St Mary’s Glacier Trip Report October 2017
Today we hiked up St Mary’s Glacier, which is located just outside of Idaho Springs Colorado. We left home around 8:15 to go to a friend’s house to carpool and arrived at the trailhead parking lot (which is about 200m south of the trailhead) about 10:30am after stopping at another friend’s house as well.
St Mary’s is located just past the three Idaho Springs exits, so if you’re heading up and need some coffee or something to eat we highly recommend The Frothy Cup because the baristas are super friendly, the coffee is good, and their breakfast burrito is surprisingly great for being in Idaho Springs. They also have a wide assortment of baked goods, including some gluten free and vegan.
Once your hanger and caffeine needs are taken care of, head on up I-70 for another 3 miles or so until you see the St Mary’s exit, before you head up the pass.
The road up to the St Mary’s parking lot ($5 to park, so bring cash!) is windy and steep, taking you past some incredible vacation homes and views.
The parking lot is impossible to miss and will be on your left. If you miss it you’ll need to do a three point turn to get back into it, so don’t miss it. There is not parking further up closer to the trailhead, which is about a 200m walk up the road from the top of the parking lot, which is the opposite end from which you come in.
Our objective today was to ski the “glacier”, which is really deep snow blown off the peaks by super string winds and deposited in an area that doesn’t get a lot of direct sun so the snow stays all year around.
After the initial hike through some decent trails that were strewn with big rocks (remember: skis on our backs) we arrived at the lake, and on the far side is a climb up to the glacier:
It was a pretty warm summer in Colorado and the sun and heat definitely took its toll on the snow, which has obviously been through a lot of thaw and freeze cycles over the last few months.
Instead of the nice snow you see above, we had more like this:
As you can see, it was pretty gnarly. My wife and I chose to not ski it, because she has a pair of brand new Black Crows Camox and I didn’t want to core shot my Freebirds. This ended up being a good idea because two of our friends ended up gouging their bases pretty deep and get to spend some time with P-tex soon!
A note on foot traffic
We apparently got to the trail fairly early this morning, at least earlier than a lot of skiers. We saw one other crew loading up skis and snowboards to hike and ski it, but everyone else was hiking.
When we headed back down about 130p there were a LOT of hikers both heading up and down. It seems St Mary’s is a very popular hike, especially in summer, because you can still see snow. Thus, it attracts a lot of tourists and the big parking lot is indeed needed!
Would we recommend?
Because of the above mentioned foot traffic, if you are hoping to get out away from everyone and everything this would not be a great trail.
As I wrote above, our day was a bit of a bust because we did not bring rock skis (our friends who did had a great time). I’d recommend going up in the winter or spring, probably into June or even July if you want some summer skiing.
All in all, St Mary’s was an easy drive from Denver and not that hard of a hike (about 4mi round trip). If you are able to ski and want to carry your skis in, it would be a great not-too-adventurous day. If you are just getting into backcountry skiing, then it would be a great spot to start especially in winter when the trails are completely snowed in and you can skin the whole way.