After parting ways with the FSJ guys, I headed down South Mineral Creek road headed for the Ice Lakes trailhead. I was pleased to discover that by following the Clear Lake road I was able to cut off some elevation gain and Sprocket and I promptly hit the trail. The trail to the lakes doesn’t mess around: it climbs about 2,000′ to the upper basin in right about three miles.
When I emerged into the lower basin, my jaw dropped. This basin was one of the most gorgeous places that I’d ever visited. Since the goal for the next day was to climb Vermilion Peak, San Juan County’s high point, I continued on to the upper basin to remove as much elevation gain as possible for the next day. (I camped at Ice Lake this time and will probably continue all the way up to Fuller Lake next time.)
The upper basin was more alpine and austere than the lower basin but in some ways I loved it all the more. It was rather chilly up in the 12,000′ basin so I bundled up and enjoyed reading in the last of the sun’s rays.
The next morning, we didn’t rush out of the tent because we’d cut our approach distance by camping in the basin. This was a mistake, while it was brilliantly sunny at 7:30, by 8:15 fluffy clouds had started to appear in the sky. It was still super early so I headed out, climbing above Fuller Lake studying the sky the whole way. As I reached the bench above the lake, I heard the first roll of thunder. It was time to call off the hike. It wasn’t quite 9am but the weather was speaking clearly.
I hustled back to the tent, quickly shoved it in my pack, and started downhill as quickly as possible. The clouds were rolling in over the mountains and things were about to get realllllyyy interesting. As I reached the lip of the upper basin, the hail arrived.. The descent down the headwall was nerve wracking as thunder boomed around us. Sprocket fell in at my heels and we headed down as quickly as the wet rocks allowed.
As sad as I was that my Southwest Colorado high point adventure started out this way, I’m not sad that I’ll have to come back to Ice Lakes basin soon. This was one of the most beautiful places that I’ve ever been to, thunderstorm and all.