This backcountry anniversary session in the James Peak Wilderness of Colorado was one of my favorite adventures from this summer. Although nursing school was keeping me extremely busy I still made time for as many excursions as possible. I filled each free day I had (because you don’t spend summer here without getting outdoors) seeing new places and finding unexplored hidden gems within the Colorado Rockies. Even after living here for 7 years I feel as though I’ve only seen a small percentage of the beauty this state holds. This means, if you hang with me for a while you’ll catch me spending a lot of my evenings on Google Earth, scouring Colorado’s unexplored terrain from a birds eye view. When I came across this pretty little alpine lake, tucked away deep within the James Peak Wilderness, I knew I had to photograph a couple there! Luckily, Megan inquired with me on an anniversary session, and asked if I had a spot in mind.
Megan and Brandon woke up - probably before 2, and arrived at my house at 3am sharp. We loaded up my Nissan Xterra and headed towards the foothills to begin our day. We drank coffee and drove in darkness, laughing while telling stories and catching up on photography life (Megan is an incredible photographer, her business is Hazel and Lace Photo!) When our route left pavement we started up an aspen lined bumpy 4x4 road. We drove on this for quite some time before finding ourselves above tree line. Denver’s twinkling city lights gleamed from far below and the faintest color protruded from the horizon.
We continued our drive up, weaving back and forth to avoid larger rocks and steep drops. Following GPS we found our stopping mark. We parked on a roughly flat rocky area - hard to tell much of a difference between the parking lot and the dirt road. As the car settled into silence we felt the first gust of wind land hard against the truck. Welcome to life above the tree line and bagging Colorado fourteener’s! There was more than a glimpse of color gracing the Denver skyline so we turned on our headlamps and hiked to the trailhead. This is the first trail I’ve ever hiked that begins by descending downwards - super nice right?! It was steep with a good amount of scree, so we knew we’d have our fair share of struggle making our way back up. Halfway down the trail we ran into 2 gators, little 4x4 vehicles that are great for small trails - but this trail went from a wide road to a skinny single track in a matter of minutes. One gator had stopped with enough room to squeeze past and the second was hanging halfway off the trail, teetering towards it’s death. Looking over the edge you could see an old jeep, crumpled by the fall and discolored by time and exposure to the elements. We easily could have tipped the gator on over and watched it fall the 200 feet below into the valley, I was nervous we might as we finagled our way around it. Instead, we left it where it had made it’s complete halt, an erie question of what happened and if it would ever return home.
As we finished our descent into the mountain valley, the trail turned and we began trekking back uphill towards Little Echo Lake, lesser known as a quiet fishing spot that sits behind Winter Park, CO, and St. Mary’s Glacier in the James Peak Wilderness. Daybreak was finding the mountains as we climbed to the top. We watched in awe as the alpine glow crawled across the tips of the peaks, sinking a deep pink orange color between each crag and crevice. The sunrise here is tough to get to but it was insanely beautiful.
Megan, Brandon, and I walked all around the lake, exploring the trails and taking in the views. We laughed way too much and tried to stay warm as the wind kicked up along with the sun. As we walked back to our jackets we heard voices - something that seemed quiet foreign as we hadn’t seen anyone else all morning. As the hikers came into view they jumped and proclaimed that they hadn’t expected to see anyone else on trail! They had made the trek from a totally different route, backpacking from Winter Park up and over James Peak. We all laughed and wished each other a good journey. A bit sleepy, ready for breakfast, and slap happy from our adventure we made our way back up the scree lined trail to the car. As we passed the gators we saw their owners on their way downhill to save them by towing them back up to the top. It must have been a wild ride!
Hope you enjoy looking through Megan and Brandon’s adventure session!