Irving Peak – 13,218 and North Irving – 13,017

RT Length (from Rock Lake): 11.44 miles

Elevation Gain (from Rock Lake): 4009’

This trip report starts at Rock Lake.  For instructions on the approach to Rock Lake, as well as the drive to Beartown from Silverton, click here.

Since I was already at Rock Lake, at around 11850’, I made it a late start and was on the trail at 6am.  I was in the camping area directly in front of the lake, and from there I headed south towards the pass.

There is a trail that picks up on the east side of the lake, that will take you all the way to the pass on a class 1 trail

It’s rocky, but there is a well-defined trail here with cairns

At the top of the pass I headed southwest, following the cairns as they descended a bit. The trail goes on to Half Moon Lake, but I didn’t want to go there, so after descending down a small gully I changed directions, and gained the ridge to the west.

I spent a lot of time putting cairns in this area to help with navigation, but as long as you gain the ridge, the next part of the route will be obvious.

From the top of the ridge, I could see Mt Soso, and the gully I would need to climb to access the next basin, where Irving and North Irving were. 

This is the route I took to get to the gully.  There are a lot of small ponds in this area, and marshy areas.  I found I could skirt the water to the north, and then easily access the gully

I first had to descend 450’ into the basin (I stayed high, as you can descend much further if you take a different/lower route), and then re-ascended 560’ up the gully.

The gully really wasn’t that bad to ascend

At the top of the gully, I could see Irving Peak and North Irving.

I had a clear visual of how I wanted to ascend, and descend to get there.  This is the overall route I took.  I stayed high, losing about 650’ of elevation, and paralleled the mountainside at around 12300’ to get to the base of Irving Peak.  The dotted line is my descent route off North Irving (more details later).

Here are some close up pictures of the route

When I made it to the bottom of Irving Peak, I had a few options.  I decided to head up the gully to the left, but this meant I’d need to descend about 50 feet on the other side and then regain the ridge.  Now is also a good time to note my decent route from North Irving.  If I were to do this again, I’d choose the same route.  The gully I took down would not have been fun to upclimb. The area circled in red is what I was trying to avoid, as it didn’t look like it ‘went’.

Here are some pictures of my route up to the ridge (all class 2+)

And once on the ridge, the area I dropped down to avoid, and then regain the ridge

Some step by step pictures avoiding the rocks and accessing the gully

The gully was at worst class 3

At the top of the gully, here’s looking back on my route from the pass

I turned left, and followed the rocky ridge southwest to the summit of Irving Peak.  This was a class 2 scramble

I summited Irving Peak at 11:15am

Irving Peak:

Now to head over to North Irving.  This was a class 2 hike northeast down to the saddle, then 240’ of elevation gain as I followed the ridge northwest

I summited North Irving at 12pm

North Irving:

There was a storm coming in, so I quickly made my way back down towards the Irving/North Irving saddle. 

There are several gullies you can take down.  I took the second one, circled here in red.  I do not regret my choice.

Once out of the gully, I retraced my steps back the way I’d come, to the Oso/Soso saddle

From the Oso/Soso saddle I aimed for the ridge to the northeast, losing and then regaining elevation.

From the top the view can get a little confusing, because there are a lot of rocks.  Here’s the route:

You’re aiming for this gully, which will have cairns that will lead you back down to Rock Lake

There is a trail here that will lead you back to the lake

Notice there are a lot of campsites in this valley area as well

I made it back to Rock Lake at 3:30pm, making this an 11.44 mile hike with 4009’ of elevation gain in 9 hours.

Mt Jackson – 13,670 & UN 13433

RT Length:  28.33 Miles

Elevation Gain: 6674’

I’m not entirely sure why I chose this approach, but I wouldn’t recommend it; the route finding below treeline is arduous.  In any event, if you still want to do this hike, this is how I climbed Mt Jackson and 13433. 

I arrived at the Cross Creek Trailhead and was the only vehicle in the lot.  It’s a poorly designed lot that doesn’t offer much room but can fit 5-6 cars if everyone parks nicely.  It looks more like a horse corral than a parking lot, and there’s not a lot of room to turn a vehicle around.  There is parking across the way as well.  I arrived and left in the dark, so unfortunately, no pictures of the trailhead.  I was on the trail at 3:45am.  Cross Creek trail starts behind obvious signage at the west end of the parking area.

