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The Loch - An Outdoor Sanctuary

The Loch

On October 5, 2009, Greg and I headed toward The Loch, a pristine lake in a glacial valley called Loch Vale on the east side of Rocky Mountain National Park. We started around 1:45 pm from the Glacier Gorge Trailhead after parking in the shuttle lot a few miles north along Bear Lake Rd. I was anxious to get going because daylight quickly fades in the mountains.

Distance: 3 miles one-way.
Elevation: There is a 1000' elevation gain with the trailhead elevation at 9,180' and The Loch at 10,180'. The steepest section is the last half-mile or so where there are a number of switchbacks.
Difficulty: The path itself is fairly smooth and wide with some large rocks to step around. The overall hike is moderate due to the length and ascent near the end.
Time: 3 to 4 hours.

river near trailhead

path climbs gradually

It's only .9 miles to Alberta Falls from the trailhead and the path is easy with a gradual ascent. There are usually many tourists ambling through the stands of aspen, enjoying the river views along the way.

One of two bridges along the way to Alberta Falls

Soon you will see Glacier Creek Gorge on your left (below). The waterfall isn't much farther.

Alberta Falls

Alberta Falls usually has many tourists milling about taking photos and some traverse the rocks below to get better shots of the waterfall. I'm happy to stay near the path. Ice was already forming around the base of the falls.

There were several scenic views of the river to the left of the path.

Greg on ledge This ledge over the river made for a dramatic shot. It wasn't long after this point that Greg sat down for a rest. But when he got up with a 30 lb. toddler on his back in a 10 lb. carrier, his back went out on him. There was no way our little girl could hike the rest of the way to The Loch, so Greg decided to head back to the car. This would be our only hike for the weekend, so I was determined to reach at least one new destination even if I had to go it alone. I was nervous, however, because I only had a small pepper spray on me. I really needed the bear size. Also, because it was later in the day, I knew I wouldn't see many hikers.

Having gained a little in elevation I could start enjoying some mountain views looking northeast (below).

This large cliff is to the right of the path.

The trail marker signs are so helpful so you don't get lost and you can see how far your destination is. The sign below is 1.7 miles from the trailhead. I have not yet taken the left path which leads to Boulder Brook Trail, Granite Pass, and Boulderfield. I veered right toward Mill Lake (1.1 mi.) and Loch Vale (1.3 miles). It was about 3:30 pm and I figured I had to hike fast to make sure I returned at least an hour before dark to be safe. Greg figured it would be pitch dark with the the cloud cover by 6:30 pm, so 5:30 was my goal.

trail sign

When the path curved left and headed toward a valley where Icy Brook flows from Taylor Glacier, the scenery got more interesting as I saw snow capped mountains ahead.

view to left of path

At this point it started getting very quiet on the trail, so I asked one hiker heading back how many people he had seen around The Loch. He said about 7 or 8 and I soon saw that number pass me by. I feared I might be hiking into the wilderness all alone without much to defend myself.

I repeatedly thought about the rule to have a hiking partner and I kept having flashbacks of my cougar encounter in Garden of the Gods as I frequently glanced behind me and through the trees for signs of movement. Because of the cloud cover it was actually darker than these photos convey. I brightened the photos to make the scenery more visible.
You can see a sliver of Icy Brook below to the left.

As I hit the switchbacks, I didn't slow my pace even though the path became rather steep. Concern about wildlife activity increasing as twilight approached kept me pushing upward and I felt my thigh muscles start to burn.

Icy Brook to left of path

Having passed through thick pine forests for awhile, there hadn't been many scenic views until I came to this spot overlooking Icy Brook where it cascades to the left of the switchbacks below. I thought I should relax and enjoy the journey more.

I was very happy to see the opening to the lake up ahead.

Approaching The Loch's shores, I realized I was having a new and rare experience - being all alone in nature, miles from civilization where the only noise came from a soft wind and low gurgling noises beneath the thin ice. It was strangely liberating to not hear the sound of a car or plane or human voice anywhere. I decided to stand still for a few minutes to enjoy the solitude. Thatchtop stood to my left at 12,668' and Otis Peak was straight ahead.

As my eyes combed the rugged mountains enfolding The Loch, I was struck by the vast, detailed splendor around me. Because of the dim lighting, my camera was unable to capture half of what I soaked in as I stood silently by the shore. I've seen much better photos of The Loch shot during sunny summer days.

As I calmed my heart and turned my thoughts toward God, He began to show me how this secluded sanctuary in nature held many parallels to the human soul as He sees it. The endless, intricate beauty of the mountains before me was how God sees each soul He has created. Each of us has many hidden treasures unique to ourselves, placed there by Him, waiting for us to discover and nurture them. I saw that as we take the time to be alone with God, He can start to show us more of who we are and what good and creative things we can do in this world.

In contrast, I also saw how many people believe the lie of our culture that says we should focus outside ourselves and strive to fit an ideal mold or be like everyone else in order to be accepted. I moved on toward the west side of the lake thinking about how valuable each person is and wishing they could know it.

Below is a shot looking back at the northeastern shoreline where you first approach The Loch.

I only went a short way along the shore because I still didn't see anyone and wanted to get back quickly. As I decided to turn around, I heard noise from a young couple returning from Sky Pond, which is 2 miles farther and 440' higher than The Loch. It's a lovely spot below Taylor Glacier and Taylor Peak with pointy, elongated rocks called the Cathedral Spires rising above it. They said it was very beautiful. But it has a challenging steeper section where you have to scramble along Timberline Falls just before reaching Sky Pond.

Not wanting to hike alone, I tried to stay close behind, but lost them after a couple of switchbacks. I kept walking as fast as I could without slipping and heaved a sigh of relief when I reached the Mill Lake junction where I knew I'd see more people.

I made it back by 5:20 pm and there was a little light left. I was very glad I had pushed myself to do the hike. Our tough toddler surprised me by hiking just over a mile back to the shuttle stop without Greg carrying her.

Bull elk heading my way
Since it was the elk mating season, we spent the next day driving by numerous herds primarily in Moraine Valley. The males looked a bit frantic as they tried to keep their herds from roaming in different directions. At one point a bull elk (photo to right) ran straight at me, sending me fleeing to our car. He veered as he got to the road and crossed over in front of our car to reach his other females.

It was exciting to hear the males bugling (below), especially when one was only a few yards from our car. It was odd how the largest numbers of elk were hanging around the road most congested with traffic. I wondered if they enjoyed the human attention.

We even witnessed two males fighting over a female as they swung their large antlers against high bushes along a stream. We were surprised when the female quickly abandoned the male she'd been with. It seemed like she simply didn't want to cross the busy road with the rest of the herd, so she headed for the male who was roaming the peaceful field.

Bull elk bugling

female  herd

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