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Steamboat Springs to Encampment – CDT Thru Hike 2018

Continental Divide Trail – Steamboat Springs to Encampment Hike Overview

grand lake to steamboat springs hike on the continental divide trail 2018

Besides a walk through the Mt. Zirkel Wilderness, gone are the days of high mountains. This section sees a transition from from the Colorado landscape to a drier and lower elevation mountain environment in Wyoming as the trail passes through the Medicine Bow-Routt National Forest. The Mt. Zirkel Wilderness is definitely the highlight of this section, which resembled the high Sierras at times. 

Monday July 16th – CDT Day 87

Got a solid 10hrs of sleep last night, that felt great. Good breakfast at the hotel too, including sausage and bacon. I saw Asha and Justin at breakfast, whom I’d met last night in the hot tub. They joined me and ultimately offered to give me a ride into the downtown area later so I could run some errands.

I got dropped off at BAP, the outdoor gear store that John runs. John is the guy who picked me up from Rabbit Ears pass yesterday. We talked about ways to make my backpack hip belt cinch tighter, and he sent me over to the Big Agnes repair facility down the road. One of his workers gave me a ride on his way there.

At the Big Agnes shop, they ultimately talked me out of chopping off the old hip belt strap and buckle to replace with a slimmer, less bulky buckle. There could be rubbing on my hips from the new stitching, could compromise the hip belt webbing, Etc. Instead we chopped the extra length of the strap and removed a small fabric loop for the strap, folded over the ends and sewed that up. This is what I did at home to my last osprey pack, the large one I sent home in exchange for this medium a few weeks ago. A small but somewhat helpful improvement.

One of the guys at Big Agnes have me a ride up to backdoor burger, a place that had been recommended to me by multiple people. After eating lunch, which was pretty good, I picked up an Uber to get back to rabbit ears pass.

 

It was around 3:15pm when I started hiking today. The terrain is forest and low rolling hills now. Everything is pretty green and there’s lots of wild flowers in bloom. Not the huge mountains the rest of Colorado had to offer.

The trail was seldom steep this evening and made for an easy walk. I saw a Porcupine bumbling down the trail, oblivious to my presence. It sprinkled briefly, typical of late.

Found camp at grizzly lake just after 8pm. There used to be grizzlies in Colorado, but the last one was killed in the San Juans in the 1970s. This lake’s name bears that legacy. Early camp it seemed, but it all seemed early in comparison to the late hiking I’d done recently. If The terrain continues to be this easy, I should make good time to Encampment.

Miles – 14
Total Miles – 1383
Rain – sprinkles
Sleep – Backcountry, tent
Animals – deer, Porcupine

Tuesday July 17 – CDT Day 88

This morning was nice by the lake. Haven’t slept next to many lakes on the CDT so far.

50 miles to the Wyoming border now. I’m hoping for 30 today and tomorrow. That’d put me at the border late afternoonish tomorrow and 10 miles into Wyoming, leaving only 10 miles to battle pass on Thursday. Battle pass is where I hitch into Encampment. That’s the plan anyways.

Not much to see this morning. A few small lakes, forest.

I stopped to filter water at a trailhead with a steam. This is where the Mt. Zerkel wilderness begins.

The views improve with the increase in elevation.

Stopped for lunch as it started sprinkling. It passed quickly.

Still several more miles of up hill hiking. Fortunately it isn’t too steep. In spots it reminded me of the high Sierras, even if only for brief moments. 

Nice hiking above tree line here. Snow patches to cross and imposing peaks in the background. Not what I was expecting this close to Wyoming, but beautiful.

After cresting the high point just below lost ranger peak the trail drops down for a long time.

The trail dips below treeline and goes through an old burn area.

Found camp around 9pm, having done 29 miles. It’s along a dirt road in a field. Good enough.

Miles – 29
Total Miles – 1412
Rain – sprinkles
Sleep – Backcountry, tent
Animals – deer

Wednesday July 18th – CDT Day 89

Lots of deer running around camp last night and this morning. Lots of condensation on my tent too.

You can really feel the change in landscape today, transitioning from one state to another. Less mountains and peaks, more fields and forest. Still pretty hilly though, many ups and downs.

Only saw a guy and his horses and two dirt bikers today. No CDT hikers this whole stretch. However, I did see a fresh pile of bear crap. When I got into town, I talked to a CDT hiker who was apparently ahead of me on trail by less than an hour. He saw a bear here when he walked through earlier in the morning. 

It was a hot day, and I should have filled up after at the last source. It was dry all the way up to a half mile before the border of Wyoming. There was a spring about a quarter mile down hill, but it was a bushwhack. I was in pretty pretty desperate need of water, so I didn’t mind. Man that water was good, and I filled up 3L to go.

It was a great feeling to reach Wyoming this evening. However, I feel like I’ve been walking forever and I’m ONLY halfway! Still, I’m looking forward to Wyoming and something different.

I hiked 3 miles into Wyoming tonight, Mostly through hilly forest. Saw a couple of Porcupines along the way. The last field I walked through before finding camp was a wet and muddy one. No avoiding it, my feet got completely soaked as they were fully submerged in mud and water. Right before sundown getting wet feet, ugh that’s the worst. They’ll never dry over night.

As I’m writing this in the dark, in my tent, there was a loud explosion pretty nearby. Followed by… Nothing, just silence. I know there’s a few roads nearby, so people isn’t a surprise. Just not sure what it was. Weird.

