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HEART LAKE, COLORADO

It was probably time to stop exploring.

Story by Whitney James October 14th, 2014

IT'S A QUATTRO

Last summer, I spent twelve weekends sleeping outside. So when my friend Bryan asked if I’d break my own record this year and go camping one last time, I agreed. Why not? We knew it would be cold. We knew it might be uncomfortable. But we never would’ve guessed it would be the most intense weekend of them all.


It began in true adventure fashion. Pick a spot on Google Maps, tie in a new mountain bike trail, and figure out how to link the two. The answer was Coffee Cup Road through White River National Forest, with an estimated drive time of two hours for only 27 miles. I left my F150 at home in favor of Bryan’s zoom-y Audi, knowing full well it might be a huge mistake on a high mountain road in the mid-October weather.

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MOUNTAINS BEYOND MOUNTAINS

Like any good road in Colorado, the views from Coffee Cup did not disappoint. We listened to Bruce Hornsby while dodging potholes and puddles and eventually made it all the way to our destination—Heart Lake. We were greeted with bald eagles coasting on arctic winds that nearly blew us back to Boulder. Weighing our options, we decided to stay. Despite the wind, the sun was still shining and we felt like we were on top of the world.
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ONWARDS TO CAMP

In an attempt to find shelter from the gale-force gusts, and with a bit of an appetite for adventure, we decided to cross a 15-foot fjord to arrive at what we later dubbed Necker Island (obviously due to its tropical nature). We parked the Audi a quarter mile or so away, and loaded up. Since this was intended to be a car camping trip, it took a few walks through the frigid water to get it all across (all of which Bryan braved). We then kicked back and enjoyed the night on our private island, hammock, pumpkin beers, and campfire included.
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THEN WE WOKE UP

…and things had changed. The winds from the evening before had blown in an early season storm, a full half-day ahead of the weather forecast. Trying not to panic and instead enjoy the situation, we made coffee. By the time we decided to bolt back to the car, three more inches had stuck to the beach. The wind was not abating. Photos were hard to take thanks to numb fingers. We later found out it was only 23˚ (not factoring in the incessant wind).

Errantly wondering what normal people do on the weekends, we stuffed all possible items into our bulging packs for the trek back to the mainland. If you recall, we still had one insurmountable obstacle ahead—a frigid water crossing that mandated we take off our wool socks, step in snow, walk through icy water, and step in snow again before getting our boots back on. It had also begun to cross my mind that getting back down the 27 miles of rough road might pose an issue for our low-clearance V8. Bryan cheerily reminded me in his South African accent, It’s a Quattro!

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CRANK THE SEAT HEATERS

We made it. But not without frozen fingers and toes and some seriously tense emotions on my part. Luckily, I’d left some donuts in the car and as soon as we got the seat heaters turned up, all was well. It took three hours to make it back to pavement, due in part to a slow-moving flock of 400 sheep and the slipperiest, muddiest switchbacks you’ve ever seen. We stopped on the way to check out Deep Creek, a hike-able 1,200 foot deep canyon that, needless to say, we would not be hiking. Fish tacos and the rest of the Broncos game was calling our names, and for me, the warmth of the oncoming winter season spent indoors. At least when it’s snowing.


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Footnote: Photos by myself with my Canon 60D and Bryan Rowe with his Canon 5D Mark ii.
White River National Forest, Eagle County, CO, United States