Trip Reports: Icy Ice Lakes Basin, Colorado - November 2009

The light snowfalls amounts in the San Juan Mountains this November provided a good opportunity for me to do a quick overnight backpacking trip to Ice Lakes Basin, near Silverton, Colorado. This spectacular basin is a popular location for summertime hiking, but not many people visit in the snow.

This previous week there has been a high pressure system over Colorado, with warm temps and clear skies, so I figured it would be a good time to head up into the high country for a quick overnight trip. The trail up to Ice Lakes Basin generally faces south, and I enjoyed a dry trail most of the way to the lower basin, and even after that the snow was only shin deep at most. With no snowshoes or snow-boots required it was like winter camping but easier! I found a nice little flat spot near the lake and set up my tent.

lunar alpenglow, moonlight, Ice Lakes Basin, Colorado, alpenglow, stars, photo

Lunar Alpenglow

The rising moon casts lunar alpenglow on the peaks of Ice Lakes Basin in the San Juan Mountains of Colorado on this chilly November night. The 30-second, high ISO exposure enhanced the light and stars beyond what our eyes could see.

I knew the post-full moon would be rising an hour and half after sunset, so I hiked around looking for a good vantage point of the basin, set up my camera, and waited in the dark. While I was waiting I was having fun experimenting with my new camera setup – a Canon 5D2 with tilt/shift lenses. This camera has better high ISO performance than any other camera I’ve previously used, so it was fun to be able to take photo of the stars and the Milky Way. The moon rose on time, providing some nice lunar alpenglow on the peaks with the stars above.

Ice Lakes Basin, San Juan Mountains, Colorado, tent, winter, photo

Ice Lakes Winter Tent

Winter camping at Ice Lakes.

Here’s the obligatory illuminated tent shot! Even though I was warm and cozy inside in my -30º sleeping bag, I hardly slept a wink due to the erratic gusty winds all night. The wind must have been coming in pulses, or else it was swirling around like mad in the basin, because it would be calm and quiet, then a blast of wind would pound my tent, over and over again every 30 seconds or so for the whole night. I knew the tent was fine, but still the noise was disconcerting enough to keep up awake most of the night.

Ice Lakes Basin, sunrise, San Juan Mountains, Colorado, photo

Icy Ice Lakes Sunrise

A gorgeous sunrise over snowy Ice Lakes Basin, November.

 In the morning I was stoked to see clouds in the sky after a week of bluebird days.

Ice Lakes, San Juan Mountains, Colorado, bluebird, October, snow, lake, blue, Golden Horn, photo

Bluebird at Ice Lakes

Golden Horn (13,769 ft.) reflection in Ice Lake on a gorgeous calm bluebird October morning after a two-day storm - the second snowfall of the season.