Chiefs Head Peak – 13,577

RT Length:  18.17 miles

Elevation Gain:  5476’

I parked at the Sandbeach Lake Trailhead at Rocky Mountain National Park, and was on the trail at 4:30am.

The Sandbeach Lake Trail was a class 1 trail I took all the way to Sandbeach Lake.  There were 2 creek crossings, but they had footbridges across.

It was 5 miles to Sandbeach Lake. Once at the lake, the fastest way to skirt the lake and find a trail is to go right here

But I wanted to see the lake, so I did, and then followed the lake past a small stream, and caught up with the trail there.  

After crossing the creek, I followed the trail northeast to treeline.  When the trail ended, there were plenty of cairns to guide the way (circled in red).

Once at treeline, I kept aiming for Mt Orton (unranked). There were cairns to mark the way until I was in front of Mt Orton

I then skirted Mt Orton to the left, and went through a very small saddle

I could now see an easy path to Chief Head’s ridge.  Here’s the route I took

And some close-up pictures

Once on the ridge, I followed it .3 miles to the summit, on rocky terrain.  I was able to keep it all class 2 by staying to the left.

There wasn’t a summit register, or a cairn, or a marker, so I just walked all over the rocky summit.

I summited Chiefs Head Peak at 11am

Chiefs Head Peak:

From the summit I had an amazing view of Pagoda, Longs, and Meeker

This was an out and back hike, so I turned and retraced my steps back down the mountain, around Mt Orton, and to Sandbeach Lake

The cairns picked up again, and I could now see Sandbeach Lake, so route finding was easy until I hit the trail.

Back at the lake, I picked up the Sandbeach Lake Trail, and took this class 1 trail all the way back to the trailhead.

I made it back to my truck at 3:15pm, making this an 18.17 mile hike with 5476’ of elevation gain in 10 hours 45 minutes.

On to the next trailhead!

Clark Peak – 13,579

RT Length: 25.36 Miles

Elevation Gain:  6619’

This was my second attempt of Clark Peak.  On the first attempt I’d been unaware there was a creek crossing, and the creek looked too high for me to safely cross in the dark.  A storm was coming in later in the day, so waiting for daylight hadn’t been an option.  I’d turned around and done another peak instead.  This time I was prepared (or so I thought) for the creek crossing.  Also, please don’t make the same mistake I did crossing the creek…

I drove to the trailhead the night before and got a few hours sleep before staring on the trail at 5:45am.  The trailhead has space for about 20 vehicles, and good signage

I started off following the Maroon Snowmass Trail south, and then southwest.  I went through two unlocked gates

And shortly after the second gate there’s an unmarked side trail that leads down to cross Snowmass Creek. However, after my last failed attempt I’d done more research, and was told I’d gone too far last time and to look for an easier crossing earlier.  So I did.  I ended up crossing the creek and then running into Beaver Ponds about 20 yards long.  I was able to gingerly cross them, stepping through a thin layer of ice while doing so.  I picked up a faint trail on the other side, which brought me to the actual trail, where I noticed last time I’d indeed been in the correct area.  Hmph.  So I’d done all that wading in cold water for nothing.  Here is where you should cross:

Doing so will bring you to the West Snowmass Creek Trail.  A well-defined, class 1 trail.

The trees were absolutely beautiful!  It was still early morning, so these pictures aren’t the greatest, but the trees had me daydreaming.

This is where I made my second mistake of the morning:  I missed the cutoff.  The cutoff comes after hiking for just over 4.5 miles.  It’s an obvious junction you can see if you’re not looking up at the trees. And cows (there were cows in the meadow). I ended up hiking quite a ways past this junction, just following the trail.  It wasn’t until I realized I was switchbacking and I wasn’t supposed to be that I noticed my mistake.  This mistake cost me well over a mile and added about 1000’ of elevation to the hike.  Here’s where you turn left

After hiking a few dozen yards south the trail abruptly ends.  When it ends, turn right and head west towards the hillside.  A trail will pick on the hillside.

Here’s where I made my third (and final) mistake of the morning:  When you see the path split in two, take the higher one (the lower one is a cow trail that leads you through gooey mud then ends).

