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Salida to Twin Lakes – CDT Thru Hike 2018

Salida to Twin Lakes Overview

The hike from Salida to Twin Lakes was tough, but a good one. Lots of great views from numerous passes and high ridges. 

Sunday June 24th – CDT Day 65

Finished packing my food this morning before leaving the hostel around 9am. Last shower for at least 3 days, and if not at Twin Lakes, then a solid week. It’s about 150 miles to Breckenridge, but will resupply at the general store in twin lakes halfway at about 75 miles.

I grabbed breakfast at McDonald’s, a distant runner up choice to the Patio Pancake Place, which had a long wait. I was walking over to Chucks liquor store for a ride up to the pass when he drove by and picked me up. Off we go.

Reached monarch pass and started hiking at 10:45am. Not too bad a start.

The trail passes through monarch Mountain Ski Resort. Kind of cool to walk up under the ski lifts in the summer. I saw several people hiking in the area, all day hikers or weekenders it looked like.

It was really windy going up the exposed Ridge through the ski resort and beyond. Probably 50 to 60 mile an hour winds. I put my wind jacket on and the extra space inside the hood kept flapping in the wind. This was really loud and quite annoying! Wind gusts from the side make tripping over rocks common. Hiking in to the wind and climbing uphill was tough.

Really nice views all along the climb to the first pass. Being in these constant winds was wearing me out. After cresting the pass, I planned on stopping for first lunch as soon as I could descend low enough and out of the wind. What a relief.

Against my wishes, the trail drops down into a Valley at around 10,400′. This means a big climb is coming soon. I passed by the boss lake reservoir, and found a small exposed vertical mine on a hillside above.

As the trail starts climbing up again, it follows a dirt road. This is the beginning of an 1800 ft climb. There was a sign on a tree for the Lost Wonder hut ahead. I passed two abandoned cabins, and assumed these were it. However, just up the road was a modern cabin and it happens to be occupied by a youth group. That makes more sense.

Some Trail runners passed me, scouting this section of trail for an upcoming race. I chugged along and made it to the top of the pass closer to 7:30pm.

I passed two separate campsites that were occupied, but I couldn’t tell if they were CDT hikers or whom they were. I filtered water in a small stream near the trailhead that was at the bottom of this valley. Even though it was about 8:45 pm, I didn’t want to camp here. Anything low in the valley is going to be colder and have more condensation. So I hiked another 15 minutes and found a flat spot along an old railroad grade just after 9pm.

The wicked winds died down and the stars are out bright. Another great night to cowboy camp!

Miles – 20
Total Miles – 1063 (start 1087, end 1107)
Rain – no
Sleep – cowboy camp
Animals – none

Monday June 25th – CDT Day 66

Woke up at 7:30. A guy named Aaron walked by as I was getting out of my bag, CDT NOBO as well. Didn’t start hiking until 8:30. That’s what happens when you hike late, you get up late.

Followed the “alpine tunnel” railroad for a few miles, which was easy walking. Higher up the valley, I left the railroad grade and hiked tail the rest of the way up the basin to the pass. This was about 1200 feet of elevation gain total from this morning’s campsite.

I took first lunch after descending to the tree line. I continued on down hill on some switchbacks until I reached the stream in the valley. I filtered water here then moved on… And bumped into a Colorado trail hiker taking lunch next to another branch of the stream just 50 yards away. People just lurking in the bushes.

Next is a long climb uphill, about 1800 feet. Great views as I climbed higher.

 

More awesome views when I dropped down into the next basin. The trail skirts the high basin through talus fields and a couple of snow patches.

Even better views over the next pass. I dropped down to the stream below, where I saw Kyle and Seth. We met in the hostel in Salida a few days earlier. They’d hiked all the way from the east coast through the southern states and now heading north on the CDT. I stopped here to eat lunch with them.

After lunch we continued on together. I succumbed to the idea that today was not going to be a big mile day, only planning on another 6 miles or so. After that, there’s nowhere to camp for another 5 miles as the trail stays high along the crest of the mountains.

It was nice hiking with company. It made the rest of the afternoon go by much easier. Excellent views the rest of the day. Stunning, really.

Early evening, we came across a mountain biker wearing a rainbow colored tutu. He does it for the laughs, and we sure got one.

Got to camp around 6:45pm, super early for me. But it was really nice. Nice campsite, good company and a welcome change from the normal solo grind. But it kinda sucked only covering 18 miles today.

Later at we were filtering out water at the stream, another hiker named Becky showed up. She was looking for a place to camp, and since there weren’t many other sites around we offered to share ours. Accepted.

It was a really nice night, great colors in the sky behind the mountains. We ate dinner together and hung out until the nearly full moon was the only light left. Another great day on the CDT.

Miles – 18
Total Miles – 1081 (start 1107, end 1125)
Rain – no
Sleep – cowboy camp
Animals – marmot, pica

Tuesday June 26th – CDT Day 67

In the middle of the night, I felt something tugging on or running against my quilt. It looked to be a mouse, and it ran away as I reacted to it.

Got up at 7am, first one of the group. Said my goodbyes and headed off at 8:15. Would love to hike more with these guys, or any company really, but everyone has their own pace. I’m hoping to cover miles today.

It’s a 500ft climb to a pass first thing after leaving camp. Not too bad a climb.

The next few miles of trail stays high, like it did in the san Juans. Great views, awesome hiking. Even crossed a couple of slopes still covered in snow.

I could see construction crews working on the road when I reached cottonwood pass. It’s closed, no hitch into Buena Vista possible. I’m headed to twin lakes anyways.

After cottonwood pass I entered the collegiate peaks wilderness. Pretty sweet views! And downhill for quite a while.

 

At the bottom of my descent I reached Texas creek. Other than the Gila, This was only the second time on the CDT where I had to actually ford a river. I put on my sandals and crossed. No problem. Just Under knee deep at the deepest.

A couple more miles slightly downhill along Texas creek. There were some beaver lodges in the ponds but I didn’t see any beavers.

Now the trail starts climbing again. I’m going for 1600ft tonight, leaving 1200ft of steep climbing up to lake Ann pass for the morning. It’s a nice forest hike with several stream Crossings.

I filtered water and ate around 6:30pm along a stream. Tons of mosquitoes, very annoying! I had to put on my zip on pant legs and cover up.

I knocked out another couple miles before finding a spot to camp a Quarter mile north of the trail junction to lake Ann pass. Mosquitoes were insane here too. Covered up immediately with the pant legs again, and my hooded fleece. I eventually set up the tent for to the bugs, although I’m sure they’d die down later. Just don’t want to deal with them anymore.

Great sunset. Two big climbs tomorrow and about 20 miles to twin lakes.

Miles – 23
Total Miles – 1104 (start 1125, end 1148)
Rain – no
Sleep – Backcountry tent
Animals – marmot, pica

Wednesday June 27th – CDT Day 68

Today I hope to reach the small town of Twin Lakes. While in Salida, I sent ahead a package with some food to the general store. This will supplement the likely poor food selection there. It closes at 6pm, and I have two big passes to climb along with about 20 miles.

The climb up to lake Ann pass wasn’t that bad. Switchbacks, not crazy steep.

From Lake Ann pass lies some of the finest views of the section. However, I was now faced with a steep ice cornice on the descent. Steps were kicked into the ice, angling down towards the switchbacks. Parts were near vertical. Some steps were icy, so I did my best to kick my own steps as needed. Not a death drop, but you wouldn’t want to fall here.

As I finished with the cornice, a group of hikers approached from the switchbacks below. One of the guys was celebrating his 80th birthday with an 80 mile hike. This guy looked amazing, like a really fit 60 year old. Perfect example of staying active throughout life. He should be everyone’s role model!

Constant beautiful views the whole way down to lake Ann. Then the trail drops below tree line, following a steep river Gorge.

The trail continues to head down hill along south fork clear creek until it reaches the silver basin trail. It skirts the hillsides above the creek offering nice views when not in the forest.

The trail eventually heads uphill again towards Mt hope pass. And it does so very steeply. 2500′ elevation gain in 2.4 miles. Definitely the longest stretch of steep trail so far on the CDT. It was hot as hell today too, in the upper 90s down by clear creek.

I passed a girl named Kid and her two dogs on the way up, taking a break from the brutal climb, in the heat of the day. I did the same shortly after. There was no way I was going to make it to the general store before they close, so I decided not to push too hard.

Farther up trail I met a guy named Lot taking a break by a stream. After the stream, the climb lessened in severity. Still a tough climb, but not the keel over and die type like the beginning was. And great views.

At the top I chatted with Kid a while before heading down. Great views before doing below tree line.

I took the trail towards Willis Gulch, instead of following it down to the Bermuda triangle trail. I believe the Ley maps say to do this then cross the marshy area around twin lakes. Sounds easier just to go towards Willis gulch… And it was. There was a bridge over the river here at a popular trail head.

Dark clouds and rain in the distance, but scattered. I stopped to filter water from the river and washed up a bit. A woman pulled up in an SUV and asked about if this was the right spot to pick up her husband. Her husband ended up being Lot, the guy I met going up hope pass just a few hours earlier. Lot arrived shortly after, and offered to give me a ride into town. Sounds good, since I didn’t have anywhere in mind to camp.

After a 2 or 3 mile ride into town, we passed the general store. There were several hikers gathered outside here, even at 8:30pm when I arrived. Sprinkler, Earl Grey, cookie monster, and inspector gadget (CDT 2014). I still had time to order some food at the Twin Lakes Inn. Expensive, but beggars can’t be choosers. I ended up getting a room here too, as the illure of a bed, shower and sink laundry were too great.

Nice room, great shower, comfy bed. I’m out!

Miles – 21
Total Miles – 1125 (start 1148, end 1169)
Rain – no
Sleep – hotel
Animals – marmot

Like what you see?

Lake City to Salida – CDT Thru Hike 2018

Lake City to Salida Overview

 

The first section of trail out of Spring Creek Pass was very scenic and similar to the last stretch south of the pass. After San Luis Peak, the trail drops down and the high mountain scenery fades away. Low valleys, dirt roads, forest. Lots of climbing and no views to show for it. After about 70 miles of this, the trail finally climbs high again and hikers are rewarded with distant views once again. This too comes at a cost… dodge the mountain bikers. After about 150 miles of the CDT sharing trail with the Colorado trail, I saw my first, and 100th, bikers. Watch out for these guys, they’ll run you over!

Sunday June 17th – CDT Day 58

Got up when I felt like it, around 8am. Bad weather still loomed, and so did many of us hikers. I ate breakfast at the Chillin place next door and took my time.

Easy and I left the hostel late morning to hitch back up to spring creek pass. Almost immediately we had someone stop, but was only going a few miles up the road. Another person stopped and we took a shorter hitch to the outside edge of town at cinnamon pass. Along the way, he stopped and picked up sprinkler, who had been trying to hitch for 1.5 hours. sprinkler had seen a black bear run across the road earlier though. Cool!

After being dropped off at cinnamon pass, we immediately got another ride out to our destination at spring creek pass.

We reached the pass and started hiking around noon thirty. Dark clouds and rain drops were prevalent. The trail climbs up about 1500ft onto a mesa. This was a bitch right out of town with a heavy pack.

Now I walked on snow mesa, completely exposed. Low visibility due to the dark and fast moving clouds. Rain drops on and off. Fortunately, no thunder and Lightning.

To protect my stuff from the rain, I used a trash compactor bag as a pack liner, as well as a pack cover for the outside. First time really wearing my train jacket all trail. It was cool out, but I still didn’t want to wear rain pants. I just hiked in shorts as I’ve done this entire hike.

Walked the mesa for a few miles and then some ups and downs. Constant low clouds made for a cool hike but it was now cold and wet.

After 9+ miles I saw sprinkler and easy setting up camp next to two other tents. The trail climbs high right after this so there’s little chance of another good site like this. It was cold and my feet were soaking wet, so I too decided to make this camp home for the night. Turns out it’s mark and John, whom I hadn’t seen since Doc Campbell’s.

This evening there was a large group of big horn sheep just above camp. With my zoom lens I was able to get some shots, but nothing too good. Also saw them sparring, bashing heads together. That was pretty awesome.

We’re all hoping for good weather tomorrow so we can cover some miles. At least this should have helped the Colorado wildfires.

Miles – 10.3
Total Miles – 944.2 
Rain – yes
Sleep – Backcountry tent
Animals – big horn sheep, marmot.

Monday June 18th – CDT Day 59

I woke up to the Sun on my tent this morning, a very welcome feeling. It was a bit breezy and cooler but hey, no rain!

Started hiking at 8. There were a couple bigger climbs this morning and then it was all downhill. I also had the option to bag San Luis peak, a 14 ER. However, I have plans to meet my buddy in Salida on Friday, and would like to get there Thursday, Early enough to do a couple of chores as well. So today, I hope to cover as many miles as possible and take advantage of the very long downhill section.

The first climb was a tough one. Very steep and first thing in the morning.

The second climb was tough too, but I started finding some very clear crystals along the trail. If it’s not some super pure form of quartz then I don’t know what it is. Grabbed a few of these to add to the collection.

Next I passed the intersection for the Creed cut off. Apparently a lot of people had to take this when the san Juans were closed. Glad I made it through.

