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Hiking Rocky Mountain
National Park in January

dream lake in January

This past January my husband and I were curious about the hiking conditions and scenery of Rocky Mountain National Park during the winter, so we decided to venture along a four lake trail we had traversed the previous summer of 2008, passing Bear, Nymph, Dream and Emerald Lakes. The trail is about four miles round trip and took us around three hours in the snow with many stops for photos. We arrived shortly after noon and were surprised at how full the parking lot by Bear Lake was. After circling a bit, we found a spot.

Greg near the trailhead The approximately one mile path to Dream Lake was well packed by all the hikers wearing snowshoes. Some just had boots, but they risked sinking a couple feet if they didn't step carefully.

The first section is a continuous gradual uphill ascent, which causes the average hiker to stop and take a breather a few times (including myself).

Since Nymph Lake was completely frozen over, it was part of the path

We crossed over Nymph Lake, which was well frozen over. We passed a group of serious hikers discussing their plans for the day.

After Nymph Lake, the trail continued to climb amid tall pines and offered great mountain views at the top of this section (below).

trail ascending after nymph lake

view of nymph lake below

view from trail

crusty snow near the edge of dream lake Reaching Dream Lake wasn't very difficult. The winds were mild and we were warm as long as we kept moving. The snow was hard and crusty where the wind and sun's rays had compressed it over time, so it was easiest to stay on the trail. However, we took detours for photos and simply dug in with the toothy metal grips under our snowshoes.

I'd been using my split neutral density filter for the mountain shots (above), but reversed the filter for the photo on the left to cut through the sun's glare and bring out the snow's ridges.

It was peaceful and sunny here, but the trek would soon get more difficult.

Steffani standing next to Dream Lake

I wondered how these skiers made it to Dream Lake as the trail had involved a fair amount of uphill climbing. Maybe they knew of a different route and carried the skis part of the way. They glided smoothly over the partially rough ice toward Emerald Lake.

skiers glide over Dream Lake

Once we passed Dream Lake, we saw very few hikers as the path became steeper and more narrow in sections. Though it was definitely more challenging with all the snow and short drop offs along some edges, the path was still fairly well packed. Our snowshoes gripped well going uphill, but, being the cautious person I am, I removed mine to descend steep parts.

When I took the photo below, I wished I had brought a pair of ski poles to help me keep my balance. On our return trip I threw my snowshoes down several hills, including this one, then slid down on my snowpants, praying that I wouldn't hit a tree at the bottom. Since Greg always slid down before me, the path he cut caused me to go so fast that at one point I went airborn over a small bump. After that I figured this one winter trip to Emerald Lake was enough for me. I was a bit out of my comfort zone, but Greg had lots of fun.

uphill climb enroute to emerald lake

Two guys in their 20's up ahead were the only people we saw on the path as we approached Emerald Lake.

desolate wilderness approaching emerald lake

We were surrounded by majestic mountains all around.

surrounding mountains

Steffani in front of emeral lake I was thrilled to make it to the end of the path at Emerald Lake. The wind was whipping snow down the mountain slopes and over the ice with such force that we had to turn our backs to it most of the time to protect the camera and our faces - mine got red and stung from windburn anyway.

As the sun went behind the peaks, the temperature dropped quickly and I had to work speedily to take photos as I felt my fingers becoming numb. I kept my camera in a padded backpack during most of the hike and was glad the batteries didn't die while out in the cold.

5 skiers climb the bowl above emerald lake The five skiers we had previously seen gliding across Dream Lake were now climbing up the bowl above Emerald Lake. The photo to the left is a crop of the one above. The skiers are behind me to the far right, just below the lower rocks.

We wanted to wait and see them fly down the mountain, but daylight was making a hasty retreat and I certainly didn't want to pick my way through the dark with no one else around.

As we turned to leave, I noticed that the mountain peaks looked like a fiery furnace as the setting sun backlit the swirling snow.

swirling snow at the peaks

When we reached Dream Lake again, I turned to my right and was delighted to see the five skiers flying by, bent at their waists with elbows pointing out to make the most of the strong winds at their backs. I wished I could have video taped them because their speed was impressive. In sharp contrast, I slowly picked my way along the lake's edge, amazed that my snowshoes could grip the ice.

waves of ice on dream lake

I loved observing the dramatic cloud formations over the mountain ranges as night approached.

beautiful clouds over mountain range

It looked as though a tempest was raging over Emerald Lake and I was glad to be near the parking lot as darkness fell.

swirling snow at sunset

Once in the parking lot I saw this fascinating cloud formation that reminded me of the Star Ship Enterprise from Star Trek. I was glad that we went on this hike because I got a real taste of Colorado's beauty in the snow.

unusual cloud formation

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