We continued to assent up the rocky valley, surrounded by snowy mountain peaks on each side. Although there was snow, the hot Colorado sun beamed down a warm 70 degree heat as we climbed. Sweat soaked through my shirt and dripped from my brow. It had been a grueling yet rewarding hike to this point. Below us sat two pristine mountain lakes. The lakes were nestled between mountain peaks; the crystal freshwater lakes were hidden in a deep forest of green fir trees. The higher we climbed, the more beautiful the view back down on the lakes became. These were two of the five Crater Lakes located near Nederland, Colorado.
We continued to climb up the steep rock valley as our legs began to grow tired. We had already hiked three miles to the lower lakes, all directly up hill. The trees lessened and our air grew thinner with each step. We traversed the rocky canyon towards our destination. There was no trail to where we were going as it ended at the two lower lakes – our only guide was a frozen waterfall. We climbed along large boulders next to the waterfall to continue on the path to our final destination. We took our time with every foot hold and hand grip, for a fall would not have meant death but we would have surely slid on the frozen snow all the way back down to the lower lakes. It was steep, to say the least. To that point in our trek, we had not passed another soul – the only people within miles were my two hiking companions. A broken bone or sprained ankle would presented a serious problem. As we came to the top of the rocky canyon, we had assented above the tree line – some 12,000 feet above sea level.
We followed the sound of water as the outlets of the upper lakes hinted that they were somewhere in the near distance. We continued to hike, enjoying the enormity of the peaks which stood in front of us. Finally, after climbing two more miles from the lower lakes, we found our destination – the jackpot. We quickly walked over to a boulder overlooking the highest of the Crater Lakes and sat down to admire the view. I surveyed our surroundings: The sapphire lake was a sheet of glass; there were no ripples or other people to disturb its serenity. We were completely alone, overlooking one of the most beautiful places in the state of Colorado. Half melted snow embedded itself into the surrounding peaks. The isolated nature of this lake provided us with our own heavenly sanctuary; for the moment, it was ours to have and no one else was going to disturb the peaceful setting.
We decided to walk down from the boulder to the lake and eat a snack. The three of us sat in silence for a few minutes, admiring the tranquility awarded to us for our effort. After a while I looked to my friend Phil and said, “I am going to propose to a girl on that boulder one day…or maybe that one…it doesn’t matter.”
He replied with a laugh, “Aren’t you missing something kind of important for that?” … If you know anyone, send her my way!
After a few more minutes of admiring the view, I suggested that we get in the water. I knew it would be cold, after all, we were surrounded by snowy mountain peaks at 12,000 feet. I justified the decision by thinking to myself: when in my life would I have a chance to get into a lake like this one without any other people around? One at a time, we took our shoes and socks off and sprinted into the water. As I broke the glassy plane of the lake, splinters of ice shot through my feet and into my veins; cold was an understatement. I was only able to make it as deep as my knees before my legs began to scream profanity filled cries at my brain. It was worth it.
On our way back down, we trekked past the other upper lake and took a slightly different path back down to the lower lakes. The views were absolutely stunning. The lakes were dressed in aqua blue as the early morning sun had pushed itself higher into the sky. Bright green trees were positioned along the shores of each lake. In the distance of the west lake stood several more layers of mountain peaks. It simply does not get any better. We climbed back down our route next to the waterfall, even more carefully than before. As we climbed, for the first time we spotted other people. The old couple stood far below us and watched, memorized, as we climbed back down to the trail. Although I was slightly disappointed in having to share this day with other people for the first time, it was rather fun watching them gaze toward us as we dissented down our improvised path.
I’ll go back to the Crater Lakes again…maybe next time it will be with my future wife!