After another climb I crested a pass. Here I could see San Luis peak. No snow on top. The trail stays high along the edges of the basin and makes its way to a saddle below San Luis peak.

I decided against climbing San Luis peak for a few reasons. I had already done a lot of climbing today and wasn’t in the mood for any more, and I wanted to cover more miles.

 

Now it was all downhill for most of the rest of the day. It’s a 15 plus mile stretch of no climbing, so I should be able to do this and more today, even though it’s already almost 1pm.

While hiking down the valley below San Luis peak I stumbled upon Dixie. We ended up hiking together for a while. Then we stumbled upon Easy, and we all took a break together.

The three of us hiked together after our break for a while until we reached a stream. I stayed behind to filter a couple liters.

Next was the La Garita wilderness. Here the trail follows a river and runs through a valley. Scenic, and a nice change of pace.

Eventually caught up with Easy again and we hiked together for about an hour and a half. He stopped to make camp where the trail started climbing up a dirt road, ending the 15 mi downhill section. However, I wanted to cover a few more miles and so I kept going.

Much of the rest of the evening was along a dirt road. I hiked until around 8:45pm, finding camp in the tree line alongside a huge open field. I cowboy camped tonight.

Hiked 31 miles today, which was 29.1 guthook miles. Gotta put it a few more big days to make my Thursday afternoon schedule.

Miles – 31.1
Total Miles – 975.3 
Rain – no
Sleep – cowboy camp
Animals – none

Tuesday June 19th – CDT Day 60

Woke up with the Sun shining on me around 6:15. Beautiful morning.

This morning’s hike follows a dirt road for several miles as it passes through the same very large Valley I entered last night. Easy hiking, but nothing super scenic.

Then the trail heads up pill and into a small Valley with a little stream. However, the were a ton of cows in the area and the water looked dirty. Also it wasn’t very deep, so I skipped this water source.

The trail heads up Hill along a dirt road. Not much to see here. I’m getting really thirsty now, running on about one liter all day. It’s now late morning and I’m about 12 miles in today.

Made it to the next water source after 1pm. Earl Grey was here as well. 16 miles so far today. It’s also been awhile since I’ve been this dehydrated. I drank over 2 liters of water and filtered two more to get me to the next source.

The trail crosses a paved highway and then follows Lujan creek rd uphill. Nothing much going on here, just a 1500ft climb with little to see.

The CDT leaves the road and becomes trail only for the rest of the day. It’s also the beginning of several miles of ups and downs along a series of wooded hill tops. Boring! And tiring.

Late this afternoon I hit the 1000 mile mark on the CDT. Woo-hoo! About one third of the way done now.

I made camp on a saddle just north of middle baldy. Lots of mosquitoes out here. Those bastards.

Miles – 28
Total Miles – 1003.3 
Rain – no
Sleep – cowboy camp
Animals – elk

Wednesday June 20th – CDT Day 61

Today’s hike continued where yesterday’s left off… Boring ups and downs along a ridge with no views. Lots of rocks to trip over and to hurt my feet. Lots of mosquitoes.

A couple of nice meadows along the way filled with colorful flowers and dandelions. 

Today was dry as well, one stream early afternoon. So I was thirsty all morning. Filtered my water and continued heading downhill when I should have made a turn uphill here. Went about 1.5 miles out of the way before realizing it, so about an hour lost here.

Heading up hill now, more ups and downs with little views. A few clearings in the trees offered some of the first distant views in a while. There were a couple of dirt bikes on trail here, pretty sure that’s not allowed.

After a steep climb up to Marshall pass, there were some better views along the ridge. A couple more miles to a snowmobile cabin now, where I’ll stay tonight.

When I reached the cabin, Easy was already there. I liked the rustic feel of the peeve, and preferred it over the yurt I stayed in before lake city. There was a marmot outside chewing on the cabin or something, making lots of noise.

Miles – 28
Total Miles – 1031.3 
Rain – no
Sleep – cabin
Animals – deer

Thursday June 21st – CDT Day 62

Slept great in the cabin. The outhouse was nice, no need to dig a hole this morning.

After leaving the cabin, there was lots of interesting rocks along the trail. Big flakes of mica and even solid rocks of it. Picked up a few samples for the collection.

After a 900ft climb, the tail reaches an exposed ridge. Finally, distant views again! Man the last 70 miles were rather boring.

There’s tons of mountain bikers on trail now. The CDT had been paralleling the Colorado trail for around 150 miles and today was the first time I had seen a biker. And there are about 100 of them today! One group of 4 were came flying around a blind corner on a mountainside and I had to dive out of the way. They didn’t slow down at all. People like this give bikers a bad name. Nice tights, bro… Haha.

Made it to monarch pass a little after noon. It took me an hour to get a hitch. Chuck, a local trail angel, was dropping off some hikers at the pass and picked me up on his way back down to Salida. He offered to take me, Easy and a few other hikers rafting on the Arkansas River that evening. Hell yeah!

Checked in at the simple lodge hostel, showered then went out for pizza with Earl Grey. Smashed a whole pizza then back to the hostel.

Left the hostel around 5 when Chuck picked us up then headed down to the river. He had 3 rafts, the kind you’d use on a commercial rafting trip. In fact, we had an actual guide on our raft, who pretty much took care of everything. I only had to contribute a few paddle strokes all night in between drinking beer. Great sunset and an awesome experience!

Miles – 12
Total Miles – 1043.3 
Rain – no
Sleep – cabin
Animals – deer

Friday June 22nd – CDT Day 63 (zero day)

Went to last with sprinkler and back to the hostel for laundry. Finally, the was a long wait.

I was excited to meet up with my friend Ryan today but unfortunately he has been sick and won’t be able to make it. Damn, that goes plans to prospect on mt antero today. At least we should be able to hang out when I get to Breckenridge.

Went to Safeway and picked up Italian sausage for dinner. Will cook back at the hostel with a couple other guys.

Miles – 0
Total Miles – 1043.3
Rain – no
Sleep – hostel
Animals – deer

Saturday June 23rd – CDT Day 64 (zero day)

Another zero day today. I’ve been having such a great time in town that I’ve been slacking on my log and need to finish that this morning so I can mail out my bounce box before the post office closes. This is becoming a common occurrence. 

Miles – 0
Total Miles – 1043.3 
Rain – no
Sleep – hostel
Animals – deer

Like what you see?

Pagosa Springs to Lake City – CDT Thru Hike 2018

Pagosa Springs to Lake City Overview

Between Pagosa Springs and Lake City, the CDT passes through the San Juan mountains and the Weminuche wilderness, Colorado’s largest. It’s a tough section with rugged mountains, alpine lakes, lots of high trail and beautiful scenery. It’s much longer than the last section, but fortunately the trail was a bit dier and less snow which allowed for slightly easier travel. But still, very challenging!

Saturday June 9th – CDT Day 50

I had a couple of bananas and some banana bread at the motel continental breakfast. Then sprinkler and I went out for a real breakfast. We ate at the junction restaurant at the end of town. Pancakes and sausage, last hot meal for up to 7 days.

Sprinkler was taking other zero today so he went back to the hotel. Being at the end of town and across the street from the gas station, it seemed like a good place to start looking for a hitch up to the pass. I had a cardboard sign that said “wolf creek pass”. I got a ride after about 15 minutes from a fisherman heading up that way

After being dropped off, I joined Quiet (another hiker) in a conversation with a couple of motorcyclists at the pass. After about 20 minutes, I started hiking. It was roughly 10am.

The trail climbs for a while after leaving Wolf Creek pass. That is to be expected, it’s a pass after all. But damn, was it tiring with a pack of food and water.

I bumped into to hikers named Casper and button. As we were talking, a guy came down the trail southbound and mentioned that he just saw a bear about a mile down the trail.

The more I hiked today, the more the views improved. Only a couple of snow patches to cross as the trail reached the end of a Valley with a nice Lake. Trail climbs steeply above it to the top of a ridge. This was one of two big climbs today.

Now on the ridge, I felt like I was back on Trail between Chama and Pagosa Springs. Big views and felt like the top of the world. Forest fire smoke from the 416 fire in Durango could be seen on the horizon to the west.

I did my best to keep hiking although I was pretty distracted by the scenery. More ups and downs along Ridge lines, small passes and generally staying high.

I saw two more hikers, turtle and mangus. Stopped here for second lunch around 5pm. All have another 7.5 miles to go and another big climb ahead.

The trail goes downhill for a bit and then start the climb. Steady at first, sleeper later. Excellent views the rest of the evening. The trail is heading west, right into the sunset. The way the Ridgeline was illuminated by the Sun was magical.

As the trail started climbing up the switch backs, I was getting really tired. Only a few more miles. At the top, more incredible views. This is what I envisioned before hiking the CDT. Really awesome and words can’t describe it.

The trail dropped down a little bit before ascending the final High Point of the day. Cold and windy now with the sun setting behind the first fire smoke.

With the climbing done for today, all this left is to descent into a valley towards a stream, the first water source in a while. This will make a good place to camp.

I found a place to camp near the stream after 8:30pm. Long day, but I got my miles in. I’m hoping to trail remains snow free and relatively dry as it was today for the rest of the hike to Lake City. If not, it’s going to be rough and slow going like the last stretch.

Miles – 22.7
Total Miles – 855.5
Rain – no
Sleep – Backcountry tent
Animals – marmot

Sunday June 10th – CDT Day 51

Woke up at 7am. Filtered water from the stream and took off.

Much of the morning and early afternoon was fairly boring trail. Lots of small ups and downs along hillside with little view of anything. There were some nice moments but just not as constant as other sections of trail. 

Sometime mid afternoon, the trail climbed up a Ridgeline and the views improved. About time. I ran into Mangus a couple times, and played leapfrog the rest of the day.

Smoke from the 416 fire in Durango was pretty thick now. I couldn’t even see it this morning, and now it has engulfed the sky and filled the valleys.

I must have forgotten to turn my GPS back on after first lunch, because the next time I went to turn it off it was already off. I have guthooks app miles I can use, I’ll just add another mile or two to that total since the app usually underestimates the total miles.

Next the trail traverses a hillside through a large basin.

Later in the afternoon I reached knife edge, a pointy ridge. The Ridge itself was not a challenge, but the steep slopes following it were more difficult. Had there been more snow, I would have used my micro spikes. There were a couple of snow patches on steep slopes that I was able to cross with no snow gear, not even trekking poles.

After the knife edge, I had another climb up over a Ridge. I stepped on some mud that looked fairly dry and sturdy, but it ended up being ankle deep. I got a bunch of mud inside my shoe, too. I was able to keep my feet dry the rest of the day up until this point.

I had another hour or so until I got to a pass below the final climb for today. I had planned on hiking to Squaw Creek, but it was another 3 miles and it was already 7. I certainly could have done it, I did something similar last night, but I was really hungry and exhausted. I decided to camp just below the pass near a small pond.

The miles here in Colorado are so much harder than New Mexico. I could hike all day and New Mexico and never feel this tired, even on a 30 mile day. Here, I have to really bust my ass to get 20 miles. Today I hiked 18.7 miles according to guthook, which would probably be 19.5 – 20 on my GPS.

Miles – 18.7
Total Miles – 871.2
Rain – no
Sleep – cowboy camp
Animals – marmots

Monday June 11th – CDT Day 52

Woke up at 6am to a 28°morning. My 20° quilt kept me toasty.

After leaving camp I finished the climb I intend on doing last night. I made a good call not pushing on because there were few campsites in the area I was hoping to camp when I passed by this morning.

Today had a lot of big climbs. It started with a 1100 ft descent to Squaw Creek. Then it was a 1700 ft climb.

Good views along much of the climb. I stopped for first lunch here along a creek. Actually, I had four lunches today. I’ve been hiking in 3 hours blocks, but today I decided to try 2 hour blocks, eating and drinking water each break.

Lots of willow bushes along the trail today. Just had me cursing quite a bit as they cut up my legs. I also went through a gauntlet of mosquitoes along a small Lake, possibly the thickest swarm I’ve ever encountered.

I took another break at the top of the pass. Oh man these climbs are getting to me. I leaned up against my backpack and admired the beautiful view, and wished I could stay here longer.

The trail climbs a little bit higher after leaving the pass. After reaching at High Point trail curves around a hillside and a view of a whole new landscape opens up. Lightly snow capped peaks lined the horizon. It’s a shame the forest fire smoke obscured the view, because it was stunning.

Now the trail drops down to 10400 ft over the next few miles. This is the lowest the trail will get on this entire stretch from Pagosa Springs to Lake city.

At first the trail stays high on a bit of a plateau with good distant views. Then it drops down to a meadow, where I stopped for another food break.

After leaving the meadow, there’s a short climb up a hill and then the trail followers a river Gorge downhill. There was a huge log jam along the river, looks like the product of an avalanche.

The River then dumps into a huge Meadow. The forest fire smoke created a thick haze that filled the valley and obscured sight of the mountains beyond. However, a distinct notch in the Ridgeline could be seen even from the other side of the meadow. It first I thought this was the pass I would be hiking to, but I would later find out the trail doesn’t actually go through this notch, but close to it.

I took another break at the end of the meadow before the trail starts to climb. Mangus was here too. We were both dreading the 2200 ft ascent that awaits us. Filtered water for tonight as well.

The hike up to the next pass wasn’t as bad as I was anticipating, but still very tiring. I think the extra breaks I took today helped.

