RT Length: 15.5 miles
Elevation Gain: 6211’
After my failed attempt last week I decided to do more research and try Hagerman again today. I learned the upper road to Lead King Basin had an avalanche about 1 mile after the stream crossing (very close to where I’d parked) so I decided to take the lower road from Marble to Crystal instead. I’d heard a lot of conflicting reports on this road, but when I searched it online I found this video, which was very helpful.
The road itself wasn’t that difficult with a 4WD (I wouldn’t attempt in a 2WD), and my Tundra handled it just fine. The only problems I can foresee would be passing other vehicles. Luckily there are a lot of small turnout areas on this road, especially before and after the committing areas. I drove in at night to ensure I wouldn’t need to pass oncoming vehicles, which I knew would be problematic in my big truck, no matter the size of the other vehicle.
Since I drove in when it was dark I wasn’t able to see the Crystal Mill, but I expected to see it on my way out the next day.
I made it to Crystal around 10pm on a Thursday night and all the lights in the ‘city’ were out. As I passed the Crystal Mill I saw a sign saying Lead King Basin was closed, so I dimmed my lights and parked at the east end of town, mentally calculating the extra mileage and what time I needed to start in the morning. Looks like I was getting about 3.5 hours of sleep.
As I was preparing to go to bed (my lights were out) I saw the lights go on in the second story windows of a cabin across the street. The two story 18th century style wood cabin had two tiny windows upstairs, covered in lace curtains. The light from the windows was glowing pale blue, and I saw the silhouette of a woman walking around. She was wearing a long nightgown and her hair was pinned up in a bun. The woman slowly walked around the room, picking up objects and setting them back down. Then the lights went out.
I set my alarm for 2am. When I woke up I crawled from the back seat into my front seat and started putting on my shoes. I didn’t need to turn on any lights because the full moon was shining bright enough to allow me to see. I saw a fox run down the center of the road, and then noticed the lights in the second story window of the house across the street turn on. Once again I saw the silhouette of a woman walking around. She was wearing a long nightgown and her hair was pinned up in a bun. She slowly walked around the room, picking up objects and setting them back down. Then the lights went out.
Whoa. That was spooky. I knew I hadn’t woken her up because I hadn’t made any noise, opened any doors, turned on any lights, etc. I was going to have to investigate that house in the daylight upon my return because that was just… weird. I mean, what are the chances she was up at 10pm and 2am, just like I was? Also, how many women still wear nightgowns to bed?
Ok, so I was on the trail at 2:15am. It was a 2 mile hike to Lead King Basin along a 4WD road that didn’t offer many turnouts, but was indeed open and my truck could have made it just fine to the trailhead. Oh well, I was getting in 4 extra miles today.
The trailhead was about 2 miles from Crystal. I didn’t see any of this in the dark (these signs seriously need reflective elements to them for us who start before daylight).
There’s a nice junction where you turn left to head up and around the north end of Lead King Basin to Geneva Lake
Here the trail was quite overgrown with flowers, plants, and trees. I thought to myself how it felt a little like being in a rainforest, and how much fun the flowered areas would be on my way back (I’m not a fan of flying-stinging insects, so I was being sarcastic). On the positive side: no mosquitoes!
It was in this area I saw my first ever porcupine on the trail. I see them along the side of the road when I’m driving to trailheads quite a bit, and one time I heard one under my truck at the Grizzly Gulch trailhead and had to fend it off in the middle of the night, but this was the first one I’d encountered on the trail.
He was just sitting there, staring at me. So I talked to him to get him to move. He turned around and waddled ahead of me, staying directly in the middle of the trail. I didn’t really want to follow a porcupine to the lake, so I talked a little louder to him. He scurried into the bushes and I immediately realized the error of my ways: now I couldn’t see him and didn’t know where he was. I didn’t want to experience porcupine quills and all that entails, so I nicely talked to the porcupine in a sing-song voice as I passed where I’d last seen him, crossing my fingers I hadn’t made him mad/scared and that he wasn’t sitting in the bushes: poised to shoot.
Mission “pass the porcupine” accomplished I continued on to the lake. The moon was full and bright so I conserved flashlight battery and hiked by the moonlight. Just as I made it to the lake I heard a faint barking in the distance. I was worried there was a lost dog out there somewhere (hey, it’s happened) but as I rounded the bend to the lake the barking got louder, and then I saw a flashlight turn on. The owner was pointing the flashlight in the direction opposite of me, and the dog was starting to bark really loud. I yelled up at them “It’s just a hiker!” I received no response, but the dog stopped barking and the flashlight turned off. It was about 4:45am. I immediately felt more secure hiking in the dark: I was pretty sure there wasn’t another animal in the area, as that dog would have been alerted to it.
Just north of the lake the trail continues north and then there’s a stream crossing. There were tons of areas to cross here, and all required taking off my shoes. At times the water was knee deep (I’m 5’4”), but mostly it was just high on my shins. Also, it was cold. When I was done my water shoes were quite muddy so I left them on a rock to dry and to pick up later.
