On a quiet Monday I knocked out a bit of marketing client work first thing in morning and found myself with an admin day until an evening client commitment. “Why don’t you go out and snowshoe?” my husband suggested, encouraging me to get out the door.
It had been one hell of a crazy busy January and I hadn’t had much time to get outside since the holidays. January is always busy and has been for the last 10 years. There’s New Year’s Eve (which is a really big deal to me as my absolute favorite holiday), then a week of CES business trips, and this year was compounded by a week of hosting four different focus groups for market research and data analysis on a new product I’m launching in Fort Collins, not to mention getting slammed with marketing client proposals and contracts.
The next thing I know, January is just about over and I hadn’t stepped foot on a trail since Christmas week. They are all good things, but it killed me not getting some fresh air. And an admin day sounded draining. Snowshoeing sounded so much better.
I already had all of my gear in the car. All I had to do was fill up on water and throw on my base layers. Oh, and choose a trail to snowshoe on.
We were in the middle of an ice season here in the lower elevations. It was all a landscape of brown, muddy, muted grey snow, and a layer of ice on top – until the skies open up and dumped some of that soft white stuff on us. Some of the trails in Larimer County had been closed due to their muddiness. It’s not exactly the prettiest of adventures. This is what makes winter a little tough to get through. There’s the idea of being in the mountains, and then there’s the reality of trail conditions. We didn’t have enough snow to snowshoe below 10,000 ft. in elevation, so it meant strapping on microspikes on the muddy ice, or a trip to the high country, which includes a lengthy drive.
So, with snowshoeing on my mind, and a free afternoon, a quick escape to the trees was in order. I decided that Rocky Mountain National Park was my best bet. Not many people were going to be there on a Monday in the off-season, and some of the trails around the Bear Lake area are fast and easy.
It’s more about the moments than the mileage, which I think a lot of people forget about when it comes to outdoor adventures. We’re so lucky to live in Colorado where the trails are just a few minutes to a few hours away from our door steps, and it doesn’t mean that we have to have all day excursions all the time.
The drive up always seems reasonable to me; maybe it’s because I’m up at RMNP or Cameron Pass every week. It’s a nice canyon drive either way, and it’s a time to disconnect, listen to some great music or a podcast – things I usually don’t get to do unless I’m in the car. The drive is as much a part of the experience as the trail time.
Bear Lake parking lot only had a few people, mostly tourists on vacation. I strapped on my snowshoes and was instantly asked for help by a couple from Tennessee. Apparently they had difficulty securing the back strap on their snowshoes, something I disliked as well, even having done it for what felt like hundreds of times. I showed them how to do it properly (the trick is the thumb push from the back to get the strap secured to the binding), and told them the best snowshoes to rent for the next day – Tubbs Flex RDG with the one-step Boa Closure System – which are the perfect rentals for lady beginners. Then I shared my favorite trails in the area and wished them good times.
I went along my way at a speedy pace to Alberta Falls, a short 1 mile, one-way jaunt that’s usually packed to the gills with tourists in jeans and loafers as one of Rocky Mountain National Park’s most well-known waterfall attractions. However, in the winter, it’s a bit different. I only came across a couple of people. Snow was falling in the sunshine like twinkling stars cascading from the sky to meet the trees in a moment of mountain magic. It was peaceful, quiet, and serene – a rarity on this trail.
I had reached the falls, which felt like an empty gap where I usually expected to hear the roar of a powerful river beating against the rocks of the waterfall. The silence was deafening, compounded by the soundproof qualities of the surrounding blanket of snow. I climbed down the rocks, over the hollow river covered in snow, and sat upon the frozen, silent waterfall, watching the life trapped behind glass from small viewing window that had been scraped by previous winter wonderland visitors.
It was an amazing moment. A simple moment, but a breathtaking one. I had never watched the flittering of a frozen waterfall that didn’t make so much as a drip of a sound before. Most of the winter waterfalls I’ve seen had been frozen solid blocks of ice, or rather, rippled icicles that came cascading down from the the lip of the rock. Alberta Falls in the winter was so strange to me with its muted flittering of flow, it elicited a laugh, breaking the silence of the winter mountains.
After hanging around the frozen falls for a bit and enjoying the Stellar’s Jays perched on the branches above me, I made my way back to the trail, helping another couple get back on the main trail to Mill’s Lake in the process.
Sometimes I grumble to myself about tourists, especially after hearing that Rocky Mountain National Park had a record-breaking 4.1 million visits in 2015, and how crowded the trails are getting because of it. But after I helped the couple from Tennessee put on their snowshoes correctly, and then helped the young couple find the trail to Mills instead of getting lost on some of the backcountry off-trails by the falls, I kind of felt like a park ambassador.
I had to smile when I saw a snow angel on the way back the the parking lot, because it reminded me of how much happiness this part of Colorado brings everyone – no matter the mileage of the trail, or the time spent breathing in the winter trees, or where they adventure from.
One Way Length: 1.4 miles from Bear Lake
Beginning Elevation: 9,200 ft.
Peak Elevation: 9,400 ft.