Blue Lakes Pass Hike from Yankee Boy Basin
~4M roundtrip, loop near Wright Lake and return via Sneffels/Road
Yankee Boy Basin is one of the most photographed natural landscapes in Colorado, and inspires numerous adjectives attesting to the beauty of the area, especially during wildflower season. I agree with these sentiments, yet would add my own: "Overrated."
Now, this isn't entirely fair for many reasons. First, I'm obviously and shamelessly trying to get your attention with a controversial hook. Sorry. Also, we're past the peak of the wildflower bloom, and so I haven't seen the explosion of colour against a blue sky backdrop that is truly a daytime fireworks show. Finally, we're simply spoiled with so many other beautiful options in Colorado especially, that I can't help but think that most of the superlatives come from folks that just stepped out of the car. And, for me, that ends up being a major detraction, the same way I was disappointed, almost enough to "sit by the Merced River and cry," when visiting Yosemite and seeing a string of cars snaking along the valley. Similarly, in Yankee Boy Basin, just behind the telephoto lenses of all those gorgeous pictures lies the buzzing of 4WD vehicles crawling up and down the mountain; loud t-shirted folk in clouds of cigarette smoke; and a group of "sportsman" that decide above treeline is a fine place for recreational target shooting.
The first step, of course, is a slow 6-mile drive along a shelf road (Camp Bird Road) just barely wide enough for a single car at many points. This road is deservedly interesting and can be handled by most cars in good weather, and people even less hypocritical than me might hike the road. (Not really: most people drive most of the way up to a parking area near restrooms, before the terrain gets steeper and rockier). The highlight is driving underneath a section of rock that overhangs the road. Driving this road does command full attention, but the real danger is the threat of Dad's inflated self-satisfaction when the drive is done, despite modern engineering and technology having done most of the work. We're a lazy bunch these days: throw in horses and snow and darkness into the mix instead, and we'd be talking legitimate danger.
But let's be honest, and back up a bit: if you can ignore the sensual assault via smoke, fumes, and echoing gunfire above treeline, this area is still a feast for the eyes, with the full palette represented by this year's late bloom:
The best view is actually backward toward Potosi Peak, which one writer had aptly compared to Huayna Picchu standing sentinel over Macchu Picchu:
Further up the road lies a trail to Blue Lakes Pass, as well as the more popular trail up a scree-filled couloir to the top of 14er Mt. Sneffels. Sneffels is more approachable but significantly less impressive than it's North face presentation, where it lords Mordor-like over Ridgway. I will not post a picture here of the shortened stature of what Sneffels looks behind the curtain.
Instead, we headed up to Blue Lakes Pass, as an easy hike to peer over into another mountain valley.
Since I promised J an easy, non-summit hike, we ended up doing everything ironically and wrong to make it more challenging. We started at 3pm with significant cloud cover and visible verga, and she kept a cotton shirt on. Thinking we were on a road for nearly all of the hike, she asked about keeping her flip-flops on. Sure, why not? I kept my keen sandals, shorts, and cotton flannel on as well. This worked for most of the hike, until a few things happened. First, it started snowing lightly. No big deal, we did have extra layers. Then, right before the top of the pass, the trail follows directly perpendicular to fall line with almost no purchase whatsoever on hardpacked dirt. I didn't know J's sandals had no tread whatsoever, whereas my shoes are 8 years old. So the Class 1 involved scooting on our butts so as not to slide off the trail. We spent less than 2 minutes at the top, where I was chastised yet again for things being not as easy as advertised.
But, there were no storms or falls, and we made it back down. Once we looped back to the Sneffels junction, a few other groups were heading up to Sneffels still, and despite our attire and questionable footwear and obvious lack of helmets (which are a great idea on the Sneffels route), still asked us that common question:
"Did you summit?"
We were happy to fit right in.