Once upon a time, Blanca Lake was my favorite trail. The glacier-fed lake is a stunning shade of blue, and the trail, while grueling, used to be very well maintained and only moderately crowded. Over the past two months, I've read reports of horrible crowds and lots of garbage making this hike much less enjoyable. However, when Andy and I had a Monday off work recently, we decided to use it as an opportunity to visit our favorite lake while avoiding the worst of the summer weekend crowds.
The trail was still surprisingly crowded for a weekday, but nothing like the reports I've seen recently. What was worse than the crowds was the extreme damage that has been done to this trail by overuse and careless hikers. There are several sections of the trail where so many feet have cut a switchback that it's hard to tell where the official trail is. In other places, the tread has disappeared, and the trail is lost to the slope of the steep hillside it was once cut into. Worst of all, shreds of toilet paper and bits of trash were everywhere. There was even one place along the ridge where someone had used the trail itself as their toilet, then cleverly hidden their handiwork with about half a roll of toilet paper and other garbage piled on top.
All of this hasn't changed the fact that Blanca Lake is absolutely stunning. That's exactly why the trail is so over-used. While I should have, I couldn't bring myself to document any of the garbage or damage to this trail, only the beauty. Please, if you choose to visit this gem of a lake, tread carefully. Take your garbage with you, or even better – take some of the garbage left by a less considerate hiker. Most of all, use the two backcountry toilets. They’re there for a reason! Natural treasures like Blanca Lake deserve to be respected and preserved so they can be enjoyed by generations to come.