Medano Lake – Memorial Day Weekend Adventures

This was a trip we did over memorial day in 2011. Pardon the not-so-recent timeline, but we are trying to create a record of all the cool stuff that you can do in Colorado and beyond. Our goal for this particular weekend was to spend the night sleeping in the sand dunes. We didn’t get close. Instead we had fun hacking away at a dead tree with a machete, engaged in the manly act of jumping over streams with a machete, broke a machete, and then trudged 4 miles through waist deep snow to sleep next to an alpine lake. One of the best adventures we’ve had yet, read on!

In typical 2manventure fashion, on Friday after work, we loaded up the car with way too much gear and set off for the Buena Vista area where we would spend the night. Again, we hardly had a plan, but we knew we wanted to spend Saturday night backpacking in the great sand dunes in southern Colorado. We reached Buena Vista and found a nice camp spot on the road up to cottonwood pass, which was still closed for the winter. Seeing as we had made pretty good time reaching Buena Vista, we decided to entertain ourselves with Zach’s newly purchased Bear Grille’s machete. This first involved Zach hacking away at a dead tree and taking pictures of the embedded machete. This quickly progressed into the manly activity of jumping over the stream with the machete and a knife in hand. This led to some great facial expressions, yet probably not our best idea ever. Eventually we managed to break the handle of the machete. Come on Bear Grilles! We expect better! Makes us question the sanity of drinking one’s own pee. But only a little.

The next day we woke and finished the drive to the Great Sand Dunes. A backcountry permit is no problem, they have plenty of space in the endless dunes, and no-one every camps out there. Unfortunately, it was a busy weekend, and no “overnight camping spots” were available. The stick-in-the mud park ranger seemed to think we were nature-terrorists, and parking a truck in a parking lot not specifically designated for overnight parking would probably make all the dunes blow away and cause a small rift in the space-time continuum.  No matter how much we pleaded with the stubborn park ranger, he would not let us try to spend the night in the dunes, and said that he noted our truck, and that it would be towed if he found it anywhere nearby. Denied the comforts of a night spent in a sand covered/filled/saturated tent, do we dare risk the perils of our Boulder housing already? No!  Thats why we have a plan B (which we made up on the spot)! We whipped out a map and decided to backpack into Medano Lake, which sits high above the dunes, behind Mount Herard.

To get to the Medano Lake trailhead is an adventure in itself. First you have to blast through about 2 miles the actual sand dunes, where pretty much every third car gets stuck. Then you have to drive up a rocky 4wd road, with lots of huge puddles to blast through. It was a fun, bumpy ride where the 4runner really shined! Note the gleam off the duct-tape holding various parts together, and the way the dented rusty bumper and hood really catches the afternoon light.

When we got to the trailhead, we fired up the stove and fried up some sausages for a quick snack (these sausages would be key later!). We then loaded up our packs and set off up the trail. About 5 minutes into the hike, Zach realized he had probably locked the keys in the car! Doh! Not the best place for this to happen, where you are miles down a sandy/rocky 4wd road where chances of a lock smith getting to you were pretty slim. We decided to just push on, and hopefully the spare key Zach keeps on the truck was still there. Fingers crossed!

We hiked for a ways in nice spring aspen groves, and soon reached snow. This turned into a wet trudge fest where we were postholing through thigh deep snow.

After slipping and sliding our way up the gullies and non-trail fields of snow for what seemed like hours, we finally reached Medano Lake! We were famished at this point, but still had to find a place to set up the tent. We found about the only 5x5ft square of ground in the alpine area and set up the tent. Pretty much everything else was either rocks, snow, or wet marshy soil.

We then boiled some water, and cooked up one of Zach’s freeze dried meals. Here we were smart though, and had saved some of the sausages we had fried earlier and added it to the freeze dried glop. One of the best meals I have ever eaten! We then managed to scrounge up enough wood to start a smokey fire, and relaxed in the coming darkness. We ended up getting a pretty awesome bonfire ‘fired up’, despite the fact that everything was sopping wet. It took Zach about an hour to get the fire coaxed into existence. But totally worth it. A great day!

The next morning we awoke, and ran around taking pictures of the warm, yet snowy environment.

We then post-holed our way back down through the snowy gullies to the trailhead, where we hoped we would be able to find a spare key. Turns out the spare key was gone! Probably blasted off the undercarriage where it was stuck during the dunes-driving. Time to bust out the inner thief. We decided that we would have to break into the car to reach the 2nd spare key inside the center compartment. Remember, we had no cell phones (also in the truck), were 10 miles up a decently gnarly 4×4 road, and 200 miles from any friends with another key.

The first thing we tried was to poke sticks through the 1/2” crack in the moonroof to try and open the center console, and pull the spare key inside of it up and out. After about an hour of jerry-rigging sticks, we got the damned thing open and the KEY WAS GONE! One of Zach’s not-so-considerate friends took it out of the compartment when they borrowed the truck and never put it back. Awesome.

Next we tried poking sticks through the cracked sunroof to press the unlock buttons for the doors. Somehow fanagling with long stick contraptions we made from string and random sticks we found in the forest, we were able to depress the unlock button. But nothing would happen! Turns out Toyota somehow disables the unlock button on the car when no one is inside it! There goes another hour of thievery.

Our next approach attacked the vulnerable rear passenger windows. Here we took Zach’s big 6” fixed-blade knife, and were able to pry the window out of its frame and reach inside to grab the keys. All without setting off the car alarm or breaking the window. Success! We did a pretty good job of reinstalling the window as well! Pretty impressive I’d say! Worst thing that happened was that Pierce stepped on some of the trim on the wheel well and snapped it off. Fixing it would be for another time.

We were pretty jazzed to get the keys out! I guess this is a warning, that a thief can probably break into your car pretty darn easily if he is determined. Anyways, we drove back down the rocky road, blasted through the sand dunes again, and finished the drive back to Boulder. But not before snapping a few pics of the sand dunes on our way out. The things are just so damn huge its hard not to gape. And yes, these are very very ever so slightly…HDR’d like mad. Its what we do.

This wasn’t the adventure we had originally planned, but it turned into an awesome way to spend the weekend. Again, this is one of the reasons we hardly plan anything, because it usually makes for a better trip! Have fun!

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