I thought about camping before the pass, but I was feeling good enough to go over it and shoot for a saddle about a mile after. I’m glad I did because I was able to cover a couple more miles and after cresting the pass it was so beautiful. It was around 7pm now, which has been probably my favorite time of the day to hike. Even though I’d prefer to be in camp already!

Coming down from the pass, it was another mile or so to the saddle. I found a pretty decent campsite here, and decided to cowboy camp again.

Hiking through the mountains is such hard work. It still surprises me that I’m able to get up in the morning and do it all over again every day.

A few other things… I’ve yet to set any sign of bear in Colorado, but saw bear crap almost daily in New Mexico. I’ve only taken one ibuprofen so far and it was in town, not even in trail. That must be some thru hiker record. Many hikers call it vitamin I. OK quit rambling and get some sleep!

Miles – 24.6
Total Miles – 898.8
Rain – no
Sleep – cowboy camp
Animals – marmots

Tuesday June 12th – CDT Day 53

I was hiking by 6:55 this morning. I hiked about a quarter mile so I could get into the sunlight to eat my breakfast. Really hoping to put in some miles today.

Great views all day long, best of the hike so far. It started almost immediately after leaving camp. The trail goes through a large basin. Heading around a blind corner near the top I stumbled upon a bull elk. Antlers are starting to grow more this time of year.

At the top of the Pass, I could see Ute lake below. Lots of beautiful Mountains forming the backdrop. Good start to the day.

After passing Ute lake I filtered water from a small stream, ate and rinsed yesterday’s socks.

Next was the first of 4 big climbs today. Felt good on this one. Beautiful view from the top, didn’t think it could get much better but it does.

 


The view from the second pass was incredible. It was reminiscent of the wind River range. Closer to Nebo Creek, there was some interesting looking upheaval in one of the mountains. Going down Nebo Creek there was a lot of wading through willow bushes and wet ground.

The third pass was named Hunchback pass. I’ve hiked in this area of the San Juans in 2013, and came down Hunchback pass from the opposite direction. When we came down the pass last time, visibility was almost zero due to extreme fog and drizzling rain. I was looking forward to seeing what I missed last time but honestly, it wasn’t super spectacular. At least going up. Going down the pass towards bear town trailhead was beautiful though!

Before the 4th and final big climb of the day, I filtered 3L water from a stream. Then I began the arduous trek uphill. The first bit was steep. I can handle a steady up Hill Climb all day but past a certain angle it just kills me. And it was definitely past that angle.

I reached the top of the pass but not the climb. Now the tail is on a high, rolling, open mountaintop. Would be hard to describe without the pictures. It’s pretty barren, and really wet. I had been able to avoid wet feet all day but not anymore. There were just too many large wet fields to cross, and eventually I ended up just trudging through the water. Ugh, I hate wet feet.

The forest fire smoke was really thick and once again obscured what would have been some Pretty cool views. Still had a couple more miles to go but was getting worn out. I stopped for dinner a little before 7.

The rest of the evening was very scenic. I found a place to camp in a narrow Valley that had an awesome view of the sunset. Going to cowboy camp again. Saw a couple of elk this evening from camp.

I hiked for 13 hours today to cover 20.1 miles according to the guthook app. Did I mention how hard Colorado is? Holy crap. In New Mexico I could hike all day long and almost never get winded. I feel like half my day in Colorado I just want to keel over and die due to all the climbing. I was never very good at cardio and certainly don’t enjoy it. I’m wondering how long it will take for this to get easier.

Miles – 22.7
Total Miles – 921.5
Rain – no
Sleep – cowboy camp
Animals – marmots, elk

Wednesday June 13th – CDT Day 54

It was 22° when I woke up this morning. Since my shoes got wet only two hours before sunset, I had to put them in a plastic bag and warm them in my sleeping bag. It gets annoying having them in my sleeping bag the entire night, so I typically bring them in the bag an hour or two before I get up. They don’t get dry but at least they are warm when I put them on. Waiting for the Sun to hit my location before I get out of my sleeping bag.

Lots more climbing ahead today. The trail will reach its highest point at over 13000 ft, and several Peaks just below.

The day started with a small climb. More great mountain views.

The trail passes through stony pass. There’s a little traveled dirt road here to hitch to Silverton, or just walk the 10 miles to town. Some hikers resupplied here, but it’s another 35 miles to spring creek pass where I plan on hitching into Lake City. Moving on.

The trail follows a dirt road for about a quarter mile before splitting of as trail again. First road walk in Colorado, albeit a short one. This begins a climb out of a new valley. This valley had an empty feel to it. Hard to describe. The climb wasn’t too hard and soon enough I was at the top of the pass.

New pass, new views. Impressive scenery. Clouds building. Stopped at a small pond to filter water and eat.

More ups and downs, more clouds. One mountain had some interesting rocks that slowed me down, just as the skies were darkening to their breaking point. I heard an incredible roaring sound, then got hit with a 60 mph wind gust out of nowhere. Snow flakes followed, flying horizontally. I put on my rain jacket and put away the camera gear for a while.

I hiked for a while under the threat of rain but in the end I never got wet. The forest fire smoke was thick now and made it tough to tell if there were rain clouds overhead or not.

Passed a couple of lakes before another climb. It was steeper at first then leveled out to an easy pace the rest of the way up. I was listening to music and felt great at this moment, definitely thinking about town tomorrow now.

After cresting the pass it was a long decent into this valley. Massive views, this valley just felt enormous. The smoke was probably thicker here than anywhere else yet.

Filtered water again here at a steam, last water for a long time. Then the trail climbs up to an area with some dirt roads and a trailhead. I stopped here for food before pushing on.

It was 6pm now, and I began a 1000ft climb up a very steep dirt road. At the top of this climb is the highest point in the Colorado trail, which is also the CDT right now, at 13,271ft. Up here will be 20 miles for the day, but there will be few places to camp. And windy! Fortunately, I just discovered a yurt along the trail, but it’s another 8 miles from here. It’s going to take a herculean effort to reach that yurt before nightfall.

The steep road whooped my ass the whole way up. At the top was a super barren landscape, yet the highest on trail so far.

Now it was time to haul ass. I fast-walked everywhere that wasn’t steep uphill, and jogged on the downhill sections. I began to get tunnel vision, intensely concentrated on reaching that yurt before dark. This was the fastest pace I’ve maintained so far on the CDT.

Even with the smoke, there were some beautiful views along occasional Ridgelines. Coming down from one, I saw an elk.

I made it to the yurt aid 8:30pm, with little light to spare. I was completely exhausted, just spent from the day’s effort. I climbed a ladder to reach the platform the yurt sits on and saw turtle, yoda, and peppers. Inside was Baylor and crash, who were hiking the Colorado trail, already sleeping.

Ate dinner and slept on the floor inside the yurt. Didn’t want to use my inflatable air mattress on the metal wire bunk beds. Whew, long day! Not something I want to replicate any time soon.

Miles – 28.1
Total Miles – 949.6
Rain – sprinkles
Sleep – yurt
Animals – marmots, elk

Thursday June 14th – CDT Day 55

I was the last to leave the yurt this morning at 8:30am. With only 8.5 miles to spring creek pass, there was no hurry for me.

Today’s hike was not that scenic. Large open areas, huge hills that had several false horizons as they were climbed and few mountain views.

Later, the trail drops down into forest land and eventually hits a door road. This road is followed all the way down to the pass, a paved highway. It took about 3 hours of hiking to get here.

As soon as I reached the road, two hikers were coming down to the pass, southbound. Before I had a chance to put my thumb out for a hitch, they offered a ride into Lake City. Absolutely!

It turns out that Mary and Clee, my ride into town, were related to Liminal, another hiker I’d met in Silver City. Small world! They have been following along the trail and assisting with rides and resupply. In fact, they knew many of the same hikers I met along the trail.

Mary and Clee were kind enough to take me out to lunch in town after I checked in at the ravens rest hostel. I had an awesome burger at the cannibal grill, probably the best yet on trail.

It turns out both Mary and Clee work for the fish and wildlife service, which spawned some interesting conversations. Clee had been stocking a lake with fish by plane some time ago, and when they looked back to see where the fish landed, he saw a man bailing water and fish out of his rowboat! Such a great story!

After a greatly appreciated ride from the pass and hot meal, I picked up my bounce box from the post office and settled in at the hostel. There were about 10 hikers here today.

Did laundry, started backing up photos, GoPro video and GPS tracks. Then sprinkler, earl gray and I went to Poker Alice for dinner. I got a 16″ meat lovers pizza, and had plenty to take with me for later.

Not much else was accomplished this evening. Some R and R was just what I needed after a tough hike in the san Juans.

Miles – 8.9
Total Miles – 958.5
Rain – sprinkles
Sleep – hostel
Animals – deer

Friday June 15th – CDT Day 56 (zero day)

It felt great to sleep in a bed, even if it was a bunk bed. We went out to the bakery for breakfast… Good stuff. On the way back, We hit the county store to resupply for the next section to Salida.

Spent the rest of the day backing up photos and video, processing them and began updating my blog.

Everyone left the hostel and it was just Sprinkler and I. Weird for it to be so empty after being nearly full the day before, but I suppose this is what happens when the San Juans are closed due to fire.

Remnants of hurricane Bud are coming tomrrow, brining heavy rain all day, so I think I will take another zero. Also, I had plans to meet up with a friend in Salida, and having my zero day fall on a Friday would work better for my buddy than Thursday, so the extra zero here in Lake City isn’t really a problem.

Miles – 0
Total Miles – 958.5
Rain – sprinkles
Sleep – hostel
Animals – rabbits

Saturday June 16th – CDT Day 57 (zero day)

Ate breakfast at the Chillin place next door. Grey skies, looks like rain already. Trying to finish my blog updates and everything I need with my bounce box so I can send it back today before 1pm. Buuuttt… that didn’t happen!

Ate lunch at the Cannibal Grill with Easy and Sprinkler. They left and as I continued to plug away on my laptop. Then, Forrest and Sequoia walked in! I thought they were far ahead of me, but they had taken some time off in Silverton. 

I should get back on trail tomorrow. Just gotta figure out how to get my bounce box sent out on Monday now in my absence. Ah, trail logistics.

Miles – 0
Total Miles – 958.5
Rain – no
Sleep – hostel
Animals – rabbits

Like what you see?

Chama to Pagosa Springs – CDT Thru Hike 2018

Chama to Pagosa Springs Overview

This section has been the most difficult of the hike thusfar. More snow, highest elevation, most climbing, wettest, muddiest and all-around toughest hiking yet. But also, the most beautiful and impressive mountain scenery so far. Welcome to Colorado, snow and high mountains. Climb high, stay high! And that’s exactly what the trail does here. It follows the highest possible route without dropping down into valleys. That’s the spirit of the CDT, and this section is trial by fire. 

Monday June 4th – CDT Day 45

At breakfast at the Chama grill, then got a ride to the post office from Ralph, a local Trail angel. Set my bounce box to Lake City, sent home some gear, and returned the backpack I bought.

We squeezed 7 people I believe into Ralph’s pickup truck for the ride up to cumbress pass. We arrived at the pass around 9am and I started hiking shortly after. Not bad, more of an early start then I was expecting.

The trail start climbing immediately north of the pass. It was a good hike with increasingly good scenery. Before long the sound of the highway faded and only the sounds of nature remained.

The trail reaches a ridge that overlooks a valley below. Snow capped peaks can be seen in the distance. Woohoo, finally in the high mountains!

The trail continues to climb along the side of a mountain. Eventually it reaches a pass, the first real Mountain pass of the trip. Seems like a good place to stop for first lunch. I hate the remainder of a triple cheeseburger I had for lunch yesterday. I actually ordered two triple cheeseburger combo meals, trying my best to fatten up while in town.

After lunch, the trail continues to climb a long a Ridgeline. At this point it’s really starting to look like the CDT I was expecting. It felt really good to finally be here.

The trail continues to climb to today’s High Point at around 12200 ft. This is the highest point on trail to date. Once again, awesome views. My pace slowed for a while here as I took pictures and video.

Next the trail trends downhill slightly. It’s amazing that at this elevation there are such large open Meadows.

 

Next the trail passes dipping lakes. The first Lake was pretty scenic, with rocky cliff alongside the water. I stopped to filter water and eat second lunch.

The trail passes the other dipping Lakes and then begins an 800 ft climb. Around this point the trail became much more difficult. Patches of snow, lot of melt water making it nearly impossible to avoid getting my feet wet. This continued for the rest of the evening.

Now I’m traversing a shelf above a cirque. More snow here and very wet. I saw a Ptarmigan, marmots and pikas while hiking here. First of all three so far on the CDT.

I reached Trail Lake around 7:30, my goal for the day. I camped on a hill before the lake, no view of it. This was 22 miles by my GPS in roughly 20 miles on the guthook app.

I’m pretty tired today, going to blame this on the additional elevation. It’s 12000 ft here at Camp. Last week I did two 30 mi days back to back at 10,000 ft, but in my experience I don’t feel the effects of elevation until around 12000 feet. The next two hundred plus miles are going to be above 11 thousand feet, so I’ve got my work cut out for me.

Alright, bedtime. Time to try out my new 20 degree quilt.

