Tag Archives: san juan huts

Uncompahgre national forest sign with mount sneffels in winter east dallas fork

Snowshoe into Blue Lakes Hut: Part 2

“Winter is the time for comfort, for good food and warmth, for the touch of a friendly hand and for a talk beside the fire: it is the time for home.”
Edith Sitwell

I woke up first.

I always do.

It was a restless night of alternating hot and cold, our legs aching still from the efforts of the night before. Muscles I didn’t know existed ached.

But I woke with the sun, heated some water and made tea, and enjoyed it whilst watching the sunrise hit the peak of Mt. Sneffels [alternately my truest love and my closest nemesis].

I even sat, meditated, and with my eyes wide open watched my beloved Matt sleep, quite contentedly.

Once he did awaken, we discussed THE PLAN for the day.

It had, originally, consisted of snowshoeing around the area…checking out what the Blue Lakes trail might be like this time of year, as well as Cocan Flats…things that we had seen on our earlier hike in the area and watched to discover in the winter… but we were still exhausted.

The call of delicious beers, hot springs, and sleeping in our own bed was stronger than the call of adventure.

So we restocked the firewood [my first time splitting logs all by myself!!!! I was such a he-woman!], cleaned up really well, shoveled trails to the loo and woodpile, turned off the propane, and headed out.

Though it was much faster going out, thanks to my trailblazing on the way in, the sore muscles continued to ache, and it felt as though the trail would never end.

And it doesn’t, does it? It’s like it says in The Lord of the Rings:

The Road goes ever on and on
Down from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
And I must follow, if I can,
Pursuing it with eager feet,
Until it joins some larger way
Where many paths and errands meet.
And whither then? I cannot say.

Just substitute ‘road’ with ‘trail’ and you have a perfect metaphor for life.

We met with a group headed in and upon discourse with them discovered they were headed into the hut. We were so happy to tell them we cut the trail, left them plentiful firewood, and bid them well.

Needless to say, we no longer held regret at our decision to exit when a larger group was headed in, and we would have shared the space with them. Doesn’t really fit with my idea of a totally romantic Christmas Vacation in the mountains.

Once we reached the car it was but a short deal to achieve a table at the Ouray Brewery followed by the immaculate hot springs pool and vapor cave of Wiesbaden.

We found heaven.

Here I am eating oatmeal for breakfast. 

My view out of the compost toilet this morning. Amazing. Here I am at the Blue Lakes trailhead. 

Matt’s amazing pano of the San Juans.

I asked Matt to take this one for me…


A shot of the Mt. Sneffels summit as sunrise hits the peak. It was pretty amazing as the wind gusts would come and make tiny avalanches with the snow off the of the trees.

Matt and I about ready to head out!

Here we stopped so Matt could take an amazing shot of West Fork of Dallas Creek. He is amazing.


Elisa Jones snowshoe san juan mountains blue lakes hut in winter

Snowshoe into Blue Lakes Hut: Part 1

“When we least expect it, life sets us a challenge to test our courage and willingness to change; at such a moment, there is no point in pretending that nothing has happened or in saying that we are not yet ready. The challenge will not wait. Life does not look back. A day is more than enough time for us to decide whether or not to accept our destiny.”
Paulo Coelho, The Devil and Miss Prym

I can’t begin to express how excited I was for this trip.

There’s nothing like several weeks of stress, holiday stress, kid stress, house stress, family stress, and general life stress to make you want to take your dearest love deep into the mountains and hide away for days at a time.

Honestly, how else do you restore sanity?

So the idea of snowshoeing into a hut was…thrilling.

And we know this hut well. It’s amazingly beautiful up there. My first time to this venue was via fat bike, in the snow.

So I thought I knew what we were getting into.

We drove out rather later in the morning that we had planned, and stopped to visit with Kelly at the Hut office. I LOVE that woman. She is the type of person I can sit and chat with for hours. I just love her. So we delivered her a Christmas gift, grabbed a key, and headed off…via our first mistake…Taco Del Gnar.

Friends, heed me, trail expert that I am:

If you are about to embark on a physically challenging excursion, do not…I repeat for emphasis: DO. NOT. Eat. Tacos.

Not even the most delicious tacos in all of Colorado that you can find in Ridgway. Just don’t. Don’t.

