Location: St. Mary’s Glacier, near Alice, CO
Parking: There is a lower parking lot and a smaller upper lot. Since we got there late (10:15a on a Saturday) we parked in the last spot in the upper lot. Given a TON more people came after us, I assume there is either more parking or people park alongside the road. Either way, I would recommend getting here at more like 8-9a. There is a $5 parking fee… small price to pay for a gorgeous area.
Hike: Apprx 1.5 miles to base of glacier. Apprx additional 1.1 miles to summit glacier.
Gain/Altitude: +420′ (10,428′ – 10,848′) to base of glacier. Another +388′ to summit glacier (11,236′)
Basic Gear: backpack with ski/board straps, ski/board with boots, sunblock (that snow reflects all the summer sunlight up your nose!).
Our group set out to hike to the top, explore around a bit, and then ski down a time or two depending on time. After strapping my snowboard, boots, and snowshoes to my backpack, we set out on the trail. Two of our group had AT skis, I had a board (not splitboard, sadly), and the last was glissading down the glacier. The hike up to the lake was pretty easy. It is well trekked, so you can follow the line of ants to the top. A bit rocky, but dogs and kids were going up the trail.
You emerge from the trees to see a beautiful lake fed by a snow-field (which has been dubbed a glacier by the land-locked people of Colorado). Now I am no English major, but I have a different conception of a glacier than this. That being said, I had no doubts that the lake was freezing and that swimming was only for the brave. We swiftly made our way around the lake to the base of the glacier. The skiers put on their AT set up while I got on my snowshoes. The fourth member of our party was going to go up with just his shoes – which in hindsight I think he faired about the same, if not better, than I did in snowshoes! So we trek up the snowfield with our gear, following a packed down glissade trail so we didn’t posthole (even in snowshoes, I was getting it with how soft the snow was).
At the top, we were alone save for another group of snowshoers set on summing James Peak (13, 294′) in the distance. Although it looked like it had lots of snow to the summit, my guess is they were going to have to get out of their snowshoes at parts and be conscious of avalanches since it wasn’t well trekked (since it had been warm for so long already at this elevation, avalanche danger was low… but you can’t let your guard down).
We decided to ditch our gear and walk over to the Kingston Peak Off-Road trail for a view of Loch Lomond (both of these might sound familiar from earlier posts of mine!). This tacked on probably 0.75-1.00 mile one-way onto our hike, but it was worth it for the views – gorgeous! It reminded me that I need to keep Loch Lomond in the back of my head as an easy but beautiful improptu camping trip this summer.
After we got our fill of views – which is tough to do around these parts – we got on our gear for the great descend. The grade was a but shallow at the top for glissading, so he had to run down the glacier a bit to a steeper part. I made it without a recent waxing, but I was having to lean back like it was powder with how soft the snow was around this time of day (I am betting it was about 1-2pm by this point).
While I did enjoy the novelty of skiing in June, I had fun getting some turns in the deep heavy snow! It was fun to have everyone at the base of the glacier watch us ski down, as no one else had made it up to the top to ski down. At the bottom was a jump, and you know I sent it off of it! If the snow wasn’t so heavy, I might have done a trick, but instead all I managed was a pathetic nose grab before having to stop before all the bushes at the bottom of the snowfield.
If you are trying to keep your skills fresh in the summertime or get a taste of skiing, this is definitely not the way to do it. But if you want to enjoy a gorgeous hike and get a couple of turns in June, then this is for you. I think that in the midst of summer, that lake would be so good to jump in after climbing up the mountain (or maybe James Peak if you have the time!). There was definitely a few brave souls with floaties in the lake, but we had to get back so one of our group to get to work. I’d say that is one solid way to live your morning before work! I think I will be back sometime, for sure.