I made it to the Lawn Lake trailhead exhausted. It’s been a fun month, but not one in which I’ve gotten much sleep. I was on the trail at 4:30am.
I followed the class 1, Lawn Lake Trail, for 5.7 miles
After hiking for 5.7 miles I came to a junction with the Black Canyon Trail, and took the Black Canyon Trail past Lawn Lake, and all the way to the Fairchild/Hagues Saddle.
Just after passing the lake I came across 3 bull moose enjoying breakfast. I took a few pictures and gave them their space
Bull Moose at Lawn Lake:
I continued following the class 1 trail up to the saddle
I crossed a small stream. You can clearly see the trail on the other side. The trail became faint in areas, but there were cairns and the trail became easier to see near the saddle.
Just before making it to the saddle, I turned left and this is the route I took to the summit of Fairchild, following the ridge southwest
Here are some close up pictures. Note, the boulders become very large near the top. They’re all stable, but larger than vehicles. My hiking shoes gripped the rocks nicely, but they would be treacherous if they’d been wet.
I summited Fairchild Mountain at 9:45am
There was a plastic tube summit register I couldn’t open, and a rock wind break at the summit.
From Fairchild, I looked back at the saddle and could see Hagues Peak, and my route. Now is a good time to get a visual of the way you want to summit, as it’s difficult to see from the saddle/below. This is the route I took, which kept it low class 3, but mostly class 2.
I made my way back to the Hagues/Fairchild saddle
And then followed the ridge until I made it to 12700’.
I then headed northeast towards the ridge, staying on class 2 terrain. Here are some close ups of my route
Also, there were more moths than I’d ever seen this far above treeline, and dozens of crows taking advantage of the situation
I gained access to the ridge with a few easy class 3 maneuvers.
One on the ridge, I turned left and followed it through more easy class 3 terrain west to the summit. If there’s an option, always go right around the boulders.
The summit is circled in red
It’s just a little further southwest past the tower
I summited Hagues Peak at 12:25pm
There were several benchmarks/elevation markers, and another summit tube (full of various loose pieces of paper, so I didn’t bother signing one).
Next on the agenda for the day was Mummy Mountain. I turned and headed back down the ridge the way I’d summited, and then crossed PT 13302, and headed up Mummy Mountain. Here’s my overall route
And some step by step pictures
The terrain became rocky near the top, but this all remained class 2
I summited Mummy Mountain at 2pm
The weather had held out so far, but on the summit of Mummy Mountain I heard my first clap of thunder in the distance, and wanted to get back down to treeline as soon as possible. I followed the ridge southeast on class 2 terrain.
I aimed for the drainage, and followed it until I made it back to the Black Canyon Trail
I followed the Black Canyon Trail North until the junction with the Lawn Lake Trail
There I took the Lawn Lake Trail back to the trailhead. It rained the entire way. Not the fun, misty rain, but buckets of large water droplets. The sky thundered all around, after large flashes of lightning.
I made it back to my truck at 5:30pm, making this a 24.7 mile hike with 6931’ of elevation gain in 13 hours.
The Rico-Silverton Trailhead past South Mineral Creek has to be one of my favorite trailheads to spend the night. The 4WD road in isn’t very 4WD (except for the creek crossings), and there are rarely any people there. Also, no marmots. I was woken up in the middle of the night by a rustling sound I thought was a rodent in my truck, but ended up realizing it was just my elbow brushing a bag of chips.
It was another cold night, but I was ready to go at 5:45am. It was still dark, but I’ve taken this trail numerous times, so I knew which way to go.
The trail starts at the south end of the parking area, and immediately crosses the creek
I followed this class 1 trail all the way to treeline, crossing the creek several times along the way.
Another perk of hiking here is a mama moose owns this basin. Every year for the past few years I’ve seem mama, mama and baby, or mama and yearling in this basin. It’s been neat to see mama get bigger, and baby(ies) as well. This yearling seems to be female, as she didn’t have antlers. I saw these two just as it was beginning to get light out, so the pictures didn’t turn out well. As soon as they noticed me they headed south, slowly making their way over the pass.
I hiked the Rico-Silverton Trail for 2.2 miles, to about 11925’, and then left the trail to follow the contour of the upper basin east, towards the south side of Twin Sisters. This is the route I took
And some step-by-step pictures:
There are some faint game trails here, but they aren’t really needed, as long as you’re heading for the base of the mountain
Once there, I found a clear path through the willows and ascended the talus
I was surprised when I heard coyotes yipping during the day: I usually only hear them at night
Following this line brought me to the base of the rock outcroppings. I put on my microspikes, and followed where the slabs met talus until I found the gullies.
All of the gullies go, but, as I found out on my way back down, find the first one and stick with it (turn left and follow it to the ridge). You’re aiming for the ridge, which means hiking northwest. Microspikes were extremely helpful here. This shouldn’t be more difficult than class 2+
It’s going to be a chossy-talus-scree-filled mess, but it’ll go
Once on the ridge, I followed it northeast, staying on the ridge. There’s a false summit here. I kept my spikes on, but they were overkill. The rock here was talus, and annoying, but firm.
Hitting the false summit was a bit of a downer, but the hike had been easy thus far, so it was kind of expected. I continued following the ridge. There’s a quick chasm to cross in the circled area. It can be kept at 2+. I dipped down to the left about 30 feet, then re-ascended and started climbing towards the summit
Form here it was a simple ridge hike to the summit
I summited Twin Sisters West at 8:40am
Twin Sisters West:
From the summit of ‘west’ it was easy to see the route to Twin Sisters East: I just needed to follow the ridge
There were no big surprises on this one. There were some game trails to the right, but they didn’t seem prudent. I just followed the ridge, and then closely navigated the rock problems, which were all class 2. This is the route I took
And some closer pictures
The summit was relatively flat. I wasn’t sure where the exact summit was, so I waked the entire length, just to realize the summit was at the top of the ridge
I summited Twin Sisters East at 9:20am
Twin Sisters East:
Because I’d done most of my hiking in while it was dark, I decided to make this an out and back trip so I could get better pictures of the trek i. So, I retraced my steps back to Twin Sisters West. This was a simple ridge hike
From Twin Sisters West I continued following the ridge southwest. It’s important to follow this ridge all the way to the end (black arrow). Also, here’s an overview of the route around the basin. Fun fact: the white area isn’t water, but rock from a dry stream bed. I’m sure at some point in the year it holds water, but I’ve only seen it dry.
Here’s a close up of the ridge problem
And following the ridge to the end
Once at the end of the ridge, I turned left and scree surfed/carefully navigated my way down the gullies
At the base of the gullies I turned right, and headed out of the basin
There were faint game trails here
That led me back to the Rico-Silverton Trail, which I took north back to my truck
I made it back to my truck at 12:30pm, making this a 10.32 mile hike with 4101’ of elevation gain in 6 hours, 45 minutes.
