Road Trip to the Rockies: Windy Yet Wonderful Hike to Mills Lake

November 18, 2017

Mills Lake
Location: Rocky Mountain National Park
Fees: $20 day pass as of post
Elevation: 9,240-9,955 feet
Distance: 5.3 miles

Another Saturday, another missed forecast…these weathermen!  We planned a hike in Rocky Mountain National Park to Mills Lake.  While we expected cold weather (27-35 degrees) and blue skies, 40 mph sustainable winds were not in the forecast.  The wind was supposed to be over on Friday!

As we drove into the park, we hit a few icy patches on the road as loose snow swirled across the pavement.  We joked, maybe we should just go on a scenic drive, as the wind seemed menacing!  Upon arriving the parking lot, the wind howled.  If we weren’t careful, I think a door could have blown off the car.  The intensity increased and sometimes we felt 60 mph gusts.

photo credit: Danelle

We all layered on our clothes.  I wore short sleeves, long sleeves, a ski sweater, a vest, and a puffy jacket with a hat, buff, mittens, and hand and feet warmers.  We were holding out hope that the trees would protect us from the wind as they had the last few hikes.  Fortunately, this was partly true.  As we began, the wind wasn’t too bad and as we gained elevation, we quickly heated up…enough for some people to shed a layer.

Being cold-natured, I wasn’t part of that group.  I was warm and gave thought to it briefly, but stopping to snap a few photos or removing my hat and gloves for a few minutes was enough to cool me off.

The previous evening, a snow storm swept through the Rockies.  Some areas got a foot of snow.  In Rocky Mountain National Park, at 9,240, the elevation at the trailhead, there was just a dusting, though as we continued to climb, we hiked through about three inches of new snow.

The fresh snow wasn’t too slick or deep, so we didn’t need any help from traction devices.  We just squished squished along the trail.  Fortunately, others started out earlier than us, so we didn’t have to break trail, though at times, the wind was so strong, that it blew loose snow over previous tracks to make the trail barely decipherable.

The scenery was spectacular.  Snow dusted, dark grey, granite cliffs towered around us as snow swirled across the surfaces.  The evergreen forest was blanketed in snow.  Icicles hung from rocks.  The creeks were frozen enough for just a little running water to pass through. And after we entered a wind tunnel where I briefly considered turning around as we did have to turn our backs to the stinging snow, we hiked another mile to see an amazing frozen lake.

The view was just breathtaking.  I’m not sure either my description or my photos can do the scene justice.  At times, surprisingly, the wind died down and the feeling was simply serene.  At other times, the wind gusted viciously and snow whirled across the lake creating an almost eerie sight.  It was really awesome!  We stayed at the lake much longer than I expected, as certain sun drenched places which were protected from the wind were rather pleasant.

25 second Video Courtesy of Danelle.  Worth watching!

Soon, however, we turned around and headed back to the trailhead.  I think the total distance was only 5.3 miles, but the hike sure felt like a workout.  It’s just that much harder to hike on snow which requires engaging some balancing muscles.  Not to mention, keeping warm burns more calories.  I loved this hike, and I think I may return in the summer to hike past Mills Lake and on to Ribbon Falls and Black Lake.  I’m really glad my friends were “gung ho” and willing to brave the wind for a wonderful experience.  ETB


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Roadtrip to the Rockies: Diamond Lake

November 4, 2017

Trail(s): Diamond Lake Trail
Location: Fourth of July Road
Fees: Free
Elevation: 10,172-10,940 feet
Distance: 5.3 miles roundtrip

We sure enjoyed a beautiful hike today.  We were originally planning to hike 8.8 miles to Jasper Lake, but we heard much of the lake had been drained for the season, so when we saw Fourth of July Road was still open for the winter, we drove up the dirt road to Diamond Lake Trailhead.  The hike to Diamond Lake was much shorter, 5.3 miles, but with the looming ominous clouds overhead, a shorter hike seemed like a good choice.

The path starts at 10,172 feet, thus ice and snow lighted coated the surrounding area. We carefully trekked across the intermittent icy as a light snow fell upon us.  We soon realized there was not enough tacky snow to cover the slick ice to help with traction, so we strapped on our micro-spikes for easier hiking.  We still took it slowly as not all of us had traction devices, though we were far more prepared than fellow hikers who showed up in shorts and Tevas!

