Thursday, June 8, 2017

Exploring Glacier Gorge

Nearing the Mills/Loch Junction - Thatchtop Mountain holding court.

I always imagine the aspen leaves applauding the spring weather this time of year. They seem giddy that the snow is melting and the winds have died down and celebrate in their characteristic quaking. I was running through that little aspen grove right by the old Glacier Gorge Trail Head and was greeted by this classic and welcoming sound! I'm not sure of a better way to start a jaunt into the high country.

Alberta Falls
The agenda was The Loch and Mills Lake. I didn't have enough time to grunt my way up to Sky Pond or Black Lake, unfortunately, but I was happy to be leaving from the Bear Lake Trail Head on a run... it had been a looong while!

It was a relatively warm morning with the temps in the mid or upper 40's and there wasn't a cloud in the sky. Water was flowing everywhere and there were a few lingering snow patches on the way down toward Glacier Gorge. It had been a long time since I been by Alberta Falls and I was soon in earshot of its roar! Alberta is running full right now and it's pretty amazing to see and hear! There was a pretty good sized crowd at the falls so I took a couple of quick snap shots and boogied up the trail. From Alberta, the trail climbs steadily for a bit, winding through the lower reaches of Glacier Gorge. It then flattens out a bit, and even descends, to the Mills Lake and The Loch Junction. From there you have a choice and either one is the right call!

You can head to the left and head into Glacier Gorge proper and Mills Lake or you can head right into Loch Vale and The Loch will greet you a bit under a mile later. I chose to go right and head up to The Loch first. There was a bit more snow from this point on but it wasn't an issue. What snow was there was firm and easy to walk on. I had old running shoes that were pretty slick and didn't have any issues. Before long I popped out on the banks of The Loch with its icy water lapping against the snowy shore. A few rainbow trout protested my arrival by retreating to the deeps as I pulled my camera out to try to capture the spectacular scene before me.

The snowy banks at The Loch
I chatted for a few minutes with a mother and daughter who were on their way to Sky Pond and then I pointed my nose downhill and made quick work of the trail back to the Mill/Loch junction. The sound of Glacier Creek was almost deafening. Watching the cycles of rivers throughout the seasons is an interesting thing. Personally, I forget how full of life they become in the spring and, likewise, I forget how slow and quiet they are in the winter. Well, Glacier Creek is full of pep at the moment and it's awesome!
Heading toward Mills Lake

At the junction there were a couple of guys who were a bit "lost." They were trying to find their way to Mills Lake but didn't know where to go. They were looking at the sign but the snow in the direction of Mills was definitely more substantial. Plus, it is covered by a smattering of dirt and debris such as pine needles and cones. To me, who knows this part of the park like the back of my hand, it is obvious where to go. But these guys had never been out there before and we a bit frustrated that the trail wasn't easier to spot. I think they were a little embarrassed too. So... just a reminder. Bring a map with you! It's easy. And a compass can help too. However, if you're still confused, do what these guys did and ask! And don't be embarrassed. Better to ask and not get lost than to guess and turn your hike into an epic!

I encouraged them to keep on going and I moseyed up the trail. The snow up to Mills was definitely worse. More of it and a bit punchier. I never post-holed, but it was a little sloppy and there was one stretch I couldn't run as it was just a kiss too slick.

The slabs just before Mills Lake seem like a gate into an incredible new world. Then the gorge opens up before you and your jaw drops. At least mine does... every time. That view. It really is one of the best in the entire National Park, if not Colorado. And that's saying something!

Mills Lake

I took in my surroundings for a few minutes and began my descent back to Bear Lake. I opted for the fire trail on the descent as it would bypass the crowds at Alberta Falls. That was a fun but very wet and muddy decision! The quaking aspen near the old Glacier Gorge Trail Head cheered me on as I got ready for the half mile grunt back up to Bear Lake. This hill always hurts no matter how much I've been hiking and/or running. It's a steep sucker and I think the Park Service made this trail as punishment for not getting up early enough to get a parking spot at the Glacier Gorge Trail Head. But hey, it'll make me stronger for my next outing...

Happy Trails!


Just below Mills Lake


  1. Beautifully written, I thought I was there! Thanks.

  2. Looking out for the hiking destination? Here are some. You might be having a trouble to make a decision, just pick one and have fun. They all are great.