Have you ever been to a high alpine lake, like 10,000 ft. and higher? I’m sure you know about the trek that often comes with it. This past spring I took on a personal goal and mission— to hike to and SUP on seven alpine lakes throughout Colorado. Some of the approaches were short and easy, while others definitely put my mind and body to the test.
Spending my early twenties in Florida, my love for the water grew, and along with it came standup paddle boarding. After moving back to my native Pennsylvania, I wanted more out of life. After quitting my job on a whim and traveling through Iceland, I eventually made my way back and settled in Colorado. After enjoying my first year in my new state climbing, skiing and hiking, I longed for some sort of aquatic sport. I decided that I loved hiking as well as paddle boarding… Why not join the two?
After countless hours of research and putting plans together, I reached out to Blue Planet Surf based in Hawaii and proposed my idea. My goal was to have the board sponsored in return for media and reviews of the products. Blue Planet was super stoked on the idea and the unique proposal of having one of their boards tested at a high elevation. Blue Planet supplied me with one of their 12’6” inflatable SUP, including all of the necessities (pump, paddle and bag). A few weeks later, the package arrived and the excitement began.
When it came to deciding which lakes I would hike, I wanted something that would challenge me, but would also be an obtainable goal (keep in mind that the board and accessories weigh roughly 44 lbs). In all, I wanted at least 3 lakes that we’re longer than 3 miles roundtrip and 3-5 that were shorter in distance so that others could join in or go on their own in the future. When all this was said and done, I hiked through some amazing places and paddled where no one else has – hopefully.
A local lake seated at 10,600 ft. elevation was my first attempt on the board and really more of a test run. This lake was easy to get to, as I could drive to the lake. When I first received the gear, I couldn’t wait to get in the water and have a beautiful backdrop behind me.
After testing the gear, I knew I needed to get started on hiking and getting the project rolling. My initial goal was to paddle Lake Isabelle (10,868 ft. elevation – 4.2 miles roundtrip) but I ended up settling for Long Lake (10,674 ft. elevation – 2.8 miles roundtrip) due to the weight of my bag. This is when I knew I needed to revamp my pack. Supplied with the board was your typical haul bag— one compartment, shoulder straps and that’s it. With the pack longer than my torso I knew this wouldn’t work, a waist belt was absolutely needed. After some thinking, I picked up a hip belt from a local gear shop, did some stitching and I was all set to go.
EMERALD & NYMPH LAKE
Located in Rocky Mountain National Park (Emerald lake – 10,090 ft. elevation and Nymph lake – 9,705 ft. elevation with a 3.6 mile hike roundtrip for both destinations). This SUP adventure turned out to be a gathering of friends who wanted to try SUP for the first time. Setting out, we decided to go to the farthest lake (Emerald) first. After everyone got a turn on the board a wicked storm blew in— having no time to descent from tree line, the next half hour was spent huddled under a small rock overhang with six people. After the storm and lightning strikes were over, we made our way down to Nymph lake where we had an amazing sunset and paddled through the lily pads.
Columbine Lake was my real test. At an elevation of 12,693 ft. and a round trip distance of 7 miles, this was going to be some work. Nestled in the mountains outside of Ouray, Columbine Lake has an unusual color to it. Depending on the time of year, the lake either is a vibrant coral blue or has a beautiful green hue to it. This was certainly going to be a treat. One of the many challenges of this hike was the altitude; at roughly 12,500 ft., hiking with any sort of heavy gear can be a challenge, especially with an awkward pack. The next challenge was that the entire trip was above tree line in the middle of thunderstorm season. However, after a grueling slog across alpine meadows, we made it to the blue water of Columbine. I’d seen photos of this lake at a friend’s house, and I remember looking at the photo and asking “was this water photoshopped?” Of course they said no, and when I came upon this lake it was too good to be true. I wanted to give up in the middle of the hike because of how difficult it was to trek over 40 lbs of gear at a high altitude, but I knew the reward was going to be grand, and it proved me right.
In all, this project has been one of the hardest things I have done. I didn’t know what I was getting myself into, but the reward has been breathtaking, and I can’t wait to get a few more paddles in before winter arrives. Alpine SUP could not have been possible without the help of Blue Planet Surf and Jason Gebauer capturing this beautiful journey. Paddle High!
Follow me on Facebook or Instagram to see where I’ll be heading to next, or if you would like to start your own Alpine SUP adventure, check out Blue Planet Surf for the best inflatable SUP boards on the market!