Sunday, January 13, 2008

Emerald Lake Snowshoe

Trail Length: 3.4 miles round trip
Elevation: 9,475 ft -10,090 ft
Elevation gain: 615 ft (net),  1,000 ft (cumulative)
Bathroom at Trailhead: Yes
Dogs: Not allowed, National Park
Date: 20 Dec 2014 (updated from 2008 post)

Emerald Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park 
No winter season should go by without a quick jaunt up to Dream and Emerald Lakes in Rocky Mountain National Park. This snowshoe has everything a winter aficionado needs; wind swept trees, frozen lakes, towering peaks, and sometimes life-sucking chill.

Trailhead at Bear Lake. The cabana is out of sight to the left. Bear Lake is straight ahead. The route to Dream Lake is to the left and is well marked with a sign. 
Starting out on the well packed trail. 
The trail starts at Bear Lake, and there are helpful volunteers scurrying amongst the hordes offering friendly advice, but alas no hot chocolate or cookies. This significantly reduces their utility in my mind.

The route is across tiny Nymph Lake and through the trees to the left. 
On a broad shelf
While there are several ways to get to the Emerald Lake, the images in this post profile the summer route, which should be well tracked and easy to find.  Recent snow or breath of wind, can and will obscure things, so be prepared to find your way if necessary.

A rare open area
Crossing Dream Lake
After a short stroll through the trees near Bear Lake, the trail begins to climb steeply, which in some places can be quite steep and potentially very deep. I have seen tourists bite the dust quickly on this segment.  Anyone with a modicum of fitness however, can easily scale these humps to the shelf above.

Lichens add a touch of green to an otherwise gray landscape.
The route past Dream Lake
0.6 miles up the trail is the first milestone,  Nymph Lake at 9,705 ft and 231 ft elevation gain. The route crosses it on the left and then heads sharply uphill to a view point. The route then follows a shelf overlooking a drainage until it reaches a broad meadow. Shortly there after is Dream Lake (see it in the fall), which is austere, windblown, and bordered by twisted, claw-like trees. Here, sculptures carved in ice, rock, and wood stand vigil. Dress warmly though and bring your goggles and face mask! Those twisted trees did not get that way from pleasant pastoral breezes. The winds here whip and blow in constant, blinding vortices. Dream Lake (at 1.2 miles) is located 9,912 ft for a total of 437 ft of elevation gain.

Emerald Lake is just through the trees
Emerald Lake on a snowy day
Sometimes I have crossed Dream Lake on the side and other times straight down the middle. It all depends upon the visibility and ever present wind chill.  The numerous cracks in the ice make seem daunting, but in the middle of winter the lake should be safe.

Hallet Peak on a sunny day
I have photographed this twisted pine on every trip to the lake. Years go by for me, but for this aged giant, a year is but a brief moment.  
Emerald Lake is a half-mile beyond Dream Lake and is achieved after another short accent that winds through the trees. It sits below Hallett Peak, which can be gray and dreary, shrouded in clouds like an Ansel Adams portrait or graced by a halo of sunshine and blue skies. I have never crossed Emerald Lake but have certainly seen enough people on the far side. It is much deeper than Dream Lake though, so use caution.

While short and windy this snowshoe has the advantage of being close to the Metro Area and without avalanche danger.

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