Cottonwood Pass – Camping in the Snow Trip Report

Last Updated on November 5, 2021 by foxintheforest

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Have you ever truly lived in the present for an extended period of time? Savored every moment whether it be the best or the worst of moments? Just completely checked out of your own mind and let yourself enjoy being present, awake, and alive? Some people dedicate their entire life to this practice and I can see why, it’s exhilarating. You feel alive. You are free. This weekend was one ever present appreciation for the moment.

Sure, it wasn’t all fun and games. It unexpectedly snowed on us and was COLD. The clouds – and at times wind – were relentless. We hiked for nearly a mile down the wrong trail. My dog willingly tried to freeze herself to death over an irrational fear of camp fires. However, it was perfect.

Despite the challenges, reaching the base of Jones Mountain while being enveloped by the weather at Ptarmigan Lake made that extra mis-mile of hiking worth it. Sitting next to a roaring fire with some of your closest friends, laughing so hard it hurts kept the cold at bay. Watching my severely socially challenged dog chase a young pup around the fire erased whatever she was thinking by sitting next to a stream and refusing to move in 34 degree weather. The morning sun after 2 days of nothing but cold and clouds felt like a gift sent from the heavens. Being in the mountains is a beautiful balance. Beckoning you in for more, but just as often reminding you that you are a mere mortal; humbling you to the fullest.


An Outdoor Mecca

Cottonwood Pass is an excellent stomping ground for adventure. A stone’s throw away from Buena Vista, CO the area boasts several 14ers, the Colorado Trail, various hiking, biking, and ATV/dirtbike trails. Dispersed camping is rampant throughout the pass. Not to mention the view from the summit is spectacular. All in all it’s a perfect location primed for exploring.


Unexpected Weather

We found a primo spot just off the road, I’d imagine it’d be full up in the summer, but we had it all to ourselves. We arrived rather late on Friday – about 30 minutes before we needed headlamps, but it was just enough time to set up the tent and gather some wood…in the snow. Yes, it was snowing. The weather in Colorado has a mind of it’s own so it wasn’t too surprising to see snow, especially at 11,000′ this time of year.


My teeth were chattering just thinking about the dead of night. I know, I tout myself as being pretty resilient, but that cold man, it cuts me deep and never leaves me. However, this year was going to be different. I wanted to try some late season camping – hell I want to get into mountaineering, this would be the first step in getting over being cold.


As the temps dropped into the mid to lower 20s I crawled into my REI Joule sleeping bag. Squirrel was convinced I’d be fine, and my spirits were up despite some apprehensions in the back of my mind. I have to say though, the night went off with a hitch. It was as if I was surrounded by a cocoon of warmth.


Cottonwood Canyon – A Hiker’s Paradise

The next morning we headed out and hiked Ptarmigan Lake – a moderate 7 miles up to an alpine lake. Things didn’t start off quite right, after getting heading down the wrong trail we found the right one and set out to the lake. The last 1/2 mile greeted with blustery winds, cold temps and more snow. We gritted our teeth and pushed through.


Most people are probably reading this thinking, wow, this sounds like such a shitty day. Au contraire my friends. When you work hard only to be dumbfounded by your surroundings all of the little annoyances just melt away. Words fail to describe being isolated on a trail enjoying the intimacy of Mother Nature doing its thing right before your eyes. It’s inspiring and beautiful. It’s raw. You’re alive. I’ll let the photos speak for themselves.


Ready for Some Warmth

Upon arriving back at camp a few of our closest forest friends met up with us for night two. We hung around a roaring fire enjoying being back in the mountains together. Nothing quite says perfection like hot chocolate, s’mores, campfire, and amazing company.


Finally, we were rewarded the next morning with the sun. Oh glorious sun. It’s warmth and light enveloped us and the monumental peaks that had been hiding over the past few days finally peeped their heads out to say hello. It was the perfect end to a perfect weekend in the mountains.

Picture of Meg Atteberry
Meg Atteberry

Meg is a long-time Colorado local and outdoor industry professional. She's spent the last 15 years hiking, climbing, mountaineering, and canyoneering all over Colorado, Utah, Arizona, and Nevada in search of the best views. She's written for Outside Magazine, REI, Backpacker Magazine, and appeared on the Weather Channel.

Hi There!

Meg Atteberry standing on a mountain sticking her tongue out

Meg aka Fox is a 30-something who's born to explore. Toddler mom, queer, and neuro-spicy her favorite things to do are climb in the alpine and camp in the desert. Her mission is to get you out on your greatest adventure.