My theme for 2018 (most years, really) is to go out of my way to explore new places. I’ve been pleasantly surprised, really, at how easy this often is. Often times, new places aren’t all that out of my way.
Craving a late season leg stretcher and one more blast of alpine beauty, I teamed up with Brian for a little casual cruise up into the familiar (and spectacular) terrain of Glacier Gorge in Rocky Mountain NP. I’ve been up in there in all sort of conditions and ended up at every nook and cranny of this incredible place. But, as it turns out, there is still new territory up there.
The valley between Arrowhead and Thatchtop on the west side of the Gorge holds Shelf and Solitude Lakes, a pair of shapely lakes in a spectacular setting. They are aptly named since Shelf sits balanced on a shelf a thousand feet above the main trail and Solitude is, well, you get the picture. Neither see much traffic at all, even in comparison to the adjacent uber-popular Black Lake or Mills Lake.
There’s no official trail and certainly no sign, but finding Shelf and Solitude is pretty easy if you know where to start. We crossed a meadow and the creek on some big rocks, and then encountered a social trail up the very steep hillside. A thousand feet above, we broke out into a stunning hanging valley with the small Shelf Lake, a set of small waterfalls, and the larger, more mysterious Solitude. With no particular further goals or ambitions for the day, we lounged for a time before coming back down.
Back on the main trail, I was feeling remarkably good suddenly and towed Brian on a merry run down past Jewel and Mills Lake, past the junction and the thickening crowds of tourists, up to the rocky Lake Haiyaha, then down to the Dream/Nymph/Bear tourist jam. Down at Bear Lake, the line for the shuttle bus was daunting, so we headed out on foot up the moraine and then the long gradual descent past Bierstadt Lake and down to the massive park-and-ride lot.
Even without the new lakes, it would have been a nice day cruising a gorgeous area with an old friend. But some unseen territory made it a really nice, refreshing, thought-clearing trip.