This is an easy to follow class 1 trail.  There’s a new bridge to cross over Cross Creek, and some nice stairs to ascend. 

After hiking for 3 miles I came across some avalanche debris on the trail.  As I was navigating at night I stepped over a log, and instead of hitting solid ground my right foot sank in watery mud up to my thigh. 

I quickly extricated myself and did a quick assessment.  My shoe and pants were soaking wet, cold, and covered in a layer of mud.  It was only around 5am, 30 degrees outside, and I had a serious decision to make.  Did I turn around now or continue hiking?  I was worried I’d eventually have a Raynaud’s attack, especially if I didn’t dry out before making it to treeline (where it would be windy:  I could already hear trees snapping all around me in the dark).  I cursed myself for not bringing at least an extra pair of socks.  In the end I decided the only way to dry off would be to keep moving, and I could do that either by heading back or forwards, so I continued on.  I followed this class 1 trail for a total of about 8.5 miles as it paralleled Cross Creek, staying straight at the Grouse Mountain Trail Junction (but noting where it was in case I wanted to make this a loop).

After hiking for 8.5 miles I crossed a stream and the real route finding began

After crossing the stream, I turned right and headed straight up the mountainside, passing a small pond to my left.  There is no trail here, and the bushwhacking is intense.  I passed several sets of bear tracks while route finding here.

I’d gained 800’ of elevation in 1 mile heading northwest when I came upon a trail!  Woot!  This was a pleasant surprise.  It looked like a game trail, but every now and then I’d see a cairn. 

I followed this trail southwest for just over half a mile, until it suddenly ended. 

There was a cairn here, but it didn’t seem to lead anywhere.  I went about 20 yards in every pertinent direction and couldn’t locate a trail. The snow on the ground wasn’t helping.  I got out my map and realized I’d gone too far south, so I turned right and headed north up this drainage. 

At the top of the drainage I headed west.  You can see how much fun route finding was here as well.  I kept wishing for treeline so I’d have a visual of my route. On a positive note, my shoes and pants had dried out, so while I was still dirty, at least I was dry.

I also passed more bear tracks here.  These tracks had a different gait than the ones I’d encountered before, so I figured there were multiple bears in the area.

Hiking west eventually led me to a marshy area, and here I was finally able to get a good view of where I was headed

I skirted the marshy area to the south and then headed southwest.  It’s important to head up over the rocky area and not stay low because going low will lead you to a large rock wall bordering a pond with no way to cross.  Here’s an overall view of the route

And step by step up the (first) gully

And second and third gullies.  This was really just one long gully that leveled out at times and started again.  The snow was bothersome because it was sugary and every once in a while, I’d posthole. It did make me roll my eyes at being worried my feet would be wet from the swampy water:  the snow had made sure of it. 

At the top of this long gully I continued southwest

Until I hit another (you guessed it) gully.  It was here the battery in my camera died and I had to switch to using my cellphone (I’m still figuring out my new camera, and the battery seemed to die rather quickly).

Here I got my first good look at the upper basin.  There are several routes I could have taken from here.  I’d heard there was a path up the north side of 13433, but I wanted to gain the saddle between UN 13433 and Mt Jackson.  I figured my best shot for today would be to stay high and hugging the south side of Mt Jackson.  Here’s my overall route

And step by step. 

The ground here was surprisingly stable, I just had to watch out for rolling rocks every now and then

Here’s how I gained the saddle

Up until this point I wasn’t sure which peak I was going to climb first.  I had the possibility of making this a loop (coming back down via the Grouse Mountain trail), but once I got to the ridge I was able to feel the wind I’d been hearing all morning.  Winds were predicted at 20-25mph, sustained, with 45mph gusts.  They were at least that.  And brutally cold.  I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to make one mountain today, let alone three.  I got out my balaclava and heavy-duty winter gloves, turned right, and headed north to the summit of Mt Jackson.  This was a fairly easy ridge hike.

I summited Mt Jackson at noon.  The summit was relatively flat.

Mt Jackson: 

The wind was blowing so hard all the straps on my gear were slapping me in the face and several times I had snot fly into my sunglasses.  Ah, to be a mountaineer!  I turned and headed back the way I came, bracing myself against the wind as I made my way towards the Mt Jackson/13433 saddle.

From the saddle here’s looking back at Mt Jackson and up at 13433

It was a short and simple ridge hike to the summit of 13433.  I summited at 1pm.

