Colorado, Hiking, National Parks & Monuments, State Parks, Rocky Mountain National Park, United States

A KÜHL Day Outdoors: Cub Lake Loop at RMNP

I partnered with KÜHL for this blog post. I received free product in exchange for my honest review of the products.

December 18, 2022

After a week of subzero wind chills, blizzard warnings, and the monotony of work, it was time to break free, explore some new trails, and try out some new gear! The night before I changed my mind about three times on which hike my friend Tom and I would tackle in Rocky Mountain National Park – just so many options! In the end, a six-mile loop to Cub Lake and The Pool won out, getting us away from the beaten path by Bear Lake.

Obligatory trailhead sign for Cub Lake

Tom and I arrived at the Cub Lake Trailhead about 9:15am – we were the first car in the small parking lot! I also had no wait at the entrance gate for the park itself – a first! Today was a good day… but I did grumble about the wind as we got ready, along with the clouds that were rolling in. I was expecting a bit nicer weather to be honest. Well, if anything this was a good day to test out some new gear, right?!

Last year I bought my first pair of winter hiking/mountaineering pants and fell in love. When the chance came to try out KÜHL’s option in this category, the Klash Pant, I was super excited. I can now have a second option in my rotation! Pants can be tough for me as a cyclist, as my thighs often are the limiting factor with fit and sizing. When I first pulled on the Klash pants, I was worried as the fit was snug around my thighs (but otherwise was perfect – I’m 5’10” and currently 170lbs, and chose size 12 with 32″ inseam), but I quickly discovered the four-way stretch fabric meant I had no limitations on my movement – it was like I did not have any pants on at all!

The Klash Pant has all the features I love in a pair of pants with mountaineering leanings – boot hook, zippered gussets to fit the pants over a variety of boots, zippered pockets, and scuff guard on the inner cuff to protect from sharp crampons, ski edges, and snowshoes. The fabric is tough and can withstand some abuse. I typically wear a baselayer under my winter pants, and on this day chose a thin one that worked perfectly. The wind was blocked, and I was warm in the 20-degree Fahrenheit temperatures. With some crazy postholing, I was able to try out the boot hooks (no snow got in!) and also the water repellency, which worked great. I cannot say how these softshell pants will perform in rain, or perhaps waterfall spray, at the moment. Don’t worry, I’ll end up in a waterfall soon enough!

My only complaint is one thing: lack of a zippered, “drop-in” pocket on one of the legs. The largest pocket on on the legs is accessed from the side and is on the front of the thigh, and it was very awkward to get my phone in and out of this pocket (ended up just putting my phone in the kangaroo pocket of my Stryde Hoody). My other pants have a large pocket with a top entrance and it sits on the side of the leg, and it has spoiled me with the ease of how I can just drop my phone in, zip, and be on my way. Because I use my phone a lot for photos while hiking, I like quick and easy accessibility. Very minor complaint over all.

The KÜHL Klash pant has a great boot hook that creates a built in gaiter. Also a rare day of me in normal hiking boots for a winter hike instead of my trusty mountaineering boots!

After forcing ourselves not to pile on unnecessary layers, we hit the trail! The trail up to Cub Lake starts out pretty flat with just minor elevation gain until a couple miles in when we’d make our final push up to the lake itself. The trail varied from snowpack to ice to dirt, and we realized we probably should’ve been using our microspikes, but made due with careful footing and trekking poles.

Starting out on the snow packed trail. There were significant dry parts until right before the final climb up to Cub Lake.
Looking towards Stones Peak whilst crossing the Big Thompson River at Moraine Park
Looking in the other direction at Moraine Park. This broad, flat U-shaped valley was carved by a glacier.
Though it was chilly, most of our hike was shielded from the wind, and I did not have to wear a jacket.
The mountains were looking purty!
Just a sliver of moon
Beginning the ascent up to Cub Lake, and the trail turned to well packed snow
This was my favorite part of the trail
Walking through a winter wonderland

The other piece of new gear I was trying out was the KÜHL Stryde Hoody. This lightweight performance long-sleeve layer is armed with UPF 25+ sun protection and lots of lovely little features such as a high-necked hood, thumb holes, and a front kangaroo pocket. I chose this piece as this summer I discovered the joys of what I have deemed “sun hoodies” – lightweight layers that can be worn in the heat of summer that protect against the sun (I’m finally getting smart after years of tank taps and sunburnt shoulders in alpine environments!). The Stryde Hoody is a bit thicker than a typical shirt boasted as a sun layer, which means it was a great addition to my collection for something in shoulder season or higher altitude climbs where summer temperatures a bit chillier. Bringing versatility, the Stryde Hoody is a great option for a lighter weight mid-layer as well. Typically I wear a fleece as a mid-layer in the winter, but since temperatures were milder on this hike, it was nice to have a lighter option. I wore a thin synthetic baselayer under my Stryde, and I was comfortable all day.