18 miles to battle pass tomorrow. I was hoping to cover a few more miles between yesterday and today to cut this down, it just didn’t work out. So it’ll be a mid to late afternoon arrival at the pass.

Miles – 28
Total Miles – 1440
Rain – no
Sleep – Backcountry, tent
Animals – deer, Porcupine

Thursday July 19th – CDT Day 90

Dried my shoes out in the Sun as I packed up camp this morning. Smeagol passed by as well. I later caught up to her but we hiked our own pace throughout the day.

Today was a push to make miles and hitch into town before the post office closes at 4pm. Still a few climbs left, ensuring I don’t go too fast.

This morning I entered the Huston parks wilderness. This area did offer a few big views but they weren’t as impressive as what I’d seen throughout Colorado. 

I stopped to filter water from a stream around noon. Also, to eat. I can push quite a while with little or no water, but my pace really slows when I get hungry.

The last 9 miles or so went pretty easy. Forest, large open meadows with abundant green grass. 

After leaving the wilderness area, I followed a dirt road a short ways to battle pass at wy-70. This is the paved Road leading into Encampment. I made it to the pass around 3pm and got lucky, the second car picked me up in about 5 minutes.

My hitch dropped me off at the post office with plenty of time to spare before they closed. While I was picking up my package, a woman in line behind me noticed I was a CDT hiker and offered a ride wherever I needed to go. Perfect, saves me a 1 mile road walk to lazy acres campground in Riverside.

There were several other CDT hikers at the campground… Knots, badmash, topo, minutes, bartender and Jesus. A different group of hikers I mostly hadn’t met yet.

After a shower and staring laundry, five of us headed up to the bear trap restaurant across the street. Good food and big portions.

I was talking to an older couple at the campground earlier in the afternoon and they were drinking wine. They left the rest of the bottle with a plastic cup next to my tent, so I had a little wine before bed as well. Bonus!

Miles – 17
Total Miles – 1457
Rain – no
Sleep – rv park, tent
Animals – deer

Like what you see?

Grand Lake to Steamboat Springs – CDT Thru Hike 2018

Continental Divide Trail – Grand Lake to Steamboat Springs Hike Overview

grand lake to steamboat springs hike on the continental divide trail 2018

This section of the CDT passes through Rocky Mountain National Park and the Never Summer Wilderness as well as the Arapaho National Forest and Routt National Forest. This area is home to lots of Moose. Some pretty good views along the way, especially from Parkview Mountain. This is the last time the official CDT route reaches 12,000′ for a northbounder. 

Thursday July 12th – CDT Day 83

Started hiking around 11am. Not the early start I wanted, but I was busy getting things done that I probably should have done the last few days. It’s tough to get motivated to do chores in town when all you want to do is relax. And eat food.

With the weather threatening rain, I took the Rocky Mountain alternate, bypassing the 25 mi loop. The first four miles follow a creek uphill, with occasional meadow views. Saw a couple of moose.

After a short Road walk, the trail follows the dirt road into the Never Summer Wilderness. I saw a couple more moose here feeding in a meadow.

Now the trail starts it’s biggest climb up the day, 2500 ft. The Sun came out for a while after some really dark clouds and occasional rain patches. This made the walk through the forest a lot nicer. Stopped for lunch on a wooden structure supporting a bridge over a creek.

Great views as I reached tree line. Wildflowers are really out now and make a great addition to the already beautiful mountain scenery. Saw another moose as well. Lost my hat at some point, must have dropped it when taking pictures in a patch of flowers. Dang.

Went over Bowen Pass a little after 5pm. Great views. These mountains have a different feel than the rest of Colorado. Not sure why. Steeper, more spires… something.

Filtered water at the first stream below the pass. The weather was clearing up which it had not been doing the last few days at this time of the evening. Bonus.

The sun was out now which made for a nice hike this evening. Found camp around 9pm.

Miles – 22
Total Miles – 1306
Rain – yes
Sleep – Backcountry, tent
Animals – Moose, rabbit

Friday July 13th – CDT Day 84

Calm night, very silent. Started hiking at 7:45am.

First six miles were all forest. I reached small stream and stopped here to filter water. Columbus and space cadet showed up shortly after. So that’s who was camped 1/4 mile behind me last night.

The next part is a 3000′ climb up to the summit of Parkview mountain. This took much longer than anticipated, as It was often steep.

Better views as I climbed higher and higher.

The final ridge leading to the summit was nice. Colorful.

At the summit of Parkview mountain is an emergency shelter. I stopped here for a break and to enjoy the beautiful views. Columbus and space cadet arrived soon after.

Next I descended Parkview mountains’ west Ridge. This was the last time the official CDT reaches 12,000′, unless doing alternates in the Winds… Which I am! This ridge was one of my favorite moments in Colorado… So beautiful! Even though there were other spots along the trail in Colorado that were probably more impressive, something about the way the light was shining right now and my mood that made it so memorable.

By now I was running out of water and very thirsty. It was a couple of miles to the next stream. This dragged on forever! Chugged 1.5L at the steam and took 3L with me.

Lots more ups and downs this evening on the way to camp. This section, to Steamboat springs, has been much more work than I anticipated. Basically every section of trail, I think, it’s going to get a little easier for X reason. And it never does!

Got to camp around 8:45pm this evening.