UN 13433: 

Here’s a view of Mt Jackson from 13433

At this point I couldn’t feel my fingers, so I quickly retraced my steps back to the saddle.  The wind refused to let up, and was blowing loudly long after I left the ridge.  I saw two crows playing with the currents above the saddle.

Here’s my route back down into the basin

And down the gullies

Here’s how I ascended the rock to avoid the pond to my left

And headed back out of the marshy area

Let the route finding begin again.  I tried to re-trace my steps, but it just wasn’t happening.  I kept looking for my original route in, but finally realized that wasn’t going to happen.   I knew Cross Creek Trail was below me, and as long as I headed down and east I’d eventually run into it.  So I headed east. 

After wandering down and east and down and east I connected up with Cross Creek Trail and followed it back to the trailhead.  I heard trees snapping in the wind the entire hike back.  They’d make a loud, booming sound I initially thought was rockfall, except there were no reverberations from rockslides, just a loud crack and boom! 

I got back to my truck at 8pm, making this a 28.33 mile hike with 6674’ of elevation gain in 16 hours, 15 minutes. 

Milwaukee Peak – 13,522 and Pico Aislado – 13,611

RT Length: 13.7 miles

Elevation Gain:  4500’

We go family camping with the Girl Scouts every Labor Day weekend, and every Labor Day weekend I spend one of the 4 days hiking.  I left the campsite at 1am, intent on driving up to Music Pass trailhead early in the morning when there weren’t any other vehicles on the narrow 4WD road.  Just my luck, around 3:30am I ran into a rather large Ram 3500 truck, carrying a trailer in the bed, coming down the road.  It took us about 20 minutes to find a way around each other.  Luckily, I only had the one truck to pass.  The trailhead was full of trucks however (lots of hunters). It was earlier than expected so I took a quick nap and was on the trail at 5am.  

The trail starts at the west end of the parking area, and heads west.

There’s a trail register shortly after the trailhead. 

The trail here is easy to follow

I made it to Music Pass after hiking for 1.25 miles, and realized I’d forgotten my camera (so, sorry, selfies with my iPhone once again today).  There’s an information sign here, and another trail register.  Last time I opened this register 50 moths frantically flew in my face, so this time I left it closed. 

From here I followed the trail as it lost 450’ of elevation and headed northwest along Sand Creek Trail 1337.  Here’s an overview of the route towards Milwaukee Peak

And step by step, first descending into the basin.  I continued straight at this crossing.  Note, there were signs saying not to enter the water, as they were being treated to remove all fish from the drainage.

I followed Sand Creek Trail

Staying right at the second junction

Crossing a stream at 11420’

The last junction I came to was for Upper Sand Creek Lake and Cottonwood Pass.  I turned right and headed towards Cottonwood Pass

The trail continued through the basin.  Eventually I was going to have to find a grassy ledge and follow it to an upper basin. Here’s that ledge I’d be aiming for

But before that I had to make my way across several small streams

There was evidence of the fish kill in the streams, as well as tons of dead worms; and bear tracks

I came to a sign that said the trail ended, and told me to follow the cairns.  The cairns were extremely helpful, but I did get lost crossing the final stream.  I couldn’t figure out where to do it, but it was obvious on my way back.  If you (like me) aren’t able to completely follow the cairns in the dark, cross the stream and head northwest up the side of the mountain and you’ll eventually hit the trail, as it will become obvious.

The trail weaves through the forest towards a grassy ramp that leads to the upper basin

Once in the upper basin the trail ends, but there are many great cairns that will lead you to the saddle.  The ‘trail’ stays to the left.

At the end of the basin the goal is to ascend to the saddle.  There are cairns that will get you there.  This is the basic route

At the saddle the trail picks up again.  I turned left and headed southwest along the trail, rounding the north side of Milwaukee Peak.  Here’s an overview

And from the ridge, rounding the corner

Once I’d rounded the corner the real fun began.  Now’s a good time to put on your helmet if you haven’t already.

Here’s an overview of the rest of the hike

And step by step.  Here’s the first big obstacle. I went down here

And came to a notch with a class 4 rock to climb.  This isn’t more than 8-10 feet high.  There are plenty of hand and foot holds here.  Make sure to ascend to the left

Here’s another look at the notch from a different angle.  This is how you want to ascend/descend

Once past the notch there was a narrow ledge to traverse, with a large drop off.  I was toe-heeling it across this area and leaning into the mountain.  This would not be a fun place to slip.