Miles – 22
Total Miles – 777 
Rain – no
Sleep – backcountry, tent
Animals – marmots, pika, Ptarmigan

Tuesday June 5th – CDT Day 46

Woke up with the sun on my tent a little after 6. Calm night, I was expecting it to be more windy up high up here and exposed. Got up in the middle of the night to pee and damn, the stars and milky way were bright!

After leaving camp, the trail climbs above trail lake. Someone else had camped here the night before, which I could see from my campsite.

Above trail lake is a pass at 12,320ft. Great view. It’s Rocky and wet.

I descend a little and cross a large snow field, then skirt the side of a hillside for a while.

The trail then passes through a large meadow. It’s really wet here too, lots of streams and ponds from the snow melt. 

Is been slow going today. Partly because of how beautiful it is, and also the terrain. Early season obstacles like snow, fields of water and mud make progress a real chore. There are few sections where I can cover ground quickly.

I had first lunch at blue lake. What an original name. Time to filter water too. Ugh I should be farther along today.

After lunch, I postholed through some patches of snow along blue lake. Fun stuff. Then the trail climbs above the lake and a small pond.

More scenic ponds, hillsides and valleys. Everywhere I went it was beautiful. There wasn’t a boring section of trail all day.

Next I had a big climb. I traversed a mountainside with a great view of the valley below, containing the Navajo River.

The climb continues up a ridge, with snow now becoming more plentiful. Patches of snow and large areas of water force reroutes, as has been the case all day. The switchbacks can get annoying, and since they’re often lost in the snow I’ve just been going straight uphill.

The trail reaches 12100ft and there’s an awesome view of a new set of mountains. Lots of snow up here.

Now the trail drops downhill along a huge slab of snow. Fortunately I can walk around it. I go straight downhill again, avoiding the intermittent switchbacks where I can. It’s wet and muddy if it’s not snow. Really stunning backdrop though! The pictures don’t do it justice. This is the valley containing the middle fork conejos river.

This area was beautiful, but also very tough going. Numerous snow fields to cross. I was postholing in the snow, and getting soaked walking through anywhere that wasn’t snow. It was also really Rocky again, making all non snow travel slow. I got my ass kicked hiking through here.

Before I could leave the worst of the snow behind, I had to cross a river, or cross the snow bridge over it. There were footprint over it all I followed suit. Success. Just as well, falling in would bad news.

I worked my way around a trail along the hillside of the valley, crossing many more streams and postholing through snow patches. Lots of mud too, deeper than you’d think.

I took second lunch at upper reaches of the valley. Man, I am really whooped now. Still almost 8 more guthook miles till I hit my 20. That’s not happening. I let my feet air out for the first time today. Good thing, they were wet, wrinkled and tender.

After lunch, another climb of about 900ft in 1.2 miles. Great views of the snowy mountainside I just traversed on the other side of the valley.

A new landscape reveals itself as I reached the pass. I worked my way across a shelf before going over another small pass.

Incredible scenery as I descend the pass. It’s really steep going down. After a while, the terrain really starts to fight back. Lots of steep snow to traverse, postholing in many places now since it’s early evening. There was also lots of mud, causing me to slip again. I was getting really tired and frustrated.

I made camp around 7pm. I found a spot high in the valley of the north fork conejos River. Another person is camped nearby, can’t see who.

Man I am tired. Today was beautiful but very hard. The terrain was an absolute nightmare. Type 2 fun all the way.

Miles – 19.6
Total Miles – 796.6
Rain – no
Sleep – backcountry, tent
Animals – marmots, Ptarmigan

Wednesday June 6th – CDT Day 47

Once again, the Sun shining in my tent woke me up. A beautiful morning in the cirque. Today will be an adventure.

Sprinkler had camped nearby last night, as well as DG (delayed gratification) which I would later find out. All left camp before me.

After leaving camp, I crossed a small stream running under snow, one of many today. These are crossed by walking over a snow bridge. You never know if it will hold. The snow pack and the severity of the potential fall into the stream below varied greatly.

I hiked around a a hillside, wading through thick bushes. Otherwise, the trail was pretty manageable for the first couple miles.

It’s a steady climb to the top of a pass, one of many today. The trail stays high and encounters a lot of snow. For now, no postholing.

Next the trail skirts a steep hillside above Adams Fork Conejos River Valley. Had to cross several really steep slopes of snow. Did someone say death drop? Awesome views though.

This was a long valley, the only one of the day really. Near where the trail drops down and crosses the Adams Fork canejos river, there’s a huge amount of snow remaining alongside a section of River. Maybe 30 or 40 ft high. I crossed up stream.

I caught up with Sprinkler above the river  crossing. Nice hike up the rest of the Valley. I stopped for first lunch near the top.

Finished the climb up out of the valley. The trail had a pretty different feel the rest of the day now, it just stays high.

After the trail turns to the north Face of Summit peak, there was a massive snow field to cross. Fairly steep and a long way down. Amongst the most snow I’ve seen on Trail yet. At the end of the snow field is a partially frozen Blue Lake.

From here to Trail climbs up another Ridgeline leading to the Crux of today’s hike, the segment between Chama and Pagosa Springs, and the entire see CDT thus far. There’s and extremely deep slope of snow. The kind where you can’t see over the edge. Beyonce and frito head just turned away and decided to head back and look for a way down the valley. Sprinkler and DG were both here trying to figure out what to do. DG climbed the hill above looking for a way around, but no go. It’s either cross this super sketchy slope or turn around and spend basically the rest of the day working around it somehow by dropping down into the valley.

Sprinkler had full fledged crampons, and tackled it first. He disappeared over a line of sight edge as I was putting on my micro spikes. DG was just behind him. Everyone was tense. Sprinkler made it across, and DG went ahead of me. He had an ice axe, but no spikes or crampons. There’s a break in the snow halfway through, DG made it. Now my turn.This was the first time I used my Micro spikes, and although the snow was slushy, I appreciated the extra grip over my trail runners alone.

Once we all made it across, it was a good feeling. That was the steepest slope of snow I’ve ever crossed. We carried on, all at a somewhat similar pace now.

The trail then does some ups and downs through high alpine fields, Ridgelines and passes. Sprinkler, DG and I stopped to eat second lunch around 4pm. We all agreed on trying to reach Elwood pass at the very least tonight, and hopefully a few more miles. It was another 4.4 miles, according to guthook.

We made good progress through this next section. Some decent sections of trail that allowed for fast passage, finally. Occasional patches of snow, some big some small. Lots more mud and flooded fields. But still somehow faster than earlier today.

Once down at Elwood pass, we realized there wasn’t much here. I filtered water and ate dinner. Sprinkler one on first so he could get to camp and cook dinner there. DG took the road that paralled the ridge I’m going to take. With all the clouds today, he didn’t want to be up on that Ridgeline in case it got Windy. Very valid point, but I’m going to roll the dice.

I enjoyed the walk up on the Ridgeline. I saw three Elk in a field tonight, and another later on. I made it 2.8 miles past Elwood pass before finding a campsite around 8pm.

Beautiful sunset, but just be on the trees. No Clear view, bummer.

Today was a good day. 14.8 miles to wolf Creek past tomorrow, my ticket into Pagosa Springs. Really looking forward to that!

Miles – 20.5
Total Miles – 817.1
Rain – no
Sleep – backcountry, tent
Animals – elk

Thursday June 7th – CDT Day 48

Up at 6:15am, hiking by 7. Cool and a little windy, Grey skies still.

This morning was a nice hike. The CDT stays high upon a Ridgeline. Mountains to the west had some snow.

Lack of water would be an issue today. There was no water since a couple miles past Elwood pass. I had 1.5L for the day, and already dehydrated a little this morning.

Saw a couple of deer in an opening along the Ridgeline. Haven’t seen many deer so far on the CDT, mostly elk.

The trail was completely different today. None of the big snow fields, snow capped peaks or wet trail of yesterday. Ok, a few wet spots, but my feet were dry all day. Even though the elevation was similar to the snow covered mountains of the last two days, the trail resembled a lower elevation ecosystem. This allowed for faster miles today.

The trail was skirting a steep mountainside when I found and interesting rock. A milky turquoise looking blob encased by a sedimentary conglomerate. I used another rock to break off the sedimentary part. I broke open the turquoise blob and exposed a crystal center. A geode! Cool find.

The trail follows many ridgelines today and generally is heading down to a low point just below 11k feet at silver pass. I ate first lunch here. Only lunch, actually. Going to do the last 8 miles to wolf creek pass in one go. Here I’ll hitch onto Pagosa springs to resupply.

After lunch, the trail climbs most of the rest of the day. Lots of downed trees in the forest sections. Lots. And the detours around them can be a pain… Over, under, around and any which way.

The trail passes above a water reservoir, then climbs a ridge that follows the border of the wolf creek ski area. Really windy, but also really great views all the way up and around Alberta peak.

I made it to wolf creek pass at 2pm. There was a state trooper at the pass checking semi trucks for something. I Googled the legalities of hitchhiking in Colorado and determined I was good in this instance. 150ft away from the trooper, I stuck my thumb out. A woman named Nancy stopped had just dropped off a hiker coming from Pagosa, and picked me up on her way back. Perfect, only took a few minutes.

In town, I got a motel room at the pinewood inn. I showered up then DG stopped by. We ate lunch at Kip’s cantina. Triple bacon cheese burger and chips… No problem. Sprinkler showed up and joined us. Turns out he’s staying two rooms down at the pinewood.

I had a double bed room at the motel, and DG split the room with me for the night. Later, sprinkler joined us for dinner and beers at the riff raff brewery. Good times.

Will do town stuff tomorrow… Laundry, food resupply, post office and packages, etc.

Miles – 15.7
Total Miles – 832.8 
Rain – no
Sleep – motel
Animals – elk, deer, marmot

Friday June 8th – CDT Day 49 (zero day)

The Continental breakfast selection at the motel was sparse, so I headed out on search of a real breakfast establishment. The Rose had a line out the door, so I went to the peak Cafe instead.

Got a lot done today, at least it felt that way. Had to make a couple calls to get a few things sorted back in the real world, hit up some local shops for a few things to send back to friends and family at home, went to the grocery store for food resupply to Lake City, and hit the post office. Had to mail back some Darn Tough socks for warranty, but they held up pretty well… the whole state of New Mexico basically.

Later I ate dinner with sprinkler and Alan at the Malt Shop. The 1lb “challenger” burger was no challenge at all.

Went back to the motel and finished packing my food. Hoping to do the next section in 6 days, but bringing food for 7

Miles – 0
Total Miles – 832.8
Rain – no
Sleep – motel
Animals – deer

Like what you see?

Eagles Nest Wilderness (Gore Mountains), CO – 4 Day, 25 Mile Hike July 2017

Eagles Nest Wilderness, CO – Gore Mountains 4 Day Backpacking Trip July 2017

panoramic view of the gore mountains in eagles nest wilderness colorado

 View All Eagles Nest Wilderness Photos | Watch the Eagles Nest Wilderness Hike Video On Youtube

  • Park Administration – US Forest Service – White River National Forest
  • Fees & Permits – No fees to access the Eagles Nest Wilderness. Register at trailhead (although I didn’t see where!)
  • Trailhead – Gore Creek Trailhead
  • Length Of Time Hiked – 4 days, 3 nights
  • Miles Hiked – 25
  • Route Difficulty – 7.5
  • Fires Allowed – Yes
  • Scenic Beauty – 9
  • Solitude – 7, less within 4-5 miles of trailhead

Eagles Nest Wilderness Pre-Hike Planning Notes

Gore Mountains Weather Forecast

– https://www.mountain-forecast.com/peaks/Buffalo-Mountain/forecasts/3894

Gore Mountains Road & Trail Condition Reports

– https://www.fs.usda.gov/Internet/FSE_DOCUMENTS/fseprd542981.pdf

The Eagles Nest Wilderness is a 133,496 acre tract of land located within the White River National Forest. The Gore Mountains are the backbone of this wilderness area. It’s right off I-70, giving you the impression that it’s going to be a popular, well known hiking destination, but it’s not. Apparently, this area doesn’t get much use in comparison to other Colorado backpacking hotspots. One reason for this is the fact that there are no 14ers in the Gore Mountains. Don’t let the lack of notoriety fool you, as the Gore Mountains are definitely a hidden gem.

The first thing you need to realize about hiking the Gore Mountains is that it’s a rugged place with a lot of steep terrain. Because of this, many of the valleys are “dead ends” for the average hiker, and some are completely unpassable by all except the most skilled climbers. Stringing together a long hiking route that stays high is pretty difficult here. To make long loops, you either have to be OK with spending a lot of time in the lower valleys or be a really good climber. 

Access to the Eagles Nest Wilderness is said to be easier on the west side near Vail. See this map for trailhead locations in the Eagles Nest Wilderness. I parked at the Gore Creek trailhead, 2.3 miles east of Exit #180 off I-70 on Bighorn Road. This road to this trailhead is completely paved, so you can access it in any vehicle. Watch out for all the bikers on the road, there’s a tons of ’em here. Coloradans are probably used to seeing this many cyclists, but here in southeast Michigan the only people riding bicycles on the road are doing so because they have a DUI! The Gore Creek trailhead was pretty packed but many of them were bikers, not hikers. 

