“You can’t go up there. There’s snow,” a neighboring camper advises me.
“Oh no, the roads are fine. There is snow on the trail.”
Confused by what is so perilous about snow on the trail, I decide to stop by the visitor center and ask a park ranger.
“Oh, you’ll probably be fine,” the park ranger advises me.
I’ll probably be fine?
The trail is a mere 1.5 miles in and 1.5 miles back, so I decide to take the hike and turn around if for some reason this strangely threatening snow stops me.
Once on the trail, I know I’ve made the right decision. There is hardly a person around and the views going up are spectacular.
Magical. Peaceful. Still. I have this fairy tale place to myself as I continue hiking toward the lake. Pretty soon, the snow gets a bit more challenging.
Determined to get there, I trek through the now almost knee deep snow, finally arriving at a shockingly beautiful scene. There is one other family that has made it to Bierstadt, so I hike around to find a private spot. It is so pretty I feel like crying. I want to hike here everyday and decide to stay as long as possible.
After a few hours of lakeside journaling, it’s getting late. I am a bit turned around, and hear another family trying to find the trail. With the snow and fallen trees, we are all disoriented, so I decide to stay with them as we try to get back on track.
“Ah, here it is! Look, there are footprints,” the husband calls out in an English accent.
I want to enjoy another solitary walk through the quiet woods, so wait a while and let them hike ahead.
After they are well out of sight I start out. I hike and hike and hike. I should be there by now. I don’t remember such a steep climb. This snow is deeper than I remember.
I start to fear I started back on the wrong path. When I come upon some fallen pine trees blocking my way, I’m completely exhausted and now certain I’ve gotten off track. The family I let go ahead is now long gone.
Finally, I find a trail marker, but my relief turns to panic as I realize the listed destinations are meaningless to me. I’ve been hiking for well over an hour in the wrong direction and am getting increasingly confused. The sun is starting to go down.
Two of the destinations are listed as three miles out; one is listed as one mile. Having no idea if they lead to remote backcountry campsites or the main road, I opt for the shortest one. The hike continues a steep incline and the snow gets even deeper.
It gets so deep that I can’t make it any farther. I know I have to hike back to the meaningless sign, but also know I can’t randomly hike three more miles of difficult terrain to yet another unknown destination. I fall repeatedly as I try to navigate the more difficult trek downhill.
Starting to panic, I realize the only thing I can do is make the long trek back to the lake. The sun is going down. I start to call out. No response. I start to feel sick.
Oh my God. I’m lost in the snow covered Rocky Mountains and it is getting dark.
I sit on a fallen tree and try to think clearly. I’m so stupid! I have nothing with me!
Trying to calm myself. The worst that can happen is a miserable night out here and a lot of humiliation for my stupidity.
Oh my God, I’ll never post this on my blog!
With a combination of despair, panic, and exhaustion, I miserably make the long hike back to the lake, noting the sun’s now ominous descent. I continue to call out for anyone. No response.
Back at beautiful Bierstadt a miracle occurs! Two fisherman coming off the lake!
I yell out to them, “I’m lost and need for you to help me find my way back!”
They glance at each other, nonchalant, “Uh, yeah, no problem.”
Still, there is debate amongst them about how to find the trailhead. They want to head in the direction that I’d just abandoned.
Well, at least being lost with somebody is better than being lost alone.
But, finally, seven hours after starting out my hike, I make it back out. With a clearer head and better map back at the motorhome, I calculate that I hiked almost ten miles in the snow.
This post is long enough, so I’ll spare you too many details of my next hike out.
I’ll just say that, loaded up with enough gear to last in the caves of Afghanistan for a week, I find that for Memorial Day weekend I’d arrived at something more like a family theme park with overcrowded and well worn trails.
Seriously, grandmothers pushing baby strollers were almost knocking me over as I tried to crowd into the (still extraordinary) sights weighted down with my ultimate survival gear.
I wanted to make the hike up to a distant lake to get away from the crowds, but someone on the trail said to me, “You can’t go up there. There’s snow.”
I turned back.
Despite my early educational hiking adventure, I have fallen completely in love with Rocky Mountain National Park. If you visit, get there early in the week for solitary hikes. I stayed at Moraine Park Campground, inside the park, and it was lovely. There were elk in the roadway and you can walk to easy scenic hikes right from your campsite.
Even if you can’t hike much, just riding the shuttle bus up and down the mountain is an extraordinary experience.
The snow made for an adventure, but I think I would still come back early in the season (but maybe with snowshoes). It wasn’t too cold, and the snow makes it look like a magical forest.