Next, I aimed for this notch (stop at the notch, don’t go past it)

At this notch there’s a boulder a couple feet wide blocking the path.  It’s easy to hop over, but don’t.  This is your indication to ascend the gully.  I’ve circled where the is rock in red


Here’s another view. In this picture the rock is circled on the left, and this is how you enter the gully

Here’s what the gully looks like

And here’s topping out of the gully

From there it’s an easy (if airy) traverse to the summit.   I summited Milwaukee Peak at 8:55am

Milwaukee Peak: 

From the summit of Milwaukee here’s the route over to Pico Aislado (which means ‘Isolated Peak’ in Spanish).

In the beginning I could just stick to the ridge (better pictures of some of the obstacles here on the description of the way back, but they all stay at class 3).  There were some ups and downs but nothing too difficult.  At the ‘saddle’ this is the path I took, staying low, keeping under the rock line.  There’s no need to stick to the ridge here, as you’ll end up losing elevation later.

Take note of the ‘cairn’ I’ve circled here.  You’ll be aiming for it later.  (It’s not actually a cairn, but it’ll look like one from below).

I came to the last gully on this side of the mountain, turned right, and kept to the left as I ascended. 

I kept aiming for where that circled ‘cairn’ was.  As soon as I found it, I turned right and followed the ridge to the summit

I summited Pico Aislado at 10:30am

Pico Aislado:

I headed back the way I’d come, following the ridge to the ‘cairn’ (circled in red) and then the gully back down

I felt the gully was easier to go down than up

Here’s the route I took back to Milwaukee Peak

There were two difficulties on the ridge back.  The first reminded me of the knife edge on Capitol, but with less exposure.  I probably could have descended to avoid this, but what’s the fun in that?  I went straight up and over

The next obstacle was this class 3 rock formation.  Once again, straight up and over

Then it was an easy ridge hike back to Milwaukee Peak.  I summited and headed left (northeast) to descend

Back down the gully

Down the mountain to the notch, which was much easier to downclimb than upclimb

And back down the ridge to the saddle, and through the upper basin

Here’s an overview of the route to Music Pass

And some pictures of the class 1 trail out.  The 450’ of gain up the pass isn’t that bad.

I saw no less than a dozen hunters in the area after gaining Music Pass, all with bows and arrows.  Some were knocking on trees, others were making calls, and some stood guard with binoculars.  I’d seen bear tracks, marmots, and pikas, but besides that not another animal all day.  I made it back to my truck at 3pm, surprised to see Strava hadn’t logged my route, so sorry, no detailed topo this time.  The hike took me 10 hours to complete.  I also guestimated on the elevation gain by looking at other reports.  I took my mileage off my iPhone (which stated 13.7 miles, 195 floors, and 36,864 steps).  Time to finish my weekend of camping!  All of my girls are seniors in High School now, so this will be our last Labor Day campout.

Here’s a hand-drawn map of my route

PT 13,631


RT Length:  14.93 miles

Elevation Gain: 4584’


This is the third time I’ve been to Maroon Bells this month.  I was able to secure 3 separate permits, and the past few weeks went with friends to summit North Maroon and Pyramid.  Today I was here to tag a new 13er for myself: PT 13631.  Since I70 is now open (it was closed due to fires) I was the only one driving on HWY 82.  I didn’t pass one vehicle between Granite and Aspen.  It was awesome.  I did see 2 vehicles parked at a trailhead near Independence Pass, and two scruffy porcupines to go with them, merrily munching on the wires underneath.  The owners of those vehicles were not going to be happy when then made it back to their cars.  I’d have gotten out and shooed them, but, you know, they may be slow but they have quills.  I saw three other porcupines waddling along the highway as I drove.  HWY 82 is popular among porcupines.

As I passed the parking structure for Maroon Bells I saw a pear shaped bear butt running away from a trash can and then jump over a fence.  It was cute to see it bounding away (although I kind of wanted to get a picture so I wished it had stood still for a second).

I had a permit to park at Maroon Bells from 12am-4:30pm.  It was 1am when I arrived and I felt it was still a little too early to head out so I took a quick nap.  A large group of hikers passed by at 2:40am and woke me up, so I was on the trail by 2:45am.

