Black Lake

Saturday May 26

Black Lake sits at the top of Glacier Gorge. I think it is one of the most beautiful lakes in the park. Going to lakes that are farther from the trailheads has spoiled me when it comes to getting some solitude at these lakes. I figure I’ll never be at Black Lake alone, as it’s a popular destination. Even in March there were quite a few people there. I was hoping that in late May it wouldn’t be too crowded.

The drive up was uneventful. I believe US 34 is now open to traffic, but it seems US 36 is still more crowded than usual. I could be mistaken, though. Perhaps what I’m seeing is the new normal. And I think more people are taking my shortcut through Estes because of the construction there. This morning, I was actually in a short line of traffic going by the hospital.

A minor tragic note here: my car is a killer. Since I’ve owned it, I’ve hit five birds. And this morning, going by the hospital, a rabbit attempted to cross the road, darting out after the car in front of me. It didn’t make it. I hit it with a sickening little thump and in the mirror saw it tumbling, inert.

I probably should have gotten an earlier start. As it was, I didn’t arrive at the Bear Lake parking lot until about 8:00 and it was already nearly full. Alternatively, I could have parked in the park and ride as that would have saved me a little effort. The trailhead proper for Black Lake is Glacier Gorge Junction. When parking at Bear Lake, I have an extra half mile each way. It’s not the distance so much, as that it makes the last half mile of the hike uphill.

I knew I’d be hiking across quite a bit of snow before I got to the lake. The snow gets steep enough just below the lake that I won’t go there in spring without microspikes. I started seeing snow on the fire trail, in the shady spots on the north facing slopes. Snow here will probably be gone in a few days, given the high temperatures we’ve been seeing.

The snow hiking didn’t start in earnest until I reached the Glacier Gorge campsite. I stopped at the bridge there and mounted the spikes. There were still quite a few bare spots on the trail for the next third of a mile or so, but after that it was snow all the way. I ran into two groups of three hikers who were making their way down. I asked each if they made it to the lake. The both said they fell short and complained about postholing badly. This did not discourage me, and I never saw where they might have been having trouble.

It was when I got to within a couple hundred yards of the lake that I first encountered a hiker who made it. We chatted for a little bit, and as we talked two guys passed us on their way up, going at a pretty good clip. When I got up there, they were the only other people. I was thinking I’d go up above the lake a bit for my picnic, but instead I parked myself right at water’s edge. Or, I should say, at ices edge. Other than the area right around the outlet, there are only a few square yards of lake that are open water. This, too, should change rapidly in the coming days.

I brought the GoPro with me. I generally don’t bother using the app on the phone but I wanted to make sure I was framing the shot correctly. I couldn’t get the phone to talk to the camera, and as I was struggling with it a young woman came by. She was walking a lot closer to the edge of the water than I did, and a few steps from the rock I was planted on, she postholed knee deep right into the water.

“I was planning to take a swim, but not with my shoe on!”

I was incredulous. “Really, you’re going to swim?” She was serious. She worked her way along the shore to where there was open water, but I never did see her take her swim. I sat there for about twenty minutes, ate my picnic lunch, and let the camera run. When the skies over the lake cleared completely, I shut off the camera and moved to the outlet and pointed the camera north, where the only other clouds were.

By now there were a dozen people at the lake, all congregated at the outlet with the exception of the swimmer. I relaxed here for another half hour or so before packing up and heading back down.

It was a very pleasant day, with brilliant blue skies and warm enough that I never needed a jacket. Perhaps a bit too warm for May. I enjoyed the hike; the trail wasn’t too crowded and I avoided the congestion at Alberta Falls by taking the fire trail. And I had a nice little workout – my Fitbit logged more than three hours of cardio and almost a half hour in the peak zone.

Timetable

Out In
Trailhead 08:15 AM 02:45 PM
Lower fire trail jct 08:25 AM 02:30 PM
Upper fire trail jct 08:55 AM 02:00 AM
Mills Lake 09:15 AM 01:45 AM
Black Lake 11:05 AM 12:15 AM

 

Blue Lake

Saturday, June 18

Black Lake is one of the most spectacular places in RMNP. I came to that belief very early in my exploration of the Park and I continue to feel this way having visited over half the named lakes in the Park. Only now I expand upon that thought: the upper part of Glacier Gorge, everything above the outlet of Black Lake, is simply incredible.

2016-06-18 10.49.20_stitch_crop_scale

Black Lake

When the Rocky Mountains were named, is was for places like this. Standing on the shores of any of the lakes in the area – Black, Blue, Green, “Italy”, Frozen – you are surrounded on three sides by vertical and nearly vertical slabs of solid rock, hundreds of feet high. The western flank of Longs, Keyboard of the Winds, Pagoda, The Spearhead, McHenrys, and Arrowhead all tower overhead; desolate, massive, beautiful.

I didn’t encounter much wildlife on this hike. Near the end of the boardwalk section just above Mills Lake I came across two elk – a cow and her calf – just ahead of me on the trail.

At the little waterfall, where the outlet of Blue Lake crosses the trail to Black Lake, I paused to install the microspikes. Quite a few hikers were on the trail, but only a few were properly equipped. I wouldn’t have gone much farther than here without the spikes, but I’m an admitted lightweight. In any case, the hike was a snow hike pretty much all the way from here to my destination. Only the higher reaches above Black Lake were snow free; above treeline and well bathed in sunshine.

Black Lake is still half frozen over. Climbing the trail along the main inlet to the lake it’s interesting to see how the snow clings to the steep walls of rock. Occasionally, large slabs of snow break off, slide down the rock to the steep snow and eventually come to rest in the meadow below.

The entire area is alive with flowing water. A ribbon of water, perhaps forty feet wide, pours down the sheer rock below McHenrys. Much of the water running to the valley below is heard but still unseen – flowing beneath the snow.

2016-06-18 11.37.36s

Blue Lake

The weather today was unbeatable. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky all day. I’d say it was calm, but that’s not quite true. There was only just enough of a breeze to prevent the surface of the lake being a perfect mirror. Normally, with it this calm, the flying insects will be a nuisance but today there was no problem with mosquitoes or flies.

Increasingly, over the last few years, I’ve felt that I need to go farther from the trailhead, farther off the trail, to find any solitude. That certainly wasn’t the case today. I take the “Fire” trail to bypass Alberta Falls and save some distance. As this trail isn’t on maps or signs I almost never run into other hikers. And today I didn’t meet anybody above Black Lake until I was on my way down. There I met a group of four who were asking if there is a lake above us. “There are four lakes. But you won’t find any of them without a map.” They elected to stop where they were and enjoy the view.

Timings Up Down
Trailhead 08:38 AM 03:41 PM
Fire trail Jct 08:48 AM 03:30 PM
Mills/Loch Jct 09:13 AM 03:02 PM
Mills Lake 09:28 AM 02:45 PM
Black Lake 10:48 AM 01:17 PM
Blue Lake 11:35 AM 12:25 PM