This is where my trip report diverges from some of the more popular field guides. I took the 1st west side gully to the southwest ridge.
I crossed the creek and headed north for about 100 yards, looking for a gully to my right (west gully). I’d seen pictures of the access gullies on the east that were still full of snow, so by taking the west side I was hoping to avoid any snow filled gullies. I wasn’t disappointed. Here’s the gully I took:
This gully was steep and loose. I did not feel comfortable sticking to the scree in the middle, so I stuck to the right side where the rocks were larger.
My goal was to gain the ridge as quickly as possible, aiming for this small saddle
Here’s looking back on the route
From the small saddle you can see Hagerman Peak
I turned left (north) and faced a class 3 section and headed up and over the ridge.
At the top of this point I could see the rest of the route before me
It’s important to note if you’re attempting this ridge to start early and make sure you have a large weather window. This ridge is very committing. I went at it slowly and carefully. The rocks here crumble: I’d find a hand hold, grip, and the rock would crumble in my hands. I had to make sure to test out each hold several times before using it to secure myself. Luckily, the ridge was snow free.
This is definitely a ridge you take by… sticking to the ridge. I was able to go directly up and over most areas, dipping to the left or right just a couple of times. As I ascended the rocks stopped crumbling and started tipping a bit (nothing fell, but not much was stable). Here’s the final push to the summit.
I made it to the summit at 9:10am
I started the ridge at 7:15am and ended at 9:10am, making this a 2 hour ridge to cross. Here’s looking back at the route
The day was absolutely beautiful and it was still early morning so I considered traversing over to nearby 14er Snowmass Mountain. I’d done a lot of research and came up pretty empty with details, but I knew it could be done. I spent quite a bit of time looking around at possible paths before deciding if I was going to attempt traversing or not. I looked at Snowmass Mountain’s east side: nope, that was a no go. Tons of snow and no way I could see to begin from the summit. Next I looked to the left (west). A lot less snow but the shadows weren’t helping much.
I stopped and did a lot of thinking here. I knew the traverse was possible. The rock looked loose, but I could also see goat trails (or maybe those were gullies…). I was confident I could find traction in the dirt. I mentally calculated how much time I had, the weather, and looked for exit strategies in case I got to a place where I couldn’t continue. I decided both time and weather were in my favor today so I decided to go for it.
Note: This may not be the safest way to traverse from Hagerman to 14er Snowmass Mountain. For me and my abilities, it was the safest way on this particular day.
The first move committed me to the traverse: I down climbed about 50 feet of… this. I’m not sure I could have climbed back up this wall. (Ok, I could have or I wouldn’t have climbed down, but it would have been a lot of work).
I turned and looked towards Snowmass Mountain. This is what I saw. So I headed northeast and rounded the corner.
I was taking this one section at a time, focusing on what was directly in front of me but glancing up at the rest of the route every so often to make sure I was on course. I found myself trying to stick to the ridge, but that is not the way to do this traverse: you need to drop down much lower than you want to. Every time I tried to regain elevation I was forced to head back down.
My advice is to descend lower than the saddle, and then take the scree line up to where the trail connects with the east route. The best terrain was consistently 100-200 feet below the ridge.
Once you connect with the ridge where the east route links up you can easily follow the cairns to the summit.
This was a very slow climb. Everything was loose and what wasn’t loose was scree. I took extra time to be careful with each and every step, and kept the entire route in view as often as possible. I most likely made this take longer than necessary, but I stayed safe. I made it to the summit of Snowmass Mountain at 12:50pm, making this a traverse that took over 3.5 hours to complete. Here’s looking back at the route
I spent a lot of time on this bluebird day taking pictures. It’s harder than you think to set an automatic timer and then scramble up to the summit block. It took a few tries… and the ones that actually turned out were fuzzy, so I gave up.
After spending much more time on the summit than necessary I needed to make the decision of how I was going to head back down. I’d been hoping, similar to the west side of Hagerman, that the west side of Snowmass Mountain would be free from snow. No such luck. There was still snow in the gullies.
I did not want to do the traverse back to Hagerman because that and another 3 hour traverse would have been exhausting. I could tell the gullies on the west side of Snowmass Mountain ended/cliffed out in a waterfall area, but I could also see bare rock I could traverse either north or south to connect up where I needed to be. I decided to head down Snowmass Mountain’s west side, but for safety I would slightly alter the traditional route. It was too late in the day to safely take the gullies, so I was going to take the rock rib that wasn’t a rib but a bunch of loose rock that bulged from the mountainside. Here’s the route I took
Do not let these photos fool you: this is where I encountered the loosest rock of the day. These rocks are the size of refrigerators and tables. Every 3rd rock would tip, and I would think to myself: “That’s a lot of rock to tip!” Luckily not one rock actually tipped/fell/tumbled/caused a rock slide.