The trail starts at the west end of the parking area


And follows a well-defined path around Maroon Lake


At the end of the lake I followed the trail towards crater lake.  I noted the signs:  One said “bear activity in area” as of August 23 (August 1st had been crossed out) and there was also a sign saying there was a moose in the area.  In the last few weeks I’ve seen a bear standing on the side of the road while taking the shuttle ride out and a moose standing in Maroon Lake, so I knew these signs to be true.


This is a class 1 trail to Crater Lake


I turned left at the junction for Crater Lake


And then followed the trail (still class 1) around the ‘lake’ and up the basin.


I passed a few camping areas while it was still dark.  In one a large man was standing by the trail, bald, shirtless, and in possession of a rather hairy pot belly.  He seemed to be waiting for me to pass by.  Luckily this is a well-travelled trail, especially at this time in the morning when others are looking to summit Maroon Peak (I count the flashlights so I know who’s ahead of/behind me when it’s dark out:  that large group of hikers wasn’t too far away).  I could see him because he had a headlamp shining from his forehead.  I didn’t see his dog, who started barking at me as I neared.  Of course, I jumped.  The man seemed to think it was funny.  I continued on.  Also, it wasn’t funny.  Here’s an overview of the next few steps, as I made my way up to Len Shoemaker Basin


After hiking for 4 miles from the trailhead, and at 10515’ I left the trail to cross Maroon Creek (which at this point of the year isn’t flowing much, but earlier in the season is several feet deep).  There are cairns in the area.  An obvious trail picks up on the other side.



I followed this trail for .25 miles, until I saw a cairn to my left and then followed a very faint trail east through and then out of the willows, and up the side of the mountain, towards the basin.


Making it to the basin required ascending a series of gullies.  I’ve been here several times, and the route gets easier to find each time. This time there were plenty of cairns indicating the way.  However, the route sometimes doesn’t seem like it should follow the cairns, but trust me, it does.  Here’s the route step by step into the basin.  After exiting the willows and crossing a small boulder field there is a faint trail behind the next set of bushes/willows that will lead to the first gully.  Now’s a good time to put on your helmet.


I ascended the loose gully, staying to the right for more traction


At the top of the first gully you’ll see another gully to your left.  (These are tons of fun in winter BTW, so bring your crampons and ice axe if you expect snow).  Ascend the second gully, this time sticking to the left for more stable ground



At the top of this gully is… another gully.  Sorry for the hand in this picture:  the sun was at an unfortunate place in the sky while I was trying to take pictures and this was my solution.


From here I aimed for the grassy slope and went behind it, angling towards the ridge


And could see another gully to my left.  (This entire time I was heading east)


Next, I aimed for the grassy slopes, and the final gully that would take me to the upper basin.



Here I got my first view of PT 13631.  I just followed the basin south towards the end


The end of the basin was still holding some snow. This was a light snow year, so I expect there’s snow here almost year-round.  The snow can be avoided, but I just walked over it into another basin


I followed the talus rib towards the base of the gully that would lead me to the saddle of Lightening Pyramid and PT 13631


This is the last gully of the day.  It’s class 2 but the scree is loose.  I looked for larger rocks whenever possible.  There is no direct path but there are a bunch of game trails.  No area seems to cliff out, so you can pick your line depending on conditions.



At the saddle I turned right and headed southwest up the ridge.  Most of this was easy scrambling, after first initially gaining the ridge.  To do this I went right, found a class 3 chimney and ascended it.  This was the most difficult part of the entire hike, and I probably could have found a class 2 option around this if I tried harder. I felt this chimney was pretty easy.


Here’s looking up at the chimney.  There are plenty of hand/foot holds.  It’s only about 8 feet high and all of the rocks are stable.


Once on the ridge I scrambled my way to the summit. This is all easy class 3, just scout around for the best route.




The summit is relatively flat.  There’s a summit cairn with two summit registers.  The metal one is closed and has 2 pens inside.  The white one is open (without a lid) and is empty. Bring some paper if you want to sign this register.


I summited PT 13631 at 7:20am


PT 13631:

The views were great, but the smoke from nearby fires shaded them a bit.


Here’s the route back down the ridge


Down the chimney (you can see my trekking pole below for reference)


And back around to the saddle.


Once again, great views


Back down the gully and through the basin


And back down the gullies, following the cairns west along the way.




Through the willows


Back to the trail that would lead me across the creek


And back to West Maroon Creek Trail 1975 and Maroon Lake


When I was here last week there’d been a moose standing in the lake.  Guess what?  He was still there (this time lounging by the lakeshore).  Pretty cool!