From this point on the trail becomes faint.  At times I questioned whether I was on an actual trail at all.  It will parallel West Snowmass Creek, and stay high.  Here are some photos:

I came to a clearing and headed southeast, crossed West Snowmass Creek, and once again picked up a trail.

I took this trail to treeline, where it ended. I put pink surveyor’s tape on a tree so I’d know where the trail picked up on my way back.   

From here the rest of the hike was full of rocks and boulders.  I headed southwest

I lost a little bit of elevation before gaining it again

Rock-hopped up this drainage

Followed the creek for a bit until it ended

Ascended another drainage and at the top turned left to skirt Moon Lake

This basin never seems to end!  I just kept heading southwest

At the end of the basin it was time to gain the ridge.  I stayed right of the drainage. 

This was mostly class 2, but towards the end became class 3 to avoid the snow

Once I gained the ridge I turned left and followed it to the summit.

Ha!  That’s an oversimplification.  I did indeed follow the ridge. The ridge proper goes all the way to the summit.  However, it’s a fun scramble to get there, with a lot of exposure, and more than one knife edge.  If you did Capitol Peak and it left you wanting more, this is the peak for you!  Here are some highlights:

I summited Clark Peak at 2:25pm

Clark Peak:

There were some great views of Snowmass and Capitol Peak, and check out the ridge looking back!

Here’s looking back on the way in through the basin and around Moon Lake

Here are some pictures of the ridge on the way back.  I had fun with the exposure here

At the saddle I turned right and headed back through the basin

Skirting Moon Lake to the east and back to the trees

Next profile pic?

Once at treeline I picked up the trail again.  After crossing West Snowmass Creek I headed for the trees.  The trail picks up again in-between these two trees

Here are some pictures of the trail back down.  As I was hiking, I heard a faint bugle.  It didn’t sound like a normal elk call:  it sounded close but faint.  Usually when I hear an elk bugling it resonates, it’s crisp, and I can hear it from far away.  This didn’t seem loud enough for being so close. As I reached the meadow I noticed a hunter sitting beneath a tree.  I raised my hand to silently say hi, he did the same, and I continued back to the trail.

I kept picking up my pace.  Due to this morning’s route finding errors this hike was taking me much longer than I’d anticipated.  It was quickly getting dark, and I wanted to get back to cell service so I could call my daughter and tell her I was ok, just running late.  I ended up using a flashlight for the last two miles of the hike.  Here are some pictures from the rest of the way back to the creek.

I crossed the creek and took Maroon Snowmass Trail back to the trailhead

I made it back to my truck at 8pm, making this a 25.26 mile hike with 6619’ of elevation gain in just over 14 hours.

Rosalie – 13,579 “Epaulie” 13,537 West Pegmatite Points 12,227


RT Length – 14.5 miles

Elevation Gain – 5920’

Sometimes hiking in the Spring is similar to hiking in the summer, in that you still need to be off the mountain before noon to avoid encountering storms, but spring storms tend to include snow.  Today’s forecast called for 70% chance of snow after 12pm so I decided to get an early start.  I arrived to what I thought was the trailhead around 3:30am only to discover I was not in fact at the trailhead.  You see Google couldn’t find the Deer Creek trailhead so I just set it for Deer Creek Campground and figured I’d find the trailhead from there.  I made it to the campground, drove through, and took a dirt road .8 miles only to arrive at a locked gate.  I figured this was the trailhead so I found a place to park, got out my gear, and walked to the gate, only to discover this was instead private property, I was being filmed, and there was no public access.  OK, so I went back to my truck and tried again.  It seems you don’t actually enter the campground, but at this sign turn right and follow the road to the end to find the Deer Creek Trailhead.


This is listed as a 4wd trailhead and I agree, much of the year it’s probably a 4wd TH, but today it was navigable by most 2wd vehicles.  There was only one short area where it would give me pause if it was raining, but I’m confident most 2wd vehicles can make it to the trailhead today.  It’s located on a well maintained road with several overflow spaces for parking along the road itself.


I made it to the new (actual) trailhead and in the dark couldn’t tell if I was seeing snow or mud or rocks so I just parked as near the entrance as possible for easy exit.  I was the only car in the lot when I arrived and when I left, despite this being a Friday (oh, and the parking lot was dry, so I could have parked anywhere).


