Snowshoe Regret: The Visit to St. Mary’s Glacier

Our last outing in Colorado was a brief one: a few days prior to our departure from Nancy and Tim’s Tom and I decided to get out for the morning and take a walk somewhere different from where we’d been. Most of the hiking in the Colorado mountains if fairly serious however, entailing significant mileage, elevation gain, or (usually) both, and was not appropriate for a relaxing half-day adventure. So when the short walk to St. Mary’s Glacier popped up on my radar I pounced despite it clearly being a popular (read: busy) place. Besides, how often do you get to walk only a mile and arrive at a glacier???

Knowing it was going to be crowded we got an early start to the day, arriving at the parking area long before it became clogged with vehicles. The trail up to St. Mary’s Lake, sitting just below the snowfield, was rocky and steep – but also wide and easy to follow. The jumbled till was interspersed with a pretty forest of hearty firs and spruce but there was nothing too special to look at until we reached the water, whereupon Abbs got to soak her paws and we got to gawk at the skiers cascading down the snow on the far side of the lake. We then began the trek along the shore toward the lower part of the glacier, eventually ascending the steep bowl towards the snow. It was then that I started to have serious regret about not having my snowshoes with me. It was a novelty to think I could have trekked across the snow and possibly through the saddle and into the next valley on one of the last days on August.

Alas, my snowshoes were not with me and so I did the next best thing and followed the trail up to the high point opposite the place from which we’d seen the skiers begin their runs. Though the trail continued beyond the overlook I chose to descend, skirting the lateral moraine in order to rejoin Tom and Abbs and get an up close look at the melt pouring out from under the snow bridge at the glacier’s snout. Though my photos make it seem rather small – and it is a tiny glacier by comparison – the mass of snow was quite impressive from close up… even if it’s not technically a glacier. Because, come to find out (after the fact), St. Mary’s is actually a “snowfield,” I guess technically a semi-permanent one which differs from a glacier in that it doesn’t really move much and thus doesn’t alter the landscape in a significant way. But because glaciers can become snowfields and vice-versa I’d like to think that St. Mary’s once was a larger fluctuating mass that contributed to carving out the surrounding valleys and depositing till on the lower slopes. Whatever she once was however, she still impressed me – and was very worth the short hike.