This was a very slow process but eventually I made it to the waterfall area. My feet were starting to hurt at this point from all the rock work.
The snow ended just at the waterfall and surprisingly I crossed the waterfall pretty easily here and headed down. I made it down to this area at 3:30pm.
The snow started up again after the waterfalls
From here I looked down at the basin, and unfortunately there was a lot of snow covering the trail I was supposed to take back to Geneva Lake. That snow was going to be several feet of mush at this time of day so I decided to traverse south along the mountainside, looking for a safer route down.
I made it here and unfortunately cliffed out yet again… but I could see where I needed to be: That goat trail should get me down.
After searching around for a bit I was able to find a way off this spot by circling the area to the north and down the small cliff
From here I followed the goat trail that went down a forested gully and came out ready to exit and head towards Geneva Lake.
The area through the trees to the stream crossing was wet.
At the stream crossing I reconnected with my water shoes. They were now dry but had been scattered and were now no longer sitting on the rock together but in the grass a few feet apart. I changed out of my shoes into my water shoes and crossed the creek
I’m ashamed to say the creek ate my water shoes. Seriously. The banks were quite muddy and during the last two steps my water shoes got sucked off my feet and into the muck. I spent 20 minutes trying to dig them out with my ice axe, but no dice. I couldn’t find them. They were buried in the banks of the stream. Ugh. From here I sat and put on my shoes and new, dry socks. I looked back at the route I’d taken to Hagerman.
My feet were hurting, and I still had 4 miles to go. Time to hit the trail. I skirted the lake and headed back towards Lead King Basin.
One great part of this hike was being able to see the waterfalls. And, since it was so late in the day: no bees!
At the base of the waterfalls the trail was running with quite a bit of water.
In the daylight I could see the upper 4WD trail to Lead King Basin
This is where my feet really started burning. I was surprised, since I’ve done more challenging hikes with greater mileage/elevation gain than this one, yet my feet were very sore. I made it past the Lead King Basin trailhead as the sun set and each step I took hurt more than the last. I wanted to cry. I’ve never felt foot pain like this. Also, I’d been hoping to stop in Carbondale tonight to get Subway for dinner, but it looked like I wasn’t going to make it back in time for that to happen.
It seemed as if it were taking forever to reach Crystal. I eventually came across a sign that said “Private Property next 2.5 miles” and mentally freaked out for a second. There was NO WAY it was 2.5 miles to Crystal! Not only could I physically not make it 2.5 more miles (My feet! My feet!!!) but I was pretty sure it had been 2 miles to the upper trailhead. Had I been wrong and it’d been 4? Ugh, I needed rest and I needed calories because my mind was playing tricks on me. Luckily it was only half a mile past that sign to the town of Crystal. I finished this hike at 8:45pm, making this a 15.5 mile hike/climb with 6211’ in elevation gain in 18.5 hours.
Read on for gross feet pictures and segue into the next hike…
I limped to my truck and sat down by a small access creek about 1 foot wide on the side of the road. I took off my shoes and gasped: Yuck! My feet had never looked like that before! The heels and pads were completely swollen and red/gray, and very painful to the touch (no blisters though).
I decided to wash them off in the water. I placed them both in at the same time and immediately felt relief, and then 2 seconds later started screaming because they started burning as if I’d placed them into a pot of boiling water. My feet turned bright red and were rendered useless. Seriously.
I couldn’t walk the 5 feet to my truck so I sat there for half an hour in the wet creek bank and thought about what I was going to do. I was supposed to drive to the next trailhead for my hike tomorrow, but doing the math if I left now I would get there and only have 1 hour to sleep before starting again. This hike had taken much longer than anticipated. I’d only had 3 hours of sleep last night so it was a bad idea to try to drive and then hike at this point. Also… my feet. I wasn’t sure they’d function tomorrow. They needed time to dry out. But long distance runners/thru hikers have this stuff happen, right? They just tape them up and hike/run anyway. I decided I was really, really tired and should sleep before attempting anything. I’d adjust my schedule as needed.
I had pain killers but decided not to take them: I wanted to be sure of an accurate pain level when I woke up so I could plan my day accordingly. Unfortunately, I never really made it to bed. I crawled into the cab of my truck, thankful I hadn’t rolled up my sleeping bag this morning. I tried to nap but even though I was exhausted I couldn’t get myself to fall asleep. After 2 hours I gave up and decided to drive home, with the added bonus of doing so in the dark late at night so I most likely wouldn’t need to pass anyone on the shelf road out. My feet had dried out a bit and were raw but less sore. They still overreacted every time I tried to use them. My right foot was healthier than my left; I couldn’t press down on the pedal very hard, so I drove slowly, but I made it.
Oh, and since I’d returned in the dark I never got to see the Crystal Mill, or get a good look at that old house with the lady in the windows…
The Snowmass Mountain Summit Sticker can be bought here