Lake Helene Snowshoe Hike (Feb 24, 2015)

Susan and I have been talking about a bigger snowshoe hike for the past month or so, and we kept coming back to the idea of hiking up to Lake Helene in Rocky Mountain National Park, especially after a couple of our friends skied up there recently. We've hiked this area before, but not in the winter.

We'd gotten quite a bit of fresh snow recently and heard trail conditions were excellent.

So when Tuesday dawned and promised another bluebird day, we got our snowshoes out and headed up to Bear Lake to begin our hike.

The drive in to Rocky and up Bear Lake Road was beautiful and dramatic, as always.

Make your browser full screen and then click any image to see a larger version of it. 

Entering Rocky at the Beaver Meadows entrance

Along Bear Lake Road

We didn't get going all that early, hitting the trail at just before 11am.

Susan at the Bear Lake ranger hut

The hike starts at 9,475' at Bear Lake, then heads up the Flattop Mountain Trail and then joins the Fern Lake Trail. The "published" distance is about 6.4 miles round trip, with a gain of about 1,300'.

We were well-equipped this time, learning our lesson from our recent winter hike to Deer Mountain.

The scenery along the snow-covered trail was simply beautiful and we were so happy to be outside!

Along the horse trail above Bear Lake; Hallett in background

Longs Peak and Glacier Gorge

Mike on the trail

Looking back to the southeast

When we got to the large open area below Flattop Mountain we could see ski tracks all over the place. This is a popular area for skiers and boarders to hike up and do runs.

Panorama with Mike at the "ski area" below Flattop

From here, we "took the high road" climbing up higher than the summer trail. It was harder, but I think more scenic.

Looking up at other snowshoers on the "high road"

The trail had other tracks on it, but wasn't hard packed, and it was made a little more difficult by having to traverse a pretty steep slope.

Susan on the trail traversing the steep mountain slope

Along the trail

As scenic as this route was, it turned out to be a minor error, as we ended up well above Two Rivers Lake and Lake Helene with no obvious or easy way to hike down. On the other hand, being above Lake Helene provided views of Notchtop Mountain and Joe Mills Mountain which we'd never seen before from this angle.

One of our first views of Notchtop Mountain (right)

As much as Lake Helene was our destination, the real draw for me was the imposing Notchtop Mountain.

Susan presents... Notchtop Mountain!

Favorite shot of the day of Notchtop.
Note the hikers on the trail at bottom center.

We'd been hiking pretty slowly and it was starting to get late, and also windy, so we chose a direct line down to Two Rivers Lake so we could hike back on the Fern Lake summer trail.

Mike breaking trail on the way down to Two Rivers Lake (center left, below)

Susan heading down to Two Rivers Lake; Notchtop at right
Detail of Notchtop Mountain

At Two Rivers Lake we tried to sit for a few minutes to rest and have a snack, but it was just too windy to be comfortable, so we moved on down the trail.

Looking across frozen Two Rivers Lake to Notchtop

Before long we rejoined the trail we came up on, and continued on down to Bear Lake and finished up the hike.

Back on the trail

Fun shadows along the way

Susan kicking it on the trail

Icicles on trees 

We ended up clocking a total of 6.9 miles with about 1,600 feet of gain. Here's the hike profile and map generated by Gaia GPS on the iPhone.

Our last view of Hallett before heading to the car

Denver LoDo Weekend (Feb 14, 2015)

One of the benefits of doing home exchanges is that the opportunity for a fun exchange comes up when you aren't expecting it.

We wouldn't normally be looking for a Lower Downtown (LoDo) Denver exchange, but when someone asked if we'd be interested in a long weekend exchange, we jumped on it. They were interested in using our home as a basecamp to do winter hiking in Rocky, and we had the chance to spend a leisurely Valentine's Day weekend in a more urban setting. 

Rush hour on I-25; glad we were on foot!

So on Thursday, we drove to Denver, parked our car in the underground garage, and left it there the entire weekend, walking or taking public transport everywhere we went. 

We had a wonderful and modern downtown loft as our home for the weekend. 

Dining room

Living room

When we arrived, we visited Union Station where we had dinner. We also explored the area around our place near 17th and Wazee. 

Union Station

Susan inside Union Station

We visited the 16th Street area, the Denver Art Museum grounds, the Denver Center for the Performing Arts, the Capitol building (including a tour and visit to the top of the rotunda), took in a play a the "Space Theatre" at DCPA, and had some very nice meals at several fun restaurants. 

Denver Capitol building

Colorado house in session

Looking west from the top of the Capitol

Looking down from the rotunda

One of the hearing rooms at the capitol

Along 16th Street

And we worked off our calories by walking at least 5-6 miles every day we were there. 

We also visited the Byers-Evans House near the Art Museum and took in a nice pub meal at Pints Pub. 

Front room at the historic Byers-Evans House

Pints Pub. We had one each. :-)

Our only non-walking adventure was when we decided to take a ride on Denver's Light Rail system, starting at Union Station and going all the way to the south end of the line, and then stopping off at the Park Meadows Mall for a little shopping. 

On the Light Rail

We also walked the trail along the Platte River to the Confluence Park and shopped at the huge REI there. 

Climbing wall in REI

Shoppers in REI

We really enjoyed the walking and exploring, and did some people-watching and photography. 

Our walk to Little Man Ice Cream was well worth it!

Here are more pictures from the weekend.

Denver Center for the Performing Arts, looking west

Denver Art Museum

Detail of the ultra-modern Denver Art Museum

My name is Awsum :-)

Larimer Square