Igloo Adventure

The Three Marys in Front of the Igloo

Whoa, what a night! I know the year is young, however, last night might well turn out to be the best night of the year for me and perhaps one of the more memorable of my life.

You see I went to the near-famous Lizardhead Igloo. No, it’s not some kind of a fancy restaurant or swanky bar. I’m talking about a real igloo, crafted in the Inuit tradition and situated in the wilderness high above Lizard Head Pass in the San Juan Mountains of Colorado.

Ever since my first winter in Telluride nine years ago, I’d heard about the igloo. And I always wanted to go. It took the visit of Mary Ann, an out-of-town friend, to serve as the catalyst in making this dream a reality. You wouldn’t think I’d need such a nudge, but keep in mind that it’s darn cold out here in the Rockies at night—especially after a day on the slopes. So it takes real motivation to muster up the energy required for such an adventure.

Although you only have to drive about forty minutes outside of Telluride to reach Lizard Head, an impressive pass with an elevation of 10,222 feet, you have to venture into the woods a distance to reach the igloo. What was announced to be a twenty-minute hike turned out to be at least double that, a strenuous ascent that required us to climb more than 500 feet on a snow-packed trail which had only been mildly tamped down by the igloo revelers that passed before us. Mary Ann, Mary Dawn, Neil and I formed our little party of nighttime snowshoers, a small group of plodding souls that I’m sure irked Neil to no end. (Apparently he powers up the mountain in a fraction of the time it took us.)

Mary Ann on the Hike

But what an awe-inspiring climb it was! Fortunately our exhaustion forced us to stop at regular intervals to catch our breath and marvel at the dazzling sights surrounding us. The crescent moon illuminated the sky with seemingly all the brightness of a full moon. Its light reflected tenfold off of the snowy mountains as the stars shimmered above us. “Turn off your headlamps so that you can take this all in,” Neil shouted. Although hesitant at first, all three of us gals obliged. No one said so, yet I’m sure we all marveled to ourselves just how well we could see “in the dark.”

We pushed through fears of avalanches, twisted ankles and bears (they do sometimes roam around during hibernation) and forged forward. I was grateful that I had stowed my big puffy in my backpack and was only dressed in three layers at that point. Despite the temperature hovering in the low teens, I could feel the perspiration dripping down my chest and back as I inched forward. I also felt grateful that Mary Ann—having arrived from sea level a few days prior—asked many times to slow down the pace and stop for a break.

After bugging Neil with “are with halfway there?” and “are we almost there?,” we crested the mountain and entered a flat, wooded area. Here we switched our headlamps back on and breathed more easily. Finally in the shadow of the moon, we spotted a big cone-shaped structure and knew we had arrived.

Mary Ann Entering the Igloo

Chip & Dale: The Talismen of the Igloo

We extracted ourselves from our snowshoes and slithered commando-style through the narrow tunnel that serves as the entrance to the igloo. Inside, we were warmly greeted by a dozen friendly people seated on a big, icy bench which encircled a six-foot wide table, the centerpiece of this snowy enclave. Candlelight and an array of food and drink added to the festive ambiance that reigned within this teepee-styled snow castle. (No hole in the roof here though.) Inside, it was a balmy 32 degrees.

I donned my puffy and sidled up to Mary Ann on her padded mat. I took my quiche out of my backpack and poured myself some hot cider from my thermos and began eating and drinking almost immediately. (I had definitely expended lots of energy on the climb.) The rest of my party also took out their food, which we shared with the others. Most appeared satiated from their own feast yet we were happy that some still had room for our savory dishes. Amazingly, much of the food was still warm.

Rich Hamilton, one of the founders of the Lizardhead Igloo, filled us in on the history and building of this great Telluride institution, a tradition that has been carried out in the area for almost two decades. It’s built in an undisclosed and different location every year. “It takes about twenty people two days to build it,” Rich told us. As I looked up and admired the wooded ceiling made from tree branches and other features of this amazing structure, Rich confirmed what I had suspected—it’s all built around the table.

People began to filter out as we ate and drank more while soaking up stories about the igloo. As I heard about Sunday brunches, sledding parties, Hawaiian and sushi nights, bonfires, Cinco de Mayo celebrations and so much more, it became clear that the igloo’s many purpose is to furnish a fun and convivial place for all to gather. Oh and, of course, there’s the adventure of getting there. And leaving. Rich summed it up well by saying, “It’s a secret club with no membership required and all are invited.”


Making Mary

Overhead View of Our Feasting at the Igloo Table

We signed the guestbook, stuffed most everything we brought into our packs, cleaned up the remaining garbage, blew out the candles and slid head first down the tunnel back out into the frigid temperatures. The ladies trudged ahead—due to frozen toes—while Rich and Neil blocked the igloo entrance with a wooden door and shovel. (Not much of a deterrent for passing snow adventurers but no one seems to care.)

Descending the steep mountain proved more of a challenge for me than the ascent, especially with ice-block feet. Rich fired off some fireworks as we waved a few sparklers. I didn’t think it was possible but we made the night sky above Lizard Head all the more dazzling.

What a way to ring in the new year. It doesn’t matter that it was January 16. That adventure filled me with enough awe and inspiration to set me on the right course for a whole other year. Thank you Lizardhead Igloo Club—you are indeed a unique group in a most extraordinary place.

Sorry for the blurriness of the photos but you’d be a little fuzzy, too, at that elevation and in that cold with such little light. The clear one on the left was provided by Rich, a guy that has taken many a picture within this unique environment over the years.
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