Mills Lake

The plan was to hike to Mills Lake for sure and Black Lake maybe.  The Estes forecast called for afternoon and evening showers.  The morning skies were clear and winds were light, it was a great morning.  The hike to Mills Lake went about as expected.  Lots of snow on the trail with the exception of the portion between the junction to Boulder Brook and the Mills/Loch split, which was almost completely dry.  The snow below Mills Lake was firm from the overnight freezing temperatures so snowshoes were not required there.  Alberta Falls was completely frozen over with only a small amount of visible flowing water just down stream from the falls.

Be sure to click on these thumbnail photos for larger versions.

1. Mills Lake and Glacier Gorge.

Mills Lake itself was mostly frozen with a small amount of open water at both the inlet and outlet ends.  Beyond Mills Lake however, snowshoes were required.  In fact, it didn't take long beyond Mills Lake that the snowshoes weren't effective enough.  The snow got deep and very soft.

2. Jewel Lake and the Spearhead.

Another gentleman started the same hike at the same time as me.  Our paths crossed a couple of times even though we didn't always take the same path.  Just past Mills Lake, at the bridge crossing the stream to the Glacier Gorge campsite, we split.  He took the high road, forging ahead through undisturbed snow, probably very close to the summer trail.  I took the low road, following the streambed, clearly the popular choice based on tracks.  But I didn't get very far.  The snow over the stream provided very uneasy footing.  Especially when I could hear water rushing below me, I tread very carefully.  This was in clear contrast to my hike two days earlier to Timberline Falls where I followed the streambed.  Not once did I feel the threat of breaking though there.  But here the risk was clear.  The water wouldn't be very deep, but it sure would be cold.

I finally gave up on that route and decided to backtrack to the point where my friend and I split.  Then I followed his tracks for a while.  I gave up on that before too long too.  The snow was just too deep and non-supporting to be a fun hike.  So I started to head back down.

3. Hiking back down, snow flurries begin to fall.

On the way down, when I reached the point where snowshoes were no longer necessary, I removed them.  As I was doing so, along came my friend.  He was having the same trouble as I was.  He said he could hear me down by the stream.  (Snowshoes make a lot of noise sometimes.)  So he decided to abandon the high road and make his way down to the stream.  But he had more trouble than I did with the stream.  He actually broke through and filled his boots with water.  But he was well prepared; he had an extra pair of dry socks in his pack, something that I didn't think of.  On the way down from Mills Lake, dark skies began to form to the North West.  Mother Nature was on our side though as only snow flurries fell.