Lake George - from Tongue Mtn Range - 11/11/2011

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Ice Lakes Basin, Silverton, CO - 9/6/14

The 2nd hike of our vacation was another "lakes" hike.  This time our destination was Ice Lakes Basin, located a couple miles NW of Silverton, CO.  Leesa said that we were "Lake Bagging", instead of peak bagging.  That was OK with me.  We were climbing to high alpine meadows and lakes and the scenery was unbelievable.

This hike began at a trailhead located at Mineral Spring Campground.  We were still camped at the Amphitheater Campground in Ouray, but we made the hour drive to the trailhead and had an early 7:45 start.   As we were getting out of the car, we were surprised to see the german couple we had met the day before at Blue Lakes.  They were apparently lake bagging also.  We talked for several minutes and then we started on our hike.  The elevation at the start was approximately 9800'.

The start of the Ice Lake Trail

After an easy 75 minutes of hiking, we were in the lower Ice Lakes Basin.  The trail doesn't approach the lower lake and we didn't leave the trail for a closer look, but could see the lake from the trail.  We could also see several tents set up in the clumps of trees dotting the basin.

At the far end of the basin we followed the trail as it wound it's way up the headwall to reach the upper basin.  At the top, we found ourselves a short stroll from Ice Lake, a beautiful crystal medium blue lake at an elevation of about 12,300'. 

Lower Ice Lakes Basin

a marmot friend
Leesa and I found Ice Lakes Basin to be an amazing place.  Our jaws dropped as we looked around. What a great high alpine plateau, and what great lakes!  We wandered past Ice Lake, the bluest of the 5 lakes we saw in the vicinity, and then headed over to Fuller Lake.  

Ice Lake

Ice Lake in the background from the path to Fuller Lake
Fuller Lake didn't have the beautiful blue color of Ice Lake, but it did have an interesting collapsed shelter at the edge of the lake.  It was as if a windstorm had blown out the sides and the roof just dropped.  Looking at the collapsed structure made us more fully aware of how harsh the weather could be at this location.   This was the highest elevation of our hike at approximately 12,600'.

Looking towards Fuller Lake and the Golden Horn

From Fuller Lake, looking back at an un-named tairn 

An un-named tairn between Fuller Lake and Ice Lake

Violet paintbrush

Remaining snow in September!
From Fuller Lake, I eyed the Golden Horn, sizing it up for a possible climb.  As with the day before however, afternoon clouds were quickly coming in and I wasn't comfortable with what the weather would be in the next couple hours.

The Golden Horn from Fuller Lake

We made our way back towards Ice Lake.  Shortly it began to rain and hail.  The storm looked small however, and Leesa wanted us to head over to Island Lake.  We had read from others that they considered Island Lake the prettiest of them all.

We got halfway over to the lake when we encountered a tricky steep rock and gravel slope,  Leesa chose to make her way back towards Ice Lake, but encouraged me to finish the trek to Island Lake. She would wait for me at Ice Lake.  

Looking back towards Ice Lake from the path to Island Lake

Looking down on lower Ice Lakes Basin from the path to Island Lake
Ice Lake was indeed awesome.  It not only had an island in the center of the lake, it had dazzling blue water and was surrounded by a tight cirque of mountains.  I stayed for 10 minutes or so and snapped many pictures before heading back to Leesa.  It looked as if more bad weather was arriving. 

Walking back to Ice Lake from Island Lake
I found Leesa back at the outlet from Ice Lake.  The weather had blown past and was clearing once again.  We saw our german friends again and answered their questions about Island Lake.  We soaked our feet in the cold water of the Ice Lake outlet.  From there, it was regrettably time to hike out.       

Leesa getting ready to put her feet in the Ice Lake outlet

The sun continued to come out as we headed out, and it became quite warm.  It was an enjoyable retreat as we ended a wonderful day at an awesome spot.  Once again for the 2nd day in a row, we were back at the car at 3 PM.  We finished the day by going into Silverton to look at the town before returning to Ouray and the Amphitheater Campground for the night. 


Hike Stats:
Hike Distance:  10.8 miles
Hike Time:  7.5 hours (including stops)
Total Vertical Gain:  ~3500'

Our route (click image to enlarge)

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Blue Lakes - Ouray, CO - 9/5/14

This hike was one of the hikes I had planned for Leesa and I to do while on vacation in the southwest. It was a hike that I had read about with great interest.  It offers beautiful blue lakes and high alpine scenery.

