The hike to Ypsilon Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park is one of those hikes where you put your head down, try not to suck wind too loudly, and put one foot in front of the other until you tackle the 2,180 feet of elevation gain that steadily makes up the first four miles of the nine-mile out-and-back hike. The climb is relentless. It seduces you with gorgeous, sprawling views of the park before leading deep into a dense and dark forest filled with tall trees that tower over the icy, snow-packed trail. It’s one of those quiet hikes that leaves you with a lot of time to think, and after three miles of calf-burning climbing, all I could think about was the big pay-off — how incredible and worth it working to get this beautiful alpine lake would be. I conjured up images of the lake, its waters covered with a glistening layer of perfectly frozen ripples and lightly brushed with a sprinkling of fresh snow, all framed by a backdrop of snowy majestic mountains. Four miles in, the trail tapered off before plunging into a descent piled high with deep snow. Between long strides to stay in the footprints of others who had tackled the snowy trail before me, I peered through the trees, hoping for a glimpse of my reward. When the trail finally spit me out at the banks of the frozen lake, I found myself speechless, gawking at the scene around me. In the late afternoon light, it was dreary, and so small. Sunlight struggled to touch the lake, but to no avail. The dizzying maze of trees I had just trekked through engulfed the lake, blocking views of any picturesque backdrop I had spent the past two hours imagining. As I refueled with a trail snack and some water, I felt disappointed, defeated even. Where was my big payoff? The hike back to the car was just as silent as the hike in. We easily breezed back down the trail and silently loaded our packs back into the car. We had spent more than four hours out on the trail, and it felt like we had nothing to show for it except for a few aching muscles and some muddy boots. On our way out of the trailhead, we stopped to watch four majestic bull elk graze in an open meadow, surrounded by stunning peaks and a wide open sky. As we sat watching the regal animals, the sun began its final descent, leaving streaks of blue and pink smeared across the sky over the park, the colors washing over the top of Longs Peak and a large herd of elk in the distance. No longer in a rush to leave, we sat and soaked it all in — grateful for the day, and the trail, and the trees, and the lake, and the sunset, and the luxury of being able to spend an entire day exploring the surreal natural beauty in our own backyard. When you’re sucking wind on an uphill climb, it’s easy to forget that it isn’t destination that is the big payoff — it’s the journey.
Photo Location: Rocky Mountain National Park.
Postcards From the Weekend is our weekly photo series showcasing images and stories from our adventurous and outdoor-loving contributors at Elevation Outdoor Magazine. Follow along and see where our team of adventure-seekers like to spend their weekends.