Another thing I like about the Stryde Hoody is the fabric. My other shirts that I use as a sun or lightweight layer are your typical slippery technical fabric. The Stryde, while synthetic, is made from a soft, cozy fabric. Don’t let this fool you, it manages moisture and body temperature perfectly! I chose the “sea salt” color, which I joked with Tom is for me trying to blend in with the snow all stealth like. I lean towards lighter colors so I can get more use out of the item in warmer temperatures. However, I’ll admit, I really like the veridian option, and might add one of those to my closet!

I wear a medium, and found the Stryde Hoody to be true to size. One point of weakness for long sleeve shirts and I is the length of the sleeves, and with the Stryde I have no issues with sleeve length and being able to comfortably use the thumb holes without pulling. I have plenty of room to layer with this piece. Though I don’t show it in this post, the hood will fit over or under a climbing helmet as well, giving it that good versatility for alpine pursuits.

Closeup of the Stryde Hoody fabric
Reaching the top of the hill and entering the Fern Lake Fire burn scar
The Fern Lake Fire in 2012 burned around Cub Lake, and the evidence is still plentiful to this day.
“Can you see a lake yet?!”

After just about an hour and 2.4 miles, we reached Cub Lake. This lake, which sits at a bit over 8600 feet in elevation, is usually covered in lily pads in the summer. Being winter, the lake was frozen over, which meant we could safely play around the shoreline (there were some parts further out that we were unsure of ice thickness).

Cub Lake!
Just soaking in the icy views
The KÜHL Stryde Hoody is a perfect mid-layer, and even outer layer on warmer winter days. I enjoyed the large kangaroo pocket for stashing my phone, and the high-necked hood was perfect when the wind kicked up on the lake.
Two jets racing
In other news, I finally acquired a hat without a pom on top, making it helmet friendly!
Back on the trail, we kept on following the shoreline around Cub Lake to begin our loop. Many choose to visit Cub Lake as an out and back hike, which totals about 4.6 miles from sources I’ve read.
Looking back on Cub Lake

After leaving Cub Lake, the trail wasn’t as well packed, though seemed firm enough we toughed it out without snowshoes. We quickly begin descending towards the Big Thompson River, we we’d join the Fern Lake Trail at an intersection by The Pool.

Reaching the high point of our hike, which offered great views to the valley below and the Big Thompson River
Frozen waterfall across the way, with a tiny little ice climber
Trail conditions became a bit more challenging, but we remained stubborn about applying the snowshoes
Heading through an area burned by the East Troublesome Fire of 2020
The Pool, formed at the confluence of the Big Thompson River and Fern Creek
Looking downstream from The Pool
Great little bridge at The Pool

The Fern Lake Trail descended gently, and we made quick time on this section. We chose to hike the loop clockwise, which meant a shorter, but steeper ascent to Cub Lake. The loop can be reversed for a more gradual ascending experiencing. In this little valley the temperatures seemed quite higher, and I finally put on my sunglasses.

Now on the Fern Lake Trail, we continued making our way back to the car. Conditions stayed snowy for awhile but eventually we took the snowshoes off
I love this burnt tree and the ferns!
The Arch
Part of The Arch
Tom capturing my mad skillz
Looking at the same waterfall as earlier.
The homestretch of the hike down Fern Lake Road, which is gated in the winter months.

In total, our hike was 6.5 miles in length and took us 3 hours and 24 minutes. This was not a speedy adventure, which was quite fine by us as it ended up being a lovely day outside despite the initial hesitations about the wind when we arrived. We only saw two people all day on the trail, which compared to my previous hikes in RMNP was pretty crazy! It was nice to explore a different part of the park and avoid some crowds.

Tom and I capped off the day at Cafe De Pho Thai in Estes Park and big bowls of beef pho. I had not eaten at this restaurant before, and now I have a new favorite! Like I need an excuse to hike in RMNP, but adding another to the list helps!

Crab cheese wontons

Details:
Date Hiked: December 18, 2022
Trailhead: Cub Lake
Total Mileage: 6.55 miles (Garmin Vivoactive 4s/Strava)
Elevation Gain: 694 feet
Time: 3 hours 24 minutes
Weather: 20-29F, partly cloudy
Trail Conditions: Dirt, packed snow, postholey snow, ice
Special Considerations: Rocky Mountain National Park entrance fee applies. In the “timed entry months” (roughly end of May to mid-October), a timed entry reservation is need to access this trailhead from 5am-6pm since it is on the Bear Lake Road Corridor. Suggested winter hikes in RMNP can be found here.

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