The trail begins at the west end of the parking lot.  I knew I was at the right area immediately because I saw this sign


And within a quarter of a mile I saw this bridge.  I hadn’t been expecting a bridge, but I crossed it and continued following the dry trail


This is a well maintained class 1 approach, but in the dark I took a wrong turn somewhere and ended up navigating around a bunch of downed trees.  I discovered on my way back I was taking an old trail that was closed due to said downed trees, but in the dark the obvious trail wasn’t so obvious.  So, if you’re hiking in the dark note:  If you come to an area that’s not passable in the dark stick to the creek.  There is an easy trail to follow, (as long as you don’t lose it…)


I crossed another log bridge in the dark


And came to a junction. Here you go right and take the Tanglewood Trail (not the Rosalie trail, even though you’re going to Rosalie).


Shortly after this junction there’s a trail register.  A permit is required to hike here.  It’s free and you just fill out the information.  It just lets you know what Leave no Trace is and asks you follow basic trail etiquette.  You let them know how many people are in your party and leave the top half in the box.  There were plenty of permits and pencils.  I filled one out and continued on my way.


I lost the trail once again for a short while when I encountered old avalanche debris, but turned towards the creek and found the trail again.  Once again, this was a “my bad in the dark” kind of situation.  In daylight there was no issue.


I was now about 2 miles in and the snow began to cover the trail.


Due to the warm temperatures last night I immediately began postholing.  What’s funny is I started seeing tracks that looked like moose or elk tracks.  I spent a considerable amount of time trying to decide if they were Elk or Moose, but they looked like both?  In the beginning they were confined to just an inch or two of postholing, but eventually the animal(s) were postholing knee deep or more as well.  I bet they’re looking forward to the snow being gone.


There were tons of tracks and I was confused because some looked like elk and some looked like moose.  I figured the area was more conducive to moose as the willows and creek provide their food source, but I was seeing mixed evidence of both.  And then I came upon scat.  Tons and tons of scat, and it became evident there are both moose and elk in the area, and probably some babies as well.

The snow didn’t stop until treeline, and if anything the postholing got worse.  I was stubborn and didn’t put on my shnoshoes until I made it to the willows, where they were absolutely necessary.


Here I again lost the trail but knew I just needed to gain the saddle so I headed west up and through the willows, only sinking to my waist a handful of times.  Oh, and did I mention the elk and moose scat?  It was covering the floor of the willows; piles and piles at a time.  And those buggers make their own trails through the willows, which stop when they look like they go (and vice versa).   This is definitely an area they bed down in.


Just heading towards the saddle…



Here’s where I was headed


There hadn’t been much of a sunrise (no alpenglow) but I was pleasantly surprised there wasn’t a cloud in the sky!  This was great news, as there were many peaks I was interested in summiting today and it looked like the weather was cooperating.  I gained the saddle and turned left to follow the ridge


This ridge was mostly a gentle ridge.  I was lazy and didn’t want to take off my snowshoes so I kept to the snow even though it was avoidable.


This ridge is longer than it looks, and the snow towards the middle gets steep (but nothing too dramatic, snowshoes were fine).  I just kept aiming towards the next landmark (rock) and hiked on.


I made it to what I thought was the summit only to be greeted with the true summit in the background


I kept going another quarter mile or so to the summit of Rosalie


The summit was rocky and dry.  I summited at about 7:50am



Rosalie Summit: Rosalie

I had some great views of a couple of 14ers, but I was headed towards another 13er: “Epaulie”.  I could see some clouds gathering in the background and the wind was picking up, but I wasn’t too worried about the weather;  I had until noon for snow, right?


Hiking down to the saddle of Rosalie/”Epaulie” I took off my snowshoes and navigated the rocky slope.  At least the rocks were stable.


The entire hike to the saddle I kept my eye on “Epaulie” and tried to decide on the route I wanted to take to the summit


Looking at “Epaulie” from here I thought taking the right side would be a good choice since there was continuous snow, but as I got closer I realized just how steep that snow was and decided to head left instead.  This ended up being a good choice.  Snowshoes and an ice axe were a good choice as well, as the snow was very consolidated, smooth but rock hard, and steep.  Here’s the route I took


Towards the top the snow gets very steep and I was thankful for my ice axe the last 50-75 feet or so.  And btw, those are very large rocks encases in ice/snow, not dirt.


