By Andy Austin

Among my most cherished memories are the summers I spent with friends in Montana. Days spent hiking and swimming in streams. Nights fueled by campfires and sleeping bags under the stars. The more-than-occasional “bath” in one of the region’s picturesque lakes.

So when I got the call that a member of my crew, Forrest, was getting married a few hours south of our old stomping grounds, I quickly called the rest of my friends in an attempt to reclaim a bit of our youth.

“Why don’t we take the long way down to Colorado?” I proposed, hoping to turn the week leading up to the wedding into a camping and backpacking road trip through Colorado’s San Juan Mountains. It was a no-brainer for me, and fortunately, my friends agreed.

While grand in conversation, the trip presented an interesting packing situation for the group. Somehow, we needed to fit a full week of camping, backpacking, hiking and swimming gear—plus our finest bolo ties and suits for the wedding—inside a Ram truck. Let’s just say we pushed the limits of the many expansive storage spaces.

With all the gear packed, we piled in to a few trucks and headed south toward the Ice Lake Basin Trail, an 8-mile round trip trek that includes two spectacular blue lakes. The kicker? The trail starts just shy of 10,000 feet in altitude and climbs to over 12,600 feet—so it literally and figuratively took our breath away.

As you could imagine, in order to start the hike, we needed to make it to the 10,000-foot high starting point. The region is famous for old mining roads that cut steeply up the sides of the San Juan’s jagged peaks. My last trip to this area was in an old van that couldn’t handle the grade. It was a completely different experience behind the wheel of the Ram 1500.

After a few days of car camping, each filled with campfires and nights under the stars, I threw on some heavy gear and headed off into the wild for two nights of back-country backpacking.

The stunning blues of the lakes were too inviting, so we spent the morning cliff-jumping into the frigid snowmelt waters. One morning, I opted to hike to Ice Lake for sunrise while Jake stayed back to photograph sunrise in camp. I found the picture-perfect reflection of the mountains beyond my vocabulary and ability to describe. Fortunately, my friends soon joined me for the view.

After a few days and a few bruises, the time had finally come to clean up and make ourselves presentable. We swapped our backpacks for bolo ties, piled into the glistening Ram 1500 Limited and headed south toward Durango. I’ll let the pictures do the talking, but it’s safe to say the “Montana boys” made an unforgettable entrance.

Being spread out across the country, my friends and I don’t see each other as often as we’d like. Our week at the San Juan Mountains was a welcome opportunity to relive some great memories and create new ones. I wouldn’t trade that week for anything…except maybe a nice hot bath in an actual tub.

Andy Austin is an award-winning landscape and adventure photographer based out of Montana. Follow this journey and more like it on his Instagram page: @andyaustinphoto


You never know when you’ll come across a picturesque lake. Take the plunge with confidence.

  • 1. Find Your Footing
  • I like to stand about 12 feet from the end of the dock or small cliff. I don’t jump off big cliffs.

  • 2. Hit the Gas
  • When ready, I sprint forward as fast as I can. For style points, I put my hands above my head.

  • 3. Prepare for Launch
  • At the end of the dock or cliff, I leap up AND away from it. This is important. I don’t want to simply jump in place.

  • 4. Become the Ball
  • Once airborne, I point at the crowd before bringing my knees flat against my chest. Then I wrap my arms around my legs for maximum splashage.

  • 5. Splashdown
  • There’s nothing left to do now except hold my breath and brace for impact.

  • 6. Ask for Feedback
  • The cannonball is an art, and one that I hope to always improve. So I always ask my friends for a 1-10 rating.