This trip changed so many times before it even began. I have an actual job, with responsibilities, meetings, etc. I drove down to Durango Wednesday night, slept in the cab of my truck at a Walmart (the topper is still on order), got “the knock” at 10:30pm, moved, then woke up and worked/had meetings in my truck the next day. Then I drove to Hunchback Pass through Silverton (my favorite way to get to Hunchback pass). It started raining as soon as I hit the dirt road, and didn’t stop. There was a 60% chance of rain today, but I was still hoping to find a window and hike either 5 or 10 miles to a camping spot (depending on when it got dark, weather, etc.).
The road over Stony Pass was sketchy in the rain. Miles did great, but there were a few times I was worried the mud was too deep to get through. I was a bit worried about the river crossings too, but Miles once again had no trouble.
I’ve been to this area 3 or 4 times, and know the perfect place to park: It’s a pullout at 11230’, just before you hit the trees (again), and before getting to Beartown. My truck can make it further, but from past experience I know it’s going to get Colorado pinstripes from the willows and I have the opportunity to scrape the frame a couple of times as well. I love my truck, so I parked here, about 1.3 miles from the trailhead, in a flat spot with a campfire ring at 11235’.
I parked and waited for the rain to stop. The rain turned to graupel, then rain again, then hail. I could see the clouds coming over Hunchback Pass, and they weren’t getting any prettier. Wave after wave of new sets of clouds kept cycling in. After waiting for a few hours, I decided to just get some sleep. I know many of you would start out in the rain, but with my Raynaud’s I can’t risk it: If I get wet/cold that’s it for me, as I cannot warm up. I woke up every hour to check on the weather. The rain didn’t stop/clouds didn’t clear until 4:30am. That was a 15 hour rain delay that was seriously messing with my summiting plans.
I put on my rain gear to ward off water on the trail dripping from plants, and was on the trail before 5am.
Day 1 went like this:
Gained 1275’ over 2.8 miles (to Hunchback Pass)
Lost 2350’ over 5 miles (to Rock Creek Junction)
Gained 2503’ over 6.4 miles (to pass over Rock Lake)
Lost 500’ over .5 miles (From pass across basin)
Gained 1150’ over 1 mile (from basin to Oso/Soso saddle/to Oso Summit)
Lost 1150’ over 1 mile (back to basin)
Gained 500’ over .5 miles (back to saddle)
Made it back to Rock Lake (losing about 600’ more)
Ok, so, let’s start from the beginning: From my parking space at 11235’, it was an easy hike to the trailhead, passing through Beartown. There were two other 4WD vehicles parked here, a 4Runner and a Tacoma like mine, unmodified, so you know it’s doable (choose wisely).
Once at the trailhead (813) I followed the Vallecito Trail up to Hunchback Pass
And then I headed south through the basin, following the trail down for 5 miles as it lost 2350’ in elevation
There were willows here, and I was glad to have on my rain pants. There were a few stream crossings, all easily crossable.
I saw evidence of someone’s fire getting out of control: looks like they lost their pack in the process. I wonder how they put it out? In case you’re wondering, yes, the ground was cold and the fire was out (I’m sure the 15 hours of rain last night had helped).
After hiking for a total of 7.8 miles (from where I parked) I made it to the Rock Creek Junction, and followed that trail southeast for another 5 miles up to Rock Lake. This trail was also class 1, and easy to follow.
Just before making it to Rock Lake I passed through a basin
In this basin was a bull moose. I didn’t worry too much about him, because he was hundreds of yards away from me, on the opposite side of the basin. I continued on the trail, but once he noticed me, he raced towards me and stopped a few yards away. He charged me (it was a bluff). I knew not to make eye contact with him, which was what he wanted. I could actually feel him willing me to look at him. I kept my head straight and walked the trail with a purpose, ignoring him. He continued snorting and pawing at the ground and shifting his head from side to side. Then he paralleled me for about 50 yards, walking about 5 yards to the west of me. When he was done, he trotted away and took in a view of the mountains.
As he trotted away I breathed a sigh of relief, and continued on the trail, exiting the basin and making my way to Rock Lake.
I arrived at the lake at 11am and decided to set up my campsite for the night. I didn’t see anyone else here.
It was still early in the day, so after a quick snack I left my heavier gear and just brought the essentials: I planned to summit Mt Oso today. To do that, I skirted Rock Lake to the east and ascended the rocks
As I made it to the rocky area, I came across a cairned trail, and followed that trail southwest. Note, I took the solid line up, the dotted line down. The dotted line was easier, but both ‘went’. You can’t tell from below, but there’s a grassy area by the dotted line that helped me avoid the willows (pictures on my way down).
Here’s the cairned route, with the ‘exit cairns’ circled in red
Here’s where I left the trail. If you continue following the cairns, you’ll go down to Half Moon Lake. I was headed towards Mt Oso, so I left the cairns and continued heading up (west).
Time for more elevation loss, and gain. I was headed for the Mt Soso/Mt Oso saddle. This required me to lose 500’ through this basin, and then ascend the gully.
The basin was easy to cross. There were small streams and some willows to navigate, but the route was obvious (and choose your own adventure: just keep heading towards the gully/saddle). The gully was a mix of large, loose boulders, smaller loose rocks, and scree.
Once at the top of the gully/saddle, it was once again time to lose elevation. Being here also gave me a great view of Mt Irving. I descended the gully to the northwest, staying on the scree at the base of the rock outcroppings, rounding them, and losing 175’ in elevation.
Stay low here. You’re going to want to stay high, but you’re aiming for a green rock band to cross. It’s lower than you’d like it to be (around 12600’)
There’s a little bit of scrambling to get over the rock band. I was able to keep it as easy class 3 by taking this route
Once across the green rock outcropping, it was time to gain the ridge. I turned and headed north. The rocks here were large and loose, with some scree mixed in.
I went low just before ascending the ridge, following a scree/game trail
And then followed the ridge to the summit
Summit of Mt Oso
There was a large, military grade summit register, with a moving dedication inside, as well as some ceramic bowls (I’m sure that’s not what they actually are, ad that they have a purpose?).
I looked over at Irving and North Irving. I did the math in my head, and there was no way I had time to loose the 1500’ of elevation, then regain 1300’ to summit Irving, plus hike back with all those ups and downs to Rock Lake before sunset. It’s important I’m in my sleeping bag before the sun goes down, which limits my hiking time. Oh well, just one peak for this trip.
So, I turned and headed back towards the Oso/Soso saddle
Back at the saddle I retraced my steps down the gully, back across the basin, and up to the next ridge, finding a grassy bank to ascend
The route looks much different heading back, so be sure to study it on the way in. Stay just below this cliff band
And now to head back down to the trail
You know you’re back on trail when you see cairns
Back down to Rock Lake. Here’s an overall view of the route I took down, and check it out: another camper! I walked by his tent, and apologized for doing so, but told him he was camped in the only area without willows…
There are lots of cairns here to guide you back down.
