How NOT to go Hiking in Rocky Mountain National Park

A couple of years ago while hiking in Rocky Mountain National Park, I fell through the ice at Dream Lake much to my surprise! Now, I only fell up to my waist and I was quickly able to get to more stable ground but that experience certainly stayed with me. Also, that day was incredibly windy (as it usually is at Dream Lake) and very cold with temperatures in the teens and up to 70mph winds! Everything that got wet immediately froze which actually worked in my benefit because I never felt any of the water through my clothes. 

The worst part of that experience was that I wasn't able to take any good photos that morning because that happened as I arrived at the lake, not that there was any lake ice showing. Fast forward four years, I was cruising through my Instagram feed and saw this amazing photo of Dream Lake with some seriously blue ice and the photo had been taken the day before! It was about 2pm and I decided to head up to Estes Park and Rocky Mountain National Park to go pay a visit to one of the most beautiful lakes in Colorado. 

Here is where my terrible decision making begins, it's the afternoon and I'm just now starting out. I'm ill-prepared (I had two left hand gloves) and I'm in a hurry, so of course I didn't tell anyone where I was going. I arrive at the Bear Lake Trailhead at 3:30pm and start hiking the 1.1 miles to my destination. Everyone who is hiking is on their way down and I'm the ONLY person going up. This is also a problem, because it gets very cold once the sun goes down in the winter (or for that matter, all seasons). I'm a tad out of shape so it takes me longer to walk up to the lake that I would have liked, but eventually I arrive and it's beautiful. There are even a few people still up there. 

I start out to walk on the ice and my previous experience comes back full force, my legs were shaking as I'm walking across the frozen lake. Pretty soon I'm standing on crystal clear ice and everyone has left the lake, so now I'm the only person still there. If something bad were to happen, well I probably wouldn't be writing this blog. This is where I realize that nobody knows where I'm at, nobody is expecting me, and nobody is left at the park. And it's getting dark soon. 

Here's where I talk about how great the lake ice was, because it was beautiful. The weather was starting to change (4-6 feet of snow fell in the next 10 days) but Hallet Peak was still visible and the wind was actually fairly calm, for Dream Lake standards. I brought the Canon 11-24mm f/4L lens with me and put it to good use, capturing the cracks in the ice, the bubbles just below the surface and the surrounding area. It was magical! I don't say that lightly but it was one of the coolest scenes I've witnessed. 

Before we get to the photos, please learn from my mistakes. I can hear you saying "But Ryan, you hiked up there successfully and got some great photos, how is this a bad trip?" Whenever you're going hiking, make a plan, let people know, and come prepared. Does not matter what season, how familiar you are with the area, or how many times you go hiking. All it takes is one bad event to happen and everything changes. For those who are fond of lists, you'll find below! 

Before going out:

  • Make a plan including where you're going, what you're doing, and what you'll need.
  • Tell someone when you're leaving, when you expect to be back, and if you're not back by that time to call for search and rescue.
  • Take a first aid kit, a warm blanket, water, and food. 

I didn't do any of these things and again, nothing bad happened to me but that cannot be counted on happening every time. I was glad that I brought my brand new headlamp with me because I did walk down in the dark, amongst coyotes calling to each other. When I arrived back at the parking lot, my truck was the last vehicle in the parking lot and there weren't any park rangers to be seen. Be smart when traveling in the backcountry! 

Canon 5D Mk. III - 11-24mm f/4 Lens: 11mm, f/8, 2 sec. exposure, ISO 50 - Click Photo to Purchase

Canon 5D Mk. III - 11-24mm f/4 Lens: 11mm, f/8, 2 sec. exposure, ISO 50 - Click Photo to Purchase

Canon 5D Mk. III - 11-24mm f/4 Lens: 11m, f/8, 2.5 sec. exposure, ISO 50 - Click the Photo to Purchase

Canon 5D Mk. III - 11-24mm f/4 Lens: 11m, f/8, 2.5 sec. exposure, ISO 50 - Click the Photo to Purchase

Looking forward to making better decisions in 2017 and getting out to do photography more! What do you think? Leave a comment below.