Winter Camping

I don’t winter camp. I love the idea in theory but in practice the long hours of darkness cooped up inside a tent just put me off it. Get me a hut with a woodburning stove and I’ll walk/ski/snowshoe miles back to it.

Living this close to the mountains it kills me that prime backpacking season is 3, maybe 4 months max. After a few weeks of coaxing I finally convinced K that we should try it. She’s from the desert, this is probably the last thing she ever saw herself doing.

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At the Moffat Tunnel trailhead , the gateway to the James Peak Wilderness, there are some camping options within a mile of the trailhead. Seems reasonable, close enough to escape if we can’t handle it but far enough away to make it feel worth it.

We headed in midday and found a nice spot between some pines and packed down a nice spot for the tent. After everything was all set up we snowshoed around the area and found a side trail leading up to a frozen waterfall.

About 4pm the sun set in our little valley and we got into the tent. Only 15 hours until the next ray of light…

The temps dropped to the teens and the wind howled through the trees but we stayed nice and cozy in the tent armed with books, crosswords and some warming stout.

I’d do it again, but I think I’d still take the hut and woodburning stove.

If you go:

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20 Hour Getaway

Its a busy Labor Day weekend for me but I have the itch to camp. 

After shooting photos for a client in the morning i grabb my pack and hastily shove my gear in. Luckily, in the spring I got on kick making a bunch of meals in anticipation of hiking season. I grab one of those and some oats and hop in the car. An hour later I’m at the Moffat Tunnel trailhead ready to hit the trail. The beauty of living in Boulder.

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I’ve been to James Peak Wilderness before and I know there are multiple lakes with awesome campsites within 3-4 miles of the trailhead. This time I’m headed to the Crater Lake area, about 3 miles from the car. 

It’s late afternoon by this point and most people I pass are headed back to the trailhead. After 2 miles of steady gradual incline I get to the turn off to crater lakes. From here the trail becomes more steep before eventually flattening out near the lakes.

Unsurprisingly, there is a lot of activity around the lakes. On another weekend it could be a nice place to camp but for tonight I’m going another .5 mile and 400ft up to Upper Crater Lake. 

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This is the steepest part of the climb and at lake level it becomes more of a rock hopping experience than actual trail. Not a lot in the way of flat sites but I find a little spot for my tent near the east side of the lake just past the outflow. The bonus is no one else is up here camping. 

By the time I finish dinner it is already fairly dark and the Milky Way is starting to emerge. The job I was working this morning was using a Canon 5DS R with an 16-35mm zoom. Perfect for having a bit of fun messing around with long exposure shots while the sky is still moonless. This is a great camera, it’s completely impractical to bring into backcountry but, hey, what the hell.

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The next day I make it out early to get home. From door to door the whole trip was only 20 hours but was a great reset.

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A Night in the James Peak Wilderness

It’s been a month since we’ve arrived, time to check out the backpacking around Boulder. Honestly, coming from Wisconsin I’m overwhelmed with choices on where to go. In the end we settled on James Peak Wilderness leaving from the East Portal/Moffat Tunnel trailhead. It’s 45 min drive from home, we get to camp at an alpine lake and walk on the continental divide. Sounds too good to be true. Turns out it isn’t.

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We arrived at the trailhead just before lunch and started walking the 4 miles to Rogers Pass Lake where we hoped to find a spot to camp. The aspens are already starting to turn and the first section of the walk through the forest was gorgeous.

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To the lake it’s a steady incline, about 1,900ft, with plenty of places to rest and fill up with water on the way up. It took about 2 hours to get to the lake and we had many spots to choose from. After a bit of a rest we hiked up another .75 miles and 800ft to the the divide. On the way up we passed Heart Lake which was very windy with little cover. Glad we choose a spot at Rogers Lake. After Heart Lake it’s a steep push to the top.

At this point the ridge is very wide and you can walk miles in either direction. To the west there are great views of Winter Park and the mountains beyond and to the east there are views down the valley all the way to the front range.

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After hanging out on the divide we headed back down to our camp. By then it was much busier by the lake, good thing we grabbed a spot when we did. It was a cool clear night and we had a great dinner of sausages and roast vegetables with some wine (hey it’s only a 4 mile hike in, might as well take advantage of it!).

If you go: