Mount Marcy – 13,490 and Silver Peak – 13,513

RT Length:  16.6 miles

Elevation Gain: 5573’

I wanted an early start for this peak, but not too early.  I knew it had snowed the past couple of days, but only a few inches:  I had no idea what to expect when it came to conditions, above or below treeline.  I got a later start than usual because I was making this a loop and wanted to get pictures on the way in of the route.  I gathered my gear and was on the trail at 5:30am.

I started following the Gibson Creek trail west, and after about .1 of a mile, turned right onto 1336 (the sign is still damaged) and followed 1336 past the first junction (this is where the loop connects) and turned left onto 1349.  I had hiked for a total of 1.3 miles at this point.

There was now snow on the trail.  It was still dark, and I could hear an owl hooting in the trees. I saw lots of rabbit tracks, and some elk tracks as well.  Mine were the first footprints. I continued following trail 1349 as it switchbacked up the mountainside.

At 10350’, and after a total of 3.4 miles of hiking, the trail will stop increasing in elevation and start heading towards trail 1351.  It was here I left the trail and headed west up the ridge.  I was worried there would be a lot of downfall here, like there is when heading up towards Gibbs Peak, but the ridgeline was surprisingly manageable below treeline.

Along the ridge I came across two separate sets of bear tracks, both heading south

I kept heading west, following the ridge.  Just at treeline, and before topping out, I skirted the ridge to the left. 

There is no need to ascend to PT 12245.  Instead, I stayed just a bit south of the point, then gained the ridge by losing elevation.

Once on the ridge the conditions varied.  They started out with easy, lightly covered-in-snow tundra.  I followed the ridge southwest.

I was able to see Mount Marcy and Silver Peak clearly at this point. 

I continued following the ridge southwest, through varying conditions.  There were a lot of elevation gains and losses. I was aiming for the point in the middle. The difficult areas are circled in red (only difficult because of today’s current snow conditions). The rest of the ridge was a class 2 ridge walk. 

The snow had drifted in some areas, and snowshoes were helpful.

I went straight up and over this, using snowshoes in the beginning, and then taking them off to scramble up the rock.

Here I dipped down to the right to navigate the rocks, and then quickly re-gained the ridge

Here are the next few obstacles, and the path I took.  If I didn’t stay directly on the ridge, I dipped to the right.

I kept aiming for the highest point on the ridge

The last push was the hardest.  This was difficult class 3 climbing on the snow.  I stayed mostly in the center of the ridge

Here are some closer pictures of the class 3 scrambling to the top

From the top, here’s looking back at the ridge

I now turned right and followed the easy ridge towards Mount Marcy

It was difficult to tell where the true summit was, and there were two cairns at the top.  I went with the one furthest north, as it had a summit register and required me to pass the first cairn, thus ensuring I’d hit the summit at some point. 

I summited Mount Marcy at 11:40am

Mount Marcy:

I headed back the way I’d come, and headed towards Silver Peak.  I didn’t re-summit the high point, but skirted it to the right on easy terrain

And then followed the ridge to the saddle

Here’s looking back at Mount Marcy.  The black arrow is how I accessed the ridge

But now, to continue towards Silver Peak

I made it to the saddle, and picked my route. By sticking to the very top of the ridge I was able to keep this class 3, although there were some tricky moves with the snow. Here’s the route I took

And some closer pictures of the ridge

Topping out of the ridge was class 2

I then headed south towards the summit

I summited Silver Peak at 1pm

Silver Peak:  

I was making this a loop, so from here I wanted to descend into the Lakes of the Clouds basin.  To do this I followed the ridge about 50 feet south, then turned left and headed east.  It’s important to follow the contour of the ridge, as it cliffs out if you go too far north.  Here’s a visual from earlier in the day.  You’re trying to avoid the cliffs I the circled area

Please note:  I’ll show you how I made it down to the Lakes of the Clouds, but I do NOT recommend this as a winter/winter conditions route, and it’s probably not ideal in summer either.  There was snow in the top of the avalanche chute, and it was mid-October.  The gullies were unstable and difficult to navigate while covered in snow, and it was hard to find a direct route down.  The only positive was the creeks were low, so I was able to walk directly in them to avoid the willows.  (Willows:  another reason to avoid this route, just go back and take the ridge down). 

I made my way into the basin, first heading south, and then east

Once I could see them, I was aiming for this lake, where a trail would pick up

The route required me to cross/use an avalanche route/drainage area.  To navigate this, I stayed as high as possible, once crossing the drainage

I stuck to the stream whenever possible, which would ultimately lead to the lake

I have to say, this part of the hike was miserable.  I had to watch every step, and took considerable time dusting snow off rocks to make sure I had secure hand/foot placement.  It was getting later in the day, so snow stuck to my microspikes.  I lost a spike somewhere along the way… probably in a stream crossing, as the snow that had built up on my foot became engorged with water, much as a snow cone would when adding syrup, became heavy, and slushed into the muck.  Long story short:  my feet were wet the entire hike back to my truck.

Here’s looking back at how I came down from Silver Peak.  The top of the avalanche area is circled in red, and flows all the way to the lakes

I skirted the lake to the left and at the north end of the lake came upon trail 1349, which was packed down this morning by fishermen heading to the lakes

I took Trail 1349 for 3.75 miles, back to Trail 1336, and the to the Gibson Trailhead.  This is a great, class 1 trail.  The only downside are all the softball-volleyball sized rocks littering the path

I made it back to my truck at 4:30pm, making this a 16.6 mile hike with 5573’ of elevation gain in 11 hours.

Author: Laura M Clark

Laura has summited over 500 peaks above 13,000' solo, including being the first woman to solo summit all of the Colorado 14ers, as well as the centennials. After each hike, she writes trip reports for each one and publishes them on her blog, which is read by fans all over the world. Author of Wild Wanderer: Summiting Colorado’s 200 Highest Peaks, which is available to purchase on Amazon.

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