The summit made for some fun bouldering


I’m not sure when I summited because it was quite windy and I was keeping an eye on those clouds, which were moving in fast!  I took a summit selfie with my DSLR and kept my cell phone in my pocket.


I looked over at Epaulet Mountain.  I’d wanted to summit this unranked 13er also today, and the weather was looking pretty good towards Epaulet, but those clouds back over Rosalie were worrying me.


I gave it a quick thought and remembered there was a ranked 12er close to the saddle on my way back down.  In the end I decided not to summit the unranked Epaulet and to instead head back and attempt the ranked 12er (if the weather held out).  I figured it was better to be closer to a bail out point if the weather turned.  It looked like the weather was anxious to get started early this afternoon.

I exchanged my snowshoes for crampons for the way down.  Again, another excellent choice.

I turned around and re-summited the rocky Rosalie (taking off my crampons for this part)


And looked at my intended route towards 12er West Pegmatite Points.


This looked easy enough, and in front of me the path seemed clear of weather (but clouds were increasing behind me).  I headed down towards the saddle and about halfway down felt my backpack give a quick pull, but didn’t think anything of it until about 200 feet later where I decided I should probably check it out.   I took off my pack and it was open!  Drat!  I rummaged around to see if I’d lost anything and only counted one crampon. Ugh… I needed that crampon for Sunday’s hike.   I looked back up the slope and saw something blue and shiny up above.  That was my crampon all right.  I was going to have to backtrack and trudge up to get it!



I made my way back up the slope and quickly discovered the snow was getting quite slushy.  It couldn’t have been past 10:30am, yet the snow was melting fast!  I needed to get down to that saddle.


I slogged my way to the saddle and was feeling great so I decided to head over to West Pegmatite Points.  There is no route, so I followed the ridge up and over as far as it went


Here’s the path I took, right at these rocks


And around them


Up a small slope to gain the ridge


And then across the ridge to the summit.  There was a lot of fun rock scrambling but I’d still keep this at a class 2


I took a quick summit photo and the wind told me my half of hair had come undone sometime on the hike.  I was getting strands hitting me in the face, so I quickly re-braided it and without another hair tie just used one to secure both braids. I’m sure I looked amazing…


A storm was coming in from the west, and while the above picture doesn’t suggest a storm, right about now is when it actually started snowing.  Just little bits that flew in my face, but I knew more was to come, so I quickly gathered my gear and headed back towards the saddle, aiming for the rock outcropping.


From the saddle I put on my snowshoes and just headed down through the bristlecone pines and willows towards the creek I knew flowed in the trees.


When I made it to the willows I actually found the intended trail and was able to easily follow it all the way back down.  It’s amazing how much easier route finding is in the daylight!


I kept looking for those elk/moose, but feared I was making too much noise in my snowshoes and was probably frightening them all away.  The snow picked up and felt absolutely amazing on my face!  I was flushed and seriously considered putting my face in the creek just to cool off (but didn’t…).  Yes, the trail was much easier to follow in the daylight, and I never came upon those downed trees that stumped me before and actually crossed a stream I hadn’t on my way in…


I made it back to my truck at 1:30pm and checked my stats.  Whoa!  I’d been expecting a 10 mile hike with about 4700’ in elevation gain, yet I’d done 14.5 miles with 5920’ in elevation gain In 9 hours!  The best part was I wasn’t even that tired (which I attributed to the relatively “lower” elevation of these 13ers and 12er when compared to the other 13ers and 14ers I’ve been doing lately:  breathing at altitude goes up exponentially and tires you out!)


Here’s the Relive: Relive

Oh, and there was a small snowbridge to cross just after the snow begins, which was questionable.  It doesn’t look stable and didn’t feel stable either.  I crossed it in snowshoes so if it broke I’d have stability in the water, but be careful with the rising temperatures crossing these things!


Also, I was glad I had microspikes, snowshoes, crampons, and an ice axe for this hike.  I kept changing them out (and at times didn’t wear any of them) but felt good having them all.  Oh, and postholing is never fun!