Nearby towns of Vail, Silverthorne and Frisco should have everything you need for last minute stops. Also note that you can get a shower after your hike for $5 at the Silverthorne Rec Center if needed. The address for the Silverthorne Rec Center is 430 Rainbow Dr, Silverthorne, CO 80498. 

 

Eagles Nest Wilderness Backpacking Maps

Total distance: 22.83 mi
Max elevation: 12851 ft
Min elevation: 8717 ft
Total climbing: 8451 ft
Total descent: -8967 ft
Download

Download GPX file of this hike

Here’s my caltopo map of the route I hiked:

Day 1 – Saturday July 8th, 2017

Miles Hiked – 6.54
Elevation Gain – 3058′
Route Hiked – Gore Creek Trailhead to Gore Lake

I started my hike at the Gore Creek trailhead (8688′ elevation) around 10:15 am, just in time for a few clouds to start brewing. The trail immediately begins to climb after leaving the trailhead. The trail itself is pretty well maintained here. There’s a sign marking the entry to the Eagles Nest Wilderness after about 1 mile. Once you pass the sign, the trail goes over the top of a small hill where you lose sight of I-70. The sound from the road is also gone, and replaced with that of Gore Creek. The trail winds through a few patches of aspens before the evergreens become the dominate tree with increased elevation. 

Gore Creek Trail near Gore Creek trailhead

On the Gore Creek trail

The crowds of people started to thin out about two miles from the trailhead. Most of the people on the trail were older folks, and seemed to be locals coming out to get a few miles in for exercise. I stopped along a slow bend in Gore Creek after an hour to eat a little food. I didn’t see any fish, but it looked like there would be potential if one were to walk the bank looking for deeper holes. 

view of gore creek from the gore creek trail in the eagles nest wilderness of colorado

Gore Creek

There were few sweeping views of the valley, and the trail only occasionally swings alongside Gore Creek. The trail maintains a pretty manageable incline much of the way to the intersection with Gore Lake trail, with occasional steeper bursts. I passed a guy who said he’d just seen a large bear at the intersection, which I arrived at about 10 minutes later. No bear, fine with me. 

At the intersection of Gore Creek trail & Gore Lake trail, the elevation is 10,180′. AT this point, the elevation gain is roughly 1800′ (with the ups and downs of the trail) over 4.15 miles. Now on the Gore Creek trail, I’ll climb 600’+ in about a half mile. There’s a little view of the valley below after gaining a little elevation. The trail then overlooks a creek, although don’t believe it’s the main creek flowing out of Gore Lake. I saw my first patch of snow around 10,700′.

mountain peaks beyond the meadow in eagles nest wilderness below gore lake

At the top of the 600′ push I was rewarded with a nice meadow. It was flat, open and green, the first of the hike. It sprinkled a little now, but not heavy enough to be a bother. The views were definitely improving now. In the meadow, jagged peaks and snow capped mountain sides loom in the distance. There were some small patches of colorful flowers here and there, still a ways off from peak bloom though. 

hiking trail just below gore lake in eagles nest wilderness colorado

Approaching Gore Lake

hiking trail near gore lakecolorado

After passing through the meadow, the trail then climbs another 500′ in .6 mile along the final stretch to Gore Lake. I enjoyed the final approach to the lake, where your view of a nearby peak is hidden and then revealed as you crest the top of the final slope. A somewhat “dramatic” way to arrive at such a beautiful lake!

ice on small pond next to gore lake colorado

First view of Gore Lake

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Elk Park/Needleton Loop – Weminuche Wilderness, CO Aug 2013 (Backpacking Trip Report)

cdt trail runs along the top of the mountains in the weminuche wilderness, colorado - san juan mountain range

Weminuche Wilderness, CO – Elk Park/Needleton Loop Hike

Complete Weminuche Wilderness Photo Gallery | Weminuche HD Video

  • Trail Name – Elk Park/Needleton Loop
  • Location – Weminuche Wilderness in the San Juan National Forest, CO
  • Park Type – National Forest, Wilderness Area
  • Fees & Permits – None
  • Length Of Time Hiked – 6 days, 5 nights
  • Trail Type – Semi loop – Train drops you off and picks you up
  • Miles Hiked – 48
  • Trail Difficulty – 8
  • Fires Allowed – Yes (No fires in Chicago Basin or Needleton drainage)

 

Total distance: 49.99 mi
Max elevation: 14088 ft
Min elevation: 8238 ft
Total climbing: 17139 ft
Total descent: -16804 ft
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elk park needleton loop hike statistics

 

Elk Park to Needleton Loop Hike Map – Weminuche Wilderness Maps

Here’s an overview map of the Weminuche Wilderness, which includes trailhead locations.

a map of the weminuche wilderenss that shows trailhead locations

Weminuche Wilderness Map With Trailheads

Here’s my caltopo map of the Elk Park/Needleton hike: 

 

Fees & Permits

There are no fees or permits needed to hike or camp in the Weminuche Wilderness. However, to hike this trail as I did, you will need to secure a train reservation through the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad. This was $90 each person for a round trip ticket, plus $10 to each to haul your backpack. Not cheap by any means, but it was a cool way to enter and leave the wilderness.

 

Day 1 – Monday August 5th, 2013

Miles Hiked – 5.4
Route – Elk Park train stop to camp along Elk Creek at ~10,300ft

Finally, it was time to start this hike. We’d been in Colorado a week now, doing other cool stuff like the Colorado National Monument, Mesa Verde National Park, Denver & Boulder, Rocky Mountain National Park, Telluride, etc. This time, we were sure to be acclimated to the elevation. Lisa had a bit of trouble last year in the Maroon Bells when we hiked the Four Pass Loop, and I may have had a slight headache that first day as well. Not this time though! (more…)

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Four Pass Loop – Maroon Bells Wilderness, CO Aug 2012 (Backpacking Trip Report)

Maroon Bells Wilderness, CO – Four Pass Loop Backpacking Overview

Complete Maroon Bells Wilderness Photo Gallery | Maroon Bells Wilderness HD Video

  • Location – Maroon Bells Wilderness, CO
  • Park – White River National Forest
  • Trail Hiked – Four Pass Loop
  • Miles Driven To Destination – 2980 miles Round trip
  • Length Of Time Hiked – 6 days, 5 nights
  • Trail Type – Loop
  • Miles Hiked – 38 (includes summit of Snowmass Mountain)
  • Trail Difficulty – 8/10
  • Fires Allowed – Yes

 

Download a GPX file of my hike (right click and choose “save as”): Four Pass Loop – Maroon Bells Wilderness, CO

Total distance: 36.71 mi
Max elevation: 14091 ft
Min elevation: 9459 ft
Total climbing: 15371 ft
Total descent: -15581 ft
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The Maroon Bells Wilderness caught my attention this spring when planning a backpacking trip during the month of May. I had read about the Four Pass Loop and after seeing some incredible pictures of this place, and I knew this was one hike I couldn’t pass up. There was too much snowfall on the ground still in May, and instead I hiked the Gila Wilderness in New Mexico. However, I would not have to wait long for my chance to hike here. I decided that the Four Pass Loop would be my destination of choice for my mid summer trip after my plans for Isle Royale fell through yet again. The plan was to hike the Loop, but camp an extra night at Snowmass Lake and summit Snowmass Mountain on the extra day. It would be a step above all my previous hikes in most aspects, especially elevation. Wikipedia has this to say regarding Altitude Sickness: “It is hard to determine who will be affected by altitude sickness, as there are no specific factors that correlate with a susceptibility to altitude sickness.”

The area we planned on hiking lies in the Elk Mountain Range in the Maroon Bells Wilderness, just outside of Aspen, CO. This is within the White River National Forest.

Prior to this trip, the highest elevation I’ve hiked t was 10,643ft (Black Mountain, Gila Wilderness, NM). This trip would raise that number by 3,455ft if I can summit Snowmass Mountain, 14,098ft. If not, the Four Pass Loop is comprised of four mountain passes between 12,400 and 12,500ft, so I’ll still surpass my highest elevation by more than 1,850ft anyways. I didn’t have a problem with the elevation in New Mexico this past May, but this was going to be the real test!

My girlfriend was coming with me on this trip.  I was a little concerned with how she will handle the elevation, as well as the rigors of a big hike like this. She had gone with me on my trip to Manistee River last fall, a really easy hike, but that was her only prior backpacking experience. She was short some gear and had to buy rain pants, hiking boots, socks, sleeping bag, and a backpack. There was no way she could use my crappy High Sierra backpack I have as a “spare” for a trip like this. In fact, she used it last year at Manistee with maybe 20 pounds in it, and even that was uncomfortable. The only gear I had to buy for this trip was a few more OPsaks so the critters can’t smell our food. I didn’t even have to make a last minute trip to REI for something… nice.

 

Getting There

I won’t bore you with much details of driving here, it was pretty uneventful. Almost 1500 miles of farmland is enough to put anyone to sleep. We left Detroit on Saturday July 28th and drove about 15 hours before stopping in North Platte, Nebraska. We assumed that there would be plenty of hotel rooms available, but every hotel was pretty much booked. There were a few events going on, such as a soccer tournament. We had to settle for a smoking room at a Days Inn I think it was. It smelled awful, and apparently pets are welcome in the hotel because we heard dogs barking all night. It was pretty ghetto, but it was either this place or nothing since there were no other towns around.

The next day, we only had about 4 hours left to Denver where, where we planned on staying with Lisa’s friend. It was a pretty gradual rise in elevation the rest of the drive. We were relieved to finally see the Rockies about 30 miles outside of Denver. We arrived early in the afternoon, so we decided to grab a bite to eat and check out the Red Rocks area just outside of town. After that, we went to bed early and tried to get as much rest as possible before setting out on the final stretch tomorrow morning.

 

Day 1 – Monday July 30th, 2012

Miles Hiked – 4
Route – Maroon Creek Rd. Trailhead (West Maroon Portal Parking Lot) to camp along West Maroon Creek at 10,800ft

We left The Denver area around 5:45am today after spending the night at a friends apartment, which was about 4 hours from the trailhead in Aspen. After leaving Denver on I-70w, the drive was all mountains. It was a beautiful drive and really built up my anticipation for the hike. We stopped for breakfast at the Golden Burro in Leadville, which was pretty good. Their menus were full of history of the town, which included things like Doc Holiday’s last shootout. I recommend this place if you are passing through… good food, big portions, cool atmosphere.

After leaving Leadville, we passed over the Continental Divide at Independence Pass. We stopped here for a couple of pictures, but didn’t stay long. After this, the road really winds through the mountains, and offered some great views. It was a white knuckle drive though, thanks to the swarms of cyclists on the road. These guys were all over between Independence Pass and the Maroon Creed Rd. Trailhead in Aspen. They don’t move out of the way either, they ride in the middle of the road as if they are a car. I was ready to get out of the car by the time we reached Aspen, where I was picking up my fishing license I had ordered online. I was looking for “King Sooper’s”, which I thought was some type of gas station. There seem to be no visible addresses on buildings in Aspen, but I stopped where my GPS said the address was. We got out and walked around for a while trying to find it before figuring out that King Sooper’s was actually a grocery store called “City Market”. Apparently, it’s called King Sooper’s City Market, but how the hell would anyone know that from the sign outside that says “City Market”?

entrance road to the maroon bells wilderness

After grabbing the license, we dodged about a 1,000 more cyclists before reaching the entrance to the Maroon Bells Wilderness. We paid the $10 entrance fee and were told that the overnight parking lot was full and that we needed to park at the West Portal lot. This lot was packed with cars too, but we found a spot and began to gear up. I always bring a scale with me to the trailhead so I can weigh my pack right before the hike. Mine was 52+ pounds, Lisa’s was 34. Intersecting the parking lot was a trail that headed into the woods in the direction we wanted to go, but it was not clear where it was going. So, we hiked the pavement, following other hikers we saw leaving the parking lot. It was probably another 1/3 mile or so before we reached a bus loading/unloading area where they drop off hoards of day hikers shuttled in from somewhere. We weren’t sure where we needed to obtain the free permit needed to hike here, but after following the cement pathway we came to a small building that had some info on the wildlife and whatnot. There was another hiker in here filling out a permit, but there were none left on the counter and no park employees around. It was already around 11:30 and we couldn’t wait around for anyone to get us a permit, so I rummaged through the drawers on the other side of the counter and found a stack of permits, which I placed on the counter for everyone to use.

Finally, we were on our way. Today, we were going to hike about 4 miles and find camp somewhere near 10,800ft along West Maroon Creek. I had read that there were not many campsites past this mark, unless you plan on going over West Maroon Pass.

Maroon Lake is right there by the place we got the permit, with the Bells visible from the start. It was very beautiful but I was a little discouraged by the massive amounts of people in the area. I know that the trailhead area is always the most crowded, but I was having a hard time believing we were going to have any type of solitude here. However, many of these people had nothing on their backs and were clearly only here for the day, so we figured it would clear up after Crater Lake.

View of the Maroon Bells in between Maroon & Crater Lake

View Of Maroon Bells From Crater Lake

View Of Maroon Bells From Crater Lake

After leaving Maroon Lake, we hiked through a short wooded section before hiking a mile or so of rocky ups and downs leading to Crater Lake. The entire way here we encountered people coming or going every minute or two, and often much more frequently that that. Crater Lake was pretty dry, evidence of the drought this area has been experiencing. Only a week prior the fire ban was lifted for the White River National Forest, which was good news for us. Who doesn’t love a good campfire?

