blue columbine with blue lake in background

The Sneffels Traverse – Day 3

Wake Up Call

For our third day on the Sneffels Traverse, we planned a 6.6 mile side hike to Blue Lakes before trekking 5 miles to Ridgway Hut.  Due to speculative weather, we planned an early departure.  Tanya’s phone alarm rang at 5:15 am.  She was in such a deep sleep, she couldn’t even find it! 

I wish I could say the same.  I was up before my alarm.  Though it was kind of funny, when Tanya commented, “I’m used to Karla’s 14er hikes, when a chorus of phone alarms chime.” I know!  Fortunately, Tanya’s alarm worked for the whole cabin, and we began quietly preparing our day packs while waiting on the pot of water to boil for our much-needed tea and coffee.

Hike to Blue Lakes

While the night was overcast, the dawning light promised clear skies as the clouds dissipated.  Our 6 am departure time presented cool temperatures, a welcome treat, as we faced a steep ascent immediately. 

view on the Sneffels Traverse

With every switchback, the group separated.  As usual Tina led the pack.  She hikes remarkably fast!  By the first creek crossing, about 30 minutes into the trek, she was no where to be seen.  Once again, hikers had to cross the creek by whatever means necessary, as bridges continued to be conspicuously missing.

This time, Tina edged around the bushes only to get one foot wet in the end.  Others in our group found a fallen tree that rested high above the creek.  Too scary!  Diana and Alix crawled across it.  I would have been reduced to the same if my knee didn’t feel like I hit my funny bone each time I knelt as a result of hyperactive nerves from ACL surgery years ago.  Definitely wet feet for me!  I just trounced through the water, as I knew I had an opportunity to change socks upon return to our cabin before we continued to the next hut.   

We carried on while admiring spectacular wildflowers beneath glowing granite peaks.  Soon the open view revealed a marvelous waterfall roaring with recent snowmelt.  Just before the lake was a campground.  Tina had marked an arrow in the dirt at the trail intersection indicating the way to the lower lake, as she was the first to arrive.

At Lower Blue Lake

I reached the basin next. I saw only one other person by the lake’s edge.  She was in bright pink practicing yoga.  As a photographer, I wished I had an angle to hide her behind a tree as I aimed to capture the lake’s tranquility.  Just when I realized my photo nemesis was Tina, she waved at me!  Haha!!

view of lower blue lake

The sun had yet to rise over the high ridge.  Chilled from our cooling sweat, we slipped on our wool caps and gloves and climbed toward a waterfall where we patiently waited for the sunlight to drape the hillside.  The temperature difference between the sun and the shade at 11,000 feet is striking.  We followed the warmth of the sunrays back to the lake’s edge where we joined the rest of the girl’s who had just arrived.

The wildflowers, in particular the blue columbine, were magnificent.  We spent the next fifteen minutes admiring the surrounding beauty of the basin…the arresting flowers, the glorious cyan lake, the majestic waterfall, and grand peaks.  While it would have been nice to stay longer, we had agreed to turn around after 2.5 hours as we still needed to hike 3.3 miles down, clean the cabin, and reach the next hut ideally before any afternoon storms developed.

Cabin Chores and Water Fetching

Tina and I arrived first, so we conquered most the cabin chores…she did a first-round sweep while I turned off the propane, put up the dishes, and dumped the dishwater.  Then, along with Diana, we packed up our gear and ate lunch outside the hut to give others space to organize.  Judy finished the cabin cleaning around 11am with a final sweep. 

Though I wasn’t inside, I imagine Julie wiped down the counter. She cleaned the counter the first day and the chores, outside of fetching water, tended to fall to the same people now that we had a rhythm.  Everyone fetched water at least once or twice, and I think poor Judy collected water every day.  I wondered if she liked seeing the water sources since she worked for the EPA in that area.

None of us could easily carry the blue five-gallon jug at full capacity which is one reason for the multiple trips to the water source.  For each night and the next morning, we generally filled the two jugs half-way and four bladders twice.  This gave us enough cooking water for our food and carrying water for our packs. Occasionally, in complying with the San Juan Hut rules, we had to dump some of the precious water out.  Boo!

But I digress.  Probably no one wants to know about boring chores except those who want to know what goes into a hut to hut trip.  Have I mentioned the composting toilets yet?  They require a scoop of woodchips over every poo.  Don’t worry, the woodchips are provided.

Hike to Ridgway Hut

So the trek to the next cabin, Ridgway Hut, began at the same trailhead as Blue Lakes Trail, but the Dallas Trail veered to the left and soon crossed East Dallas Creek.  We rejoiced in the sight of a bridge.  Hooray!!  It was also nice to follow a relatively flat road and trail for the first mile.

