RT Length: 8.5 miles
Elevation Gain: 3221’
I’d already considered this a successful Memorial Day weekend: I’d climbed 3 peaks in the San Juans without (major) incident. Saturday I did all the “mom” stuff: Washed all the sheets, did the laundry, went shopping, vacuumed, re-planted a few plants destroyed in the storm last week, and took my daughter ice skating. As we were having dinner I asked my 16 year old what she wanted to do tomorrow? Sleep and study for finals. Hmmm… it looked like I had another morning free to hike! I didn’t want to do anything too far away because it was Memorial Day and I wanted to make something special for dinner, so I did a very quick search of peak conditions and settled on a peak I didn’t need much info to hike: Mt Wilcox.
Mt Wilcox is generally done as a loop with Argentine Peak and Square Top Mountain, but I’ve already done both other peaks previously and just needed to tick off this one in the area, making it the perfect choice for this morning.
Yes, Mt Wilcox seemed like a quick and easy 13er, and there was a close 12er I could hike if all was going well. I didn’t do much research but I also couldn’t find much information in the 10 minutes or so I spent gathering information. I looked at a few trip reports, printed out a shaded topo map and was ready to go.
I arrived at the Guanella Pass Campground / Silver Dollar Road trailhead at 4am and was on the trail by 4:15am. I put on snowshoes in the parking lot and kept them on for the entire hike. I did not regret this decision: they were a bit overkill in the morning, but very helpful on my way back.
I followed the Silver Dollar Road Trail for a little over a mile. The road was still covered in a few feet of crunchy ice.
I followed the road all the way to Naylor Lake, which was covered in ice as well. I steered clear, but it looked like others had recently tried to ski across it?!?!?
There were a few cabins here, some mostly covered in ice. There were footprints and ski tracks everywhere.
At the lake the trail ended and I headed Northeast through the trees and up a small gully to treeline
My beta told me to ascend here, to which (in the dark) I said nope.
There had to be an easier way! I decided to trek along the small basin to see if there was an easier way to get up and over this part. I knew from looking at my topo map once I got above this area the terrain would just slope. I came to this point and thought to myself “this is doable”, picked a line, and made my way up.
It was still pretty steep, but nothing as dramatic as the suggested route. It’s amazing how snow changes things! On the topo map this area looked very similar to Elkhead Pass, which I was unable to downclimb, yet this was manageable.
I made it up this difficult area and then was greeted with a long white climb up snow
Every so often I’d look back, waiting for the sun to rise. The Sawtooth looks pretty cool!
I kept heading west until I could see the summit of Mt Wilcox. When it came into view I thought to myself “That’s it? That looks too easy!”
What I didn’t realize was it’s much further than it looks. I had a hard time focusing on the path ahead of me because I kept turning around to watch the sunrise. Alpine sunrises are the best!
They turn the snow pink for 5 minutes or so
The snow here was very consolidated and easy to navigate. I wasn’t making any tracks though
This hike wasn’t very challenging, but it didn’t seem like I was getting any closer to Mt Wilcox
I’d climb over one area, just to be greeted with another slope
The summit was snow covered, with amazing views!
The hike to the summit hadn’t taken me very long and I wasn’t tired, so I decided to head over to Otter Mountain.
This was very easy. I hiked northeast down the slope of Mt Wilcox to about 12,300’ (losing about 1100’ in elevation) and then just ascended Otter Mountain
Here’s a look back at Mt Wilcox from the base of Otter
The only downside (besides the 400+ feet in elevation gain I had to regain) was the sun was rising as I was hiking up Otter Mountain. I was hiking directly into the sun, which was less than ideal
I kept trying to race the sun, trying to make it to the shadows, hiking faster than it was rising, and when I was almost to the top I won!
The last 100 feet or so in elevation gain were on dry tundra, so I took off my snowshoes and hiked the rest of the way with them in my hands
Yay summit views!
I summited Otter Mountain at 7:15am
One thing I really like about 12ers is it’s easy to breathe while you’re hiking to the summit. I turned around to look at Mt Wilcox and the path I’d taken
Time to head back. I knew I could just take the slope of Otter Mountain down to the parking lot,
But I wanted to get day pictures of the hike, so I made it a loop. I stayed high to avoid the drainage area (which was a serious drop from every angle). Here’s the path I took back
And a look back at Otter Mountain and the route I took from the Mt Wilcox ledge area
Time to try and find my tracks and head back down! Another reason I wanted to make this a loop was to see how difficult the downclimb would be. I can climb up terrain no problem, but the downclimb still puts me on edge sometimes, and I considered this great practice without too much commitment (a fall wouldn’t be too far and it would land me in the willows).
I hate saying this, but once again, it’s steeper than it looks
I made it down successfully to the willows
And trekked back to Naylor Lake. It looked like someone had been skiing in the area recently. As I passed the cabins I noticed a “No Trespassing” sign near an open gate. Note: in the dark on the way in I hadn’t seen the gate OR the “No Trespassing” sign. It wasn’t reflective and had been covered in snow. The gate was 90% covered in snow, open, and had tracks going straight through it. The rest of the hike was done in slushy conditions, even though it wasn’t yet 9am. I was glad I’d worn snowshoes. I made it back to my truck at 9am, making this an 8.5 mile hike in under 5 hours. I made it home by 11:30am, 30 minutes before my promised 12pm arrival.
OK, so obviously all I thought about on my way home were those “No Trespassing” and “Private Property” signs. I was mad because I hadn’t realized this was private property and because I’d been following tons of footprints (meaning others hadn’t been respecting private property either). I was mad at myself for not doing more research before the hike (I hadn’t checked maps that would have given me this information) and I was upset all the trip reports I’d looked at (although few) hadn’t mentioned private property and I’d taken their advice. Also, I kept seeing NFS trail signs, so I had no idea I was on private property.
The first thing I did when I got home was look up a map and find a way to fix this. I didn’t have this map on my trek: I made it when I got home. (The topo I had just had slope angle and terrain, and didn’t include the lakes (etc)). Please don’t take my route (the dotted line). There’s another route you can take to the left of Naylor Lake that will get you around the lake, looks easier than the route I took in some areas, and will keep you on public lands.
Also, I will gladly donate tons of Girl Scout cookies to the Naylor Lake Club as penance (and you should close your gates and put up reflective signs for us early birds if you don’t want trespassers… just sayin’).
The best part about my hike? I met some friends by the side of the road on my way down!
Oh, and Memorial Dinner was a great American dish: Beef with Broccoli (but at least I grilled the beef on the grill before adding the glaze… ).