I made it back to my truck at 11:45am, making this a 14.93 mile hike with 4584’ of elevation gain in 9 hours (with some time spent ogling the moose).


Here’s a topo map of my route.  I have to say, the views were incredible but the peak itself was kind of a letdown.  It had just been too easy, when I’d been expecting the more intense scramble over crummy rock the Elks are known for.  It almost wasn’t worth bringing my helmet, but the moose was an added bonus.


On to the next trailhead!



#39 Crestone Peak 14,294′


Elevation Gain 5700’

RT Mileage 14 miles

The drive to the trailhead was much easier than I’d remembered it from last time.  It’s still a 4WD trail in, but after some of the other 4WD roads I’ve navigated this one really isn’t so bad.  It was clear of ice and snow, and pretty much mud free.  On the way back there were a few more cars and a bit more mud.

I was the only one in the parking lot when I got there.  I gathered my gear and was off around 5am.  The first thing I saw after crossing the bridge were bear tracks…


The 2.5 miles to the junction on the old (closed) 4WD road had lots of varying conditions.  There was mud, ice, snow, and water.  I was able to hike this part without traction, but it would have been helpful.


I came to the junction, turned left, and headed across a log bridge and followed the service road.

The road took me to the South Colony Lakes campground.   There was a gate for emergency access only.


From here until I made it back to the trees traction was necessary.


Because of the snow it was difficult to stay on the correct trail, but that just meant a little more route finding.  When I was back in the trees I took off my crampons and made my way towards the lakes.  This part of the hike was frustrating because traction was needed for about 25% of the hiking.  Not enough to really put on snowshoes and crampons, but a bit miserable without them as well. Route finding was challenging here as well.

Here’s the trail junction.  I love obvious trail junctions!


I finally broke down and put on my crampons when I reached the base of Broken Hand Pass.


I’d been carrying my snowshoes as well, and decided to just stash them at the cairn.  It was obvious by looking at the route in front of me no one had been here in a few days at least (no foot tracks).  That meant I got to make my own!


I crossed the slope and looked up at the route before me.  Time for my ice ax!


I felt much more confident this time climbing.  I’m not sure if it was because I’d done it before or the conditions were easier (probably both) but I was much more confident in my abilities.  It wasn’t until I was at the crux I realized I’d forgotten to put on my helmet!  Whoops!  I felt like a total idiot, but at this point it would have been more dangerous to take out my pack and put it on, so I carefully navigated my way around the difficult part and climbed to the top of Broken Hand Pass.


The trail down to Cottonwood Lake was dry.


I made my way around the lake to the right, and curved towards the Crestone Basin.  Here’s where I got my first look at Crestone Peak.  It was full of ice.

I was supposed to hike straight up the red gully.  It looked daunting, but I’ve found things that look daunting from far away are actually not that bad up close, so I continued on.  Here’s the route I took.


This definitely has some class 3 scrambling!  More than once I patted myself on the back for joining a climbing gym this winter.  Those tiny holds (pinches) that make rock climbing so difficult and frustrating at the gym?  I encountered several of them here, and was glad I knew how to navigate them!  The only downside is my backpack made me unsteady.  I think from now on I’ll practice climbing at the gym with my backpack on.  I also would have felt much more comfortable with different shoes.  I had on my winter boots, which don’t exactly make rock climbing easy.

Much of the route was navigable without crampons until I made it about ¾ of the way up just scrambling.  That’s when I ran into a problem:  snow, and lots of it.  The last trip report indicated a dry scramble to the top, but it had obviously snowed quite a bit since then because I had to put back on my crampons and ice ax (and my helmet) to navigate this part.  I took one step onto the snow, and sank up to my thigh.


Ugh!  Not fair!  I was so close!  This didn’t look doable, but there was no way I was turning back now, so I kept prodding around until I found a stable route and started climbing again.  That meant being closer to the ice (which didn’t make me comfortable) but at least I was making progress.

This gully was about 1500 feet in elevation, and just didn’t quit!  It kept going and going and going.  Just as soon as I felt I must be near the top I’d turn and see another stretch of gully.  And it was getting warmer.  The snow was melting and becoming soft underneath me.


I finally made it to the notch, and while crampons would have been helpful in a lot of areas, I took them off because they were a hinderance for most of the remaining route.  Check out the view from the top of the red gully!


