San Juan National Forest: Ice and Island Lakes

August 10, 2019  •  Leave a Comment

Our planned backcountry basecamp spot was only about 3 miles in. Beyond that was above tree line and we didn't want to be too exposed. From our basecamp we would day hike in the surrounding area and return to camp each night. Since it was such a short (but steep) hike in, we were able to convince our friends without backcountry gear to hike in for the day and explore with us. Also, since they didn't have heavy packs and are badasses, we convinced them to hike in with some beer for the day. It was a great plan all around.

The following morning we woke up, broke camp at 6 am and headed to the trailhead. Once we had a parking spot secured we could make breakfast and pack for the trip. Good thing we did because the entire trailhead parking was full by 7 am. We housed our breakfast burritos and set off.

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We made short work of the 1900', 3 mile climb and found a great spot to set up camp. The flowers were OFF THE RAILS. They were the biggest, densest, and tallest patches of wildflowers I think I've ever seen.

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We explored the lower basin, and enjoyed the sun while it was around. We grabbed naps, then dinner, and decided to hike to the upper basin to scout plans for sunrise. The upper basin was gorgeous, but the weather wasn't great. We had some beers and whiskey for the sunset and then headed back to camp for the evening. 

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The next morning we woke up for sunrise and headed back to the upper basin where we would meet up with our day hike folks.

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We made out way back up to Ice Lake and holy moly was it a SPECTACULAR sunrise up there. As soon as we crested the high point of the trail and the lake came into view, we were greeted to a COMPLETELY different view from the night before. Cerulean blue lake, surrounded by the colorful San Juan mountains.

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After about an hour of relaxing and swimming, the beer team showed up. As they pulled all the beer out of their backpacks, they revealed that they had carried about 25 beers up! It was only 8 am in the morning but we all cracked one to celebrate how lucky we felt to all be in this beautiful spot together.

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From Ice Lake we continued to Island Lake, where we planned to spend the day relaxing and drinking beers.

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When they initially pulled out 25 beers I was a little worried that we weren't going to be able to finish them all. But by 11 am we were already running low. After going back and forth with each other, I was dared to try and swim out to the island. Being a fan of cold water and a few beers deep I decided to try. I'm pretty sure I only made it about 1/3 of the way before I could feel the blood draining from my arms causing them to cramp. Next time I need to bring up a little boat or something.

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After a bit of swimming the clouds started rolling in and since the beer was mostly gone we figured that was our cue to head back to the tents anyway. About halfway back to camp the sky opened up with a mix of hail and rain, but no lightning. We said bye to the half of our group that wasn't overnight camping and laid down for a nap. The rest of the day was non-stop rain. I took advantage of being extra relaxed from the multiple IPA's at 12K feet elevation to lay down and listed to the sounds of the rain on the tent. It was such an awesome day.

The next morning we broke camp and the sun came out enough for us to dry out before packing up. In no time we were back at the trailhead where fresh clothes and cold beers awaited us. After loading up the trucks we headed to lodge, it was wedding time!

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Trip notes: You can easily do the hike as a day hike, but we thought it would be nice to wake up in the backcountry. If we have a chance to go back, I think I would probably climb up Grant Peak and check out the views. If you have a 4x4, there are also some sweet trails in the area like up to Clear Lake and Ophir Pass.

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