I made it back to my campsite as the wind started picking up. I was glad I’d made the decision to head back. I jotted down some notes, and looked at my tracker: I’d done 18 miles today, with almost 7500’ of elevation. I sat in my tent for a while, glad I’d decided to bring a tent, listening to the wind howl outside. I eventually fell asleep, and woke up to frost inside my tent. Lovely. I quicky broke camp and headed back down into the basin. Everything was covered in a thinl layer of frost.
Oh, did I mention the trails were mucky? It was from all of that rain yesterday. The entire way in, and out, I was walking on water/mud/avoiding puddles, glad I was wearing new hiking boots that were still waterproof.
On my way out of the basin I decided not to take any chances, and wore my helmet. Towards the end of the basin I spotted the moose again. This time he had a friend, and didn’t seem to care I was there. I’ve seen over 20 moose in Colorado while hiking, and this was the first aggressive one I’ve come across. It’s interesting today he had no interest in me, while yesterday he was overly intrigued/agitated I was there.
I followed the Rock Creek Trail back down to the Vallecito Trail
Then took the Vallecito Trail back up to Hunchback Pass
And then back to the trailhead, the road, and my truck
When I made it back to my truck, my tracker told me I’d hiked 33.61 miles with 9833’ of elevation gain.
Now, for the hour and a half drive back to Silverton! Oh, also, side note: If you’re driving these back roads, make sure you know where you’re going! It’s easy to get lost back here. I met a man in a jeep as I was hiking back to my truck who was totally turned around. He wanted to know how much further down the 4WD road to the ‘real’ road. I had to tell him he wasn’t going in the right direction (this road is a dead end) and that Silverton was many, many miles away. An easy way to not get lost out there without cell service is to load your track onto CalTopo, then add a line and trace the roads you wish to take, then use that track your drive.
Just for fun, here are some pictures of the road out…
I drove through the night and arrived at St Elmo at 4am. I love driving, especially at this time of year: once the summer campers are gone I don’t see another vehicle from the time I hit HWY 24 until I make it to my destination (besides the predictable police officers, stationed on the side of the road in their usual places – It’s gotta be tough for them this time of year, and cold. Thank you for your service). The 2WD road in was a bit slick so I took it slow.
The usual place I like to park (on the east side of town) had vehicles and trailers parked erratically in most of the spaces. It looked like they’d been parked there for quite a long time, so I drove through town, looking for a place to park closer to where I wanted to start. I figured I could always turn back if needed and squeeze-in. There were dozens of ‘no parking’ signs all through town, leading up to 267, but I was able to find a 20 foot space right near the start of the trail that didn’t have a ‘no parking’ sign (there were signs on the opposite side of the road, but not here, so I took pictures and crossed my fingers this was a ‘legal’ place to park). I decided to take my chances and park, mainly because it was cold, and I wasn’t entirely sure I was hiking for very long this morning (I would most likely be back by 8am at this point, before anyone would question my questionable parking situation). I was having a really hard time motivating myself to hike today. As I drove to the trailhead the temperature outside plummeted, and was a balmy 7 degrees outside when I arrived. The forecast said a low of 30.
I know myself pretty well, so I have a rule that says I at least attempt a hike (except for that one time when the temperature was -36 degrees at the South Mt Elbert trailhead. I turned around that time… after sitting for 30 minutes at the trailhead waiting for the temperature to increase. When it didn’t, I was more worried about re-starting my vehicle after turning it off than I was about my own personal safety and left. Otherwise, I always attempt). Usually, once I start hiking I don’t want to stop. Hiking always makes me feel better, and I never regret a hike, even if I need to turn back. Also, the further I go the less likely I am to turn back. So, I went through the act of putting on my essential cold weather gear, telling myself I’d work at it and only turn back if I was worried about frostbite (etc). Don’t we all love a balaclava?
I was on the trail (in all my winter gear) at 4:30am. The trail starts out following Trail/Road 267 west
This road goes all the way to Tincup Pass, and by the looks of it, a 4WD vehicle had driven the entire way recently. High five to this individual, as they have some serious chutzpah. I was glad I’d parked below however, as I wasn’t sure how my truck would have done on the ice.
This trail parallels North Fork Chalk Creek. As I was hiking my feet were frozen. My fingers were frozen. I couldn’t feel my nose. I kept telling myself I should turn back. But I also kept telling myself I wanted to get a good hike in today, as the alternative was to drive home and hit the treadmill: I’d just make sure I got in at least 5 miles out and back. Ok, 10 if possible? And how could I get as much elevation gain as possible while avoiding those torrential winds? If mileage/elevation isn’t possible while hiking I hit the treadmill when I get home, but I’d much rather make my miles/elevation in the mountains. It was supposed to be very windy above treeline today, but if I kept moving I could keep my toes ‘warm’. They had to warm up eventually, right? So, I kept going. I jumped a few times in the dark at the sound of running water (water running over trailside waterfalls). I know that sounds weird, but it was always unexpected, specially today as otherwise it was very quite this morning.
I followed the road for 5.15 miles, staying right here to stay on the road. As I hiked I saw quite a few moose tracks. It looked like a mama and baby were in the area, so I was on the lookout. I saw tire tracks, but no human footprints.
From here the incline started as I followed the road up the mountainside
After hiking for 5.15 miles I was in the basin. My spirits had lifted, and I was now excited to be out hiking today. The winds had put drifts onto the 4WD road, so I decided to put on my snowshoes and head towards Tincup pass on foot.
As I hiked I changed today’s hiking plans. Originally I’d planned to hike Emma Burr, but I could see by looking at the clouds the winds were intense above treeline, and the snow was coming in much earlier than predicted (4pm was when they were slated to start, but by the looks of it, it would be snowing before noon). I had several options today, and chose instead to summit Fitzpatrick Peak. I believe this is traditionally done by gaining Tincup pass and following the ridge (thus getting in a 12er as well), but my visual of the winds told me my Raynaud’s would balk at a windy and cold ridge hike today. So, instead I decided to make this a visual hike and hike up the west side of Fitzpatrick Peak, staying below the ridge and thus avoiding the brunt of the wind. Here’s my overall route. In red I’ve circled an obvious trail, but it led to a cornice I didn’t feel comfortable attempting today.
On the way in I went through the willows, and don’t recommend this. I followed moose tracks, winding in and out as they did to find the best path. On my way back I stayed higher and found more solid ground (dotted line). I’d recommend staying high.
This is a very visual, not a technical hike. Here are some close up pictures (once again, one of the summer routes is circled, and you can see why I chose to stay low, as there’s a cornice at the end of the route, and cliffs above the exit point around the cornice).
I gained the ridge at the last possible point. Here I encountered fierce winds and sastrugi. It had been a good idea to stay low for so long.
I summited Fitzpatrick Peak at 8:35am. Note: I recently bought a stylus (well, 5 for $3, gotta love Amazon) and it’s changed my life! I no longer need to take off my gloves to take a picture with my cell phone. This is a major bonus when your camera battery dies due to cold, but your phone still works. The only downside? It’s still selfies at summits (trust me, I hate these more than you do).
