It was the fifth day of our So Co trip and the wildfire smoke near Telluride had just started to get much worse the day before. Although the smoke wasn’t impacting hubby much, my throat was in rough shape! It was tempting to take the day off, not only to give our lungs and throat a break from the smoke, but to also give our muscles some rest from all the hikes we had already done (six so far, in four days!); however, I had a lengthy list of activities ahead for the remainder of the week’s itinerary and rest wasn’t one of them!
Furthermore, we came to the sad realization that the wildfire smoke was likely not going to suddenly clear up if we gave it a day or two. In fact, now that the year is well over with, I can confirm that the smoke stuck around both summer and fall, which was, by far, the longest wildfire season we have ever experienced!
The Blue Lakes hike in Mount Sneffels was first up on our itinerary for the day and it was a whopper of a hike! This hike had been on my Colorado bucket list for several years, but it had never been feasible to do before because it’s a 7-hour drive from Denver and a long trail that we would have preferred to leave the dachshunds behind for. Our So Co trip was the perfect opportunity to finally do this hike!
Despite how far this trail is away from Denver, it’s still very popular and crowded. I unfairly assumed that because so many people did this hike that maybe it wasn’t going to be too hard after all, but the trail wasted no time in proving the exact opposite. There was an exhausting five miles and 2,400 feet of elevation gain between us and the final stunning sight on the hike that was going to be worth all the sweat and smoke, but it was going to take every ounce of my endurance and a full arsenal of swear words to get there!
Along the way, there were a few waterfalls to visit that normally would have cheered me right up and put a pep in my step, but the hike felt so unrelenting in its elevation gain and length that we didn’t even bother getting sidetracked by them. We only had one goal in mind — get to Blue Lakes!
After about four miles and two hours of never-ending uphill hiking, we finally reached Lower Blue Lake. There are three lakes on the Blue Lakes trail and Lower Blue Lake is fairest of them all. Even as we approached the lake from a distance, we could spot how stunning it was! But to see Lower Blue Lake at its best, we knew we had to climb above the lake, something that was a daunting thought, since we were already so exhausted! We also had to satisfy our curiosity of whether the other two other lakes above Lower Blue Lake were just as stunning.
It was probably another mile and almost 45 minutes (!!!) of hiking to get to Middle and Upper Blue Lakes and some parts were nearly vertical with scrambling on all fours on loose, shifty dirt! You can bet there was a lot more swear words coming from this unhappy hiker’s mouth… and even more swear words when we finally reached the upper two lakes and found out they were in fact, not blue, and not really worth the extra climb.
It wasn’t until we turned around and spotted the jaw-droppingly beautiful, jagged, and smoke-tinted peaks in the distance that we realized the extra climb was maaaaybe worth it after all, although the brutal winds at the high elevation nearly negated that opinion.
Nonetheless, as incredible as the backdrop might have been, the winds were most certainly intolerable, so we retreated down to an overlook of Lower Blue Lakes, had some snacks, and then headed back to our vehicle.
On our hike back to the trailhead, I couldn’t stop commenting in disbelief at the amount of wildfire smoke hanging above the horizon. The photos could not really quite portray how thick it was. We had grown accustomed to seeing wildfire smoke in Albuquerque in the few years before we moved to Denver, but we had never seen anything like this in Colorado until this year.
We returned back at the Blue Lakes trailhead around 5 pm, which amounted to a five and half hour hike after our 11:30 am start time. We. Were. Beat!
Despite our exhaustion, I had a crazy idea to do one more quick hike after we returned to our lodging and cleaned up. We had to take advantage of the long summer days after all! There was a waterfall just outside of town that was just a mile-long hike to get to that we couldn’t pass up! This was going to be the perfect activity to squeeze in at the end of the day.
Unfortunately, this quick hike turned into an abundantly frustrating adventure when we hit several snags, starting with the inability to locate the trailhead itself. The hike is not well known, and while we had directions to get to the trailhead and directions to get to the waterfall, both proved to be much too vague. It wasn’t necessarily the fault of the author of the directions per se, but mostly the product of an authentic and untouched waterfall, which had a trail too faint for us to know if we were on track or not. We wandered around aimlessly, apparently like many others before us — as evidenced by the many obscure trails in all directions — while trying to navigate our way in the general direction of the waterfall.
We nearly gave up, but eventually found what we were seeking after gambling our lives with a very steep trail into the canyon, while also hoping we weren’t trespassing into the nearby private property. How lucky these neighbors were to have such beauty in their backyard; but also unlucky to have such fools like us spoiling it!
In the end, what was supposed to be a quick sight turned out to be a two-hour adventure that was well worth our trouble and time, and even ended in a stunning sunset to match!
Up next on the the sixth day of our So Co trip, we finally take a break from adventures on foot and drive the scary and famous 4WD road, Black Bear Pass.