I was at the trailhead by 6am. I wanted to make sure I could squeeze in as much adventure as I could in this day and also make sure I could find parking. I hadn’t yet put myself together, so, within my car, in the parking lot, I was changing out of my nighttime attire into layers for today’s hike. I strapped up my boots, filled up my hydration pack, gathered my essential snacks, and fired up my hiking GPS. The destination was Sky Pond. According to the map it was a 9.8 mile hike, nicely broken up into segments with Alberta Falls, Timberline Falls, Glass Lake, and Loch Lake all being points of interest along the way.
Unlike the hikes in Capitol Reef, where despite beauty and intrigue the miles stretched on forever, here the miles seem to pass by so quickly. It helped that I was full of energy and excitement, running nearly half of the distance. The weather was also amiable. The sky was perfectly rich blue, and the morning sun was bright but not painful. It shown enough to provide a warm touch on my face and arms, but in the shade, the air was cool and brisk. It was an ideal balance, making it prime hiking time. Surely all of nature’s different attractions and vistas along the way made the hike so enjoyable that it passed by quickly. Also, I had stopped to take a plethora of photos, and today’s views were the stuff of magazine, quintessential perfection.
The first stopping point on the hike was Alberta Falls. It was a small but energetic
waterfall, or rather a series of waterfalls. The water rushed down in a white fury, leaping into a rapid stream around boulders adorned with lichen. Along the rocky borders of the river stood short pines. Their green complementary contrasted with the white rapids and the bright blue of the morning sky.
As the trail gradually ascended, it reached a point where I could see the Rocky Mountain giants through the tops of the pines. Their snow capped heights lookied so majestic. I soon came to the first lake- The Loch. The view was that of a magazine. Bold rocky tops swooped down and reached tall as they surrounded the lake. In crevices, all around, snow slid down the mountain heights. At the lower levels thins pines congregated quietly and uniformly. And then at the very bottom of view, the cold dark lake water lay with tiny little ripple-like waves from the gentle breeze.
It was a very serene place. Except for one other hiker, a middle-aged man, I was alone. I faced the lake, closed my eyes, and took in a deep breath of the cold refreshing mountain
air. Although often times I look for symbols in the landscape around me and the voice of God to meet me out in the quietude of the wild, other times, like this one, I’m just filled of thankfulness. I am speechless, and in my mind, I just keep saying “thank you, God.” I celebrate who God is, one who shares his beautiful creativity with us. Physical beauty and the pinnacle of artistic expression is found in wild natural places like this.
As I had paused here to take in the beauty, the sun reached higher in the sky, and positioned itself in such a way to permit the mountainscape to reflect perfectly the lake. After my rejuvenating and invigorating pause, I continued on my hike to Sky Pond.
As I was reaching higher altitude, the landscape became covered in snow, and no thin layer of snow by any means, but feet of snow. Most of it was well compacted and icy, making it easy to stay on-top. I also took on the strategy of placing my feet in the footprints of hikers who had traveled on this days prior. Their footprints had turned into icy pads I could ground my feet on.
For a significant portion of trekking over snow, the land was level and tame, then I looked up to see a large incline completely covered in snow. To one side was a steep rock wall- to the other, a jungle of rocks and Timberline Falls. The way up had to be between the two. The ground became steeper, and the snow, harder and icier. The only hint of a path was the footprints of others solidified in the snowmelt. The path curved around between the rock wall and the waterfall. The incline caused me to hunch over, leveraging my weight and using my hands on the ground for balance. I wasn’t just following footprints. I was carefully placing my feet into small icy steps created by the trod of those who came before.
My heart began to race in nervousness. I was alone. I didn’t know if this hike was supposed to be accomplished in such conditions. I didn’t trust the terrain, and I didn’t want to end up in my National Parks Search and Rescue book I had told Dom about. If snow and ice had slipped out from under me, or I had lost my footing I would have gone tumbling and sliding down on the icy incline, and I wouldn’t have slide exactly the way I came up. I wouldn’t have slid down at such a curve. Instead I would have slid straight down in the jungle of rocks and into the Timberline falls. It would not have been good. I would have ended up in the book for sure. Times like these, though, call for the trekking pole. Thank goodness I had saved it from the depths of Bryce Canyon. It came in handy here, as an anchor to hold onto.
Eventually the icy footprints I had been following diminished. They led me right into the upper portion of Timberline Falls. Hmm, am I supposed to climb up the waterfall? I thought. I observed my surroundings. There was absolutely no other way. I didn’t come all this way to give up now, I thought. Onward I must go!
There were parts of the waterful I would not set foot on, like the parts almost entirely covered in snow, where I could hear the rush of water but could not see it. However, the section I was taking on was the exposed and clearly frozen part of the falls, where icy rocks were jungled together, and the collection of rocks was enough and varied that there were places to put my feet and grab onto to hoist myself up. I had worked up a sweat on this journey, and the sun was getting warmer, so here I was maneuvering through a frozen waterfall in a tank top, but my hands were cold. I wanted gloves.