The Base Of North Maroon Peak

We should have scoped out the campsites near Crater Lake while we were here, since this was our intended campsite for night 5. However, since we were not making very good time today, we didn’t stay long. After passing the lake, we began to see less and less people, which was a good thing. Although we hadn’t hiked too far, it had been a while now since breakfast so we stopped for lunch at the base of a talus field below North Maroon Peak. Here, we caught our first glimpse of a Marmot. Lisa and I had never seen one, so watching them run around on the rocks was entertaining. We also saw our first Pika in this area, and saw our last person for the day… finally, some solitude!

After finishing up with lunch, we put our packs back on and immediately Lisa noticed a large water leak coming from her backpack. It was obviously the hydration bladder as this was the only item with water in it, but upon inspection we did not see any leaks or even a wet spot on the bladder itself. We were stumped as to where the leak came from, but my best guess is that the quick connect mechanism for the bladder’s tube had too much pressure on it causing the hose to be partially open. It’s just odd that there was no water in this area, nor was it wet. We kept our fingers crossed and hoped this would not happen again, and thankfully it didn’t.

four pass loop clockwise day 1

colorado mountain goats

These goats weren’t happy to see us

Now late afternoon, it was pretty hot out at this point. We were both a little dehydrated, despite drinking tons of water in the morning and throughout our hike today. I had a bit of a headache, which I blamed on the elevation and dehydration. Lisa wasn’t feeling good, and was ready to stop. I wanted to make it to around 10,800ft today as I’ve read that there are not many good campsites past this mark. As we pushed on towards our destination, we encountered a few mountain goats grazing alongside the trail, maybe 30 feet away. I took a few pictures, and moved in closer to shoot a video of them. One of the goats turned and started trotting towards me, so I backed off and let them be. These guys were big, and I did not want to find out what they were capable of.

west maroon creek stream crossing

four pass loop west maroon campsite view

Night 1 campsite near West Maroon Creek, around 10,800ft

After leaving the goats behind, we crossed over to the East side of West Maroon Creek. I decided to start looking for a place to make camp for the night and dropped my pack to scout the area. We were just below the Len Shoemaker Ridge at this point. Leaving the trail and hiking up the hillside towards the ridge, I found a nice campsite on a hill with some good tree cover and a nice view. As we set up camp we could see several other mountain goats on the slopes South of Maroon Peak and above us near the Len Shoemaker Ridge. Great, hope these guys leave us alone!

maroon bells len shoemaker ridge

The Len Shoemaker Ridge

Next, we headed back down to West Maroon Creek to filter some water. My MSR Miniworks water filter was usually good for 2-4 liters of water before needing to be cleaned, but the water was so clean here that I filtered 8 liters without the flow slowing down much. Of course, Giardia is still a threat no matter how clean the water looks and this water must be filtered or boiled in order to drink it. I chugged a liter of water while I was filtering, which I typically do in order to rehydrate and still leave with a full supply of water. After taking an asprin and downing that liter of water, my headache was gone.

Now it was time to hang our food. There are VERY few good places to hang food along the Four Pass Loop as most of the trees are coniferous and do not have long branches. My first attempt at a bear hang here ended up in the loss of my cordage, as it got tangled in the jagged branches of a leaning tree. I tried climbing this tree as well as the one next to it to get my rope back, but after a half hour I gave up. Fortunately I had a spare rope, but it wasn’t as long as it really needed to be. I brought a large dry sack to keep our food in, which was stored in my OPsaks. Being in the OPsaks, I didn’t worry too much about the quality of the hang as these bags seem to do an excellent job of masking the smell of it’s contents. I’ve never had a problem yet with animals getting into anything I have stored in these bags.

camping below len shoemaker ridge

Eating dinner on the scree slope below the Len Shoemaker Ridge

We ate our dinner in the talus field below the Len Shoemaker Ridge, about 200ft from our campsite. I happened to glance at our camp and noticed a large buck wandering around near our tent. So far, we had seen quite a bit of wildlife and this made us think what we were in for in the upcoming days. After finishing up with dinner we had a nice fire on the rocks below our camp and watched the stars for a while, before the brightness of the moon took over. We decided to call it a day around 10 or 10:30. Tomorrow is going to be a long day with two mountain passes to traverse.

 

Day 2 – Tuesday July 31st, 2012

Miles Hiked – 7.5
Route – Camp to Fravert Basin

west maroon creek campsite view

View from our campsite on the morning of day 2

I awoke on our second day to an awesome view of the unnamed peaks to the North. It was a relief to see daylight after a pretty uncomfortable night’s sleep. I felt great today, but my thermarest air mattress had a small leak in it that I thought I had patched up during my last trip to the Dolly Sods Wilderness of West Virginia. Apparently there was another leak somewhere as it was completely deflated. Then I checked my half-assed bear hang, which I was happy to see untouched. Being our first morning, and Lisa’s first hike since our trip to Manistee almost a year ago, we were pretty slow to break camp this morning. I also went down to the creek to top off our water supply which took an extra half hour. We have two mountain passes to climb today, West Maroon Pass and Frigid Air Pass, so I wanted to make sure we had enough water.

I think it was around 9am when we hit the trail today. After hiking about a half mile, we passed another group of hikers getting a slower start than us, still sitting around in camp. Around this point we began to see a ton of hikers going up West Maroon Pass, and I couldn’t figure where they all came from. Many of these people had nothing on their backs, so they were day hiking from somewhere, maybe their campsite nearby? Doubt they came all the way from the visitor’s center at this time of day. We probably passed 30 people going up to the top of this pass, way more than I was expecting.

approaching west maroon pass

below west maroon pass

colorado wildflowers

Wildflowers line the trail up to West Maroon Pass

We hiked in and out of small pockets of wooded areas, but it was mostly low brush. Wildflowers were pretty abundant here, we passed several varieties that got Lisa’s attention. After crossing West Maroon Creek again, we crossed a few more small streams before the landscape really began to open up. The view of the mountains surrounding us was incredible, even more so as we climbed higher. We couldn’t see the exact path of the trail leading up to West Maroon Pass until we were almost near the final 1/2 mile or so ascent.

climbing up west maroon pass

Near the top of West Maroon Pass

west maroon pass view to the east

Looking east from the top of West Maroon Pass

Once at the top of West Maroon Pass (12,500ft), we were greeted by several other hikers. The first thing I did was pull of my boots and let my feet air out while we had the chance. It was noticeably colder and windier up here, but my feet needed to breathe. We ate lunch up here as well, and the chipmunks were already out investigating and begging for food. Obviously, they were pretty used to people, they were not afraid of us in the least. While I was sitting on a rock eating a sandwich, one crawled up my back! Crazy little bastards.

chipmunk on mountain pass

Tons of these guys up here.

west maroon pass view

Beautiful view from West Maroon Pass!

west maroon pass view looking west

View to the west

I also took this opportunity to pull out my Sony Nex-5 camera and take some pictures. Before I left for my hike in West Virgina in June, I ordered a bunch of camera equipment that didn’t arrive until after I got back, so this was my first trip that I had took with my new graduated neutral density filters, polarizer lens, etc. I set up the tripod and got a few decent pictures, but I still need to learn/practice more. Fortunately, the beauty of this place does most of the work for you, and there is no shortage of amazing things to photograph here!

west maroon pass ridgeline

Now on our way down West Maroon Pass and northwest towards Frigid Air Pass, the trail quickly gives way to a much gentler slope. It was really nice through here, just rolling green hills and meadows with tons of wildflowers. It was mostly downhill for quite a while, but not to the point where it’s hard on the knees. This was a relief after having just hiked 1700ft up the last pass. We only encountered one or two other hikers in this section before Frigid Air Pass, and played leapfrog with one of them for the last half of the section.

descending west maroon pass west side

Between West Maroon Pass & Frigid Air Pass

looking up at the pass from below

Looking back at West Maroon Pass

maroon bells wildflowers

East Fork Crystal River leading into Crystal Canyon

East Fork Crystal River leading into Crystal Canyon

At the base of Frigid Air Pass, there was a dried up pond and a sign indicating the direction of the trail. This pass was much short in distance, but would turn out to be pretty damn steep near the top. Once over this, it was all downhill for the rest of the day.

below frigid air pass

Frigid Air Pass in the background

Just below Frigid Air Pass

Just below Frigid Air Pass

At the top of Frigid Air Pass, we were again presented with unbelievable views, this time of the vast Fravert Basin. We decided to take a break up here before descending, so it was time again to air out the feet and have a snack.

upper fravert basin panorama

Upper Fravert Basin from Frigid Air Pass

fravert basin view from frigid air pass

Overlooking Fravert basin

We saw at least 3 marmots up here and this time I was able to get a few good pictures of one up close. Camp for the night was going to be somewhere down in the Fravert Basin, wherever we find a decent site. However, the clouds were really starting to move in, and we weren’t sure exactly how far we’d have to go until we find a good spot. We this in mind, we cut our break short and descended into the basin as quickly as possible. After all, it was late afternoon now, and I’d hoped to be at camp already.

a marmot bumbling around on a mountain pass

Marmot hanging out on Frigid Air Pass

hiking down frigid air pass into fravert basin

Descending Frigid Air Pass

upper fravert basin hiking

We made great time getting down from the pass, and before we knew it we had made it to the forested area near the bottom. I knew there was a river down here and somewhere near it was going to be our best bet for a campsite. Once we got close enough to actually see the river, I left the trail and began to look for potential campsites. I didn’t see any previously used ones, but found a descent site on the opposite bank of the river. It was a tall grassy area situated a few hundred feet from the bank, forming a clearing around 30′ in diameter. I wasn’t too pleased with the site myself, but we we tired and the weather was looking pretty nasty.

north fork crystal river crossing

Crossing the North Fork Crystal River to find a campsite

view of campsite in fravert basin

Night 2 campsite in the Fravert Basin

The good news about this site was that the ground beneath us was pretty soft, so we should sleep good tonight. Well, as good as you can with a deflated air mattress. It was also much closer to a water source than our site last night, which was a huge bonus. On the downside, there was nowhere to hang food here, not one tree. I climbed up the rocky hillside above our campsite and found a dead tree trunk on which I set our food bag. I didn’t like the idea of letting it sit out like that, but here was nowhere to hang the food near our site. I felt pretty confident that the OPsaks would do their job, and those were stuffed inside the dry sack, so I didn’t feel too bad about it.

dark skies over campsite in maroon bells wilderness

Right before we started seeing lightning…

As it got dark, it began to sprinkle a little bit on and off. The rain wasn’t a worry, but the winds were picking up and lightning was flashing all around us. At one point we saw a bolt strike the unnamed 13’er that towered above our campsite. This was the nearest peak and had us a little worried, but after an hour or two the weather calmed down and we were finally able to get some rest.

 

Day 3 – Wednesday August 1st, 2012

Miles Hiked – 9
Route – Fravert Basin to Snowmass Lake

I woke up around 6am today, determined to get an earlier start than the day before. It was very cold this morning, and everything was wet from the rain last night. Fortunately, all of our gear stayed dry and our food bag was untouched once again. I headed down to the creek to top of our water while Lisa packed up the gear inside the tent. This became our morning routine… I took care of the outside stuff like the bear hang & filtering water while she rolled up the sleeping bags, the air mattresses, etc. I took some of Lisa’s weight when were packing our backpacks so that today might be easier for her. I would have taken more, but there’s only so much room in my pack! After eating a met-rx bar and whole wheat bagel for breakfast, we were on the trail today by roughly 8am.

North Fork Crystal River From Above

As soon as we we back on the trail, we passed several campsites. I knew we had to be close yesterday, but you never know… could have hiked another mile or two before finding a suitable site. We also passed several hikers in the first hour of today’s hike. After about an hour, the trail leads you to a nice overlook of a river in the valley below. A waterfall can also been seen just off the trail. I tried to take some pictures up here, but the lighting wasn’t the greatest at this time of day. Lisa went ahead of me while I took some pictures, and when I was done I caught up with her. After a sharp decent of a couple hundred feet, we were on the valley floor.

crystal river waterfall up close

Crystal river waterfall

Now looking back up to our overlook spot above, I was tempted to try and get some pictures of that waterfall. this would require a short off trail hike, maybe 1/2 mile. Lisa didn’t want to go, so she stayed behind as I worked my way towards the falls. The vegetation was still covered with last night’s rain, and soon I was too. The route I chose to the falls was much thicker than I thought, but I eventually made it. I took a few quick pictures before heading back. Lisa was waiting for me so I didn’t want to stay too long. Instead of  working my way through the woods again, I opted to follow the waterfall down. It was very rocky but it looked like there was less vegetation on the rocks and this offered a glimmer of hope for not becoming completely soaked. However, even here existed thick shrubs that had me drenched by the time I made it to the bottom. Lisa was glad she didn’t go when she saw me!

The next section was fairly flat and wandered though a pine forest with a ton of downed trees before hugging the North Fork Crystal River. There were a few nice campsites through here that I really would have loved to have stayed at had we hiked this far yesterday. This was a really peaceful hike… didn’t see a soul and it wasn’t too difficult. It seemed like we covered some good ground too.

