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Nestled high above I-70 and up a road that snakes into the mountains beyond Idaho Springs, Colorado, there is a small lake at the base of a glacier. St. Mary’s Glacier, one of the most striking and pristine landscapes in the Centennial State, is located less than an hour’s drive west of Denver, and this high alpine destination (elevation approximately 10,750 feet) can be accessed via a well-trodden, three quarters of a mile-long trail beginning just beyond the small town of Alice. Intrigued by the promise of a mid-week alpine escape and an up-close look at one of Colorado’s last remaining glaciers, we arrived at the trailhead just before sunrise.

The Ascent

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We arrived at the St. Mary’s Glacier trailhead before sunrise and began the ascent in the dark. Photo Credit: Stephen Martin (OutThere Colorado)

It was a cold morning, the rocks and trail slippery with ice, so we were glad that we packed our trekking poles.

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A rock jetty juts out into the middle of the lake. Photo Credit: Stephen Martin (OutThere Colorado)

The Frozen Lake

After the short ascent, we arrived at the frozen lake at the base of the glacier. I couldn’t believe that we were only a few miles from Idaho Springs and the roar of I-70. It felt otherworldly; the pre-dawn icy light filled the basin.

Our goal was to climb to the top of the opposite on the other side of the glacier to capture the sunrise as it peeked over the surrounding mountains. We couldn’t discern the conditions of the snow on the glacier from where we stood so we strapped on our Stabilicers Hike Macro spikes to make sure we had proper traction for the ascent.

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Stabilicers Hike Macro spikes. Photo Credit: Stephen Martin (OutThere Colorado)

 

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Stabilicers Hike Macro spikes are perfect for rugged, winter terrain. Photo Credit: Stephen Martin (OutThere Colorado)

 

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Stabilicers Hike Macro spikes, perfect for glacier hiking. Photo Credit: Stephen Martin (OutThere Colorado)

The Glacier

Though not steep, the glacier ascent was rugged and uneven. A whole summer of freezing and thawing had created these dips and shelves in the snow, leaving exposed rock and pockets of solid ice.

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Stepping carefully between windblown pockets and icy rivulets in the glacier. Photo Credit: Stephen Martin (OutThere Colorado)

 

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St. Mary’s glacial ice. Photo Credit: Stephen Martin (OutThere Colorado)

The sun was rising over the ridge, so we moved quickly up the face of the glacier so that we could capture the sunrise. The sun also has a warming effect on the snow, changing the already variable conditions, so we hiked quickly to avoid any unstable snow slabs.

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The glacier’s varied terrain required careful route planning. Photo Credit: Stephen Martin (OutThere Colorado)

Sunrise at St. Mary’s Glacier

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The sun peeking through the clouds and over the ridgeline at sunrise. Photo Credit: Stephen Martin (OutThere Colorado)

The glow of the sun’s rays illuminated the basin and the surrounding peaks, warming my chilly fingers and bringing an unexpected array of colors to the wintery landscape.

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Climbing St. Mary’s Glacier with Stabilicers Hike Macro spikes. Photo Credit: Stephen Martin (OutThere Colorado)

We grabbed a few photos, the cracked phone a mark of pride for my hiking friends as evidence of adventures, just as a goggle tan at the end of a ski season means days went spent on the slopes. We managed to capture a few pictures at the summit before the clouds we had seen on the horizon rolled in to cover the morning glow.

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Sunrise photos at the top of St. Mary’s Glacier. Photo Credit: Stephen Martin (OutThere Colorado)

The Descent

As expected, the winter clouds rolled in, bringing a snow flurries. The descent was more rugged that the clear ascent, so we carefully stepped our way back to the base of the glacier by the lake and made our way back down to the parking lot to head home.

Colorado is full of incredible landscapes hidden in plain sight just above well-trodden trails and well-traveled towns. St. Mary’s Glacier is one of those rare spots, both accessible and just hidden enough that you’ll often have the basin and the trail to yourself. If you’re looking for a beautiful, quick escape into the mountains, St. Mary’s Glacier is one of the best spots close to Colorado’s Front Range.

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Descending St. Mary’s Glacier. Photo Credit: Stephen Martin (OutThere Colorado)