Second day of success – we got up early enough to get to the Sky Pond trailhead and secure parking. We were still in prime season at the parks, so the need to find parking early ended up being something of a theme for the entire trip. We probably got there around 8:00, which was safe but not too early for parking. Once we were parked, we took our time to decide on clothes, pack, sunscreen and generally get ready before catching the shuttle bus to the official trailhead. We were heading up by 8:45.
Note: The official trailhead required taking a shuttle bus back to a previous parking lot that was full, which we did. The unofficial trailhead where we parked was a difference of only 0.1mi in total distance, but the 0.4mi fork to that lot is all uphill when coming back, which we did not realize. So, if the plan is to shuttle, the ideal would be to park at the lower trailhead and shuttle uphill to start the hike. We didn’t really have this option due to parking and didn’t realize just how much uphill we chose to tack onto the end of the hike going the route we did. Additionally, there’s really no benefit or different to the two trailheads and thus no real need take the shuttle. The higher elevation trailhead is the larger lot with more amenities.
Sky pond was a pretty good climb 9.4 mile round trip. The first major landmark passed is Alberta Falls where people tended to stop as a nice break point, though it’s only about a mile into the trail.
A better stop as a half way point is probably Loch Vale which you reach after about 3-miles into the trail. There are a lot of side-trails around the loch, but I was apparently too focused on the climb to pay them any notice on the way up. There were a number of people fly fishing in the loch on the way back down, so apparently it’s a good destination for that. There might be camping around the loch, or maybe it’s a good location for backcountry camping. It definitely seemed to be place where people would stop and hang out for an extended time.
The last side-attraction on the way up, at about 4 out of 4.5 miles, is the top of Timberline Falls where there is a single file, one way at a time scramble to get to Glass Lake.
Sky Pond itself is a small lake that is 80-85% surrounded by mountain that continue steeply upward. It was pretty windy, which was surprising for how walled-in the lake felt, so we tried to find a calm area to eat lunch.
On the way down, at the scramble point, I was being stupid trying to see “what was over there” and ended up with a soggy shoe. We did stop for a little bit to view the falls there and I dried everything out as best I could.
On our way back around Loch Vale we saw one fly fisher catch a trout out of the lake (apparently trout fishing is pretty popular in RMNP). I think it’s also strictly catch and release. Back at the parking lot, we took a small wander up to Bear Lake, but we both pretty tired by then. Any natural wonder of Bear Lake was usurped by the bare ass of the nearly-naked hiker that we came upon along the trail. Pretty sure he was making some form of statement, but I wasn’t about to ask. There are pictures… Janet took them.
Sky Pond was our “rest day” before heading to Mt. Elbert for our redemption hike. Afterward we drove out to the Mt. Elbert trailhead, but arrived in the dark. We slept as well as we could in the car to prepare to be up and hiking by sunup. This was based on our experience years ago getting a hotel in Leadville, the nearest town, and realizing that by the time we were getting going there and then getting to the trailhead, it would be later than we really wanted to start the hike.