There were a couple movements I needed to make, to hoist myself up rocks, in which I had to stop myself from letting panic set in. Instead, I relied on my animal instincts of survival. I would climb up this waterfall! I would see Sky pond!
And I did! It was amazing. It was similar to the Loch, but at this altitude much less trees
remained, and snow and ice melt reflected so artistically on the lake. I climbed up a large nearby rock. From here I stood and looked behind at the beautiful valley I had traversed to get to this point. I could see the pine forests squeezed in between rock giants, one of the lakes already passed, and the other mountains in the distance. Up here the beauty was so transcending, the air so brisk, but the sun so warming. It was all so relaxing. It put me at ease. I decided to place my backpack down as a pillow, put on my light hoodie, and lay down, hugging myself and deeply breathing the rich air. I didn’t think it was possible here but I fell asleep for a good twenty minutes. I awoke to greet the beautiful view with a renewed lens. I don’t ever recall, waking up to a sight so beautiful in my life. This was pure bliss. I sat there, quietly taking it all in.
Other hikers had arrived. It was a family- mom, dad, brother, sister, and grandma. I had my moment and I decided I would venture back down on the trail, but I didn’t want to descend the ice waterfall and the slick snowscape. There must be another way, I thought. And so I started down the other side of Timberline Falls. After climbing and scrambling down immensities of rock, my efforts proved fruitless. I wouldn’t be able to get down successfully. The terrain became impossible, so I backtracked up to Sky Pond, and by this time the family who had also been enjoying the lake had begun their descent. Perfect, I thought. I will follow them, and see how its done. They carefully and successfully climbed down the waterfall and then, on their behinds, they went sliding down the snowscape. I was the caboose, trailing grandma, and I’m glad I was, because I thought to myself “If grandma can do this, then certainly I can.” And P.S. What a lady! Grandma and I got into a bit of small talk until I squatted down, and slid on my boots back to level ground. The family was very pleasant and clearly adventurous. On the way back we all helped each other out, finding the the best routes over the snow and through the woods. At this time of day, other hikers had engaged on this same adventure. We gave warnings of the challenges ahead as they inquired.
Eventually, about halfway in the return, I arrived back at the junction with the path that leads to Jewels Lake. I decided to take the side trip and check out Jewels lake. It was a crowded area, with a smaller, but nevertheless beautiful lake. Many tourists were taking photos of themselves and each other. I was clearly not the only hiker in a tank top and shorts, later I would find a photo of my mom’s dad, Grandpa Wolf, in the same location.
When I got back to my car, I checked my GPS, my 9.8 mile hike, had turned into around 14 miles. I added that to my hiking miles tally and was glad to bump my miles hiked up significantly. I was surprised at all the miles hiked, because it was still only early afternoon.
Immediately I was able to determine that this was my favorite hike to date. The amazing views, matched with the snowy challenges, and traversing a waterfall, just made it so unique and such an experience. To me, one of factors that makes a good hike, are the challenges it presents, whether climbing up a waterfall, descending by rope, crossing riverbeds, scrambling up rock faces. It’s the challenges that add a sense of accomplishment and create stories to be shared. This hike had topped my list. To me, in my limited experience, it was like I had summited Mount Everest. I had endured the snowy expanse, and all the perils, and lived to tell about it.
The rest of my day was largely uneventful. I had driven into Estes Park, which was very crowded, touristy, and untasteful for my liking. The only thing I left Estes Park with was a Subway sandwich. I returned to the the National Park, and sought out a picnic area to enjoy my sandwich in. I ended up just eating it in a parking lot at one of the overlooks in the alpine tundra, because the view was exceptionally breathtaking this time of day. A large capstone like cluster of clouds had congregate to cover the sun and darken the sky, but a break in the clouds allowed for light beams to shoot down and illuminate the snowy mountains.
I hadn’t thought about it in the moment, but now as I observe and reflect over the photographs, I draw parallels to the light beams shining down and illuminating the dark canyons in Canyonlands National Park. I wonder if, in this moment, God was trying to speak to me, telling me, I will take those canyons and turn them into mountains, taking the deep dark broken places of life and building them up to strong unwavering peaks.
Finding my way out of these canyons in life could be like this day’s hikes- a journey met with challenges, but the challenges not setbacks, and the challenges not hindering but rather spurring me on to overcome. As I embark on a quest to traverse and confront my canyons, I will approach them with the attitude of today’s hike. I didn’t come all this way to give up now. And when it’s complete, and my canyons are raised to mountains, I will reflect and gaze upon the new beauty, feeling the accomplishment and wonder. Greatest of all, I will have a new story to tell of the power and beauty of God.
Read the previous entry “Starstruck at Rocky Mountain National Park,” here: https://joshthehodge.wordpress.com/2018/01/05/starstruck-in-rocky-mountain-national-park/