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

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