Oct 4, 2012 · 8:30 AM
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St Mary's Glacier Trail is a short (2 miles roundtrip) and easy/moderate hike on a rocky trail with about 500 feet of elevation gain. We will make the hike around 4 miles roundtrip by passing the glacier and hiking on the tundra above the glacier. Located north of Idaho Springs in the Clear Creek Ranger District of the Arapaho National Forest, the glacier - technically a large perennial snowfield - is a popular year-round destination open to hiking, skiing, glissading, climbing and sledding. St Mary's Lake, located just below the glacier, is ringed by bristlecone pine, thick willows, and prolific wildflowers. Though easily reached, exploring the glacier can be dangerous. Extreme caution is a must for any activity - even casual walking - that takes place on the snowfield.
The trail is about a mile and begins on a wide, rocky forest road heading northwest. Keep left of all offshoots (these lead to private homes), and within clearly drawn property lines on each side of the road. The road-trail rises quickly through a high subalpine forest that breaks suddenly across a bridge spanning the outlet of St Mary's Lake. Notable in the area are stands of bristlecone pine, a species specially adapted to high altitudes and extreme weather conditions. This hardy tree has a windswept appearance, and can live for thousands of years.
Follow the northeast shore toward the glacier. It narrows on a clearer path through dense willows and emerges on the north shore just below the snowfield. A few steps off the unofficial but well-worn path leads to the base of St Mary's Glacier. This is also the steepest part of the snowfield where it melts into St Mary's Lake.
The trail continues up the north side of the glacier over churned rocks and soil pushed to its margins by the annual growth and recession of the snow mass. Footing can be tricky, so watch your step. Micro-spikes might come in handy for this part.
The snowfield tapers quickly up a narrow gulch to its top (1.1 miles : 11,236'), where the trail levels abruptly on the edge a huge tundra expanse. In the distance are James Peak and Mount Bancroft.
Directions to the Trail: I-70 to the Fall River Road/St. Mary's Alice Exit 238. Follow CR 275 about 10 miles where parking for a fee ($5) is just past the trailhead on the left. Fill out the form, enclose $5 and drop in the box. Two porta-potties located in the parking lot.
Carpooling: Meet at 7:45am at the Wooly Mammoth PnR, Section CC where we'll form carpools.
Optional lunch after the hike at Tommyknockers in Idaho Springs.
See you there!
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