Time to head back. The winds were seriously intense, and, even though I missed out on a 12er and several other 13ers, I still believed I’d made a good choice in the peak I hiked today and my approach in doing so. Here’s a look at the way back, with a look at Emma Burr, as well as the 12er, Tincup Pass, and alternate routes/4WD roads. My route is solid orange, alternates are dotted.
The winds were intense and I could see the snow coming in (early), so I didn’t stay long on the summit. Here’s the route down, one of the alternate routes I’d avoided circled in red. I stayed higher this time, mostly because I really wanted a picture of me at Tincup Pass with all this snow, but as I hiked on the weather quickly deteriorated. The clouds came in faster, and it started to snow. So I decided to just aim for the trail I’d hiked in on and get out before the storm hit.
As I was hiking out I saw two moose! They weren’t right along the trail, but I was confident I’d been following their tracts earlier.
They were both males (not a mama and baby), one that looked mature, and the other probably a 2-3 year old (his antlers were lacking, but present) and while they didn’t run away (which is usually what happens when I see moose) they did stare at me, and turn their bodies as I walked by. To avoid conflict I didn’t make eye contact, and tried to be as respectable as possible. These photos are terrible because I wasn’t aiming/zooming in, etc., but snapping as I hiked past…. and they were on my cell phone (my good camera had a frozen battery and wasn’t functional). It’s been quite a banner year for me for moose sightings. I think I’m up to 7 or 8, when it’s usually around 3 or 4.
I think it’s interesting the males seems to join together. I’ve never seen two females together (unless mother and baby). I’ve seen males and females alone, a male and female together, and up to 3 males together at a time, but never two females.
I was now back at the 4WD road. Here I took off my snowshoes, as they were no longer needed (they were a bit overkill towards the summit, but it hadn’t been worth it to take them off for such a short trek)
It was now snowing. Not a lot, but enough to tell me to book it back to the truck. The weather had certainly come in much quicker today than anticipated. I was pleased with my choice of Fitzpatrick Peak as an alternate today: the weather on Emma Burr looked menacing at this point. I followed the 4WD road back
This time, appreciating the streams whose noise had startled me in the dark, and doubly appreciating the lack of snowmobiles: Last time I was here they zoomed by every 5 minutes or so, and it was obvious they were on a tour and didn’t know how to navigate their vehicles: I did a lot of jumping out of the way. Today it was a nice, peaceful hike, and I didn’t see another person all day.
I made it back to my truck at 11:30am, making this a 14.65 mile hike with 3169’ of elevation gain in 7 hours.
It was now 36 degrees, and while my hike hadn’t turned out as I’d intended (Emma Burr was my initial goal) I was so glad I’d decided to get out of my truck in 7 degree weather and hike! Added bonus: Apparently I’d parked legally: no ticket on my dashboard and my truck was still there when I got back, so I’m assuming it was a legal place to park (with so many ‘illegal’ places, a nice ‘you CAN park here’ sign would be nice…)
The weather has been outstanding, so I decided to get in one last bicentennial for the year. I woke up at midnight, worked for a bit, and then drove to Cataract Gulch Trailhead. This trailhead has a bathroom (just an FYI). I was on the trail at 6am.
The trail starts at the south end of the parking area, first crossing a bridge, and then a few more smaller bridges (which are new and weren’t here the last time I was in the area) to get across Cottonwood Creek.
I came to a trail register, signed it, and was on my way
I followed the class 1 Cataract Gulch Trail 475 as it switchbacked south for 3.25 miles
At the top of the waterfall area I crossed the creek a few times (cross the large rock slab first, and then a log)
And came to a boulder field
At the top of the boulder field I’d hiked for 3.5 miles. Here I turned right and headed west up the slope. Here’s an overall view of the route. There are many ways to do this, the goal is to gain the upper basin.
The terrain began rocky
And then changed to tundra
At the top of the hill the tundra started rolling. Here you can see Quarter Peak, and the overall route to get there
I headed northwest and rounded the upper basin
And then turned left and headed up the ridge
This part of the ridge started out as nice, rolling tundra
But about halfway up turned to rubbish rock. I’ll say that again: rubbish rock.
Getting to and staying on the ridge is the best option for this part of the hike. The rock is loose, but at least it can’t fall from above
At the top of the ridge I skirted the north side of the mountain for a bit. There’s a gully here, and you’ll want to go straight up it, but don’t (this is a false summit). Instead, ascend about 50 feet up the gully, and then continue skirting the north side of the mountain. This gully is very, very loose, and the terrain changes every time someone ascends/descends.
I quickly came to the false summit, and could see the short path to the true summit. This was class 2
I summited Quarter Peak at 9:30am (unfortunately, I’d lost my sunglasses last weekend camping and didn’t realize this until I was leaving my truck this morning, so I was squinting all day)
This is an out and back trail, so I headed back the way I’d hiked in. Route finding was much easier this time as I initially stayed low before the gully
When I got to the gully it was just as bad going down as it had been going up. Very, very loose.
Then on to the rubbish rock, heading east/southeast down the ridge. This was slow going, as I didn’t want to roll an ankle
The rock changed to tundra and I turned right and followed the basin east back down to Cataract Gulch trail
Here are some highlights from the trail down
I signed out of the trail register (I’d been the only one to sign it in the past week) and was almost back to the trailhead when I heard a loud rusting. I stopped and turned to my right. No more than 10 feet away from me was the biggest bull moose I’ve ever seen! He was just as startled as I’d been and quickly ran to the cover of denser trees. I gave him plenty of room, and he kept his back to me, so this was the best picture of him I was able to get.
I didn’t stay there long, as he obviously wasn’t in the mood for company. I crossed the creek and made it back to the trailhead
I made it back to my truck at 12pm, making this a 10.3 mile hike with 4227’ of elevation gain in 6 hours.
RT Length: 49.5 Miles (CalTopo) 42.61 Miles (Strava)
Elevation Gain: 9166’ (CalTopo) 13428’ (Strava)
Day 1: Approach, Columbine Lake, Aztec Mountain
After quite a long drive I made it to the trailhead around 9pm. Just before Vallecito campground there’s a sign indicating trailhead parking is to the left. I parked, and was surprised I had cell service. There were several horse trailers in the parking area, and a few vehicles.
I tried to get some sleep, but my nap earlier in the day had lasted longer than it was supposed to (my alarm didn’t go off, and 30 minutes turned into 3 hours). So, I read a bit, made a few phone calls, and got to bed later than anticipated. I was up and on the trail at 2:30am. The trail starts at the northeast corner of the campground. I started and ended the hike in the dark. Also, I had my new camera with me, and was interested in how the pictures from today would turn out.
This is a class 1 trail that goes north without any junctions, so it’s difficult to get lost/off track. I crossed the first two bridges (there are actually 3 if you consider the one that leads you out of the campground but doesn’t cross Vallecito Creek), but made it to the third bridge while it was still dark. I couldn’t see across the river, and I didn’t want to cross without a visual, so I laid out my sleeping pad and took a nap for 30 minutes until it got light enough for me to see, then I put on my sandals and crossed the river. I’m glad I waited until daylight: crossing wasn’t too difficult, the water only went up to my knees, but there were pockets/pools where I could have sunk in the water much, much further. My advice is to cross this creek (river?) in the daylight.
