I wake at four am to a chirping duet of alarm clocks. For a moment, I contemplate how wonderful it would be to shut them both off, roll over, and go back to sleep. But then I recall my plan to hike to The Loch today, and the prospect of visiting a picturesque alpine lake coaxes me out of bed. I stumble downstairs, fire up the percolator and before long I’m guzzling down a strong cup of coffee. A wave of alertness washes over me.
I cook a hearty breakfast of scrambled eggs, toast, pan-fried tomatoes, and oatmeal. Then I prepare my lunch which consists of several bags of high-energy foods—cashews, pretzels, a peanut butter sandwich, an assortment of cheeses. On past hikes, I’ve failed to bring sufficient food to fuel my exertion and I don’t want to repeat that mistake today. After a quick shower, I toss my backpack, food supply, water bottles, and other gear in the car and start my drive to Rocky Mountain National Park.
The Loch is the lowest of the three lakes in Loch Vale. Loch Vale is a two-mile long gorge. My early start enables me to arrive at the Bear Lake Road Park & Ride and claim a decent parking spot. From there, I catch the first shuttle up Bear Lake Road and arrive at the Glacier Gorge Trailhead by seven-fifteen am. This ensures me a modest head-start on the usual flood of weekend hikers and tourists. It also wins me a few extra hours of good weather—storms are forecast to roll into the area by one pm and I hope to have finished my hike well before then.
On the shuttle ride up to the trailhead, I chat with a woman who looks about ten years older than me. She tells me she hopes to make it to Black Lake. It’s a longer hike than the one I plan to do, but she looks very fit and well prepared. I suspect she will make it there and back before the storms move into the valley. We get off the bus together and I pause at a bench to sort some of my gear out. We say good-bye and then she’s off in a flash, bounding along the trail at an impressive clip.
I hoist my pack onto my back and realize it is quite heavy. Perhaps I should eat my peanut butter sandwich right away for an extra boost of energy. I decide to save the sandwich and instead simply stagger along the trail until I find a comfortable, sustainable pace. It takes me about twenty minutes, but finally I do.
The Glacier Gorge area boasts a wonderful tangle of scenic trails. From the Glacier Gorge Trailhead, you can choose to follow any one of a half-dozen routes and visit a variety of picturesque lakes—Mills Lake, Black Lake, The Loch, Sky Pond, Andrews Tarn, Lake Haiyaha, Bear Lake, to name just a few. Most of the hikes are modest and adaptable. If you have spare energy, you can hike high and far and venture to destinations such as Sky Pond or Andrews Tarn. Or you can take it relatively easy and enjoy a shorter hike to Alberta Falls, Mills Lake, or Bear Lake.
I stay on the trail to The Loch and arrive at the lake around ten am. I sit down for a while to admire the lovely riparian view and to eat my lunch. After my break, I continue on for a short time, following the path to Sky Pond. I have no intention of going all the way to Sky Pond today but I do want to get some feel for that hike. I hope to return in the next few weeks and hike all the way up to Sky Pond. Today’s hike serves as good preparation and conditioning.
I hike about a mile past The Loch when the clouds begin to close in. Parts of the sky are starting to look threatening. Time to head home. I turn around and begin my journey home. As I drive down Bear Lake Road towards the park exit, sheets of rain lash down out of the sky. I’m glad to be in the dry comfort of my car and not still out on the trail.