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"The voyage of discovery is not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes."
~ Marcel Proust
I had the pleasure of seeing three of my favorite places in the San Juan Mountains with new eyes today.

I've been to the Upper and Lower Ice Lake Basins and nearby Grant-Swamp Pass several times each since 2006. I've never seen any of them with this much snow before.

I was able to explore the Lower Ice Lake Basin from one end to the other. It was impossible, however, to even begin the ascent from the lower basin to the upper ones today. Nor did I attempt to go all the way to Grant-Swamp Pass; I stopped about half a mile short for safety reasons.

Upper Ice Lake Basin from the trail to Grant-Swamp Pass

So am I complaining because I was only one for three??

Absolutely not. This hike was a rousing success because I had fun and was rewarded with some of the most beautiful scenery I've ever experienced!


After I turned around in the Lower Ice Lake Basin and was heading back to the trail up to Grant-Swamp Pass, I met a retired couple who are volunteering with the U.S. Forest Service this summer. The man was having a good time but all the woman could talk about was her disappointment that she couldn't get up to the upper basin today.

I suppose I should have been a little more diplomatic but at least I didn't tell her what I really thought about her whining.

My turnaround point in the Lower Ice Lake Basin:  right before the ascent to the upper basins.

Here she was in one of the most beautiful places on the planet and she seemed incapable of appreciating it. Get over it, lady; you are going to be here all summer and you'll have more opportunities to see the upper basins in a few weeks. Can't you just enjoy the present moment??

I wasn't completely able to totally conceal my surprise at her attitude but I didn't say any of that, just thought it.

What I did say was that yes, it'll be fantastic when more wildflowers are blooming down here and the snow melts up there -- but it sure is beautiful today, isn't it, with the sun glistening on the snow and the waterfalls the largest they'll be all year?

Marsh marigolds and Parry's primrose thrive in the wet lower basin.

There is so much snowmelt coming down the mountains that I saw waterfalls today that simply weren't visible other times I've been up there.

If Jim had been with me he probably would have been rolling his eyes and calling me Little Susie Sunshine. Despite my cynicism about some things (like the economy and the way this country is headed), I generally view circumstances both in and out of my control as "glass half full" and not "glass half empty."

I'm an optimist. I like to find the silver lining in the clouds of life. And man, did I have a great time playing in the mountains today -- not despite the snow, but because of it.


I went nuts taking photos today. When I got done I guessed that I took about 300 pictures in five hours.

Would you believe 446??? Good grief. As Jim says, it's a wonder I'm not still up there.

I did some serious editing, whittling that number down to 325 much smaller pictures to reduce the risk that my ten-year-old PhotoShop software program would crash. I take the largest size photos my 10-megapixel camera will produce, in case I want to crop out a detail in the distance (my measly zoom produces fuzzy pictures without a tripod). Later I downsize most of the photos I keep from 28+ megapixels to 3-5 megapixels to use less space on my internal and external hard drives.

Pretty white flowers on the bank of a small stream at about 10,500 feet elevation

No, I won't bore you with all 325 pictures I saved. But I'm going to include a good representation here. That means several pages in this entry so the pages load faster for folks with slower connections.


Cody and I started up the Ice Lake trailhead at 8:30 AM. It was totally sunny and 50 F. Puffy white clouds began forming to the west over the Ice Lake Basins about 10:30 but we didn't get any rain there or where we are camped in the canyon below.

It was perfect weather for an awesome hike, as you'll see in the pictures.

Here's a map of the location:

Number 1 is the trailhead at South Mineral CG about four miles back South Mineral Creek Rd. (FSR 585). I followed the trails out-and back that I marked in yellow; they are in a squiggly Y-shape, with several shorter out-and-back spurs to see some waterfalls and an old mine site up close.

Number 2 is the trail through the Lower Ice Lake Basin. See all those elevation lines close together to the left of the #2? That's the continuation of the trail to the upper basin, which I couldn't access today.

Number 3 is the trail going up to Grant-Swamp Pass. The Hardrock course is marked in blue (I took this map section from a large map that shows the entire HRH course). I followed the trail up to within half a mile of the pass.

I went from early summer greenery at the trailhead to a winter wonderland above 12,000 feet.

Do you see Clear Lake in the upper right of the map? The red and white line (FSR 815) is the road I hiked up and back a couple days ago. There are good views of that mountain and road in some of the pictures in this entry. You can't see Clear Lake from the Ice Lake basins or Grant-Swamp Pass, though. It's in a different basin.


As I expected, the creeks and waterfalls were fantastic today with all the snow melt. They are higher than Iíve ever seen here at the end of June.

Water still flows in the trail approaching the crossing
on Clear Creek but not as much as a few days ago.

Some of the trails are creeks, and there are waterfalls where Iíve never seen them before.

My feet stayed pretty wet today. That's never been a problem for me because my trail shoes drain quickly.

Lower falls on Clear Creek that I had to ford; this creek comes down from Clear Lake.

I wondered what Clear Creek would be like half a mile into the trek but it was fine.

I just crossed where I always cross, right through the water. There is no bridge here. I was a little concerned that the water might be higher/rougher on the way back with todayís snow melt, but I couldn't tell any difference. The biggest, fastest creek I encountered Ė and chose NOT to cross Ė was at the end of the lower Ice Lake Basin. More about that later.

I crossed Clear Creek at the arrow; it was mid-calf deep and about 15 feet wide.

Continuing the climb up the Ice lake Trail

The snow was beautiful, too Ė and, like some waterfalls, in places Iíve never seen it in late June.

I encountered several small snowdrifts across the trail beginning at 10,800 feet, which is before I reached the part of the Ice Lake Trail that the Hardrock course follows for about half a mile:

Up and over

This drift is softer.

Cody had a blast in all the soft snow today! Ya know, so did I.


The flowers are beautiful, too, and almost as prolific as usual under about 11,000 feet Ė dandelions galore (in all their stages),

yellow daisy-like flowers, yellow buttercups, and other yellow flowers, mountain bluebells,

little red/yellow columbines (no big blue columbines yet, though),

red and orange Indian paintbrush, shrubs with reddish flowers, and several kinds of white flowers.

I have no clue what these flowers are until they open up more fully:

Above 11,000 feet in the Lower Ice Lake Basin I saw yellow mountain avens,

marsh marigolds, and the pretty purple Parry's primrose that grows with them in high, wet places:

There are also scads of skunk cabbages coming up in the meadows in the lower basin but they donít flower until later in July:

Above and below: skunk cabbage (taller green plants), white marsh marigolds, yellow mountain avens

Plants start sprouting as soon as the snow melts. There were lots of brown spots where the snow has just melted, yet little green shoots are already popping up:

I've seen marsh marigold flowers sticking up through the snow and even blooming under icy water in Clear Lake! It's a tougher plant than it looks like.


 "Conglomerate" rocks on the Ice Lake Trail above the intersection with the Hardrock course

Indian paintbrush and some other flowers 1/4 mile before the lower basin

Snow covers part of the north side of Fuller Peak; Ice Lake Creek
flows through the canyon between here and there.

Continued on the next page:  exploring the Lower Ice Lake Basin, with splendid views of the upper basins

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