I continued hiking along the class 1 trail, but the stream crossing was causing me to have a Raynaud’s attack. Surprisingly, it was in my hands and not my feet. I kept pumping my fingers and balling my hands into fists, willing them to warm up and stop burning (yes, I realize that was a juxtaposition). My fingers burned for another 2 hours. I should have stopped and warmed up some water to revive them, but instead I continued hiking until I came to the Vallecito/Johnson Creek Junction. I made it to the junction after hiking for 10.3 miles, and continued left (west) towards Johnson Creek
This led me over the 4th bridge, where I continued heading west, up into Vallecito Basin.
Just as I entered the Vallecito Basin I came across a moose. She was just as surprised to see me as I was her. She was the size of a horse, adorable, and reminded me of a puppy dog, but I gave her space. After the initial inquisitive look she gave me she pranced off to the trees and watched me timidly as I hiked away.
I continued on, up a thousand or so switchbacks, through the Vallecito basin to Columbine Lake.
It took me 18.5 miles to make it to Columbine Lake. I made it there at 1pm and decided to sit and take a break for a while. It was here I realized my biggest mistake of the weekend: I didn’t have any chapstik. My lips would be burning until I made it back to the trailhead (and especially after each shot of whiskey). I snacked on a packet of tuna, filtered some water, and considered my options. I’d wanted to hike Grizzly and McCauley today, but I didn’t think I had enough time to make it back before the sun went down behind the mountains. I need to be in my bivy before the sun sets, so this was a serious concern for me. But I wasn’t tired yet. I decided instead to leave my large pack here, take just what I needed in a small pack, and summit Aztec Mountain this afternoon instead.
Here’s an overall view of the route I took to the ridge to Aztec Mountain, as seen from Hope Pass the next day
From Columbine Lake I turned and followed the trail northwest towards Columbine Pass, then turned left when it hit trail 541 (no signage, and in fact I had to wing it for a bit as the trail didn’t quite go through, but it was obvious from below where the trail was and I just aimed for it) and headed south.
I followed trail 541 for .7 miles, and then left the trail and aimed for this grassy area. My goal was to gain the ridge, and this seemed the best place to do so, as I could see a path on tundra/scree up to the ridge. After hiking up and down this is the route I’d recommend to ascend the ridge.
The terrain here is steep, and it was slow going, but I was able to ascend the ridge
Once on the ridge I was at a bit of a saddle. There is no need to head right (north) to gain this point, as it’s not ranked and you’ll just need to head back down anyway. Instead, skirt the point by heading west.
This will bring you to the ridge that will lead you to Aztec Mountain. This ridge doesn’t ‘go’. Staying low is the better option here. Here’s an overview of the path you’ll want to take
Staying low keeps this class 2. The final gully is easy to access, and the final scramble to the summit is straightforward
I summited Aztec Mountain at 3:15pm
Here are some pictures of the way back down to Columbine Lake
I was chasing the sun, trying to make it to the lake before the shadow of the mountain made it there and cooled everything down. Between the shadow and I it was pretty much a tie, so I gathered my gear and hiked a bit further into the sunshine and set up camp for the night.
I made it back to Columbine Lake at 5:15pm, satisfied with my choice to hike Aztec Mountain today instead of Grizzly and McCauley. I was spending the night at 12,300’, with a great view of Columbine Lake. I went to dry out my feet but my sandals were still wet from this morning (I’d forgotten to take them out and place them in the sun when I left for Aztec). I ate dinner, filtered some water, heated the water in my jetboil and filled my Nalgene with warm water for the night. I looked around for my extra pair of socks but couldn’t find them, so I guess my feet weren’t going to dry out tonight. I placed the water bottle at my feet and looked at my tracker: it said I’d done 20 miles today. Not bad. I snuggled up in my sleeping bag and bivy and looked over at Grizzly Peak. I thought about the approach tomorrow, jotted some notes down in my journal, put on all the clothing I had with me, and called it an early night.
It was a long night. A long, cold night. I was warm in my bivy and sleeping bag. Halfway through the night I felt something sniffing my ear. Seriously. It felt like a dogs’ muzzle and startled me awake. From inside my bivy I flailed my arm at it, unzipped my bivy, and looked around. There was no moon but the sky was bright with stars. I could see the mountains and the lake and rocks and tundra, but no animal. It hadn’t made a noise when I’d touched it, but I’m guessing it was a fox or a coyote with an ear fetish. The air is thin at 12,000’. A few hours later I woke up, noticing breathing was more difficult than usual. To breathe better I quickly opened my bivy to get in a few gulps of air. Not only did this not help with my breathing, but when I put the bivy back over my head the condensation from my breath had turned to ice. Wonderful. Note to self: don’t unzip the bivy.
Day 2: Grizzly Peak C, McCauley Peak, Descent
The morning couldn’t come soon enough. Just before first light I re-heated the water in my water bottle, packed my gear and was on the trail with just the essentials, leaving my big pack at the lake. I took the same trail I’d taken to summit Aztec, but at the junction with trail 541 I went right and followed the trail towards Hope Pass. Here’s an overall view of the route from yesterday’s hike
This part of the hike was on a nice trail, and when there wasn’t a trail there were great cairns. From Hope Pass I got a good look at Grizzly Peak C, and the route I wanted to take to gain the ridge. Here’s the overall route I took, aiming for a gully and rock rib that ascends the mountain
I didn’t descend to Hazel Lake, but instead stayed high, aiming for the grassy slopes below Grizzly’s ridge. There are several ways to do this
From there I aimed for the obvious gully/notch/access point (not sure what to call this?)
This gully/notch/rib is easy to follow to the ridge. Stick close to the wall and follow it southeast as it hugs the mountainside. It starts out as class 3 but after the initial solid gully it becomes class 2. I was pleasantly surprised to find cairns here.
Here’s the last bit to gain the ridge. Aim for the notch (there are cairns here too). The last part of this is class 3.
I went through the notch and found snow on the other side. This wasn’t unexpected, as I’ve spent the past 3 weekends in this area and knew north facing terrain was holding snow. What was unexpected was the amount of snow, and how it all lined the trail. It ranged from non-existent to 3 foot drifts, and from bulletproof to sugary. What’s important for the reader to know is there are multiple ways to summit Grizzly Peak, and tons of cairns to prove it, so I was able to get creative these last 250’ or so to the summit. I rock hopped where necessary, kicked in steps, and created trenches to get to the summit, always heading up and east. Here are some highlights.
The last bit to the summit was luckily snow-free, and class 3-4 (the chimney was class 4)
As I made it to the summit I wasn’t sure if the true summit was left or right. I went right and luckily chose correctly (there was a summit register beneath this point).