The trail was simply spectacular.  We spent most of our time in the evergreen forest though occasionally it opened up providing a lovely view of snow dusted mountains.  To my surprise, we passed several waterfalls, which of course is one of my favorite features on hikes.  The combined tumbling water, ice-cycles, and snow proved picturesque.  We stopped multiple times to admire the snow-covered creeks and cascades.

We continued through the forest enjoying the surprisingly nice weather despite cloudy skies.  We found the trees served as great protection from the gusting wind that chilled us to the bone once we reached the remarkable scenic lake.  We added layers swiftly, including putting Paul’s extra jacket on Utani.  We snacked quickly as ducked into a patch of trees near the icy lake before we hustled back to the trail for warmth.

The hike back down the trail took almost as long as the climb up as sure footing was sometimes elusive.  Overall, however, the hike was pretty easy as the elevation gain to the lake at 10, 940 feet was minimal.  I really liked this trek.  It was just beautiful!  The trail is supposed to be spectacular in the summer too, so I may have to repeat it, eventhough I’d rather explore new ones.  ETB


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Roadtrip to the Rockies: Crater Lake

October 28, 2017

Trail:  Crater Lake
Location: East Portal Moffat Tunnel near Rollinsville
Fees: Free
Elevation: 9,200-10,600-7,600 feet
Distance: 6 miles roundtrip

Another Saturday, another hike.  We have been fortunate to enjoy decent weather the last few weekends.  Today Ross and I headed toward the East Portal near Rollinsville (not far from Nederland).  Our original plan was to hike to Clayton Lake, a 5.8 mile trek noted as moderate to strenuous.  I forgot to print out the description of the hike and I couldn’t remember all the details I read.  I knew it was steep but didn’t recall the hike followed an unmarked path for a portion of the trek.

Since no signs directed us toward Clayton Lake, we altered course to hike Crater Lakes.  I had read the description of this hike too and knew it was about the same length, 6 miles to the lower lakes.  I sort of wanted to save this hike for the summer as there is a scramble to the upper lakes which adds two miles that I didn’t want to do in the snow.

Today the weather wasn’t great.  The forecast called for cloudy skies which was an understatement when we started as light (not pretty) snow was falling.  Fortunately, the weathermen got the temperature right, so we enjoyed a warm 40 degrees and shed layers quickly as we made our way through the evergreen forest.

The path at the beginning of the trail was icy.  We decided it rained and promptly froze.  As we continued alongside the creek we glided over a soft layer of fresh snow.  Soon we reached a trail junction where we turned right and followed switchbacks up the mountain.  This was a steep climb that warranted removing another layer!

With the elevation gain came deeper snow, but only a few inches which we easily handled traction devices.  This mile climb felt like it took forever, though I think most of the 1,300 feet we gained from the trailhead to the lake took place during the last mile.

Upon reaching the lake, located at 10,600 feet, we lost the wind protection from the trees and cooled down considerably.  We added hats and gloves quickly and didn’t stay too long to admire the frozen lake and surrounding frozen tundra.  Pine trees, grasses, and the remains of wildflowers were blanketed in a thin layer of ice.

Overall, the hike was very nice.  I’m trying to embrace the winter.  I think as long as the temperature hovers around forty and the wind isn’t bad, I’ll be hiking, spiking, or snowshoeing this winter!  ETB


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The Rockies: Breaking Trail at Meyer Ranch Park

March 12, 2014

Today I joined a group that was hiking Meyer Ranch, a 575 acre park which is part of Jefferson County Open Space. The land was homesteaded by Duncan McIntyre in 1870. He later sold the property in 1883 to Louis Ramboz who built a house in 1889 and operated the ranch for hay, timber, and cattle until 1912.

Throughout its years, the ranch has served as the winter quarters for the PT Barnum Circus animals as well as a ski hill. Jefferson County Open Space acquired the land from its most recent owners, Norman and Ethel Meyer, in 1986.

We got to enjoy just about every trail in the park today. We strapped on our MicroSpikes and blazed the trail through the newly fallen snow. It is the first time this season I have gotten to hike the day after a nice snow, which made for beautiful scenery.

IMG_3302 tree

The trail, Owl Perch, softly coated in fluffy powder led us through the open meadow past a grove of bare aspens and into a lodge pole pine forest. The evergreens, coated with the fresh flakes, reflected the light from the morning sun as we switched back and forth beneath the clear blue sky.

