Bullion King Lake was the last hike I did before leaving Ouray for Texas after receiving news from home that my Dad had died. But even if I didn’t have that sharpened sense of hindsight, looking back on such a glorious day from 106 degree heat of the dry dust-bowl of Central Texas, it still would have ranked up there with one of the best hikes ever. But then, while in Lovely Ouray, I seem to say that about every hike.
I really can’t believe I almost passed up this hike. I bailed the night before. Looking back, I really can’t even recall what gave me pause. Something to do with logistics. As the crowd expands, the introvert retreats. Thankfully, Gayle sent me an email after I had declined, saying “Trust me on this…you do not want to miss this hike!” And was she ever right…
Bullion King Lake had everything I could script for the perfect hike. There were wildflowers, waterfalls, snow-streaked mountains, and the ubiquitous dramatic imposing ridge line reflecting in a blue mountain lake like a hand-sculpted platinum setting cradling a watery sapphire gem.
The hike up to the lake itself is relatively easy by Ouray standards..a somewhat narrow, steep steady incline, but the terrain is consistent along the 4WD jeep road. There is no traffic in between the trail head and the lake, as the road is closed due to a mine reclamation project and construction of a mine waste repository. This makes for a day in total solitude, as we only see one other person at the beginning of the trail, along with what appeared to be happy faces beneath the hard hats of the construction crew at the reclamation site. An office view like this can take the edge off even the harshest of toxic work environments. The rest of the “playground,” we have all to ourselves for the entire day.
A shortcut up the side of the mountain gets us to the lake via a much more scenic route through a marshy field of wildflowers, purple penstemons lining the stream. Our timing is good, as we arrive just before the wind to get a few reflective shots in the lake before reflections give way to ripples. We spend time admiring the clear blue lake, looking for shadows of shy rainbow trout beneath the surface, while soaking up the ambiance of a perfect weather day.
But if there is one thing I have learned about hiking with Mark and Bobbie, there is always more to see “just a little further.” And one who is willing to brave the stretch outside one’s comfort zone is typically treated to an off the beaten path thrill of an adventure. So when Mark and Bobbie say “We’re going to climb a little higher and find an overlook up on that ridge,” I know we are in for a challenge, but I also know the reward will be unforgettable.
The back side of the ridge is a little “scree scary” as I brace ankles against 45 degree angles, feeling my whole body tense up at the gritty sound of shifting scree beneath my boot soles. I have learned in this scenario, as well as crossing streams that it’s good to keep momentum on your side. It truly is a case of “She who hesitates is lost” so I work to keep moving in spite of my frozen feet.
Mark points to the snow pack at the top of the ridge, and says “If you can just make it to that little patch of snow, the view will be worth it!” Bobbie coaches me up, telling me to shorten my hiking pole, and lean in. It’s slow going, as I take one step forward, and slide back down two. I am the last to reach the top, so close but still so far. Close enough to see the grins on their faces as I reach down to the bottom of my lungs and gut and pull myself up the last few feet of what feels like a near-vertical wall.
Once I reach the top, I am elated and intoxicated by the surrounding view. Looking over one shoulder from atop the ridge line is a shimmering blue lake. Over the other shoulder is Mill Basin, strewn with more wildflowers than I have seen during my entire visit. Walking the ridge line dividing the two makes me downright giddy.
As we look off across the majestic vista, there is promise of more beauty “just a little further.” Bobbie points out fourteeners along the horizon in the Uncompagre Wilderness that she and Mark have summited. There are tales of another glistening alpine gem, Columbine Lake, just beyond the basin. “Just a little further” is calling…and I want to go…