I summited Grizzly Peak at 9:15am. I know some of you are wondering, did I did I sit at the top of the summit point? The answer is no. The point was too pointy to sit directly on top of, but I did climb up the summit boulder, sat on it about a foot from the point and touched the top, so I’m calling it a summit. You can sit wherever you’d like. I also didn’t take the video from the point, as I do a 360 degree video and wasn’t about to attempt turning in a circle while standing on the point.
Grizzly Peak C:
Time to head back down. I down climbed the chimney and headed back, retracing the steps I’d left in the snow to the notch
I made my way back down around the side of the mountain to my entry point
My next objective was McCauley Peak. I could clearly see the line I wanted to take, up the grassy slopes to the Grizzly/McCauley saddle. Staying high didn’t cliff out, but there was one class 4 downclimb required in the area circled in red. If this scares you, you can just go lower initially (the dotted line) and re-gain elevation.
I gained the saddle and headed south along the ridge. This was all class 2
From the top of the ridge I could see the rest of the route. There were cairns here indicating I should go low, but the route was no more than class 3 sticking to the ridge. Here’s an overview of the route I took
The summit is actually the southernmost point. I rounded the west side of the mountain and found a gully to ascend (note: all gullies here ‘go’).
There was one class 3 move and then it was all class 2 to the summit
I summited McCauley Peak at 11:30am
It was a beautiful day! The predicted winds never materialized, so I stayed a little longer on the summit than usual. Then I headed back down the gully and over the ridge
Here’s the overall route back to Hope Pass
And the route from Hope Pass back down to Columbine Lake (and my stashed gear)
I made it back to my gear at 1:30pm. I mulled it over, and decided instead of sleeping here tonight I was just going to hike as far back as possible, stopping along the way if need be (there are tons of camping spots along this trail). I consolidated my gear and was on my way back down the basin towards those thousands of switchbacks.
Back down to Vallecito Creek and its bridges (or lack thereof). This was much more enjoyable in the daylight. I was able to appreciate the creek and its depth, and even saw dozens of trout swimming in the deeper pools.
I followed the class 1 trail back to the trailhead, following the creek, and passing a hunters’ camp along the way. The mules said ‘hi’ as I trekked by. There were no people to be found.
The whole way back I was prepared to stop and camp, but I was making great time so I just kept going. I mean, I really, really needed that chapstik. About a mile from the trailhead my camera stopped working. It wasn’t until I made it back home I realized the battery had somehow fallen out. This was weird because the door was still closed, and I only realized it was gone when I opened it to take out the flash card. Luckily I have a spare. I made it back to the trailhead at 8pm, and found my extra pair of socks sitting nicely in the passenger seat. I have very different numbers for my stats looking at CalTopo and Strava. I usually go with CalTopo for numbers for consistency sake, but I’ll just leave these here for you to decide which are more accurate, along with a few topo maps of my route.
I’ve put off these peaks because I was a bit anxious about the drive in from Silverton, but the weather was perfect and they’re on my list, so off I went. After a Girl Scout meeting where we sewed masks (I have a girl working on her Gold Award who did an awesome job leading the meeting), I drove 8 hours to the Hunchback Pass trailhead. Along the way I saw a moose. And let me tell you, this is why they don’t call it “moose in the headlights”: they really don’t care. I sat there for a bit watching her, and then just drove by. She munched on willows as I passed.
The drive in on the dirt road was underwhelming. I have no idea what I’d been worried about? It took me an hour and a half, and was actually quite pleasant. These pictures are from the way out, but it was just as easy to drive both ways. I never had difficulty passing others, and 4WD was only needed once or twice. This is actually one of the better 4WD roads I’ve done this year, and if weather permits, I’ll be back again next week. Here are some pictures from the drive in
And the Rio Grande river crossings (easy in late September)
I found a place to park much sooner than I needed to. I’m not sure why I stopped here except it was dark and I was tired and it was a good spot, but I could have continued driving another mile to the trailhead and been fine. I parked, slept for half an hour (I’d been up for 24+ hours, and needed the rest) and was on my way at 5:30am.
Since I’d parked along the road I followed the 4WD road for 1.3 miles before turning left onto Trail 813. There was room for 2 vehicles to park at the trailhead. There’s a trail register here, but nothing official.
I followed the class 1 trail as it curved up and over and then down hunchback pass. As I was hiking the sun rose, and I got a good look at Hunchback Mountain. I didn’t have a topo for it, but it looked doable. I’d file that one away and maybe attempt it on the way out.
From the top of Hunchback Pass I hiked for 3.4 miles and lost almost 2000’ of elevation as I followed the class 1 trail down the mountain, crossing small creeks and navigating through willows.
Stay straight at this sign/junction
I missed the initial turnoff and had to do some route finding (because there is no official turnoff). However, after hiking for 3.4 miles there are some logs on the right side of the trail, split in half, and a waterfall. There are waterfalls all along this trail, so don’t just look for a waterfall, but look for the split logs. Leave the trail here and head west.
From here you’ll quickly come to an easy creek to cross and a waterfall. This is Nebo Creek. You can camp here, and it’s worth spending a little time enjoying the area.
There is no clear trail here, but there is a bit of a game trail. Several in fact. They all go to the same place, so follow stormy creek by heading west, stay north of the creek for better terrain. Here are some pictures.
I headed west for just under 2 miles. I believe the standard way to enter the basin as it leads to Lake Silex is to use the obvious scree/rock filled gully (dotted line). I didn’t do this, and I’m glad I didn’t (I did take it down and was disappointed, as it seemed more trouble than the way I took up). Instead, I went further west, found a different, smaller gully by the rock/grass/willow filled slopes, and ascended that way. Here’s an overview
And step by step
I was able to follow game trails the entire way, and even saw some cairns in areas. At 11500’ I turned left and headed south, then southwest up the side of the mountain, aiming for this narrow gully.
Here’s looking up into the gully, and back down from the top. The rocks here were solid and it was an easy climb
From the top of the gully I still had a ways to go. I headed south, and then west, curving high along the side of the mountain. I wasn’t headed to Lake Silex today, but instead to the pass, so staying high was helpful.
After rounding Lake Silex I headed up the rocky gully to the pass at 12800’
It took me 10 miles to make it to the pass. I took off my gear and took a break. I ate a packet of tuna (I’d forgotten to eat breakfast) and decided to leave my large pack here and just take some water and a first aid kit in my small pack for the rest of the day. Before I left, I filled my water filter up with snow and laid it out in the sun, hoping it would melt so I could filter it later.
First up: Storm King Peak. Here’s a view of the overall route from further down the pass below later in the day.
