We were compelled to do the Blue Lake hike outside of the southwest Colorado town of Ouray after seeing a Backpacker Magazine article touting it as having “one of America’s best secret campsites.” Blue Lake also happens to be located just below 14,150-foot Mt. Sneffels, which is named after the Snaefellsnes peak in Iceland. At the time, we had just returned from six weeks in Iceland, and we couldn’t resist the opportunity to do this particular hike based on that fact alone. What can I say? I guess we’re suckers when it comes to travel nostalgia…
The 4-mile trail into Blue Lake climbs steadily from the trailhead at 9,350 feet before it opens into a wooded group campsite right on the shore of the jewel-colored lake. Sitting at 10,940 feet and surrounded by 13,000 foot peaks, the location of Blue Lake is certainly idyllic. We would have been very content camping right there with everyone else, but our Backpacker article advised us to press on another half mile and 500 vertical feet to find a lone campsite with an amazing view of the lake below. We took the bait and headed uphill to discover a truly gorgeous vantage point. We set up our tent, cooked some dinner, poured some vino and enjoyed a glorious sunset from our private campsite. What an amazing spot to call home for the night!
And, while this vista would be hard to beat, it was a visit in the middle of the night by an uninvited guest that made this hike one we will never forget.
Unfortunately for Matt, no matter where we are camping, one of his required husbandly duties is to escort me to “the bathroom” if I wake up to nature’s call in the middle of the night. For the most part, he’s a pretty good sport about the whole thing, and he wakes up without too much fuss. I guess he figures it’s a small price to pay for having a wife who is willing to spend so many nights in a tent instead of a hotel room.
This particular hike, however, happened to be our first ever backpacking trip in the United States. Although the US has some of the most beautiful alpine scenery anywhere in the world, we also have bears, and so our backpacking adventures have led us to places further afield like Chile, Argentina and Iceland where predators are non-existent. Spending the night in a tent in the middle of nowhere in bear country has been a real mental hurdle for me. This little overnight hike to Blue Lake was intended to help break that barrier. So, when I woke up a few hours before sunrise in the pristine wilderness of Colorado, I decided I needed to be brave and go it alone.
I ventured a very respectable twenty feet from the tent, and, to my delight, all went well. Feeling super-proud of my accomplishment, I ducked back into the tent without incident and tried to fall back asleep. But just after settling back into my cozy sleeping bag, I heard a loud thump! on the ground, not too far away from where I had just been. I wasn’t sure what it was, but, from the sound of it, I was certain it was an animal dropping out of a tree.
I woke up Matt to tell him the highly disturbing news when whatever it was started moving, right near our tent. I could clearly hear it shuffling around and sniffing our gear, but Matt insisted it was nothing and assumed his favorite form of overnight camping defense: playing possum. Somehow the husbandly duties stop at bathroom escorts.
The intruder’s next move was to do a drive-by under Matt’s side of the rainfly, and, despite actually feeling the animal brushing his arm (he admitted later), Matt insisted that it was “just the wind” making the noise and rustling that we heard. It wasn’t until the bold pest came under my side of the tent and started gnawing on our boots that Matt finally changed his tune. If there is one thing Matt won’t tolerate, it’s mistreated camping gear. He jumped upright, yelling at the intruder to go away. It obeyed, disappearing into the darkness before we could get a look at it. Hearts racing, we laid back down only to have the exact same scene played out again. This time, Matt grabbed the flashlight and sat quietly in anticipation.
A few minutes passed while we waited for the next visit. When we heard the rustling again, Matt was ready, and he lit up the intruder with his torch. To our surprise, it was a porcupine! Luckily for us, he kept his needles to himself and trundled on his way. We quickly unzipped the fly, grabbed all of our gear and brought it into the tent with us. With no more tasty boots to chomp on, the porcupine let us be, and we managed to fall back asleep for the rest of the night.
The next morning, we had fun exploring more of the Upper Blue Lakes area before retracing our steps back to the trailhead. We felt triumphant for surviving our first State-side backpacking trip, and, despite the visit from our persistent porcupine pal, we hope to have many more State-side backpacking adventures in our future. Here are some of our favorite photos from the hike.
Click to enlarge photographs and view as slideshow.
How about you? Have you ever had any visits from uninvited guests in the middle of the night when camping? What did you do?