Miles – 22
Total Miles – 1328
Rain – sprinkles
Sleep – Backcountry, tent
Animals – deer

Saturday July 14th – CDT Day 85

Left camp around 7:30am. The trail goes uphill for a while along the top of a ridge.

Later in the morning, I missed a turn for the CDT and followed another trail down another ridge. It was about a mile out of the way, so two miles total. And some climbing.

Stopped at a creek to filter some water, space cadet and Columbus were there too. It was a shallow stream and tough to get more than a liter in my dirty water bag, so that’s all I took. Another water source coming up soon.

Next is another 1000 ft climb. This is the last big climb of the day. Now up on another Ridgeline for a few miles of little ups and downs along a dirt road.

My new hat is a bandana, which is actually my pack towel. McGuyver approved

The trail follows Forest Road 103 downhill for many miles. I mostly enjoyed this section. Somewhere along this walk I decided to use my pack towel as a bandana to get some protection from the sun. I’ll have to order a new hat in Steamboat. 

Later in the evening, I passed through a cow pasture. First of its kind in Colorado. These cows were vocal and angry. I was looking for somewhere to camp about now, so this was a bit annoying.

I eventually entered some public land just as highway 14 came into sight. Tomorrow I’ll be Road walking that, but I need to find a spot to camp anywhere before that road. I found a spot at 9pm with little light to spare.

Miles – 29
Total Miles – 1357
Rain – no
Sleep – Backcountry, tent
Animals – deer, rabbit

Sunday July 15th – CDT Day 86

Broke camp at 7:15am, early for me. Ready for town! Looked pretty cloudy, potential for rain today?

It was less than a mile before I reached hwy 14, a paved road. Lots of traffic with occasional lack of shoulders makes for some crappy walking. A guy riding his bike from Seattle to North Carolina passed by. Otherwise, not much to say about today really, just walked 12 miles on paved roads. Not much to see here.

Reached rabbit ears pass at 10:45am, which took 3.5 hours. I got lucky and was picked up by maybe the 5th car… John, who worked for BAP, a Big Agnes sister company. Couldn’t have asked for a better hitch.

Ate a 14“ pizza from Brooklyns, then I booked a room at the Fairfield Inn. Nice room. Decent price considering the town. Took the free bus from downtown to the hotel. The bus driver had already hit something earlier apparently, as a cop was there at the transit station taking pictures of the damage. Then as the driver pulled out and made a sharp turn, the bike rack on the front of the bus clipped a sign or something. He started swearing and getting angry, which was pretty funny to be honest. Of course, I felt bad he was having such a rough day though. The passengers were giving him a hard time, in a playful manner. The bus driver was pretty cool about it considering how pissed off he was in the moment.

Showered up then meet Smeagol at McDonald’s for more food. Then we went to Walmart to resupply. This was not a full Walmart, they didn’t even sell men’s hats or honey buns! Typical Walmart, you go in with a list of 10 things and they only have 8.

Took the bus back to the hotel. Determined to catch up on sleep tonight. Oh, and there’s no LTE in Steamboat Springs for us AT&T customers. Bummer. Should have gotten Verizon before the hike.

Miles – 12
Total Miles – 1369
Rain – no
Sleep – hotel
Animals – deer

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I-70 (Frisco) to Grand Lake – CDT Thru Hike 2018

Continental Divide Trail – I-70 (Frisco) to Grand Lake Hike Overview

I70 to grand lake hike on the continental divide trail

North of I-70, the Sugarloaf Fire forced a reroute. This led me to bushwhack my own route around the closure before rejoining with the CDT. However, my return to the trail would be short lived. Thunderstorms kept me off the high ridges and forced a low route, taking me through the town of Winter Park. After rejoining the CDT yet again in the Indian Peaks Wilderness, I saw my first Moose on the CDT. 

Friday July 6th – CDT Day 77

I planned on leaving Frisco today to head back on Trail, but wasn’t sure what time yet. I haven’t fully decided on which route to hike yet either. The sugarloaf fire to the west has a 5 mile section of the CDT closed and a reroute has been suggested. Even though it’s only 5 miles closed, the reroute skipped over 20 miles of the official trail. I’ve got an idea that involves some bushwhacking but will skip over much less official CDT trail. It’s a high section and looks like it could be pretty scenic, and I’d rather not take a low route. Even if it would be easier.

I spent the morning on my phone, taking care of a few things… ordered new socks, ordered a part for my trekking pole that fell off, and ordered a camera sensor cleaning kit. I have some dust on my sensor and it’s showing up as dark spots on photos.

Sprinkler and I went to Safeway to buy groceries for the next section. We took the free bus system, which was a short and direct route this time.

Back at the motel, I went through my gear and thinned out some things. I’ve been carrying this unopened summer sausage a few weeks now and haven’t eaten it, time to let it go. I could also throw out my old shoes now that my new ones have proven themselves. The cascadia 13s are awesome!

Sprinkler and I later took the bus back up to North Frisco so we could eat at Wendy’s before I left. Sprinkler is staying another night. From here I ubered back up to the spot I left trail yesterday.

It was 6pm when I started hiking. I walked a few miles down at paved bike pathway that parallels interstate 70. This was actually a pretty nice walk for what it is.

After crossing under I70, I reached Herman Gulch trailhead. I still hadn’t decided whether or not to take the official reroute or the bush whacking route, and ended up just choosing the latter.