North Fork Crystal River

North Fork Crystal River

crystal river lead king basin trail maroon bells wilderness

Heading up Trail Rider Pass. That’s Lead King Basin on the left

hiking colorados maroon bells wilderness

beautiful lead king basin

Some of my favorite pictures were here, of the Lead King Basin

After crossing the North Fork Crystal River, the trail remained somewhat flat for another mile or so before steep switchbacks led the way to Trail Rider Pass. I think we both agreed that this was the longest and most difficult pass of the trip. Now in direct sunlight, I put on my hat so I didn’t get to burnt. Lisa didn’t have a hat though, and was getting quite red even with the application of sunscreen. The views of Lead King Basin were incredible though!

geneva lake trail rider pass trail juntion

Trail Rider Pass junction with Geneva Lake Trail

Elk Mountains in the maroon bells wilderness colorado

Elk Mountains

The entire way up, we couldn’t really see where Trail Rider Pass was exactly. After a short climb to the top of the hill above the Geneva Lake Trail intersection, we reached a bit of a plateau. There was a small lake up here, and this made me think how awesome it would be to camp up here. However, this didn’t fit with our plans, and knowing that Snowmass Lake is on the other side of the pass I quickly forgot about the idea. From here, we could finally see where the trail was heading. It seemed like a really long way to go still, especially after the long hike up to where we were now.

snowmass lake viewed from trail rider pass

First view of Snowmass Lake!

view of ridgeline on trail rider pass

view from trail rider pass

Looking south/west from Trail Rider Pass

The “plateau” was a nice break from the steep inclines, but soon the path up Trail Rider Pass became just as steep as any of the passes before it. Once again, I was blown away at the view! Snowmass Lake looked incredible, and we couldn’t wait to get down to it. This was the only pass that we did not share with any other hikers, which was nice. It was very cold and windy up here, even after sweating our way up to the top. We hung out up here for about 45 minutes to air out our feet, eat, and take pictures before heading down.

trail rider apss decent to snowmass lake

Descending Trail Rider Pass

snowmass lake

Snowmass Peak on the left, and Snowmass Mountain in the middle,

The trail was very visible on the mountainside, and it could be seen for quite a ways here. Some of the gullies still had snow in them, and this was the closest we’d come to them yet. Once we got our first view of Snowmass Mountain, I pointed it out to Lisa. Although we had planned on climbing it together, after seeing it first hand, she decided against it. This was somewhat of a relief to hear because I had a feeling this was a little more than she could handle.  I have to admit that I was having second thoughts as well, since I had never climbed anything like this before. Not even close. But, I had my mind set on it and that was that.

amazing blue color of snowmass lake

Beautiful hike down to Snowmass Lake

Waterfall By Snowmass Lake

Waterfall By Snowmass Lake

We made great time hiking through this next section as we were both pretty eager to get to camp. There were some cool views of the lake as we emerged from small patches of wooded areas. The water was an incredibly vibrant turquoise blueish color that seemed to change every time we looked at it. It didn’t seem like Snowmass Lake was too far, but the hike ended up taking much longer than I thought. I wasn’t exactly sure where the campsites were located along the lake, and I assumed they were scattered along all sides. However, the trail took us to the far end of the lake and past it. Now, I wasn’t sure if we had missed a trail leading to the lake. Eventually we crossed the river and the trail headed up towards the lake again. While there must have been a shorter route, the way we ended up hiking seemed like it added another 45 minutes by the time we passed the lake and had to hike uphill again to get to the campsites. Just before the lake were two good sized waterfalls, and pools filled with Brook Trout. We passed a few guys who had caught some, which I hoped to do tomorrow!

campsite at snowmass lake

Campsite for nights 3 & 4

Once we reached Snowmass Lake, we were surprised to see how many people there were here. Of course, all of the good campsites were taken now that it was 6:30pm. We settled on a less than prime campsite, which was disappointing knowing that we were spending 2 nights here. We could always move sites tomorrow when others clear out, but is it really worth the time and effort? I’ll be climbing Snowmass Mountain tomorrow, so will I want to move when I get back? Probably not. The site wasn’t all bad though. Being set a little farther back from the lake, it seemed like it offered more privacy than some of the other sites. And, people weren’t walking past our site every 2 minutes since it was off the main path. However, there are no campfires allowed within 1/2 mile of Snowmass Lake, which was another disappointment. There were signs posted warning of a $325 fine for having a fire!

view from snowmass lake shore near camp

View from Snowmass Lake

Despite being in a wooded area, there is nowhere good to hang food near the lake. My bear hang ended up being maybe 5 feet off the ground, suspended in between 2 trees that were about 12 feet apart. Not ideal, but better than nothing. I saw many others with half-assed bear hangs as well. After setting up camp and finding a bear hang location, we headed down to the river to filter some water and take pictures. There were no colors on the mountains tonight to reflect in the water as I have seen in some pictures online, but I have one more sunset and 2 sunrises still to look forward to here! It sprinkled on and off for the rest of the night, but not hard enough to keep people out of their tents.

Back at camp, I packed my Camelbak for tomorrow’s climb. I had debated on the necessity of bringing the Camelbak, but knew it would be perfect for my climb and was worth the extra weight in my pack. I figured 2 liters of water would be enough, stored in my Osprey bladder. I packed my map, compass, gps, first aid kit, food, and camera equipment. I took out some moleskin so that it was ready for me to put on in the morning to cover the blisters on the back of my heels, which fortunately were not hurting too bad. Packed and ready for tomorrow, I was in bed by 10pm.

 

Day 4- Thursday August 2nd, 2012

Miles Hiked – 5.7
Route – Summit Snowmass Mountain, same campsite

To be honest, I didn’t sleep much last night. I was pretty nervous about climbing my first 14er, and doing it solo. Sleeping on a deflated air mattress also doesn’t help either. When my alarm went off at 5am, I was having a hard time getting myself up to do this, but after a few minutes I got up and moving. The weather was clear, and I could still see the stars quite well. I retrieved our food from the bear hang, ate some breakfast and packed my lunch into the Camelbak.

snowmass lake before sunrise

Time To Climb!

route to climb snowmass mountain

Snowmass Mountian climbing route

snowmass mountain summit base of climb

Base of the scree field

I left camp around 5:30-5:45am and began the hike around the lake. This was actually one of the worst parts about the entire climb! The trail was cut through thick vegetation that one could not help but to brush up against, which was still wet. It winds along the lake, sometimes on the shore and sometimes on the hillside. There were many roots sticking up that you either trip over or slip on. After 10 minutes, I was soaked to the bone. My boots were full of water, and at this point I felt like it would have been easier to walk through the lake itself! Near the other side of the lake now, I found it easier to follow the very narrow shoreline of the lake instead of the trail itself. In doing so, I missed where the trail went and I ended up scouring the shore for a route inwards toward the base of the scree field, unsuccessfully. Blocking my path was some very thick vegetation, a stream, and some very soft ground. I had to turn back and find the trail. I saw another group of climbers making their way around the lake as well, so I watched where they went and took the same route out onto the scree field.

snowmass mountain base scree field

Leaving the scree field

sunrise over snowmass

Sunrise over Snowmass Lake

There were 2 climbers already working their way up the scree field when I passed another group of 5 stopped at the bottom putting on their helmets and checking their gear. I was able to follow the path of the 2 climbers above me through the scree field, which was not as bad as many people had made it out to be. It was steep and loose in spots, but I was expecting worse. The steepest section of the scree field was near the top, below the grassy area.

snowmass mountain climb middle section

The middle section of the climb was the easiest

Now on the grass, I passed the 2 climbers that were above me. We stopped briefly to chat, discussing routes up the mountain. I was planning on doing the typical over-the-ridge route, but now that I was up here I was thinking about the shorter route that people take when there is no snow. I opted for the shorter route, while the other 2 hikers were going to ascend via the standard route.

It was nice to be off that scree field. The grassy area was a nice break, although still a climb. There were many small streams of water flowing through this area, with lots of large boulders dotting the landscape. I made pretty good time going up through this section as it gave way to larger boulders. Now you must hop from rock to rock, and sometimes climb from one to another. Some tilt, move, or shift when you step on them, so being conscious of where you step is crucial. The entire way up, I could hear rocks falling in the distance from Snowmass Peak (not Snowmass Mountain).

Once I got close enough to the top of the ridge to see some detail, I could see that it was pretty damn steep. It got steeper and steeper towards the top, until the last 20 feet or so became almost vertical. This climb definitely had some exposure. Although a fall from this height isn’t likely to be fatal, the terrain below was very steep and rocky. You would certainly tumble down the mountainside along with a ton of rocks, which could easily be lethal. So, I hesitated for a few minutes before attempting this climb. After all, I was by myself, and If I get hurt, who would even know?

View form the top of the ridge

The summit is hidden from this view

My adrenaline was pumping like crazy as I started climbing. The handholds on the rock face were good, but extremely crumbly. Even large handholds would just fall right off, so it was vital to test each hold before committing to it. I made the mistake of looking down once, which made me a little dizzy. I turned around and calmed myself down by concentrating on what’s above me and not thinking about what’s below. This worked well and I made it to the top of the ridge. I was a little shaken, so I stopped here for 10 minutes to plan my final ascent to the top and regain my composure. This was the scariest part of the entire climb for me.

The final ascent along the backside of the ridge looked daunting when I first saw it, but once you start moving you can start to see the lines. There are some cairns here and there, follow them when you see them. The summit itself is hidden for most of the ascent and only visible near the top.

Even at 14k feet, I didn’t feel like it was difficult breathing. I felt perfectly fine, and did not feel any shortness of breath whatsoever. I was really surprised at this, but certainly not complaining. This made me wonder how high I’d have to climb before experiencing any breathing problems. I had never been this high up in elevation, so it was nice to know what my body is capable of for future trips.

I made it to the summit of Snowmass Mountain around 9:30am. My GPS said 14,061ft but I am going to trust the folks at the USGS over Garmin and go with the 14,098ft figure they claim. The weather was surprisingly calm and not too windy, but it was turning cloudy fast. The view was so incredible, I just wish the skies were blue for my pictures and it would have been perfect! Views of the red colors on the mountains contrasting against the greens were especially beautiful, never seen anything like that. I could see Geneva Lake below, which would have been a nice place to camp had I planned my trip to include a night there. Maybe on a trip in the future? I could see myself coming back here!

View from Snowmass Mountain

Snowmass Lake from the top of Snowmass Mountain

About 15 minutes after I reached the top, the 2 climbers I passed earlier had joined me. I was taking pictures at this point, and we exchanged some of each other before moving on to our lunches. We chatted and ate for about 45 minutes before heading down around 10:30am.

The other 2 climbers descending Snowmass Mountain. This is just over the ridge, along the standard route

I didn’t want to down climb that death wall I climbed up earlier to get over the ridge, so I decided to take the longer route that the other climbers had taken. I missed the route up over the ridge going this way and had to backtrack a little to find it, but I was over the ridge by 11am. The next few hundred feet of my descent  involved climbing down and jumping from rock to rock, which were surprisingly stable. Once I got the hang of moving on these large boulders near the top, I was flying downhill at a good pace. Before I knew it, I could no longer see the other 2 climbers, who went over the ridge at the same time as I did.

Now at the top of the scree field, I was searching for the route I took up but didn’t see it. The route I  ended up taking put me in the scree field higher up than the way I ascended, and this meant steeper terrain and more time in the gully. Parts of this gully had water flowing down it, and it was pretty slippery. At one point I slipped and fell on my ass, and slid about 5 feet down before stopping myself. I’m just glad I didn’t pick up any real speed. Going down the rest of the scree field wasn’t too bad though. The easiest way to move here was to walk downhill “sideways”, and slide down the rocks in a controlled manner.

Near the very bottom of the scree field, I was crossing over a small stream when I slipped on some roots and fell on a boulder, right on my hip. This fall hurt but I was ok. Later on, this would turn into a softball sized bruise. Going around Snowmass Lake was still a pain in the ass, even now that it was mostly dry. I fell once or twice making my way around the lake. It’s funny that the the most treacherous part of the climb wasn’t even up on the mountain!

I made it back to camp early afternoon, around 1pm. Just then, it started sprinkling. What great timing, I thought. I had neglected to bring any rain gear with me since it wouldn’t fit in my Camelbak, which in hindsight was probably a mistake on my part. Especially since I could have used it in the morning when traveling around the perimeter of the lake. My first priority was removing my boots and getting some air to my feet, and secondly, chugging some water. I had only drank about 1.5 liters of water during the climb, as well as a full liter in the morning before leaving camp. I wasn’t feeling dehydrated, but my pee was pretty yellow.