We arrived in the beautiful town of Ouray, Colorado on 9/4 and camped at the Amphitheater Campground that lies high on the hill just south of town.  The town lies at approximately 7800' and is surrounded by 13,000' mountains.

To access the Blue Lakes trailhead from Ouray, we drove north to Ridgway, took CR62 to Dallas Creek Road, then followed this gravel road south to the trailhead.

For us, the 3.3 mile hike to Lower Blue Lake was a short hike.  The only question was whether altitude would be a factor.  The trailhead lies at roughly 9300', with Lower Blue Lake up at 11,000'.   We had arrived in Denver less than 48 hours earlier, so we hadn't had much time to acclimatize.

One thing that we noticed, and have noticed before, is that trails in Colorado and other areas out west generally provide much better footing than trails in the east.  Western trails also have many more switchbacks.  Perhaps the easier trail terrain would counter balance the altitude.

We took it slow and easy to test our eastern lungs, and found that, while noticeable, the thinner air provided no barrier for us climbing at this altitude.          

Our starting point

Blue Lakes Pass was my goal for the day
The first 1.4 miles of the trail was moderately steep before a noticeable change and the grade flattened substantially.  Soon we began to have glimpses of the surrounding mountains.  Just prior to reaching Lower Blue Lake, we reached the junction with the trail to Upper Blue Lake and Blue Lake Pass.  We continued straight to first take a look at Lower Blue Lake.  We passed many fine campsite locations as we approached the lake.  Campfires are no longer allowed in this vicinity.

Stepping out beyond the campsites, we were rewarded with views of Lower Blue Lake and it's amazing clear medium blue colored water.  We never see water of this color in the east.  At the lake, we talked with 2 men from Cologne, Germany who were on Holiday.   We stayed at the lake to have snacks and admire the lake before deciding to continue to climb to Upper Blue Lake. 

Look at the clear water at Lower Blue Lake!
As we continued to climb, we looked down on Lower Blue Lake from above and it looked even more beautiful. We reached tree-line about halfway to Upper Blue Lake and we were now afforded with 360 degree views.   

Looking  down on Lower Blue Lake 

Leesa above treeline, on her way to Upper Blue Lake

Middle Blue Lake
After 4.5 miles and 3 hours of hiking, we reached the beautiful Upper Blue Lake.  While not quite the bright blue of the lower lake, it was beautiful in it's own right.  Leesa elected to stay at the lake and wander about while sending me onward and upward towards Blue Lake Pass. 

Upper Blue Lake

I had an additional 1300' of climbing to do to reach the pass. The first 700' was climbing along switchbacks in grass and rock.  Soon the grass gave way to loose scree.  After about 45 minutes of climbing, I was about 300-400' shy of the pass.  The trail, while continuing to switchback, was becoming more treacherous and careful foot placement was required.  The slope was steep and a misplaced foot could cause a slide.

At the same time, afternoon clouds were coming in from the west.  While I wanted to reach the pass between Blue Lakes and Yankee Boy Basin, I didn't want to get caught in a famed Colorado afternoon thunderstorm.  Rain would make the descent extremely tricky, and besides, I had Leesa waiting for me down below at the Upper Lake.  With some sadness, I turned back to head down.  

Climbing the scree towards Blue Lakes Pass

An impressive cirque of mountains surrounding Upper Blue Lake

Looking down on Upper and Middle Blue Lake

Grass on the lower slope to Blue Lakes Pass 

Wouldn't you know it, as I headed back down to the lake, the clouds went past and the sun returned. No matter, it was great to be out in such a great spot.  I returned to the lake as curious marmots came out to see what I was doing. 

At the lake, Leesa and I had lunch, then it was time to head back.  I couldn't help but snap a bunch more pictures (as you can see below) as we retreated back past the lakes.  Eventually we made our way back to the car.  It was only 3 PM.  We should have stayed at the lakes a while longer.  Instead, we returned to Ouray and took pleasure in enjoying the Ouray Hot Springs Pool.  There isn't be a better way to relax after hiking!

A marmot friend at Middle Blue Lake

Hike Stats:
Hike Distance:   10.4 miles
Hike Time:  7 hours (including stops)
Total Vertical Gain:  ~ 3400'

The route (click image to enlarge)