The first bit of Trail up Herman Gulch was steep. At least it didn’t last too long. Passed a few day hikers coming down. Both mentioned a nice campsite a few miles up.

The trail quickly pops through the trees and has some nice views of the valley. It was a pretty enjoyable hike, and I could already tell that this area was going to be something I’m glad I didn’t skip over had I done that reroute.

I found the campsite the other hikers mentioned and it lived up to the hype. There was a small space for 1 tent, and it was right next to a cascading Creek with snow capped mountains in the background. Pretty awesome spot.

Miles – 7
Total Miles – 1237
Rain – no
Sleep – Backcountry, tent
Animals – none

Saturday July 7th – CDT Day 78

Calm night. I slept well with the sound of the creek nearby.

Not long after leaving camp, I reached the top of the Ridgeline above Woods Creek. Now it was time to leave the trail and bushwhack downhill.

The first part was easy. I followed the creek and had little in the way of obstacles. Further downhill, the ground was soggy and there were a lot of willow bushes. I could head uphill a little bit, but then it’s steeper and dense forest. I’d call it a moderate bushwhack.

Eventually I reached an old road. It looks like someone had torn up the road up to make sure nobody could ever drive on it again. I was surprised to see two guys heading uphill here, didn’t think anyone hiked this. Father down, the dirt road flattened out.

Lake Urad Reservoir

The road led to large reservoir, named Lake Urad. There we’re lots of people camping, swimming, and fishing here. I continued to follow the road downhill for several miles. It passes by a water treatment plant, and some interesting signage.

The road eventually comes to a T intersection. I could go right on highway 40 or make a left on 144. I went left, which leads to Henderson mine. Here there is a trail that leads back up to the CDT.

The trail climbs about 600 ft before leveling off. Then it roughly follows the contour lines along the side of the mountains. I stopped to filter water and take a break, but now the clouds are building.

After my break, the trail starts climbing up Hill towards Stanley mountain. When I reached the tree line, I started to get some sprinkles and could hear lots of thunder. Most of it was distant, but then there was an extremely loud thunder clap nearby. Way too close for comfort. Yikes. Time to head down below tree line and wait this out.

Vasquez Pass

I got tired of waiting out storms and decided to take a low route. Backtracked a little and hiked over Vasquez pass. The plan is to follow Vasquez creek down to Silver park then back up to the CDT around mile 1335. This will cut off a few miles and eliminate some ups and downs. I also miss some great views, along with a lot of climbing, but it’s better than being at the mercy of storms. Ain’t nobody got time for that.

Vasquez Peaks Wilderness

The upper basin was wet and the trail was faint. It eventually turned into a dirt road. Many pine trees were sprouting up in the middle of the road. This is the Vasquez peak wilderness. It did not look like this area gets much use.

After leaving the wilderness, it was an hours walk down another dirt road, in a little better shape. I saw a deer and Porcupine along the way.

The road eventually led to a gate. Beyond it lied a Gauntlet of car campers that lined the road for several miles. Crazy numbers of people… 500? 800? There was one group alone that was like 80 strong.

The closer I got to town, the less available campsites there were. I didn’t realize this until it was too late… Literally. It was now after 9pm and running out of light fast. Then the national forest boundary ended and it was all private land now. I had no choice but to walk into the town of winter park now.

All the motels are expensive, and mostly booked. I had to stay at a pricey bed and breakfast place (winter park chateau), which I reached at 10pm. Long day, did 27 miles.

Miles – 27
Total Miles – 1237
Rain – yes, thunder, lightning
Sleep – hotel
Animals – deer, Porcupine

Sunday July 8th – CDT Day 79

Didn’t get as much sleep as I wanted, but a good hearty breakfast was a nice consolation. I then went to the winter park visitor center to get some info about how to get back up to the CDT from here.

I walked hwy 40 north for about an hour until I reached my turn, county road (?) 8. Is road was full of luxury vacation homes and condos. I walked this for another hour plus before it merged into forest road 128. This again was another hour plus walk. I saw a deer run across the road just feet from me.

I reached the Devils thumb/high lonesome trailhead after about 4 hours and took a break… Filtered water and ate lunch.

It was a short hike back to the official CDT from the trailhead. It’s good to finally be back on track.

The next section of trail was a little boring, just forest with occasional meadow views. I was trudging along in zombie mode when I came across 3 Moose. I’d only seen one Moose before on my life (from a car) so this was pretty cool. Shortly after, I saw another lone Moose in a field.

The next couple miles were more repetitive forest walking. Pretty much the whole afternoon, thunder could be heard in the distance. There were a small handful of meadows with nice open views of distant peaks.

When I reached the Indian peaks trailhead, it started raining. There was a locked cabin here, but it had a porch. I sat underneath it for a while until the rain stopped. Then a girl I’d met once before named Smeagol showed up. She joined me for a while before setting off together. We both wanted to reach Monarch lake tonight, another 6 miles.

We hiked some confusing sections of dirt road next. After realizing a road on the map didn’t exist, we bushwhacked up hill a quarter mile up to a small saddle to find another road. Another day in the life of a Continental Divide Trail hiker.

We hiked until dark, and then hiked some more. It started raining as the light faded. I pulled out the headlamp as the rain picked up. Time for rain jacket and backpack rain fly.

