Wednesday, November 7, 2012

The high lakes of Glacier Gorge.

Last week we set out aimed at some of the higher lakes of Glacier Gorge.  This is a sector of RMNP that I have not hiked in much if at all, and a fun change from Wild Basin.
The drive up was mellow, and it was pleasant to start a bit later.  We did briefly get stuck in the Bear Lake Road construction, but were soon able to follow a spotter vehicle up the road.
We started off from the trailhead a little after 730am on October 24.  Our ultimate goal for the day was Black Lake, but we decided if we felt good, my leg felt good, and the weather held (this was the day during/before our first winter storm of the year), we might hit some of the others.   
Early morning on the Glacier Gorge trail.

Soon we reached Alberta Falls.  As Lisa Foster says, "This is a good hike for children and anyone desiring a short, rewarding hike in RMNP."  And I have hiked here before with my parents from Bear Lake on the advice of a park ranger. 

Albert Falls.
Low clouds in the early morning and throughout the day made from some impressive looking photos.
Peaks in the mist.
Somewhere, sometime.
We passed through an area that must've seen a high wind event at some point in the past year.  As always, it was amazing to see these huge trees snapped like toothpicks and torn out of the ground like blades of grass.
 At 5.4 miles round trip, Mills Lake is a destination I'd definitely consider visiting if you haven't already. 

Just look at it!  That is one sexy lake!
Looking up the Gorge to oblivion.
Our destination was farther on, higher up.  Into the clouds we headed.   
Chiefs Head/Pagoda couloir.
Next up was Black Lake.  This is a pretty cool sub-alpine lake (10620 ft.) and at 4.9 miles each way, entirely reasonable for a higher elevation but shorter hike in RMNP.
Arrowhead as seen from Black Lake.
More Black Lake.
Arrowhead (12640+ ft) will be on the list for next year.
From here, the trail winds around the lake and travels up, up, and away.  These granite benches will be on your right.  During warmer months, I bet these cascades are quite pretty.  During colder months they are pretty as well, but in a different way.
A cleared view of Arrowhead and McHenrys Peak as we rise above Black Lake.
Once we gained the drainage above Black Lake the trail became harder to see, and not as well marked.  There was a bit of snow which didn't help.  And a wealth of cairns, many of which appeared to lead to nowhere.  It may very well be easier to find your way in the summer months, but outside of that, it is still easy to find your way.
The Spearhead is the large triangular shaped tower in front of Chiefs Head.  Simply find your way to its right to get to Frozen Lake, or to the left to get to Green Lake.

A later goal of Blue Lake seen from near Frozen Lake.
At Frozen Lake (11580 ft), which as you can see, was not yet Frozen. 
A small yet scenic bowl.
Mummy Range beyond.

Some delicate ice starting to form around the edges of the lake.
Up from Frozen Lake to Chiefs Head Peak.
From Frozen Lake we decided to make our way around The Spearhead and drop down to Green Lake.  Actually we thought we wouldn't have to drop down, and stayed fairly high around the bottom of the cliff face, only to discover a descent awaiting us on the other side.
The Spearhead certainly looks as though it could hold some fun climbing routes.  Not sure if anything is established there as of yet.
Keyboard of the Winds, Pagoda Mountain, Chiefs Head/Pagoda couloir as seen from above Green Lake.
Dan dropping down to Green Lake (11540 ft).  Longs Peak in the background.
The Spearhead as seen from Green Lake.
I was just awe struck with the supreme alpine beauty of this bowl.  It is a must hike in my opinion.  Here are a bunch of pictures.
Keyboard of the winds.
Pagoda Mountain.
Chiefs Head Peak.
The Spearhead.

More The Spearhead.
Looking almost due east.
The moraine to the immediate south.
Back up to Longs and Keyboard of the Winds.
Pagoda looming over Green Lake.  This is the only peak surrounding Wild Basin that I have not climbed.
Looking back at Green Lake as we move on.
A panorama shot from Green Lake showing the peaks surrounding the bowl.
We did this hike on October 24, which was the night we got our first snow of the season.  The lower clouds rolling in here made for some awesome photos and light snow.
Mummy Range and points lower now in clouds.
We decided rather than go down and attempt to find a trail, we would try to head directly towards Blue Lake and maintain a constant elevation.  This worked pretty well.
Ice forming over rock on the north side of Longs Peak.
Dan approaching Blue Lake.
Blue Lake (11,140 ft).
Clouds we starting to blow up into the Gorge before reaching a certain elevation and swirling up into nothingness.  It was very pretty.
Dan in front of Arrowhead.
Making our way down to the lake, where we found all the ice that has formed so far blown to the east side of the lake.
Blue Lake with Chiefs Head Peak in the background.
McHenrys and Arrowhead as seen from Blue Lake.
Keyboard of the Winds, Pagoda Mountain.
Yours truly.
We stopped to eat lunch behind a wind block slightly north of the lake.  The swirling clouds continued to amaze and delight us, making each moment a photograph.

The sun struggling to poke out.
Unforgettable views.

Eventually, we got up and continued on our way.  We worked back in a north westerly direction, bypassing some steep but short drop offs, and the drainage from Blue Lake.  We found the trail back to Black Lake and on we went.

McHenrys Peak.
Can't get enough of the clouds!
Looking back up from farther down.
Descending to Black Lake.
Almost there, slightly reflective.
Of course, from here on out the hiking was rather easy and all downhill.  We took the Fire Trail back to the trail head, which cuts a little distance off the hike. 
Stopped at Mills Lake in the afternoon.  The low clouds have now completely obscured the view up.
This was a rather fun hike!  Great views abound, and though you do go above treeline, you start higher when compared to Wild Basin.  Movement at elevation is no less difficult, but it takes less time to get there.
The views from the bowl around Green Lake are spectacular, and this would put it high on my list of best places to be in RMNP.
The high lakes of Glacier Gorge:
Mills Lake (9940 ft): 2.7 miles one way, 760 foot gain.  Moderate.
Black Lake (10620 ft): 4.9 miles one way, 1440 foot gain.  Moderate+.
Frozen Lake (11580 ft): 6.1 miles one way, 2400 foot gain.  Strenuous-.
Green Lake (11540 ft): 6 miles one way, 2360 foot gain.  Strenuous-.
Blue Lake (11140 ft): 5.5 miles one way, 1960 foot gain.  Strenuous-.


  1. Do you by any chance have a gpx file for this trip?

  2. Do you by any chance have a gpx file for this trip?

  3. Sorry but I don't. There is a trail that heads up into Glacier Gorge past Black Lake. From there you'll be able to see The Spearhead- Frozen Lake is on the right of it, and Green Lake on the left. Blue Lake can be spotted from those and you can work toward it pretty easily.