I’ll be honest. By our third day in Rocky Mountain National Park, I did not want to go hiking. We had already walked about twenty miles that weekend, and the thought of hauling my incredibly sore body on another eight mile hike in the mountains seemed insane. I was experiencing a lot of pain in my right hip, which I had overused in an attempt to keep pressure off of my sprained ankle, and even walking from our parking spot to catch the park’s shuttle bus was an excruciating task. I entertained the idea of separating from the group and taking one of our rental cars to drive the park’s scenic highway, but none of us had cell service so splitting up was not an option.
We boarded the shuttle as I worried about the hike ahead. Today we were actually going to hike to Sky Pond (we had planned to do this on our first day, but couldn’t find parking). Carolina and Kasey had hiked it on Friday and said that it was a harder hike than Chasm Lake Trail, which had been difficult for me. I mentally resigned myself to the idea that I might have to turn back at some point and let everyone else go on without me as the shuttle pulled up to the Glacier Gorge trailhead. A hoard of hikers piled out and headed for the trail. We hung back long enough to collect our group of eight (Carolina and Kasey had parted ways after the Chasm), and Vince found me a couple of branches to use as walking sticks to help keep some pressure off of my legs.
We got moving, and I made it my goal to keep up with the others as much as I possibly could. The beginning of the trail was actually turning out to be quite easy, so I was able to keep pace despite the pain in my hip. In what felt like no time at all, we were at our first landmark, Alberta Falls. This pretty waterfall was surrounded by scores of other hikers, but the crowd thinned out as we passed.
We kept walking, and I kept wondering when exactly this hike would become more difficult than the hike to Chasm Lake. So far it had been a gentle stroll compared to the previous day, and my mood was lifting the farther we walked. The weather was warm and sunny, and the trail offered beautiful views at every turn. On our previous two hikes, the turn around points had been the main attraction. Today we were stopping to take in stunning vistas with much more frequency.
The trail was steep for brief stints, then broken up by flat sections that were easy to hike. We made progress quickly and were rounding a switchback when I heard some other hikers talking about an elk sighting nearby. Just ahead were a cow and calf in a field of tall grass.
Shortly after the elk sighting, the trail led us to Lock Vale (also known as the Loch). This glorious subalpine lake was an indicator that we were over halfway to our destination. When we arrived, another elk was wading through the sparkling water. She was soon joined by a calf and we watched the pair walk to shore and then disappear into the woods. As we gathered at the edge of the loch, James and Sarah pointed out a distant mountain and said that Sky Pond was right below it.
The mountain still seemed impossibly far away, but we pressed onward, walking along a rugged river with dozens of small, tumbling waterfalls. We stopped for a snack along the river’s edge and relaxed while listening to the water flowing over rocks.
Like our other hikes, the scenery began to change from lowland forest to shorter trees bordering lush meadows. The trail took us over a series of logs and bridges that were clearly designed to keep hikers dry during the spring when the area would be running with snow melt.
Before long, we were in a large field of boulders and the trail became much steeper. This slowed our pace, but despite being harder than the rest of the day had been, it was still nothing compared to the sustained slog of Chasm Lake Trail. Soon we had reached our next landmark, the aptly named Timberline Falls. The falls cascaded over a huge ledge with the sun shining behind them, illuminating the water. There was no way to see the origin of the falls, but there was a sweeping view of the valley behind us, and we stopped to take it in.
Our next hurdle was climbing up a rock scramble next to the falls. The climb wasn’t difficult by rock climbing standards, but my sore legs and oxygen deprivation made it challenging in it’s own right. I may not be a great measuring stick for how frightening or difficult the scramble was because I climb too much. I heard other hikers (and read trail descriptions) talking about how intense the scramble was, but for me it just made the experience more fun. I actually thought it was easier than all of the steady uphill trekking.
At the top of the scramble was a glistening alpine lake. James and Sarah informed us that this was Glass Lake, and that we still had some hiking left before we would reach Sky Pond. Glass Lake was beautiful, and we stopped for another break just to admire it, drawing the attention of another marmot hoping to food.
Past Glass Lake, the trail became rockier as we passed through a grassy wetland. There were far fewer hikers here than we had seen all day, leaving us to speculate that many people must mistake Glass Lake for Sky Pond and turn around. I was glad that we were still hiking because it was the first time all day that the trail had felt truly wild and rugged.
We continued on until the trail dead ended at another stunning Alpine Lake. We were finally at Sky Pond.
We stopped here for lunch and spent a long time lying in the sun sharing stories of past adventures and admiring the panoramic views that surrounded us. My favorite feature of the area was The Sharkstooth, a trio of jagged granite peaks that seem to slice into the sky.
We only tore ourselves away from Sky Pond begrudgingly when the wind became strong enough to make us uncomfortably cold. I may have felt sad to leave at first, but it turned out that the descent back to the scramble was even more beautiful than the climb had been. Glass Lake sat on the horizon like and infinity pool, backed by nothing but clouds.
We hiked the four miles back to the trailhead in good time, stopping for a second look at many of the same landmarks. I was cautious of my hip and ankle, using the sticks Vince had found me to take some weight off of them. I was definitely more sore by the time we reached the trailhead, but the hike had been completely worth it. I was very glad that I made it all the way to Sky Pond.
The end of the hike was bittersweet. I was certainly ready for some dinner, and a chance to sit down for a while, but I was bummed that it meant our weekend was effectively over. Our flight home was the next day. We enjoyed a final evening at the cabin before crashing into bed.
Vince, Bonnie, and I managed to drive up to the Alpine Visitor Center before returning to Denver for our flight the next day. Vince and I did this drive seven years ago, a few days after he proposed to me in the Grand Canyon. It was a beautiful drive both times, and it’s crazy to think about how much we’ve changed in seven years. For instance, that was my first trip outside of the midwest that I can actually remember, and at the time I had never done any serious sort of hiking. Apparently I also carried giant purses around in national parks back then (scroll to the bottom to see what I’m talking about)…not sure what I was thinking there. At least my bandana game was strong.