I continued down hill on the switchbacks in the steady rain. The batteries in my headlamp were dying, and the light became more dim. It took awhile to notice this, and when I did I realized the light was no longer helping. Fortunately I had another set of batteries. This was the first time I changed them on trail.

I finally found a flat spot next to the trail to set up my tent around 10pm. Two nights in a row now I’ve hiked late. I also wanted to get an earlier start tomorrow to get into town before the post Office closes, but at the same time, I refuse to run on much less than 8 hours of sleep.

Miles – 26
Total Miles – 1263
Rain – yes, thunderstorms
Sleep – backcountry, tent
Animals – deer, Moose

Monday July 9th – CDT Day 80

Woke up at 6:45 am. Beautiful morning, and apparently I wasn’t too far from Monarch Lake. The water was as smooth as glass.

As soon as I hit the trail, I started seeing day hikers and fisherman show up. Probably best that they didn’t see me camping where I was, as there was a sign saying not to Camp around the lake when I reached the trailhead. That’s what happens when you night hike, you wake up in the morning to see everything else you missed in the dark.

Bald Eagle

North of Monarch Lake the trail follows a dirt road. I wasn’t paying attention and went left around Ganby Lake when I should have went right. I hiked about a mile and a half before realizing this, and had to turn around and backtrack. I did see a bald eagle perched in a tree nearby while on the wrong side of the lake so at least I saw that.

Now on the correct side of the lake, the road becomes a trail. It’s a nice change of pace to be hiking alongside a lake. It even had some beach front.

The nice hiking didn’t last long though. The trail starts to climb above the lake and is riddled with blowdowns. It was about an 800 foot climb to the top of a Ridgeline. This was the final climb before Grand Lake. I saw several deer along the way.

I stopped to eat around 11:30. It was really hot today and there was not a whole lot of shade.

The trail then descends the Ridgeline down to the lake again. Eventually the lake narrows and it’s no longer a lake, but the Colorado River. Heading north I next reached grand lake, which also seems to be called Shadow Mountain Lake.

I eventually reached the road in town and several locals recognized me as a CDT hiker, and were interested in chatting about my journey. I had plenty of time to spare before the post office closed so it was not a worry. However, I was severely dehydrated and ready to get out of the Sun.

After leaving the post office I headed over to the shadow Cliff hostel. Apparently they are booked for the week. Bummer! I jumped on Priceline and booked a much more expensive hotel, as it was the only option. It was another mile walk back to this hotel.

I stopped to eat in Dairy King next door and saw Smeagol. She was staying two doors down for me at the hotel.

Later, Dixie and Aaron arrived at the hotel as well. We went out to eat at the sagebrush barbecue just before they closed.

Miles – 21
Total Miles – 1284
Rain – no
Sleep – hotel
Animals – deer, bald eagle

Tuesday July 10th – CDT Day 81 (zero day)

Ate breakfast at Sagebrush.

Patched the hole in my tent vestibule today. Had an extra piece of silnylon in my bounce box, so that worked out.

I got bad news from Easy today. He went to the clinic for foot pain, and found out his foot is broken. Unfortunately he’s going to have to leave trail until it heals. Best he can hope for is to get back on trail in 8 weeks, and make it as far north as possible. Such a bummer.

Got a pizza from white Buffalo. Pretty good. Sprinkler showed up tonight and we split a room.

Wednesday July 11th – CDT Day 82 (zero day)

Breakfast at Fat Cat, the popular breakfast joint in town. I thought it was pretty good.

I promised Smeagol I’d split a room with her tonight, so sprinkler got his own and I moved my stuff over to her room.

I spent the afternoon utilizing the contents of my bounce box. Resupplying batteries, toothpaste, OTC pills, etc. Additionally, I could now repair the hole in my backpack Rain cover and the hike in my backpack side pocket. Tenacious tape, silnylon patches and silicone to the rescue.

Bought groceries and packed that up. Ate dinner with sprinkler at dairy king.

After a lot of thought, I decided that I will no longer update my blog while hiking the CDT. It’s costing me too much time and money in town. It’ll be more work when I get home, but it’ll be better this way. This was a bummer but a huge weight off my shoulders. In the end I know it was the right call.

 

Like what you see?

Breckenridge to I-70 (Frisco) – CDT Thru Hike 2018

Continental Divide Trail – Breckenridge to I-70 (Frisco) Hike Overview

continental divide trail hike photo north of breckenridge

Despite the large number of roads encountered on this stretch, and the lack of a real wilderness feel to it, this one was of the more scenic sections of the CDT in Colorado in my opinion. There were lots of 4×4 vehicles and ATVs out here though. The mountains had a lot of color to them in this section… not just green, but reds and oranges too. Colorful Colorado indeed! Grays Peak and Torreys Peak are also along this route, the highest point along the Continental Divide Trail. 

Tuesday July 3rd – CDT Day 74

Woke up at 8 so I could eat breakfast. The fireside inn is actually a bed and breakfast place with a couple hostel style bunk rooms. Breakfast is a separate charge from the bunk room price, but saves the time of going out somewhere.

I walked to the City Market grocery store after leaving the hostel. I needed a few staple items… Tortillas, cheese, pepperoni, precooked bacon, honey buns and TP. I had everything else already between my Walmart.com shipment to the fireside inn and my left over food from the previous section.

