With the title of this entry you may be thinking ” Did they leave Colorado this time?” Perhaps they finally stole time away from post doc duties and work to venture to Alaska. However, you’d be incorrect! In fact, we were able to visit this natural wonder in Idaho Springs, CO approximately 1 hour from the Denver metro area in Arapaho National Forest. To name the site correctly, St. Mary’s is a semi-permanent snowfield (year round accumulation of snow and ice typically found below the snowline).
While we made this trek back in March of this year with snows still covering the ground, we thought it would interesting to post our quest here prior to returning in the summer to compare and contrast the conditions of the snowfield and lake. Our quest began just at the Trailhead found off of Rd 275 (about nine miles in) which is accessed via I-70 in Idaho Springs. There are two small parking lots found near the trailhead which cost 5 dollars to park. This is the only parking around as everything else is private property. The trail head is very rocky, and at the time we went, covered in snow. The trail continues steadily upward (sometimes drastically upward) about 3/4 of a mile until it reaches the lake. Our starting elevation was approximately 10,430 feet. Most of the short hike up was through a forest and snow with the occasionally view of the Rockies. But, upon reaching St. Mary’s Lake and Glacier, we were thrilled! We were now at an elevation of about 10,848 feet. The lake was a beautiful frozen mirror with the slick surface of the glacier and surrounding peaks as a backdrop. Seen below is Thomas near the base of the Glacier.
While the lake was beautiful and we had a nice view of the glacier, seeing wasn’t enough. We wanted a chance to hike on it as well and maybe even get all the way up to James’s Peak. Past, the lake the trail continues and climbs upward to the glacier. Unique trees greeted us along the way. Some of which can be seen below. (Note: these trees are called bristlecone pines and are the oldest organisms on the planet.)
We then proceeded onto the glacier. It was quite steep and slippery but we kept on trekking. The temperature dropped sharply as we ascended higher and higher and large gusts of wind nearly knocked us over. The elevation also made the vertical climb much more strenuous. We really wanted to keep going all the way to James’s Peak but conditions were too rough and the risk of avalanche was real. Pictured below are views from on the glacier.
Overall, this a short but really nice hike. The trail that reaches the lake and base of the glacier is easy to moderate with a very short round trip distance of 1.5 miles and elevation gain of 430 feet. Once, you continue onto the glacier and then proceed towards James Peak, the hike become very difficult and strenuous. We are very anxious to come back this summer and trek to the top without oppressive wind and snow.