While I was gone climbing, Lisa took a few pictures with the Canon Powershot:

After getting my fill of h20 and filtering more water, I had the rest of the day to relax. Lisa was happy to sleep in and use today as a recuperation day, and had a very laid back morning by the lake. We thought about moving camp to a better site, but decided that it didn’t matter and the time spent moving would be better used fishing, exploring, etc. We headed down to the lake shore, and hung out here for a while taking pictures and getting some sun. It was pretty hot when it wasn’t cloudy, but pretty cool otherwise. Lisa and I laid out on a large rock at the edge of the shore for a while before trying my hand at fishing. I didn’t bring much for gear, and other than a Mepps spinner and a spoon I didn’t have anything for trout. I completely forgot to pick up some worms when we stopped for my fishing license in Aspen. Needless to say, I didn’t catch anything in the lake. Back by the mouth of the river, we saw a mink or weasel, not sure exactly. It appeared to have a mouse in it’s mouth as it scurried along a log protruding into the water.

trout fishing below snowmass lake

There are trout in here, but I didn’t get any

I also fished the pool below the 2nd waterfall on Snowmass Creek, heading away from the Lake. I could see several trout in here, maybe 15 or so. There were a few that were 10″ plus, but they didn’t want anything to do with my tackle. After a few snags and no bites, I gave up. I wouldn’t have been able to eat them anyways, since I left my stove behind for this trip and opted for easier to prepare food, and there are no fires allowed by the lake. So either way, it was going to be catch and release.

Closer to sundown, I set up my camera equipment in hopes of capturing some colors on Snowmass Peak reflecting in the lake. There were no colors yet again, but it was still very picturesque! We pigged out on some sour patch kids as the sun went down. Without being able to have a fire, there wasn’t much else to do but go to sleep. We did hear a coyote howl shortly after lying down though. After it’s 2nd or third howl, someone camping near the lake did his own coyote call to mock it. I could have gone without that.

 

Day 5 – Friday August 3rd, 2012

Miles Hiked – 5.6
Route – Snowmass Lake to Minnehaha Gulch campsite

early morning snowmass lake

My alarm went off at 6:15 today. I wanted to catch the sunrise and hopefully capture some great photos. The water was like glass and so far the sky was completely clear. Absolutely perfect conditions! I set up the tripod and got my camera ready while Lisa filtered water. We hung out here for quite a while taking pictures, eating, and just taking in the beauty of this place before we hit the trail at 9:15.

The hike back to the main trail seemed much longer than I remembered. Maybe 20 minutes after leaving camp, we passed a large pile of boulders that housed a family of marmots. These guys were all over the place… I wasn’t expecting to see so many! Finally back on the main trail and heading towards Buckskin Pass, we only passed a handful of hikers, mostly closer to Snowmass Lake.

Today’s hike had us traveling through more forests than the other days it seemed. I was surprised to find out how wide open everything is here, I wasn’t expecting to have huge views almost every step of the way. That’s how it is here though… huge, spanning views everywhere. Seldomly did we find ourselves in a forest area for more than a few hundred feet at a time. Being in the shade was a welcome feeling, especially for Lisa who had gotten quite a bit of sun by this point.

beaver damn in the maroon bells wilderness

Beaver dam

After crossing Snowmass Creek late in the morning, we saw a beaver dam. We saw the “lodge” off in the distance, but no beavers. A waterfall lies downstream of the dam, but I didn’t stop to explore. The trail follows the creek a short ways before splitting off in a V. The funny thing is that in between the fork lies a tree with a sign on it that just says “Trail” and doesn’t point in either direction. It’s placement in the fork doesn’t indicate which direction to go, so the sign is completely useless! I chose the one that went up, and apparently I chose wisely.

The trail worked it’s way up the mountainside for a while before emerging from the tress and once again exposing us to intense sunlight for the ascent of our final mountain pass. On the bright side, Buckskin Pass was probably the easiest one of the four, at least in the clockwise direction we hiked it.

Pika

Buckskin Pass

We saw several more pikas and marmots on the way up. The marmots had burrowed into parts of the trail, leaving large holes in places. We still couldn’t see where the trail was taking us, or where exactly the pass itself was. By the time we could see where the trail was taking us, we were almost at the top. It didn’t seem as long or steep as the other passes, and we made it to the top by midday.

Of course, there were several other hikers up here already. We ate lunch and chatted with a woman who was by herself. She told us that a climber had died on North Maroon Peak the week before. This made me feel glad to have returned from my solo climb unscathed. Very sad to hear though. We saw a man descending Buckskin Mountain as we sat eating lunch, who eventually came over our way. I asked him about his climb and he on his way rather quickly.

Snowmass Peak & Snowmass Mountain viewed from Buckskin Pass

North Maroon Peak viewed from Buckskin Pass

Pyramid Peak behind me

The cool thing about this view from Buckskin Pass is the different perspective you get of Snowmass Mountain and Snowmass Peak. From Snowmass Lake, Peak looks taller than Mountain. But from here, you can clearly see that Snowmass Mountain is taller. North Maroon Peak can be seen to the south and Pyramid Peak dominates the landscape to the southeast.

Rain over Pyramid Peak

The east side of Buckskin Pass was much steeper, thankfully we were going down it. The weather was threatening to rain on and off like always, so we were trying to hurry up and get to our intended campsite at Crater Lake asap. However, after descending about 1300ft we camp across a campsite that had a pretty badass view, and was only a few hundred feet from a small stream. I knew Crater Lake was going to have a ton of people, and if you haven’t guessed yet, I like my solitude. Tomorrow’s hike was only going to be 2 miles back to the car, so adding 2 more miles of downhill hiking wasn’t really an issue. This is it, our final campsite of the trip.

It was 3pm when we stopped for the day, which was our earliest time yet. It sprinkled briefly as we set up the tent. While we were setting up camp, a group of 3 or 4 people passed by on horseback, with about 10 horses total. We had seen piles of horse shit here and there, but this was the first time we’d actually seen people on horseback. This site had a rope tied between 2 trees about 15 feet up, so this was the easiest bear hang of the whole trip. We really wanted a fire tonight since we only had one on our first night. We gathered some wood and stored it under the base of a pine tree to keep the wood dry, just in case it rains. We filtered water from the creek, which would be enough for tonight and tomorrow since it’s an easy hike back to the car. Filtering water always seems like it takes a long time, but as clean as the water was here in the Maroon Bells Wilderness, it went a lot faster not having to stop every other liter to clean the filter.

Night 5 campsite

Looking towards Buckskin Pass from our campsite

Back at camp, we were sitting around on a log when an overly territorial bird started messing with us. We later found that it was a Grey Jay.  Just as it did in a previous campsite, the bird would circle us, hopping or flying 10 feet or so at a time. It would look at us for a few seconds before moving to another position. After making a complete circle, the bird stood on a stump facing away from us. It then proceeded to do a 180, stared at us for a few seconds, then flew directly at us! It turned away only 6 feet from our heads. We must have been near it’s nest or something, but I had never seen a bird act like that. It was pretty comical!

Sometime later, the thong piece on my sandal had come off and it was now almost impossible to walk in them. The thong had separated from the foam body of the sandal, taking with it a chunk of the foam. I sliced a narrow hole through the body of the sandal underneath the area of foam that was missing, just large enough to force the foam chunk attached to the thong through. I was skeptical of the longevity of this solution, but it felt great and was still intact by the end of our trip. Good fix, but now I’m in the market for another pair of sandals before my next trip.

Sleeping Sexton & North Marron Peak on the left

Our campsite offered excellent views of Pyramid Peak, Sleeping Sexton, and North Maroon Peak. We spent most of the evening lounging around, just enjoying the view. Below our campsite, it was evident that an avalanche had been through this area at some point. All of the trees were uprooted and a path was cleared through the forest. We didn’t get a direct view of the sunset, but there were some cool colors going on in the sky behind Pyramid Peak. It was actually fairly dark when all of the sudden the sun, which was behind Buckskin Pass somewhere, started shining on the clouds behind Pyramid Peak somehow. This seemed to defy all logic, but gave us a 5 minute window of some beautiful reds and oranges before finally going down for the night.

The stars came out very bright tonight as it was mostly clear. However, the moon was almost full and drowned out the stars by around 10pm. I was really hoping to see the night sky with great clarity on this trip, but between the weather and moonlight, that never happened. Being from the city, I don’t get to see very much of the night sky, so I always look forward to it when I go backpacking. Next time, I might try to plan a trip concurrent with the phases of the moon for best results. We stared at our campfire for a little while longer before calling it a day.

 

Day 6 – Saturday August 4th, 2012

Miles Hiked – 4.2
Route – Camp to car

This morning I awoke at 6:30 with the hopes of viewing the sunrise, but again there was no direct line of sight as it rose behind a ridge blocking my view. I’m sure the Maroon Bells would have looked spectacular this morning viewed from Crater Lake, but I was not regretting my decision to avoid the crowds. The weather was cool and clear as it was every morning here, and looked like a gorgeous day. As beautiful as it was here, we were ready to go back to the car and have a taste of civilization. We packed up camp and were en route back to the trailhead by 9:15am.

North Maroon Peak

Below Sleeping Sexton & North Maroon Peak

After leaving camp we hiked through the avalanche area that we overlooked yesterday. It’s pretty amazing to think that snow can literally wipe out everything in it’s path like this. The rest of the hike to Crater Lake was downhill from here, and mostly covered by trees once we passed the avalanche zone.

View of Crater Lake

View of the Maroon Bells from Crater Lake

Crater Lake

Once we neared Crater Lake, you could see how dried up it was from above. This must be a far cry from last year, which I was told had near record snowfall, so I’m sure the water level was much higher then. There weren’t any other people around yet, but that’s because it was still a little too early. After leaving Crater Lake, we were once again confronted with an army of day hikers. They come in by the busload at the visitor’s center, and seem to hike no farther than Crater Lake for the most part.

Approaching Maroon Lake

It seemed that the trail in between Crater and Maroon Lakes was much shorter this time around. Our large packs gave us away to the day hikers, who frequently stopped us to ask about our trip. I don’t mind stopping to chat, but after 6 days, we were ready to get back to the car, with a shower as our ultimate goal for the day. That, and a hot meal.

The Maroon Bells behind Maroon Lake

This sign was near Maroon Lake

By the time we reached Maroon Lake, the day hikers were out in full force. We stopped for a minute at the lake for few final pictures. I couldn’t help but look back at the Maroon Bells and reflect upon the most amazing backpacking trip of my life.

The hike back to the car seemed much longer from here though, despite being downhill this time. We made it back to the car around 11am, just in time to avoid the heat of the day. It felt great to finally change into shorts and sandals, and to sit on a comfortable seat instead of a log.

On the drive through Aspen, there were even more cyclists than I remember. We passed over a small bridge that had so many bikers that they had to get off their bikes and walk them across. There must have been 50 bikers on a bridge that was only 100 feet long! It was a biker traffic jam, pretty ridiculous if you ask me. There also seems to be a shortage of gas stations in this town. The ONE we stopped at was cleaning it’s bathroom so we had to look elsewhere. We ended up going to the King Sooper’s “City Market” grocery store again. I saw a few bikers almost get clobbered by cars backing out of parking spaces, and I almost hit a few myself. This place is a nightmare with all the pedestrians!

I was relieved to be out of Aspen, but we weren’t out of the woods yet. There were still tons of cyclists on the narrow mountain roads going all the way up to Independence Pass. After going over the pass they seemed to disappear from the roads and I felt much more comfortable driving.

We stopped in Leadville again for some food, and there was some sort of festival going on. We parked a few blocks off the main strip and headed towards a cool looking place called the Silver Dollar Saloon. The place was packed because of the festival, but a busboy showed us to a seat right away. The atmosphere was very cool in here, very old looking with lots of cool artifacts on the walls. There were several guys in here with handlebar mustaches, cowboy hats, and had pistols holstered on their side. We sat there for about 20 minutes and didn’t see ONE waitress anywhere in the entire restaurant. The only employees we saw were the busboy and one bartender, and nobody came by to give us a menu or take our drink order. We left and went to another place down the street called the Pasttime Bar. We were served immediately here, despite them being very busy as well. The food was great and the service was so-so.

We got back to the Denver area by late afternoon and immediately jumped in the shower. Finally, the moment I had been waiting for! After getting clean, we headed to downtown Denver for dinner before going to bed around 10pm. Tomorrow we would drive straight through to Detroit, but for now, it was time to get some good sleep on a real bed.

 

Final Thoughts

The Maroon Bells Wilderness is absolutely beautiful! This was easily the best hike of my life, no questions about it. This is the trip that all others will be measured against in the future. On top of the non-stop postcard perfect views, abundant wildlife, and sense of real adventure, the weather was pretty damn good. We didn’t get rained on once during our hike, only light rain at camp and slightly heavier rain our second night. No injuries, no altitude sickness beyond a bit of acclimation woes our first day, and overall just a smooth trip. Everything went according to plan, which is always a great feeling.

The downside is that there were a lot of people hiking here, which takes away from the whole experience in my opinion. At this time of the year though, crowds are to be expected, so I wasn’t holding out hope for a whole lot of solitude. Still, there were many more people than I had anticipated.

Climbing my first 14er, and doing it by myself was a huge thing for me. Just a great feeling that I really can’t describe. So glad I did it and hoping to do another someday soon!

I was disappointed with the fishing aspect of the trip, which is becoming the norm for me unfortunately. I don’t pick my trips with fishing as the main goal though, so when it doesn’t pan out it’s not too big of a deal. I didn’t get to see the stars like I’d hoped, nor was I able to photograph any good sunrises or sunsets. You can’t win them all though, and I still got some great pictures.

 Complete Maroon Bells Photo Gallery

 

As always, questions and comments are welcome!

If you found my trip report useful, please don’t hesitate to leave a comment! Alternatively, if you feel you have any information you’d like to share with others regarding this hike, please feel free to leave that below in a comment as well.

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