And a view from the pass
I did some scrambling, following the ridge north east. There really is no established route here, just pick your line. It shouldn’t be harder than class 3
At 13430’ there’ll be a small dip, and an obvious place to cross the gully
After crossing the gully, I headed north along the ridge. The peak is just to the left
I summited Storm King Peak at 12:25am
Storm King Peak:
Here’s the route back down to the pass
From the pass my next objective was Peak Seven. I headed west, losing about 300’ as I descended into the basin, and then headed back up towards Peak Seven. Here’s an overall look at the route
This was pretty straightforward. Here are some step by step photos. First, I entered the basin and then rounded the side of Peak 8
There were a few game trails here. I stuck high, and then aimed for a gully that would bring me to the pond underneath Peak Seven
From the pond I turned right and headed west up the gully
Once I’d gained the ridge I headed south. There was some scrambling here, and due to the fact there was snow on the normal route I had to get a bit creative. Instead of going up the face I stuck to the left and avoided the snow, and had some fun class 3/exposed scrambling instead. Here’s the basic route
There was a nice, airy game trail that led me to some rock slabs, which I used to ascend
I summited Peak Seven at 3:10pm
Heading down Peak Seven was just as fun as heading up. Here’s the way back to the saddle
From the saddle I hiked back down to the lake, and made my way over to the south side of Peak 8, intent on attempting Peak 9 today as well.
However, as I rounded the corner to Peak 8 I noticed the sun was already starting to set behind Peak Seven. It’s fall, and the days are short. Looking at the hike ahead, I knew I wouldn’t be back to my gear before dark. I have Raynaud’s, and I need to be bundled up and in bed as the sun goes down. I sighed and retraced my steps back to where I’d left my gear at the pass. Once I got there, I’d do some thinking. Here’s the route from the top of the gully of Peak Seven back to the pass.
As I made my way back to the pass I noticed a gully in between Peak Eight and Peak Nine. It looked like it went.
I filed that away and kept hiking to my gear
As I hiked, I strategized. I could hike back down to the lake to set up camp, but right now I was really upset about not getting in Peak Nine today as well. The approach was a lot for one peak, and I really didn’t want to drive/hike in all this way in the future just for Peak Nine at a future date. Maybe I could get it tomorrow morning? I got out my topo map and the route I’d passed on my way to/from Peak Seven indeed looked like it went, but I was a little worried about the snow. Luckily, I’d packed spikes. I decided to sleep on the pass tonight (at 12,830’) and attempt Peak Nine first thing tomorrow.
I made it back to the pass and looked for a place to spend the night. I didn’t have many options, and all of them were rocky. And windy. Time to set up camp. Check out my bivy for the night. Side note: it’s hard to dry out your feet when it’s windy and cold. I ended up putting dry socks on and wearing my sandals.
As the sun started to set I filtered some water (glad I’d thought to melt snow now that I wasn’t camping at the lake), jotted down some notes, and had dinner (a handful of peanuts and 4 or 5 slices of dried mangoes: eating while hiking makes me nauseous, so I probably only get in 500 calories in an entire backpacking weekend). Oh, and a couple shots of whiskey. That adds calories. I set up all my gear so in the morning all I’d need to do was put away my sleeping bag and bivy (important when you have no function of your fingers, which I won’t in the morning cold), watched the sun set, and poured over topo maps for two other of tomorrow’s peaks: Mt Silex and The Guardian
Anyone else think it looks like The Guardian is wearing a mask?
I set my alarm, bundled myself up in all my clothes, gloves, hat, etc. and went to bed. It was a windy night but my bivy did its job. I woke up at 5:30am and it was still pitch-black outside. I watched a few shooting stars and re-set my alarm, knowing getting outside of my bivy with this wind/cold would be a bad idea. By 6:30am it was just starting to get light. I enjoyed the sunrise tucked inside my layers, and then as quickly as possible put away my bivy and sleeping bag and bundled my gear together. I was going to attempt Peak Nine with just my daypack today as well (which I’d pre-packed last night), so I left my large pack on the pass and started out.
Day 2: Peak Nine, Mt Silex, The Guardian
I started off the same way I’d headed towards Peak Seven yesterday, heading down the pass, but when I saw the access gully for Peak Nine I turned left (south) and up
I’d been a bit worried about the snow, but it wasn’t a nuisance. Most of the gully was dry. I didn’t need to put on traction to kick in steps in the snow, and it didn’t cause me to slip. There was only about 20 feet or so to deal with.
I was excited when I made it to the top of the gully to find I was in the perfect spot to continue the hike. I stayed high and aimed for the ridge. Note: Here it became very windy. The wind didn’t stop all day.
At the end of the ridge an obvious cairn trail picks up.
It will lead you up a class 3-4 chimney and then around the mountainside.
You have the option of taking the gully or the ridge. I took the gully up, the ridge down. The gully takes some route finding and I found it to be class 4. The ridge is easily and highly cairned. Here’s the entrance to the gully. I don’t think there’s a way to cliff out, but there are tons of options to ascend. Just keep heading northeast
Here are some photos from inside the gully
If you keep heading northeast you’ll hit a wall. There will be cairns in the northeast corner of the top of the gully that lead you both to the exit route back down the ridge, and to the summit.
These cairns will take you to the ridge, which if you follow northwest will take you to the summit
I summited Peak 9 at 8:25am
Here’s looking down the gully from the summit. Here you can see you can pick your route but need to head to the northeast corner to gain the ridge
I’m not gonna lie, I didn’t want to head back down the gully. I’d known there was a ridge route when I’d ascended, which kept me going up, but the class 4 moves were bordering on class 5, and I felt safer taking the ridge down. Here are some pictures of the very well cairned route down the ridge. I followed the ridge southeast the way I’d come, dipped down a bit, then found the cairns that led me back up to the ridge
I then followed the ridge
Dipping down to the left once, then staying to the right for the rest of the ridge
The ridge led me to a short gully. I took it southwest
And this brought me back to the trail I’d hiked in on.
I followed it back to the chimney, climbed down
And aimed for the gully I’d hiked in through
I used my kicked in steps from this morning to descend, then made my way back to the pass and my gear.
I sat at the pass and had a packet of tuna and looked at the time. It was still early, so I figured I had plenty of time to hike Mt Silex and The Guardian today as well. I gathered my large pack and set off for Lake Silex below. I was a bit worried about the access gully (circled in red). The snow looked to be covering the entire last part of the route, and I wasn’t sure I’d be able to get up the gully.
I dropped my large pack at the lake. It was now 11am, so the sun wouldn’t be my friend as I ascended the gully: it would be shining in my eyes the entire time. Here’s an overview of the route I took from the pass, down to the lake, and up the gully
When I got to the gully the snow wasn’t as bad as it had looked from down below. I was able to avoid most of it by sticking to the left
Here’s an overview of the route I took to summit both Mt Silex and The Guardian and back from the top of the gully
I started out kind of low, but my advice is to gain the ridge as soon as you can and follow it to the summit. I took more of the gully route, which made things more difficult than they needed to be. Here’s my route
I summited Mt Silex at 12:55pm
Here’s a look back down the ridge I’d just hiked up
Now to head over to The Guardian. I went back down the gully, and hugged the side of the mountain
Then I stayed high and worked my way southeast
Here’s step by step.
At around 13400’ I came to a gully, turned and headed northeast to the summit. The climbing here was class 4, and seemed to get sketchier as I went.
