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"There were always far horizons more golden, bluer skies somewhere."
~ F. Scott Fitzgerald
There's a man after my own heart, always seeking new adventures.

Hiking up to Clear Lake isn't new for me; it's convenient to our campground and I've been up there numerous times over the years.

But every time is different. This time there's more snow than I've ever seen in that basin and I was not able to get all the way to the lake -- doggone close, though, about 200 feet from it. The lake, which is surely frozen over today, is behind the little rise in the photo below, where I put the arrows:

I know there's a lake in that basin!

That's closer than anyone else got that I saw today, although the footprints indicate at least one person went in and out in recent days.

Not even Jeeps can drive closer than a mile from the lake yet this season and most folks don't get out to walk the rest of the way. They've missed some great scenery higher up. It doesn't take a tremendous amount of effort to get there.

Starting out: the road is dry, the sky is blue, and the aspens have fresh new leaves.

All the photos in this entry are from Cody's and my hike up to and down from the lake this morning. Most are in order as I took them. Jim's still resting his knee so he didn't go with us.


I drove west on South Mineral Creek Road to the little parking area near the intersection of FSR 815, the four-mile road that dead ends at Clear Lake.

Waterfalls on a mountain across S. Mineral Creek Rd.

Looking down at the South Mineral CG near the Ice Lake trailhead parking area

I started hiking about 9:30 AM and got done about 1:30 PM, covering nine miles total with lots of time to take pictures and enjoy the awesome scenery. The elevation ranged from ~ 9,800 to 11,954 feet.

Here's a map showing my route:

The road up to Clear Lake parallels S. Mineral Creek Road for a little while as it gains elevation. Then it veers mainly to the north, offering spectacular views of South Mineral Creek Road and the Ice Lake Basin.

It's always interesting to watch the changing landscape as I climb higher on this road.

We're in pines and aspens for the first couple of miles.

Above and below: emerging views toward the west along S. Mineral Creek Rd. as I gain elevation

The views on the way up and down the road were simply spectacular. Thatís the good news.

The bad news is that Iím not going to be able to hike up to Ice Lake Basin, Grant-Swamp Pass, Rolling Mountain Pass, or the Continental Divide in CT Segment 24 until or unless a bunch of snow melts before we leave the area!

I started seeing snow in the forest at about the 11,200-foot level. Cody spotted the first patch before I did and ran over to roll around in it as best he could with his pack on:

He loves snow. He had great fun rolling around in it the rest of the way up to the lake.


When we got near treeline there was more snow along the road and I had fantastic views west toward the upper and lower Ice Lake basins and Grant-Swamp Pass (somewhere to the far right):

Almost to treeline; Cody finds more snow to roll in.

The Upper Ice Lake Basin is snowed in but it looks like I can hike in the lower basin soon.
The waterfall in the lower center of the picture is Ice Lake Creek; Hardrock runners cross above that.

I always love reaching that section of the road because I can look over at the basin and remember great hikes I've had up there previously. It's one of my favorite places in the San Juans, a true WOW moment.

It's pretty obvious that I won't get to the upper basin in the next week and maybe not at all this trip, but just seeing the beautiful snow and all the waterfalls from this distance is mesmerizing and brings back wonderful memories.

The next photo shows part of the Hardrock course on KT between the Ice Lake Creek crossing (somewhere in the trees in the middle of the photo) and the Kamm Traverse aid station.

Continuing up the road we run into more snow at treeline:


End of the line for most vehicles today

When the road is dry 2WD vehicles can manage the first three miles of this road past the large waterfalls and to the switchback with the abandoned mine. There is enough room to park or turn vehicles around at the mine. You need a 4WD vehicle to negotiate the rocks in the last mile to the lake.

Today, however, even Jeeps couldn't reach the mine. That made my hike more enjoyable. I liked the sense of isolation and adventure from there to the frozen basin.

. Approaching the falls (arrow)

On the way up to this point I saw only three vehicles; all of them went back down before I got to the falls about a quarter of a mile below the mine.

That's the farthest any of them could drive even if they were in Jeeps or other 4WD vehicles. There was simply too much snow at the switchback by the falls.

Several folks later decided to park even farther down than that and walk up to the falls. That was wise, because most people who went that far had trouble turning around. I saw only two other people heading up to the lake, which is more than a mile farther up the road.

Iím glad I got to the falls when I did. I had it all to myself and didnít have to deal with very many vehicles.


I loved all the ďsnow tunnelsĒ in the creeks and waterfalls today. The waterfalls . . . wow.

There are several waterfalls along Clear Creek that are visible from the road on the way up to the lake. The largest is a little over a mile below the lake via the road (because of all the switchbacks) but only about a half mile as the creek flows:

This part of falls is about 35-40 feet high where you can see water flowing.

Most of the road is gradual up to the lake but today I had two short, very steep and rocky places where I went cross-country after the falls to avoid snowed-in switchbacks that would have been difficult to climb.

I simply slid down them on the way back = too much fun!

From the falls I could tell there was a lot of snow at the switchback next to the mine (arrow below). Just past the snow patch in the foreground below Cody and I hiked up the steep slope to cut that switchback and land on the road above:

It was fairly short (300 feet?) but I had to make my own little switchbacks for better traction through the loose rocks and grass.

This is looking back down at the mine after I scrambled up the slope to the next level:

We could get around the snow in the next switchback. The third one looked worse than the one at the mine so we scrambled up the slope a second time. That finally got us above all the blocked switchbacks.

We took a break near there for dog bones, a Clif Bar, and marveling at our awesome vantage point:

Those are the rocks I scrambled up.

It was interesting to watch several other vehicles come up the road and stop well before the falls (red arrow), not knowing how far they could go and still be able to turn around.


I might have sat there even longer but I saw a couple with two dogs start to climb up the rocks near the falls like I did.

Where I stopped for my break. Nice, huh?

When I saw those people coming I got moving again. It was so nice having the falls all to myself that I decided I wanted the lake to myself, too! I soon lost sight sight of them. I reached the lake area well before they did and didnít see another soul until I was going back down nearly an hour later, right about this spot.

It was the same couple with the two dogs. I don't know what took them so long to get up there. Maybe they waited for me to come back so they'd have the lake to themselves, too!

I was able to walk along the edge of the road to get past some snow banks farther up:

Up ahead

Looking back down

View of Clear Lake Creek (snowed under, mostly) and the
South Mineral Creek valley from the road above the falls

My first WOW moment going up this road is the view near treeline when I can see the entire upper and lower Ice Lake basins in the distance.

WOW #2

The second is coming over a rise in the road and seeing Clear Lake Basin dead ahead:

We still have about half a mile to the lake, and it's an interesting hike with all the snow this time.

Continued on next page: a winter wonderland near 12,000 feet.

Happy trails,

"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil, and Cody the Ultra Lab

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© 2011 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil