“There could be snow up there. And you’ll have to climb up a steep waterfall”. He looked at me with deep suspicion. “You know you need water, food, extra clothes, and proper shoes”. The Rocky Mountain National Park Ranger was trying to put the fear of God in me. And all I said was that I wanted to hike to Sky Pond from Bear Lake that day.
I had found this nine mile trail on alltrails.com. It looked like a perfect way to spend my first morning in the US Rocky Mountains. There was not too much climb, it was deemed to be a well-marked trail, and there were a few other lakes to visit on the way. However the Ranger wasn’t too sure if I should be let lose on the route.
Eventually I managed to sneak past him, promising to turn back if things got too tough out there. In the end, there was nothing to fear. The paths were incredibly well maintained, with detailed markings and with zero risk of getting lost out there. The day was crisp and cold, perfect weather for hiking. There was no snow to speak of, just some minor frozen patches of water on the trail. And the intrepid ascent up the waterfall was minor in comparison to some of the epic scrambles I’ve encountered up some of Ireland’s highest mountains.
The only difficulty was the altitude. The hike was spent around the 3,000 metre contour line, making the slightest excursion that bit more strenuous. But it was the altitude that also made for the incredible scenery. I emerged from the pine forest to an array of glacial valleys. Snowed capped mountains encircled Sky Pond. Blue skies infiltrated the purest of waters I’ve seen in a long time.
I got back to the Ranger’s station after four and a half hours. He welcomed me with open arms. I didn’t dare tell him that, in comparison to Ireland’s mountains, the Rocky trails were quite gentrified. No one in Ireland is there to give you such grave warnings before you set out on your march. Nowhere in Ireland are the trails so well marked, built, and maintained. But then again, Ireland doesn’t have mountains so large and impressive where weather, altitude, and conditions can unleash unexpected havoc on wee Irish lassies like me like they could do in the Rockies.