Trip Reports: Winter Camping At Blue Lakes, Colorado - October 2013

Hungry for an adventure, on Tuesday I hiked up to Blue Lakes in the Sneffels Range to camp out in the snow. Late autumn can be a good time for winter camping – kind of like “diet” winter camping since there’s less snow to deal with and usually less avalanche danger (*depending, of course). Also, road access to most trailheads is still possible, and if you time it right the alpine lakes aren’t frozen yet which can offer some nice photo opportunities.

Sneffels, San Juan Mountains, Colorado, winter, camp, tent, snowy, photo

Snowy Winter Camp

Snowy night in my winter tent.

The weather forecast called for a brief but intense snowstorm, with little or no wind! Perfect time to head out into the mountains. Sure enough, in the late afternoon just as I was setting up the tent the storm clouds rolled into the mountains and it started snowing in earnest. I fell asleep to the sound of snowflakes falling on the tent, cozy in my puffy down cocoon. In the middle of the night, around 2:30am, I woke up and saw moonlight shining on the tent. I poked my head out and saw a dreamlike scene as the storm clouds were lifting off the peaks and the fresh snow glistened in the moonlight. Of course I jumped out of the tent as fast as I could to photograph the moment!

Blue Lakes, Sneffels, San Juan Mountains, Colorado, winter, camp, tent, snow, moonlight, photo

Blue Lakes Winter Moonlight

Winter camp in the snow above lower Blue Lake - October.

Blue Lakes, Sneffels, San Juan Mountains, Colorado, winter, panorama, snowy, photo

Blue Lakes Winter Panorama

Lower Blue Lake surrounded by snowy peaks - October.

Though the clouds still covered the peaks in the morning, eventually they gave way to crystal clear blue skies.

San Juan Mountains, Colorado, photo

Relaxing in my winter tent high in the Sneffels Range - October.

Compared to summer backpacking when you can lay in the meadows and let yourself melt into the scenery, winter camping feels more like being an astronaut. It’s clear that you don’t belong there, and your survival is dependent on the gear you’ve brought with you. Everything is more difficult in the cold and snow – getting water and keeping it from freezing, cooking, keeping your stuff dry, putting your boots on, even just moving around! Add to that a lingering apprehension that if one little thing should go wrong your survival (or at least basic comfort) could be in jeopardy. For those reasons, winter camping is more about the challenge of being out there rather than the pleasure of being out there!

One night in the snow proved to be enough adventure for me and by the second afternoon the thoughts of Claudia and our warm house proved irresistible so I packed up and hiked out. I think it’s time to flee to the desert to find some warmer adventures!