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Wednesday, August 21, 2019

The "Stone House" Route To Columbine Pass, Then On To Oh-So-Blue Columbine Lake

A lake is the landscape's most beautiful and expressive feature. It is earth's eye...looking into which, the beholder measures the depth of his own (soul).  Henry David Thoreau 

Of course, not every lake rises to Thoreau's lofty "bar," Certainly not Walden Pond.  I've seen Walden Pond; trust me, it doesn't compare to alpine lakes...not even close. 

So Bobbie managed to drag Bruce and Tamera away from their entrepreneurial enterprise, Mountain Fever gift-shop (with the best selection of t-shirts in town) for a hike during the slow wane from "peak" to "off" season begins. It had been two years since Bruce's last hike...not counting his miles on foot around town and carting heavy boxes of merchandise up a long flight of stairs at the store a thousand times a day.  

We decided to break them in easy, which, by Bobbie—standards, is still a pretty good hike that involves trekking to 13,000 feet and at least 7 miles of up and down terrain.

"Are you trying to kill your bosses?" I plead to no avail.

Anyway, Bruce and Tamera were up for a good outing, so who are we to try and talk them out one that they'll feel the next day?  

For this hike I promised lush gardens of wildflowers, cut throat trout cavorting in Bullion King Lake, Ptarmigan somewhere along the way to Columbine Lake, a cool stone miner's cabin, and topped it off with water so blue they'd break down and cry at the spectacle...at least I always do. 

After about 3 miles on a narrow, rocky Jeep trail, our 4WD foray to Columbine Lake began at slightly above 12,000 feet. The lake is a short mile above us in Bullion King Basin...the one with all the promised trout. 

Of course there were no trout that morning, not even one surface "ring."
I guess they froze out over last winter, I excused.

Still, there was little disappointment in such a spectacular basin etched with a craggy ridge-line horizons...enough to inspire repentance from the most insipid rightwing "drill baby drill" conservatives. (Dick Cheney?) 

Imagine if Thoreau had made the effort to forsake his over-romanticized love affair with a mosquito infested mud bog...to "transcend" and meditate in the mountainous glory that lies west of Minnesota (as far west as he ever traveled, for crying out loud). I doubt he would have neither gone nor looked back. The one thing for sure that could have inspired, if not, elevated his writing and legacy...literally, as well as metaphorically. Oh well. As they say: The open door not taken is often one's biggest regret.  

So sit back, relax, and take a peak, er, peek, at what awaits wandering eyes and itchy feet in and above Bullion King Basin.

Bullion King Lake with its "transcendental"  surround.

Left to right, Bruce, Bobbie, and Tamera

In spite of not one single cut throat trout, it was hard to drag Tamera away from Bullion King

We had to do some rock scrambling off-trail in order to dodge a couple steep, lingering snow-banks on the north-face ridge above Bullion King. But the Heavenly vistas from the ridge...man-o-man, they rolled on and on in perpetuity!

Upper Bullion King Basin

Tamera and Bruce, getting small above timberline.

As previously noted, I promised wildflowers. Though not as "primo" as in a "normal" year, they were good enough...

Bobbie and I summited that peak a couple years ago. What a loose scramble that was...up the chute visible to the right of the peak.

Ahhhh, nothing like wading wildflowers!

Time to move on from wildflowers...we had a deep gorge to descend and re-ascend in order to reach the "bench" to Columbine Pass and Lake. 

Finally, on the "other side," you can see where only 30 minutes previous we waded wildflowers in amongst the green tundra below the mountainous cliffs and scree (to the right in the above photo).

We passed through astonishing and rugged high-country...

Circumvented lofty peaks...

Glacaded across snow-filled gullies...

Bobbie stops for a "ride" on "sea turtle rock"
Rode stone turtles...

It took a while to find the old miner's stone house. It's nearly indistinguishable against a rising sea of scree and rock. 

What a remarkable setting...

Then on to 13,100 foot Columbine Pass, with its view of Lewis Lake, Oscar Pass, and an old mine/mill building.

Oscar Pass (in the left-most saddle with snow) and Lewis Lake. Telluride is in the righthand gap and down a few thousand feet.

A fairly large mine/mill building still stands erect below the dam (far right).

A snack break to replenish Tamera's blood sugar level before heading down to overlook Columbine Lake

Voila. I give you the Neon Blue, Columbine Lake. It never disappoints...

Time to turn around and head back. This time we took the lower route along the bench.

The "bench"


Suddenly, eagle-eye Bobbie shouts "STOP!" She's spotted the "promised" ptarmigan! It's summer plumage provides "natural camouflage" to blend in with alpine rocks. It would have been easy to miss her. 

As winter approaches, the ptarmigan's speckled feathers molt and are replaced with solid white plumage that renders them nearly invisible on snow. This mama ptarmigan had at least 4 chicks scurrying for cover as we walked by. 

Can you spot the ptarmigan?

Back to Bullion King...

We could see "rings" forming on the return hike down to Bullion King Lake. It had to be fish rising...hitting the surface for bugs. Sure enough...the last promise is kept. Cut Throat Trout...

Cut throat trout...to the left of photo. All promises to Bruce and Tamera fulfilled :)
And finally, a couple of short videos I took of the mama ptarmigan and one of her fleeing chicks...  

Just another average summer day in Lovely Ouray...
Peace out,
mark and bobbie


  1. What wonderful hike!! That blue is breathtaking, as I imagine the elevation might be as well. Love seeing the alpine meadows and wildflowers as they are only in the Rockies.

  2. Ah, paintbrush heaven! And the blue color of Columbine Lake is amazing! We really need to hike on over to it when we are above Bullion Lake. Thanks for virtually taking us along this year!

  3. Dam you could make a Coffee Table book out of just these high mountain lakes.....just magnificent.....what a gorgeous day!
    Really regret we never got to do any hiking in the Umcompahgre and adjoining counties but thankfully we have at least got to experience it close up in your unforgettable hiking adventures.
    Keep on doing your thing

  4. I have fond memories of doing the hike to Bullion King Lake with you and Bobbie. I do not recall hiking to Columbine Lake which is rather unique with it very blue water. I would enjoy camping over night during a full moon just to experience Bullion under the stars. Thanks for the great pictures!


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