RT Length: 14.15 miles
Elevation Gain: 5337’
I’ve taken the Willow Lake trail several times, and I’m guessing if you’re doing this peak you have too, so I’m going to start this report from the camping area just before Willow Lake. If you’d like detailed instructions on the approach, click here
I would also like to recommend pairing this up with other peaks in the area: PT 13153, Mt Adams, PT 13580, etc. This felt like a really easy day.
I was on the trail at 4:30am, surprised at how easy the approach was this time. I attribute it to taking the week off from hiking to visit my son in Alaska, and in doing so, consuming about 10 times more calories than I normally would, thus giving me an excess of energy.
There are several spots to camp just before making it to Willow Lake, including one very large area at 11500’. There are still plenty of areas to hang bear bags already set up (for public use). I continued to hike west. My tracker told me I’d hiked 5.3 miles to this point.
I followed the sign left that took me on the trail for Challenger/Kit Carson
About 10 yards after this sign I left the trail and headed north up the hillside. There are cairns here, but they may be difficult to see in the tall grass.
There are game trails here. I saw tons of deer and bighorn sheep the last time I was here, and this time I saw a few deer. Find a game trail and follow it north, keeping the creek to your left and rock outcropping to your right.
At the top of this hill there are cairns indicating you should go right, but if you do so, you’ll be going through a lot of willows. Instead, parallel the creek, staying to the right of the creek, and you can follow a game trail to the end of the basin, staying out of the willows, or at least keeping them to the easy ones that just reach your knees. Just keep heading north.
You’re aiming for this gully
Here are some step-by-step photos (just keep heading north, this is class 2 terrain on tundra). First, stay to the right of the creek, and to the left of the willows
Then, continue north towards the gully. I was easily able to cross a creek and avoid the willows. I kept to the left of the willows and right of the creek the entire time.
Next, I ascended the gully. This was easy as far as gullies are concerned. I was able to stay mostly on grassy areas. Note, you do NOT need to ascend all the way to the top of the gully. About 15 feet before topping out, take the grassy ramp to the left, staying below the rock outcropping of the ridge.
This grassy area is easy to follow. I just stuck below the rock. Here’s an overview of the route to the summit.
And step by step, first, following the ridge west
After the rocky ledge, I stayed on the ridge all the way to the summit. Once again, all class 2, and you can stick to the ridge.
Yes, this stays at class 2 (it looks harder than it is)
There’s a small false summit, and then it’s an easy trek to the peak
I summited PT 13546 at 8:30am
It was a hazy day. There was a summit register, but it was one of those pipe ones, so the paper inside was wet. It was also completely full of signatures, so I left the paper in the tube and added another one. There was a nice view of the Crestones; I just wish it was a little less hazy today.
I turned and headed back the way I came in, aiming for the Adams/13546 saddle. If you look closely, you can see a route to Mt Adams. I still had to get to work today, so I didn’t have time for Mt Adams (or PT 13153). Both look straightforward though from the saddle.
Here’s how I exited the ridge
Once back on the saddle, I headed south out of the basin
At the south end of the basin, I turned and followed the grassy ridge down (make sure you’re on the grass, not in the trees: there will be game trails here)
From the grassy area, the trail is easily visible. I made it to the trail, and followed it west, back to the trailhead.
I made it back to my truck at 11:30am, making this a 14.15 mile hike with 5337’ of elevation gain in 7 hours. While it was hazy today, it felt like a perfect day to be out!