Next I took the bus to the point whew I left trail with Ryan on Sunday. The stop actually is right at the CDT’s junction with CO Hwy 9 which was super convenient. The trail follows a paved road to a vacation home(??) community. It’s weird, the trail goes right through their properties and around a little man-made pond before climbing up some switchbacks. Lots of people coming down.

After an hour I ran into Sprinkler. We hiked the rest of the day together. Rain clouds in the distance, sun coming and going.

Not much to see today. The trail stays below tree line all day. We passed a guy hiking the Colorado Trail with his two young daughters. Apparently one of them was hit by a mountain biker earlier in the day.

Passed a dog training facility thing… Looked like some giant obstacle course and had a ton of dogs baking. Not camping near that.

Last water for 20 miles happened to be right before a 2800′ climb. It also started thundering and raining a bit. Needless to say, the decision to camp near the water source was an obvious one, Even if we hadn’t hit our 20 miles for the day. Got to camp at 6pm. Lots of Colorado trail hikers here.

Miles – 16
Total Miles – 1203
Rain – sprinkles
Sleep – Backcountry tent
Animals – Ptarmigan

Wednesday July 4th – CDT Day 75

Sprinkler and I woke up at 5:15am. I figured an earlier start would be best today with the ridge walking and potential for weather.

Today started with a 2800′ climb. Typical forest, then emerged from treeline to some colorful mountains.

Sprinkler and I took a break next to some snow fence. There’s a dirt road here that is also the Colorado trail. This is where the Colorado Trail splits off from the CDT, just a couple hundred feet away. Finally, less bikes and people in general. I also saw my first mountain goats here, grazing on the hillside above.

The trail now climbs up along a ridge line. Excellent views all around. Really, some of the best mountain views along the entire CDT thus far. However, the weather was turning. Rain could be seen in the distance for much of the rest of the day, as well as occasional sprinkles on myself.

Stopped for lunch along the highpoint at 13,025′. After lunch, we mostly followed some dirt roads. There was a ton of people out here on dirt bikes, ATVs, dune buggies and Jeeps since it’s July 4th.

Hiking up here is hard work. The trail drops a few hundred feet but stays high for a while at over 12,500′. Dark clouds loom and pose a threat, but no lightning to speak of. Such an impressive place to be. 

Rain sprinkles continued on and off throughout the afternoon. There was no shortage of colorful mountains all around. One doesn’t often think of mountains as colorful but they really are here. Lots of reds and oranges compliment the traditional greens. No wonder the state motto is “colorful Colorado”.

At Webster pass, sprinkler and I had a decision to make. Follow the ridge as the CDT route is supposed to, or head downhill and follow a series of roads to the base of grays peak. Considering the bad weather along the ridge, we took the low route. It had already been a long day with a ton of climbing so this was also a welcome choice. However, I know who miss out on a lot of great views. There was no water up there and no where to camp though, so logistically it didn’t really make sense. At least not this late in the afternoon.

We descended the 4×4 road dish to Webster creek as many side by side ATVs were going up. Filtered water at the creek which had a strong iron taste to it. No wonder, it looked a bit rusty. The sprinkles started again as we took our break, cutting it a bit short. Back to road walkin’.

The lower we went, the better the road got. Eventually it turned into a paved road, and even passed through a little town called Montezuma. Just residential homes, vacation homes more than likely. No store to buy a drink or anything. Stop signs were cemented into large barrels along the road. On one sign, Under the word “STOP”, someone had cleverly added the word “hammertime”. Classic.

Then we joined a dirt road along Peru creek, and we bumped into Charlie. Only seen him once before, back in the San Pedro Parks wilderness north of Cuba, NM. He hiked with us much of the rest of the evening.

Sprinkler and I started looking for camp where the trail starts to climb steeply up to Argentine pass, and Charlie hiked on. However, we could not find a suitable place to camp near anywhere below the ascent. Charlie aimed to camp in the upper basin, where it was a little flatter on the topo maps. We filled our water bags at the river and headed up hill towards this area.

When the destination was reached, I was disappointed with the options here. Ground was not flat enough and very lumpy. However, we were tired and it was getting late. This will have to do.

Long day. There’s no way we would have made it here if we took the ridge. Time for sleep.

Miles – 27
Total Miles – 1230
Rain – sprinkles
Sleep – Backcountry tent
Animals – mountain goats, deer

Thursday July 5th – CDT Day 76

Had a little rain last night, pretty light and only lasted 15 minutes. On trail at 7:15am.

From camp, the trail climbs one long path to the pass, angled up the mountainside.

From Argentine pass, the views just got better and better. Lots of ups and downs, tougher as the elevation reaches 13,000.

Stopped for a break before Mt Edwards. It had taken surprisingly long to get here, as it was now 10am or so. We could see storm clouds brewing behind grays peak, so we tried to pick up the pace.

The climb up Mt Edwards was often steep, and filled with false horizons. Great views going up through. Approaching the summit I could see a mountain goat laying down. He got up as I grew near, and limped away. It was pretty obvious he had an injured leg.

Holy crap, the views from Mt Edwards were awesome! Sheer cliffs on one side, grassy ridge on the other. I hiked up the grassy side, so the views were a big surprise.

After Mt Edwards, it’s a pretty gnarly traverse of a knife edge. And it’s not a short section, this goes on for a while. Easily the most exposed, technical section of the CDT so far. But awesome and a lot of fun!

Dark clouds building fast above grays peak. Then a little rain, and some thunder. We were a few hundred feet below the summit and decided to head cross country over to the switchbacks leading down hill and skip the summit. Better safe than sorry.

