Winter Camping at Blue Lakes

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

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.

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
Blue Lakes Winter Moonlight : Prints Available

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

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

Blue Lakes, Sneffels, San Juan Mountains, Colorado, winter, panorama, snowy
Blue Lakes Winter Panorama : Prints Available

Lower Blue Lake surrounded by snowy peaks – October.

winter tent
A room with a view.

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!

30 thoughts on “Winter Camping at Blue Lakes

  1. Superb photos, as always. My impression is that you don’t get a lot of rain in your area, it is either dry or snowing. Is that correct?

    1. Thanks Ken! Yes, in the late-fall and winter months here it usually snows if there’s any precip. Though I have seen it rain in January before. In the summer of course we get rain, especially during the monsoon months. This last summer was very rainy; I was in Europe but everyone here said the weather was like the Pacific northwest!

  2. hi Jack,
    That second image is STUNNING – awesome! And i bet i was not easy getting outta that warm sleeping bag at midnight.
    Enjoy your images and writings from your travels this summer/fall, tnx and look forward to powder images and fun soon 🙂

    1. Thanks Paul! Actually I slept in my down pants and down jacket, so it was actually pretty easy to hop out of the sleeping bag, slide on my down boots, and voila! Like wearing a sleeping bag.

  3. these are awesome pictures! love the recap of the adventure. my family and i enjoy similar “challenges”. so cool to see other folks pushing the limits. what was your elevation for this trip? were planning a trip to the maroon bells tomorrow afternoon. were hoping to catch them in a dusting of snow and the lake open just enough to annoy the fish that reside there.

      1. right on man we had a blast up there. it was perfect weather. we stopped atop Independence pass to have a gander and it was cold up there thats for sure. these pictures are great i really like your blog.

  4. Hi Jack! LOVE LOVE LOVE these pictures. Am crazy about Blue Lake and Ouray. Hope we can purchase them soon. You are such an adventurer! ENJOY forevermore in that beautiful state of COLORADO…hope to move there before 2015. God Bless. PJ, Garner NC

  5. Perfection! The moonlight reflecting on lower Blue Lake, clouds and the mountain range backlit by the moon, the lower cloud letting the peaks be fully visible above it, your footprints showing how deep the snow was, and your cozy looking tent make me want to be there, but I’m in my 70’s now and probably not strong enough anymore. I’ve hiked that trail several times as day trips, including the trail up to Blue Lakes Pass., but it was always summer. I really appreciate your photography, but this one really got to my soul!

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