Elevation: 9,200-10,180 ft
Elevation Gain: 1,400 ft (includes extra ups and downs)
The Loch and Mills Lake snowshoe in RMNP is an adventure not to be missed. For those of you familiar with these trails in summer, you will know that to ascend to the Loch one must traverse a series of switchbacks that look down upon a gorge. At the top of this gorge is a waterfall that drains out of the Loch itself.
In winter, you bypass the switchbacks and go straight up the gorge itself! The route is steep but not overwhelming with spectacular views of the gorge’s rock formations.
Icicles the size of surf boards dangle from the walls and the snow is usually sufficiently packed down to make the going easier. This is not a route best suited for skiers, however, who may find the steepness and vicinity of bone crushing protuberances a bit risky.
Climbing over the lip of the waterfall is a life changing experience. While I have done this late in the season when the weather was balmy, in early winter the lake is host to preternatural winds that will freeze the eyeballs in your head. Such a thrill should be on every Coloradoans to do list. Prove to yourself that you can handle the chill just like the Wisconsin cheese heads.
The route is straight back down the gorge. Near the bottom veer off to the right and search for the large frozen waterfall that hangs precipitously over the cliff face. The ice here is large, usually tainted brown, and braced by a slope of deep snow. Bushwhacking will be required but since this whole trip is about discovering your inner Mr. Frost, what the heh?
The trip up to Mills Lake also follows a drainage. The winter trails map produced by the Park Service might help finding the trail here. My memory is spotty on the connection between the two trails, but if anyone has gone before you, the trail will be clear.
What I like about Mills Lake in winter is the pile of driftwood that covers is lower end. These skeletal remains lie tumbled amid drifting snow, a harsh and picturesque reminder of the severity of nature.
Think of the elk, the deer, and the marmot, existing upon that frozen tableau, and then think about your heating blanket, double espresso maker, and fire place, and count your blessings that you are a primate! Who knew that snowshoeing could have such intense mythical ramifications. It is undoubtedly because your third eye (7th chakra) froze along with your real eyeballs and the body’s entire energy system is miss firing in shock.
The soul needs a reboot once in a while; so don’t let my description deter you from venturing out on this lovely trail. It is one of the best the Front Range has to offer.
December 2008: I have a new update to this snowshoe...see Loch Vale: A retrospective