It rained on and off on the way down. After passing the grays peak trailhead, the weather really started to get nasty. Heavy rain and hail, nearly constant thunder. Fun stuff.

We reached I70 late afternoon. Not much traffic here so we ended up getting an Uber ride into Frisco. We stayed at the snowshoe motel and split a room.

Went to a pizza place and ordered an enormous Chicago style pizza. Meat lovers, of course. The mammal medley. Could only eat half!

Later while walking a street over from the motel, I saw a fox. Only the 3rd fox I’ve ever seen in my life.

The hotel had a hot tub, and I went looking for it. Apparently they converted room 29 into a little spa… Not only the hot tub, but a sauna as well. It was really nice actually. No pool next to it, no kids running around. Relaxing!

Miles – 11
Total Miles – 1230
Rain – heavy rain, thunder, hail
Sleep – hotel
Animals – mountain goats, marmot, fox

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Twin Lakes to Breckenridge – CDT Thru Hike 2018

Continental Divide Trail – Twin Lakes to Breckenridge Hike Overview

twin lakes to breckenridge hike on the continental divide trail

Highlights from the Twin Lakes to Breckenridge section of the Continental Divide Trail include Kokomo Pass, an abandoned WWII training facility, Mt Edwards and Mt Massive alternate routes, and a few scenic ridgelines overlooking the ski resorts of Copper Mountain and Breckenridge. North of Twin Lakes, the route isn’t blow-your-mind scenic, but it gradually improves and provides some excellent views. 

Thursday June 28th – CDT Day 69

Woke up at 9 today. Yeah! Slept in and it felt great. Didn’t really mean to though.

Picked up my package from the general store and bought some food there as well. The selection was thin, but with the food I had sent myself in the box I was okay.

There was no where to get breakfast in town so I had to wait until 11am when a nearby food truck opens. Burgers were only 1/3 pound, so of course I ordered a triple with fries. Gotta refuel before hitting the trail, right?

I ate lunch with Sprinkler and Inspector Gadget. Inspector Gadget then gave me a ride back to Willis Gulch trailhead so I could continue hiking where I left off last night.

It’s a 2 mile Road walk along Colorado Highway 82 until I split off the road at Gordon Gulch. My map shows a trail intersecting highway 82, but it’s a private residence here. I walked away from the property by a hundred yards and then headed up hill. It was a steep bushwhack. Then I skirted the hillside above the private residence. I eventually found a faint foot path that led to a dirt road, and eventually a real trail.

Twin Lakes

Lots of people on trail here, as its the base of Mt Elbert. Not much to see, but well maintained trail.

Really hot today… accuweather said 100° for Twin Lakes today! I dipped my hat into streams whenever possible to stay cool. Needless to say, I skipped climbing Mt Elbert. Maybe if I had gotten an early start, which wasn’t possible because of my need to hit the general store this morning.

I reached a trailhead for Mt Elbert close to 6pm. Here I saw several hikers I recognized but hadn’t seen in a while… Namely Marty and Emily, last seen at Doc Campbell’s. Earl Grey’s friend was here with beer and snacks for us hikers. I gladly accepted the beer and hung out here for a while.

After leaving the trailhead, I hiked with Mark and John for a while. This made the uphill climb go much faster.

I found camp on a wooded hill above a small stream after 8. Just under 60 miles to Breckenridge, should be there Sunday.

Warm night, and the mosquitoes won’t quit. Cowboy camping too, should be fun.

Miles – 14
Total Miles – 1139
Rain – no
Sleep – Backcountry, cowboy camp
Animals – none

Friday June 29th – CDT Day 70

I kept my mosquito head net on as I slept for a few hours last night, until the bugs died down. Got up at 6:30, hiking by 7:30.

Dixie adjusting her shoes

Hiked a couple miles and bumped into Dixie. We ended up hiking much of the day together.

Not much to see on trail today. It’s ups and downs in a forest with few distant views, but there were a couple of nice spots. Having someone to talk to made the day go by much faster.

One of the strangest people I met on the CDT

Dixie and I met an interesting old man north of the timberline lake trailhead. He was wearing a bright yellow shirt and only carrying a yellow fly swatter. No water, no backpack, nothing except the matching yellow flyswatter. Let’s just say he was as funny as he looked. And extremely talkative! He didn’t seem to be too fond of the Texans who often vacation here in Colorado.

Passed a couple of small lakes and streams. Eventually entered one scenic basin, nicest of the day.

The trail mostly heads downhill from here, towards Tennessee pass. Not much to see, just a walk in the woods after dipping below treeline.

After Tennessee pass, the trail follows some old railroad grade. I saw Dixie arriving at a campsite, and she offered to share the spot. Sounds good, this is about where I was hoping to camp on my map.

Mosquitoes were insane today. Setting up my tent tonight for safe refuge.

Miles – 25
Total Miles – 1164
Rain – no
Sleep – Backcountry, tent
Animals – none

Saturday June 30th – CDT Day 71

Sprinkler passed camp this morning, and Dixie left before I did. Several Colorado Trail hikers passed by as well.

Most likely these buildings were used to store ammo and munitions

The trail crossed hwy 24 and then followed it on the trees along a hillside. Then it dumps out into Camp Hale, an old WWII training facility for the 10th mountain division. There were signs for possible explosive danger and remnants of the camp itself. Ah abandoned buildings, just like back home in Detroit. Good place for a break.

