventually made it to the other side of the lake and found the perfect rock to sit on to eat my Gourmet Rocky Mountain Lunch looking back at the adventure-less plebs on the other side of Emerald Lake feeling smug af.
Once I finished my lunch I began to head back to the other side of the lake completely over this whole scrambling business. It was becoming exhausting. The big steps from one rock to the other waere beginning to exhaust my legs and my hands were scraped and dry from lifting myself and/or steadying my balance. I eventually made it around, happy to be back on the prescribed trail and headed to Haiyaha Lake.
The elevation in RMNP is higher than London and higher elevation means thinner air and it can make it harder to breath. That paired with the fact I’ve spent most of the past years in basement comedy clubs swilling lager the uphill climb to Haiyaha Lake didn’t feel as easy as my guidebook promised. I was huffing and puffing, trudging uphill, I saw a man who held an uncanny resemblance to Richard Attenborough walking down. He was smiling before he even saw me. I gasp a hello. He didn’t quite understand me. “What was that?” He said with a bit of a giggle in his voice.
“Oh, just saying hi! I’m a little worn out. I was at Dream Lake and saw a sign to Emerald Lake, then walked up there, then around it which was tricky, I think I’ve worn myself out before I’ve gotten to my intended destination.”
He chuckled, “Yes, I was just planning to go to Alberta Falls, but now have walked to Glacier Knobbs and Haiyaha Lake, and now heading to where you were. It’s so easy to just to keep going once your up here.”
And then he turned and walked downhill still smiling. I nearly followed him.
“Excuse me sir! Can I tag along with you? You see, I’m on this physical and emotional journey that will end with me attempting Longs Peak and spreading my dad’s ashes to finally saying goodbye and let go. I feel like your the perfect paternal surrogate for my narrative as you seem happy and wise.” But I didn’t say any of that because not all stories get to feature Richard Attenborough. I continued up the hill to my fourth lake.
Once I arrived at Lake Haiyaha I took one look at it and thought, I’ve been here! When I was at Wildlife Summer Camp as a teenager we did a backpacking trip and I remember coming here and climbing on the rocks. Yep, more boulders. But these were bigger like the size of a refrigerator. I wasn’t too happy to be scrambling again, and knew I was too tired to make a full trip around the lake but I found a good sitting rock and perched myself on it for some nature gazing and journal writing.
I pulled out my phone to take a picture to find I had cracked the newly repaired screen. It had been in my jumper pocket that was tied around my waist. On my adventure around Emerald Lake in must of smashed against a rock. Fuck. It still works it’s just now like taking photos through a spiderweb. Slightly disappointed and knowing my boyfriend would give me a hard time for being so clumsy I set off again.
I was now going downhill and though I’ve seen so many people on the trail it thinned out until it was just me, I was walking along lost in thought and approached a body of water that was not on my map. I sat down to double check if I had gone the wrong way I was headed deeper into the backcountry which was less than ideal given it was now close to 4pm. In my panic I headed back up from where I came until I saw two Polish ladies who helped me figure out where I was in the most convoluted conversation I’ve had in some time. It was like a mountain rendition of Abbot and Costello’s Who’s on First.
“Excuse me ladies, if I go down that way,” I breathed pointing to the way I had just came, “Will I go back to Bear Lake? I’m a bit turned around. I came from Lake Haiyaha but then was afraid I missed a turn off.”
“Yes, But that is also the way to Bear Lake” they replied pointing uphill toward Lake Haiyaha.
“Oh good, because I was going that way but then saw a body of water that’s not on my map so thought I was going the wrong way.”
“You’re going the right way, if you keep going uphill then you’ll see several beautiful lakes.”
“No, I’ve already been that way, I’m trying to go the other way, toward Alberta Falls.”
“You’ve come from Alberta Falls. Go to the lakes. You will like them.”
“I know I’ll like them. I’ve just been to them. I’m trying to complete the loop.
“You will. Just keep going uphill and enjoy the lakes!”
“I’ve. Been. To. The. Lakes. I’m trying to go the other way”
“How have you been to the lakes if you’re coming from a direction the lakes are not.”
“Because, I went to the lakes, then went passed the lakes, then was afraid I missed a turnoff to go back to Bear Lake, so I’m walking back uphill to the lakes to check I’m going the right way and not further into the backcountry to the wrong lakes. I want to go back to Bear Lake!”
“Oh…well then you can go either way”
“You know what I’ll just follow you for a bit.”
Now going the right direction I eventually left my new European friends and was on my own. Walking among the ponderosa pines and at times the trees would clear and you’d be smacked with a mountain vista. While stopping to admire the view another hiker offered to take my photo. I declined. When hiking through RMNP instead of asking myself, Should I take a picture? I ask When shouldn’t I take a picture? I realised quickly that I’d have to be selective on what I photograph otherwise I’d spend the entire time with my head in my phone instead of looking at things with my raw eyeballs. It’s tricky to know when it’s photo time, and even more tricky to know which photos to share with you, dear reader.
I eventually, made it to Alberta Falls which was gorgeous but covered in tourist so I kept heading to the trailhead eventually coming to exactly where I wanted to be Bear Lake. My car was parked about two miles down the road. Though, RMNP had a shuttle service to take people from trailhead to trailhead aware not everyone gets to park where they want, I opted to avoid the crowded bus and began to walk to my car sticking out my thumb in hopes another trail bunny might give me a ride to Storm Pass. Two girls picked me up (IT’S OK MOM! THEY DIDN’T MURDER ME!) and dropped me off and I was back at the start.
I got back to my hotel where I had wifi and called Tom to tell him about my first big adventure when I finished he simply replied with, “So what your telling me is on your first day you locked yourself out of your car, broke your phone, got lost, then hitch hiked to a place called Storm Pass like you had never seen what happens in any horror film ever?”
Such a disappointing response. It’s like he didn’t even care that Richard Attenborough is alive and well.