As we climbed Sunny Aspen Trail to Old Ski Run Trail, we eventually found a small overlook where we enjoyed the view of the snow-capped mountains across the valley. We also took a few off trail excursions around rock formations before trouncing down Lodgepole Loop and back to Owl’s Perch Trail. Overall, we gained nearly 1,500 feet along our five mile hike, much of which included breaking the trail. It was kind of fun to be the first to leave footprints in the snow on this glorious fifty degree day!

After lunch at Three Margaritas, I took a small detour to Tiny Town, which is just and area with a variety of tiny buildings…a perfect size for little kids. I snapped a photo as I drove by and headed back to Denver. Happy hiking…ETB

IMG_3304 tiny town

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The Rockies: Hiking Up Chief Mountain

February 17, 2013

So Kelley, a girl I’ve met a few times through a Texas friend, organized a group to hike Chief Mountain this weekend. We were all grateful for her research, as it takes some work to pull a hike together. I took a quick glance at a post on the web about Chief Mountain, located northwest of Evergreen, just so I knew what I was getting myself into, and the person claimed she took all her flat lander friends here because the hike was so easy. I feel sorry for her flat lander friends! It was short, only two miles round trip, but the beginning elevation is 10,670 feet and the summit clears 11,700. Gaining 1,000 feet in one mile at that altitude is anything from flat and easy, especially when you’re 41 years old and following a bunch of guys in their late 20’s!! I was certainly feeling my age as I was resting with a few other girls and they were climbing nearby trees, boulders, or running through the snow. We went too fast for me to break out my good camera, but the iPhone can snap some good shots once in a while!

20130220-135614.jpgwe had a poacher in the girls’ photo





The trailhead is across the street from mile marker 18 on Squaw Pass Road, marked by a stake. It isn’t very noticeable. The trail winds up through the trees where it eventually crosses above the timberline offering magnificent views of the surrounding snow capped mountains. At times, we faced brutal winter winds which blew Kelley’s hat right off her head! We looked forward to each turn that put the wind at our backs!! To my surprise we found a Bureau of Reclamation Benchmark at the summit. I looked it up on to see if I could log it, but it was not recorded…seemed odd! We gobbled a few snacks at the top, but it was quite chilly, so we turned for a quick walk down with our poles and traction devices. My Yaktrax were still broken from the day before, as we started our hike before REI opened at 10, but I’ll be ready for next weekend! ETB




The Rockies: Snow Hiking Black Bear Trail to Horseshoe Trail in Golden Gate Canyon State Park

February 16, 2013

This was my first time to Golden Gate Canyon State Park, located northwest of Denver and Golden. The park requires a $7 daily entry fee which can be paid at a self pay station or the visitors center located at the south entrance on Golden Gate Canyon Road. Black Bear Trail, 2.8 miles, is rated most difficult on the park’s literature and Horseshoe Trail, 1.8 miles, carries a moderate rating. The starting altitude is around 8,250 feet and the elevation gain is around 1,000 feet. Overall, both ratings seemed a little extreme.



Black Bear Trail immediately ascended from the parking lot up through a meadow. Eventually it wound through trees and around boulders. There were many ups and downs where we thought we had reached “the summit”, only to find out we were following the trail back down through the forest. Thankfully, the trail was well marked! The roller coaster hike allowed for several beautiful views of snow capped mountains in the distance, a bit of boulder scrambling, and an enjoyable variety. Our winter clothing was the only challenge…we found ourselves bundling up while going downhill in the wind and shade and stripping down while climbing uphill in the sun.





We came to a trail junction where we turned right and headed toward the Greenfield Meadow Campground. Here we connected to the Horseshoe Trail that gradually descended until we reached a small wooden bridge. We crossed the bridge, followed some snowy, switchbacks up the mountain and reconnected to the Black Bear Trail, heading back to the parking lot.


This was my first snow hike. I used traction devices called Yaktrax, that attach to the bottom of the hiking boot. I found out these are not the best…they broke the first try! Luckily I bought them at REI which will take all returns! I normally don’t return used items, but this time I think I will (and get something different) as after talking to several people, they have all said they don’t even know why REI sells Yaktrax because they always break! Regardless, I’ll be planning some more winter hiking as well as some snow shoeing soon! ETB