Hooray!  A bridge on the Sneffels Traverse
Hooray! A bridge

Our rejoicing didn’t last long, however, as within the next half mile Wilson Creek was waiting for us.  Tina charged ahead over the fallen tree.  I was next. I stepped up on the dry log, not too high above the water, and out of nowhere my legs started shaking uncontrollably.  I’m the first to admit certain log crossings scare me, and I find an alternate route, but this one was not that difficult with two hiking poles.

Perhaps I didn’t get enough calories down this morning.  Regardless, I had to turn around, slip off my shoes and wade.  Judy followed me while the others took Tina’s route across the log.  After crossing the creek, we tried turning upstream as the San Juan Hut directions described, but we quickly found a dead end.  Instead, we took the path most traveled downstream which resulted in a switchback upstream and the beginning of our climb.

For the next mile, the trail criss-crossed the creek (fortunately with one-log bridges) at a gradual incline through a pine forest.  Wildflowers dotted the path and a waterfall tumbled in the distance.  With the view of the cascade, perhaps I should have clued into what was coming next…a 1,000 foot gain in one mile.  Yikes!!

Wilson Creek Summit

Tina pressed on with me and Diana in pursuit.  Even with switchbacks whose turn to the next one were even steep, this stretch of the trail was a beating, especially beginning our tenth mile of the day.  Huffing and puffing we caught our breath on a REALLY short flat section before we climbed again.  Dripping in sweat due to the unusual humidity, we soon reached Wilson Creek Summit, a small saddle off Mt. Ridgway.

Beth, Tina and Diana at Wilson Summit
Beth, Tina and Diana

No sooner than we reached the top, a loud crack of thunder rattled through the sky.  No rest for the weary!  Some of the best views of Colorado were rumored to be just a few minutes away on a sidetrack off the trail.  We weren’t hiking all the way up to the summit to miss them, so we ran out to the open, panoramic view.  While the sky wasn’t too menacing overhead, we could see black clouds and sheets of rain falling in the Blue Lake area from which we came.

The rumbling booms increased in velocity and intensity with every minute.  We raced back to the trail where we found the rest of the girls taking a well-deserved break.  We still had 1.3 miles until we reached the hut, which was a descent on the other side of the ridge.  I guess what goes up, must come down!

Ridgway Hut

We reached the Ridgway Hut to a different set up.  The cabin was square shaped rather than rectangular.  As a result, the bunk beds lined the connecting walls rather than the opposite walls.  The ladders to the top bunks were awkwardly placed, so top bunkers had to climb through other people’s beds.

As such, we had to put more thought into our bed choices. Those who don’t pee at night needed to be trapped in the corner away from the ladder.  I always have to use the restroom in the middle of the night anyway, but if I didn’t, I think mentally that would have made me need to go!  Diana took the restricted corner and fortunately, my bunkmate Tina, still wanted the top bed.

Sleeping arrangements decided, Tina made the first water run while I turned on the propane.  Soon after, Diana and I mustered up the energy for another run as it was only a matter of time before the skies unleashed.  After so much climbing, it was rather demoralizing to find the water down the hill, so we had to lug the heavy jugs UP! 

Fortunately, the previous group who had rented the hut ($30/person per night), broke the rules.  They hadn’t dumped their extra water, and we followed suit.  We were certain the next group would be as thrilled as we were to already have water to start the dishwashing stations!

With the cabin set up and the rain starting, the rest of our group joined us just in the nick of time.  I wouldn’t call the storm as severe as forecasted, but the steady drizzle certainly cooled the afternoon air enough to enjoy a warm cup of tea.

Dinner and Dessert

The early start and long day of climbing invited an early dinner.  After comparing our choices of dried food, Judy broke out our group dessert…dried chocolate cheesecake and dried raspberry crumble.  The cheesecake required shaking.  It’s amazing how entertaining shaking a dessert can be.  We all took turns, careful to come up with our unique moves! Video of Judys dancing moves.

photo by Danelle

With a break in the storm, we took the ground chairs outside for a little light as the Ridgway Hut was rather dark even with being the only cabin with solar electricity.  The ground chairs at this hut were little to be desired. They each were missing at least one side of back support that Alix exhibited with her fake resting to the right so she wouldn’t tumble to the left!

Seated in a wide circle to take advantage of the waning sunlight, we played a word game that Alix taught us.  It was quite fun, and I can’t wait to play it again!

Darkness and cold persuaded our retirement to the hut for the evening. It was another amazing day on the Sneffels Traverse!  To be continued…ETB

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Beth Bankhead

Former public finance professional turned travel photographer and blogger.

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