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November 18, 2017

Mills Lake
Location: Rocky Mountain National Park
Fees: $20 day pass as of post
Website: http://www.protrails.com/trail/50/rocky-mountain-national-park-mills-lake-and-jewel-lake
Elevation: 9,240-9,955 feet
Distance: 5.3 miles

Another Saturday, another missed forecast…these weathermen!  We planned a hike in Rocky Mountain National Park to Mills Lake.  While we expected cold weather (27-35 degrees) and blue skies, 40 mph sustainable winds were not in the forecast.  The wind was supposed to be over on Friday!

As we drove into the park, we hit a few icy patches on the road as loose snow swirled across the pavement.  We joked, maybe we should just go on a scenic drive, as the wind seemed menacing!  Upon arriving the parking lot, the wind howled.  If we weren’t careful, I think a door could have blown off the car.  The intensity increased and sometimes we felt 60 mph gusts.

photo credit: Danelle

We all layered on our clothes.  I wore short sleeves, long sleeves, a ski sweater, a vest, and a puffy jacket with a hat, buff, mittens, and hand and feet warmers.  We were holding out hope that the trees would protect us from the wind as they had the last few hikes.  Fortunately, this was partly true.  As we began, the wind wasn’t too bad and as we gained elevation, we quickly heated up…enough for some people to shed a layer.

Being cold-natured, I wasn’t part of that group.  I was warm and gave thought to it briefly, but stopping to snap a few photos or removing my hat and gloves for a few minutes was enough to cool me off.

The previous evening, a snow storm swept through the Rockies.  Some areas got a foot of snow.  In Rocky Mountain National Park, at 9,240, the elevation at the trailhead, there was just a dusting, though as we continued to climb, we hiked through about three inches of new snow.

The fresh snow wasn’t too slick or deep, so we didn’t need any help from traction devices.  We just squished squished along the trail.  Fortunately, others started out earlier than us, so we didn’t have to break trail, though at times, the wind was so strong, that it blew loose snow over previous tracks to make the trail barely decipherable.

The scenery was spectacular.  Snow dusted, dark grey, granite cliffs towered around us as snow swirled across the surfaces.  The evergreen forest was blanketed in snow.  Icicles hung from rocks.  The creeks were frozen enough for just a little running water to pass through. And after we entered a wind tunnel where I briefly considered turning around as we did have to turn our backs to the stinging snow, we hiked another mile to see an amazing frozen lake.

The view was just breathtaking.  I’m not sure either my description or my photos can do the scene justice.  At times, surprisingly, the wind died down and the feeling was simply serene.  At other times, the wind gusted viciously and snow whirled across the lake creating an almost eerie sight.  It was really awesome!  We stayed at the lake much longer than I expected, as certain sun drenched places which were protected from the wind were rather pleasant.

25 second Video Courtesy of Danelle.  Worth watching!

Soon, however, we turned around and headed back to the trailhead.  I think the total distance was only 5.3 miles, but the hike sure felt like a workout.  It’s just that much harder to hike on snow which requires engaging some balancing muscles.  Not to mention, keeping warm burns more calories.  I loved this hike, and I think I may return in the summer to hike past Mills Lake and on to Ribbon Falls and Black Lake.  I’m really glad my friends were “gung ho” and willing to brave the wind for a wonderful experience.  ETB

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