On the trail: Stunning Ice Lake
October 8, 2012
SILVERTON, Colo. – High-alpine lakes are tough to beat on the stunning-scenery scale, but I think I found a new contender to top my list of prettiest lakes.
I made a recent trip to Silverton in the San Juan Mountains of southwest Colorado specifically with the goal of making a hike into Ice Lake Basin west of town. It was a cold, overcast day for the most part, but except for a brief groppel pelting, I and a companion managed to dodge the rain and return to the car before snow fell at higher elevations, turning back late-starting hikers clad in shorts and T-shirts.
It’s a roughly seven-mile round-trip hike to Ice Lake in the lower basin. There are upper and lower basins and several lakes in the vicinity, ringed by a number of peaks in the 13,000-foot range. I’d have liked to see more of the lakes, but in all honesty, I found getting to Ice Lake strenuous enough. It was cold, windy and at a higher elevation than I’m used to these days. I could feel my heart pounding and my head aching in the thin air as we trudged up and over a ridge into the lower basin.
We both gasped as Ice Lake, at about 12,200 feet, came into view, and it wasn’t shortness of breath that triggered that response. Maybe it was the cloud cover in combination with the reflection of the glorious hues of the surrounding landscape, but the color of the water was unlike anything we’d ever seen.
Bright turquoise on the near side gave way to deep blue and then to honest-to-God purple on the far side.
We huddled behind a boulder that offered little in the way of shelter from the wind to eat a brief lunch and marvel at the scenery. The lake was the show-stopper in a pageant of color – minerals that ranged from green to red, spilling down the mountainsides into autumn’s gold and russet.
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Later, looking at photographs of the lake, I couldn’t help but think they looked like touched-up images, enhanced by computerized wizardry, when in fact I’m not sure they did the place justice just as they were.
To get to the Ice Lake trailhead, take Highway 550 about two miles northwest of Silverton, and turn left onto Forest Road 585 (a graded, gravel road). The trailhead and parking area are across the road from South Mineral Campground, about four miles up the road.