But we did.

Then we drove up as high as we could, popped out of the car, strapped on our packs, and snow pants [mine were a bit too tight…though, to be fair, they were my uniform pants when I performed for the Salt Lake 2002 Winter Olympics 15 years ago], snowshoes, and headed up the mountain.


And up.

And up.

The first three miles is up up up up up the Jeep road and the trail isn’t bad. At this point there was far less traffic than my last journey, but with snowshoes that’s okay, right?

We were passed by a man in skis and that was okay, right?

The trail continues down through one of the most AMAZING views you’ll ever see, with the San Juan’s just stretched out before you. Then you cross into the Uncompahgre National Forest and the trail gets narrower, the trees get closer, and you feel a certain intimacy with the mountains at this point.

By the time we crossed into the National Forest boundary we knew we were in trouble.

We were exhausted and racing daylight.

We were too far to turn back, but the tracks at worn out.

That meant one thing: breaking trail for almost 2 miles in 3 feet of snow…in snowshoes…with the sun setting.

Please understand that in my years of trail experience I have done some hard stuff. I have ridden over-night around the White Rim of Canyonlands TWICE. I have competed in and WON a spot on the podium of some of the most challenging Triathlon and Duathlons. I have pushed myself to the absolute edge of strength and I have come out the other side stronger. And more grateful than ever for this life.

So when I say that the last mile of this snowshoe trek was one of the hardest physical and mental challenges I have ever faced, please take it with this perspective in mind.

I can still see the snow, untrodden, before my feet, each step a decision: forward, or back.

This is something I learned on my trip from Durango to Moab a couple of years ago: you only have one choice…forward, or back.

Or, I guess, if life doesn’t matter to you any more, you could stop.

Being unwilling to stop, and it being utter nonsense to turn back, I stepped forward.

Again, and again, I made that choice to go forward…though every muscle in my body ached to stop.

Matt was behind me, exhausted.

We counted steps. I would shoot for 50, but sometimes pushed to 55. My heart was screaming at the end of each set, my working muscles pulling and aching. When the incline increased, we would count 25. Or 20. Or 10.

But we didn’t stop.

And we watched as the sunset lit up the mountains, made the clouds blush. And we pressed onward.

Most of the time we didn’t talk. We couldn’t, our heartrates too high.

But sometimes I would say, “Sorry.” And he would say, “You have nothing to be sorry for.” Or maybe, “I love you Elisa Christine Jones.” Or “I’m going to marry you!”

[I hope he’s not too embarrassed if I write that!]

We made it to the hut.

It was after dark. We were both on the brink of tears, each step an agony.

But the huts are so delightful. There was already wood ready for a fire and we started one right away.

So let me tell you why I love Matt: we talk all the time but we never have to talk.

Once we arrived we both went about what needed to be done without one of us having to dictate to the other. We are perfectly in sync. I love him.

It took hours for the hut to warm up, but once it did it was quite comfortable. Toasty even!

I read to him, we snacked, and let sleep gradually overtake us.

Photo credit: Matt Janson Photography

Lots of ice on Dallas Creek. Credit: Matt Janson Photography 


Here I am! What a champion snowshoer! Credit: Matt Janson Photography 

Matt takes amazing starlight photos. Even when it’s like -10 degrees outside.

Kelly Ryan mountain biking rustler's trail

Catching Up with a Good Friend

“Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art…. It has no survival value; rather it is one of those things which give value to survival.”
C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves

It would take me too long to recount how I know Kelly and why I like her.

Let it suffice to say that we have the kind of easy friendship that never goes stale and no matter how long a time passes between meetings we still have an understanding of where we stand.

She came to town to pick up her husband, but came early so we could get a ride in together. I’m afraid she out-listened me as I caught her up on the many doings of my life, but I hope I was a good listening ear for her as well.

We rode Rustler’s, as she had never been to the Kokopelli trails and I ride only a singlespeed on the dirt now.

It was another amazingly beautiful October day and we couldn’t get enough of the sunshine, the yellow cottonwoods lining the Colorado River, and the cliffs reflecting on the water.

I ended up having more time than I expected to cover more trail [or I thought I did…I was still 10 minutes late to my board meeting….probably worth it].

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