Words and Photography by Amanda Kiplinger
Sweat collected along my hairline, rolling down my face and settling above my lips. My footsteps slowed, my feet felt heavy; I felt a little light headed, I attributed this to the effects of the high altitude. The forest smell wafted in the air, engulfing myself and my family. Slivers of early morning light pierced through the lodgepole pines and aspens surrounding us. As the trail ascended, my family and I wondered if we’d reach our goal: Bierstadt Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park.
Just when we thought we would never reach the lake, we were there. Several side trails, located throughout the surrounding forest, all leading to the mail trail (a .75 mile loop) circling the lake. A cool breeze welcomed us as we plowed our way through the brush. Following one of those side trails led us to a clearing where we saw the lake in all its glory.
A shallow, crystal-clear mountain lake laid before us. Tall grasses line the edges of the lake. Ducks of varying sizes and ages swam in and out of the lakes nooks and crannies. The lake was placid, mirror-like, with reflections of the surrounding mountains and the deep blue sky above. In that sky, clouds slowly began skimming over the mountain peaks. One of those peaks, Longs Peak, is the predominant mountains, not only at Bierstadt Lake, but in the entire park.
Continuing on the main trail, I would pause every so often camera glued to my face, making photographs. A large slab of rock, jetting out in the lake, made for an excellent place to make more photos. I was concentrating so intently on my subject I didn’t notice some new friends joining me in the fun. Ducklings surrounded me, walking across my boots. It wasn’t until I heard the laughter from my husband and daughter that I realized what was going on. I finally finished photographing the lake, but little did I know that, as the saying goes, the best was yet to come.
Once again we hiked through the dense forest. We decided we’d hike the 1.25 mile tail (with several switch backs and literally straight down) leading to a shuttle bus stop. Sunshine and midday heat greeted us as we walked into a clearing. So too did the mountains. The clouds increased creating shadows and depth to the landscape. While the weather was dry in the Rockies that summer, there was still an abundant amount of green foliage and wildflowers blooming. The trail was well-worn, narrow and dusty. Continuing our descension we were mesmerized by the views. As at the lake, I stopped every few feet, photographing the surrounding landscape. Unlike in the eastern mountain ranges where there seems to be a constant blue haze encircling the mountains, there were clear, uncontested views of the mountains. Along the trail the wildflowers and thistles bloomed bright colors of reds, oranges, yellows and purples. I was so captivated by what I saw through my lens I never saw the rock that was protruding out of the ground. I tripped over the rock, causing me to loose my balance and I began rolling down the mountainside. As a good photographer I protected my camera gear, worrying less about my own body. Fortunately, I came to a stop before I did some damage to myself. My family, accustomed to my gracefulness, collectively shook their heads and came to my aid. We hike the rest of the trail without incident, reaching the bus stop in time to catch the shuttle back to our car.
Bierstadt Lake is a beautiful example of a mountain lake. Calm, clear and remote along with grand, dramatic views of the mountains, the hike was worth all the sweat. The next time you find yourself in Rocky Mountain National Park I recommend visiting this lake. It will captivate you as much as it captivated me.