I summited around 12:30pm, and stayed there for longer than I usually stay on a summit.

22 Crestone Peak 14294

View from Summit:

It was incredibly perfect conditions!  Very little wind, and warm but not hot.  I took some pictures and made my way back down to the notch.

This is where it got dicey.  That perfect weather I’d had on the peak was quickly melting the route I’d taken to summit.  This was not good.  I sat down and put on my crampons and developed a plan.


My plan?  Get down this gully as quickly as I could.  Now.

I turned and faced the mountain and began my descent.  The first bit wasn’t too difficult, but that quickly changed.  I’d step into the snow, and immediately my footprints would fill with water melting beneath me.  This was instantaneous and terrifying.  There’s just no way to describe the feeling I was having knowing my route was quickly turning to slush.


I could hear the ice turning to water and flowing underneath me, and the ice wasn’t condensed.  Several times I thought about how to handle this situation if I got to a place where I couldn’t continue.  I was prepared to spend the night in that gully if necessary (hoping the water would freeze and I could navigate back down in the morning).

I downclimbed as quickly as I safely could, but was on edge of my comfort level the entire time.  The water just kept coming and coming and the ice and snow was rapidly disappearing from underneath me as I descended the mountain.  I was aware I needed to reapply sunscreen, but terrified to do so, as I’d have to take off my backpack to get it and I knew I couldn’t do that without falling.  I gave up and mentally prepared for a nasty sunburn on my face.

I got back to the place where I’d initially put on my crampons for the gully climb and took them off, thankful I’d made it this far.  I then looked at the remaining route below me:  waterfalls.  Lots of waterfalls and water running down the exact path I needed to take.  This is not a route you want to do when it’s raining, or now when ice was melting into waterfalls.  Added to that bouldering down rocks is more difficult than climbing up.  I was extremely careful and spent a lot of time crawling to stay safe.  Once again, I was thankful for my time spent at the climbing gym.  There were several moves I wouldn’t have been able to pull off had I not known how to execute them.  There were a few close calls and I knocked my shins a few times on my way down, but I made it safely.


When I turned back to look at the mountain there were waterfalls everywhere!  It was beautiful, and I was glad to be alive!



I hiked back to Cottonwood Lake and up Broken Hand Pass.  This part of the hike was difficult for me.  Not because of the terrain, but because I was physically exhausted by this point.  It was my third time going up a gully for the day, and I hate gullies.  The hike was slow going, with lots of slow steps.  I found a pretty cool jaw bone though.


I made it to the top of Broken Hand pass for the second time that day at 4pm.  I’d really wanted to try and get Crestone Needle today too because this route included 3 gullies and I wanted to make the effort worth it, but at this point my time was running out.  I didn’t want to hike back down in the dark, and while I knew the North Facing gully below me would most likely not have been affected like the South Gullies, I wanted to get down it just in case.

I looked down at the route below me:  still snow!


It was obvious I’d been the only one up today, so I put back on my equipment, turned and faced the mountain again and began my descent.  This was a breeze!  I’d done a terrific job last time making steps, and I was really getting the hang of this crampon/ice ax/climbing thing.  This was much easier than Little Bear!  The angle of the slope probably helped as well.

Now all that was left was to traverse the slope and head back down.


The only difficult part was avoiding the snow rollers.  They were silent, and quickly picked up both speed and mass.  I did not want to be hit by one of those things.  They ranged in size from a baseball to car tire.  I narrowly escaped at least a dozen in the 15 minutes it took me to navigate this area.  But once again, I made it!


The hike out was frustrating.  The varying conditions made it not worth putting on crampons or snowshoes, but they were needed as well.  The trail was mostly clear, with areas of consolidated snow, and every 100 feet or so on the snow I’d posthole up to my thighs.  It was like playing wack-a-mole in reverse:  I never knew when I was going to end up in a posthole!  Most of the time I was ok though.

The sun began to set and the mosquitoes came out.  Tons of them!  I just wanted down this mountain and back to my truck, so I picked up my speed and booked it down.  I made it back to my truck at 7:30pm.  That’s by far the longest day I’ve ever spend hiking a 14er!  Frustrating too because it was only 14 miles, but 14 intense miles with 3 gullies and a lot of work in the ice and snow.

I have a major sunburn on just my face (it wasn’t safe to stop while downclimbing to take off my backpack to re-apply sunscreen), but it was worth it!