Then the trail begins a 3000′ climb up to Kokomo pass. It wasn’t crazy steep and was pretty scenic. Passed a small waterfall where Dixie and I stopped for water, and more food. 

Sweet views from Kokomo pass. I stopped here for a while for pictures and did a time lapse with the GoPro. I think this was the first time lapse I’ve done on the CDT. This was disappointing to me, I wish I had taken some in New Mexico at a few spots.

The trail then climbs a little more to another great view point. Then it stays high in a basin for another 3 miles towards Searle pass.

I stopped on Searle pass for a while as well. All down hill from here.

Really nice hike this evening down to Copper mountain ski resort, at the bottom of the valley. I caught up with Dixie again, and we hiked the rest of the way down together. We discovered a restaurant that serves food until 9pm, so we hauled ass down to make it in time.

At the restaurant, we ran into Steve, a guy we met on trail earlier this evening. He offered to let us stay at his place in Dillion tomorrow night when we’re in his neck of the woods. Also, an older man bought us a round of drinks after over hearing our journey on the CDT!

After dinner, we road walked through town in the dark over to Tenmile creek. We found a place to camp near the river around 11pm. There were a couple of people who passed by in dark and shined their lights on us. One guy was hiking and kept going. The other was a biker. He shined his light directly on my face for like a minute. I shined my light back to let him know I was there, but he didn’t turn off his light. Finally, I said “hey, could you not shine your light in my eyes? trying to sleep here.” Then he finally left, without saying a word. WTF is wrong with people!

Miles – 26
Total Miles – 1190
Rain – no
Sleep – Backcountry, tent
Animals – marmot

Sunday July 1st – CDT Day 72

This is why I generally don’t like camping low, near rivers… Cold and tons of condensation. Frost on my bag and everything.

Late start, about 9:30. Steep at first. A lot of mountain bikers today.

After reaching tree line, the trail became less steep. Now its angling up to a ridge line with great views.

On the crest of the ridge, it’s copper mountain on one side and Breckenridge on the other. Man, I gotta get out here in the winter and ski.

Nice views coming down above tree line. I just talked to my friend Ryan, he was almost there at the Gold Hill trailhead along Colorado Highway 9. He said he was going to start hiking uphill and that way I would meet him on trail as I was coming down hill. Time to hurry my ass up.

For whatever reason it was fairly slow going this afternoon. It took a little bit longer than I expected but eventually I saw him hiking uphill with his dog Yogie. We turned around here and headed back to the trailhead where he parked. I noticed a forest fire burning off in the distance from here as well. 

After reaching the trailhead we headed into Breckenridge for food. I had been told Empire Burger was excellent, so that’s where we headed. The biggest burger they had was a double so I added another Patty to make it a triple. The waiter said it was the largest Burger he’d ever seen anyone order, although it was only one pound. And it was delicious!

Afterwards we got a hotel in Silverthorne that was pet friendly. We tried going out to a couple breweries but none of them had a pet-friendly patio so we headed back to the hotel. Luckily the hotel had a hot tub and I enjoyed a nice soak.

Miles – 13
Total Miles – 1203
Rain – no
Sleep – hotel
Animals – rabbit

Monday July 2nd – CDT Day 73 (zero day)

Wish I had more time to sleep but we got up early for breakfast. Ryan also had to leave town by 8am.

Ryan dropped me off at the Fireside Inn hostel after breakfast. This is where I initially had planned on staying. It was a little after 8am. so I was pretty early. They let me set my backpack inside the garage and I went out and wandered the city for a couple hours until they had a chance to accommodate me. I went into a couple of souvenir shops as well as fly fishing shops to pick up some stickers and things for my dad.

Later in the day I walked up to the post office and mailed back all of my rocks I’d been collecting, as well as the stickers and souvenirs I just bought for myself and my dad.

Afterwards I headed up to REI in Dillon. The summit stage bus system is free and provides transportation in the Frisco, Dillon, Silverthorne, and Breckenridge areas. However. It was a little complicated, at least for someone who has never used public transportation before. It just doesn’t exist in Detroit… You get in your own car and go wherever you want. After realizing it was going to take a very long time to get there, with all the bus transfers and things, I just got out at one of the first stops and picked up an Uber for 15 bucks.

At REI I bought a new pair of shoes, brooks cascadia 13s. This is the first time I’d seen them. I’ve been using the 12s on trail to to this point. I liked them initially but will carry my old pair until they prove themselves. I got 650 miles of of the first pair of 12s and 550 miles out of the second pair. However, I could have hiked more miles in the 2nd pair, I just decided to get them now while it was convenient.

I also picked up some sawyer permathin bug spray for clothes and gear. The mosquitoes have been so bad, I’ll try anything… Except bug spray. Don’t want that on my sleeping bag!

I tried using the bus again after leaving REI. Big mistake. The stupid bus drove around for an hour and a half without ever going to the stop I wanted in Silverthorne as the map indicated it would. I eventually got off after an hour and got an Uber again.

For dinner I ate a large pizza from a place called “extreme pizza”. It was good but there was nothing extreme about it.

Bed by 10. Will get back on trail tomorrow, after breakfast and stopping at the grocery store.

Miles – 0
Total Miles – 1203
Rain – no
Sleep – hostel
Animals – none

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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

 

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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