Sunday, October 11, 2015

Autumn Fun at Glacier Gorge

It's been a while since I've run at Rocky Mountain National Park, and since the aspens this time of year are glittering, golden swaths on every hillside, I decided to head up to Glacier Gorge for some fun in the mountains.

Gusty winds nearly knocked me over as I exited my car at the trailhead just before dawn, but once on the trail, all was well: the trees shielded me from the worst of the wind and my body warmed up as I ran. My plan was to climb to Sky Pond, then turn around to the junction, climb to Black Lake, and then descend back to the car.

I've trod these trails since before I can remember, and a comforting familiarity washes over me every time I run past Alberta Falls, the air fragrant with ponderosa pine. But just as Heraclitus would say one never steps into the same river twice, I know from experience that one never sets foot on the same trail twice: seasonal changes, precipitation and moment-to-moment shifts in the weather all mean that the experience is a bit different each time.

My eye was on the sky as I reached the Loch; big, dark clouds were rolling in from the west and there were white caps on the waves that crashed against the Loch's shore. I'd better pick up the pace if I wanted to reach Sky Pond before the snow began to fall! Meandering quickly around the Loch, I was soon climbing -- then, one of my favorite stretches of "trail" -- scrambling up the rocks alongside the waterfall to Lake of Glass.

I've seen this lake on a day when it lives up to its name: completely still and calm, reflecting the surrounding cliffs and glaciers like a mirror. Today, as I got to my feet after scrambling on all fours to climb up, I stumbled a few times, the wind nearly knocking me over. Lake of Glass was the very opposite of its name, heaving and frothy. Two young men headed down the trail toward me, bent over and practically crab-walking to keep moving without being knocked over in the wind. The three of us laughed a bit, feeling very much like the tiny mammals we all are amid the huge cliffs and fierce winds.
Enjoying the wild, wild winds at Lake of Glass.

Lake of Glass...well, today, not exactly.

There was no way I would be able to stay upright and continue up the trail to Sky Pond today, so I turned around and descended once again...very carefully.

Looking east as I descended from Lake of Glass, alongside the waterfall.

With that fierce wind, it certainly seemed like snow was blowing in, but I thought if I picked up the pace I could at least make it back to my car before the worst of the storm hit. Fortunately, as I descended the sun was also rising, and the conditions warmed up nicely as I made my way back to the trail junction, then turned right to reach Mills Lake, and then Black Lake. The stretch between Mills and Black lakes was a maze of blown-down trees and flooded trails; I'm not sure what happened here or when, but it was interesting to see, and I had to climb over some trunks that extended across the trail.

And in this stretch of the run, what should appear but blue sky?!
A major change in the weather! Welcome to the mountains.

Reaching Black Lake, I snapped a quick photo, then decided -- since it didn't look like snow was coming -- to continue climbing off to the left, toward Frozen Lake.
Black Lake.

I love the climb beyond Black Lake: a bit of scrambling, a bit of running, pulling oneself up and over the big stone slabs that form the "trail." At this point I had run out of time and had to turn around and head for home -- lots to do today -- but I snapped one last photo looking down on Black Lake before descending.
Black Lake, looking quite black.

Happy running, friends, and see you on the trail!

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