At the top of the gully was a well-cairned summit ridge
Here’s a look back down the gully
I summited The Guardian at 2:55pm. The views were a bit hazy due to the smoke from the fires
As I’d summited, I noticed an easier gully I could have accessed to summit if I’d hiked just a little further southeast. I decided to take that gully down. It’s scree filled and I scree surfed down. This is class 2.
At the bottom of the gully I turned right
I had a great view of my route back to the gully that leads back to Lake Silex. It’s important to stay high here, as it does cliff out a little below. Here’s my route
Here’s a look back at the route down from The Guardian, staying high to avoid the cliff bands
Back at the top of the gully here’s looking at my route back to Lake Silex. I hiked down to the lake, gathered my gear, and went around the north side of the lake, looking for a spot to spend the night.
At the northeast side of the lake I found a set of 3 windbreaks and picked the most well-constructed one to spend the night.
I set up my gear inside a windbreak built in-between two large boulders. It was well made, but the wind was so intense the barrier wasn’t doing much to keep out the wind.
I filtered some water from the lake, ate dinner (my last packet of tuna, a handful of peanuts, and a few shots of whiskey) and made it an early night.
The wind howled all night long. It was intense, but my bivy once again did its job.
Day 3: Descent, Hunchback Mountain, Hunchback Pass
I woke up the next morning, gathered my gear, and was off at 7am. I followed the gully northeast towards Stormy Gulch.
There was still some snow left in this gully from last winter.
I made my way down the scree and back Stormy Gulch
I much preferred the way I hiked in rather than this scree hike out. Here’s looking back on the scree slope
I picked back up the faint trail and followed it east
The waterfall seemed a good place to stop for a bit. I sat on a log and relaxed for a few minutes before the long hike back up to Hunchback Pass. Once again, this would be a great camping spot.
I crossed Nebo Creek and quickly found the trail.
I followed the trail north past treeline, keeping a steady pace as I still had one more peak to climb and didn’t want to get too tired too quickly. I filtered water one last time and took frequent breaks just because I could.
Once above treeline I had a great view of Hunchback Mountain. Here’s the overall route I took to the summit
And step by step, all class 2. Sometime during this part of the hike I lost one of my gloves. It was really windy, and I suspect it was blown out of my pocket. Time for a new pair of gloves. I left the trail and aimed for a small grassy area near a band of rocks
After the grassy area the terrain became rocky. I aimed northwest (note, this is a false summit)
Here’s a view of the summit of Hunchback Mountain
I summited Hunchback Mountain at 11:15am
I spent some time on the summit, getting a good look at some 13ers I wanted to attempt next weekend if the weather held out. I figured out which route I wanted to take next week, and then it was time to head towards Hunchback Pass. I just followed the ridge east until I reached a tundra/willow filled gully, then followed the gully back to the trail.
Here’s looking back on my descent
Back on the trail it was an easy hike back down to my truck
I made it back to my truck at 1pm. This was a 3 day hike, with 39.49 miles and 11981’ of elevation gain according to CalTopo, 28.9 miles and 19042’ of elevation gain according to Strava. I’m not sure why the big gap in elevation gain/mileage, but to remain consistent I always use CalTopo data.
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
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.
I drove up to Carson Pass the night before and slept in my truck. For details on the drive in, please see this post: Carson Pass.
That night was a rough night, not only because my mind wouldn’t turn off, but because the winds were constant and curiously loud. I woke up before my alarm and decided to sit in the cab of my truck with the heat on to warm up a bit before starting out. I turned the ignition, heard a “thunk” and noticed my ABS and traction control lights were on. Oh, and my 4WD light was blinking. That seemed strange, and a little troublesome. I tried turning the truck off and on again and taking it in/out of 4WD but I couldn’t get it to engage. I didn’t like this turn of events but figured I might just need to get the truck moving to get it to work. Hopefully it was just an actuator problem. I was on the trail at 4am.
The forecast called for rain today, which most likely would transfer to snow at this altitude. I usually like to do the longer hike first, but today I was afraid I’d get caught too far when weather hit and since these entire hikes are above treeline that just didn’t sound safe. I grabbed my helmet and figured I’d play it by ear.
From my parking spot I traveled south for half a mile along trail 821 before turning right onto the Continental Divide Trail/The Colorado Trail/Trail 831. I didn’t know it at the time, but just past this junction there is actually a parking area, so if you wanted to cut off a mile from this hike (and extra elevation gain) you could just park there.
I followed the class 1 Trail 813 as it lost a total of 400’ as it wound down the canyon, and then gained almost 1000’ to the top of the pass.
There was one small section of snow to cross, but luckily for me the elk had already done a great job blazing the trail.
I saw quite a few elk this weekend. They are definitely all over this basin. The first ones I encountered at about 5:30am. Of course they trotted away from me, but I was able to get a photo of one up on the ridge (I’d be on that ridge in about half an hour)
Up towards the top of the pass the trail got a little wet, but it was still easy to follow.
From the top of the pass I left the trail, turned right and headed northeast to the ridge.
I aimed for the saddle and got a great view of the sunrise.
From here it was a class 2 ridge hike. I stayed on the ridge when possible, and when not I dipped to the right. Here’s the route I took:
In the beginning there were some steep sections to navigate. Nothing too difficult, but it’s all choss and there’s some decent exposure, so choose your footing carefully. This area was about a foot and a half wide in places.
This section is easier than it looks: Just dip down to the right
From there it’s an easy walk up tundra to the summit
I summited at 6:40am
I turned around and headed back over the ridge. From here I had a good view of my next 2 objectives: Tundra Top and Cataract Peak
The route looks a little different on the way back.
Go straight over this part. Once again, there is some exposure here, along with loose rocks. Be sure of your footing.
And straight up this. Once again: loose, but straight up is the way to go
Once the ridge section is done it’s an easy walk up tundra
The only problem? I’m not sure exactly where the summit is to Tundra Top. It looks like it’s at the jagged point you can see from Carson Peak, and indeed that feels like the summit and also has a large cairn, but when I used my altimeter I measured the middle of the flat, open space further to the west as being 30 feet higher. Also, there are cairns all over the summit, as well as at the high point after the ridge. So I basically walked all over the mountain (between summiting the first time and when I came back over from Cataract) and I’m considering it a summit.
In any event, here’s a couple of summit photos from somewhere on the top of Tundra Top, and a video (not sure if the video is from the actual summit though)
I turned north and headed over towards Cataract Peak
The hike down started with unstable rocks and then switched to scree. This was class 2, and I’m pretty sure I was using game trails, making my way towards the saddle.
There are two ways to summit Cataract Peak: you can go to the left (west), gain the ridge, and then summit, or go straight up the south face. Not knowing ridge conditions, I decided to go straight up the south face, even though that meant crossing some snow. (After summiting Cataract I realized the ridge is easy class 2 and a viable option).
After crossing the snow I made my way up the mountainside on loose scree, which was steep at times. I followed an obvious game trail with one switchback.
At the top of the ridge I turned left, went around this boulder, and hiked the short distance to the summit (which had a cairn)
I summited Cataract Peak at 8:25am
I re-traced my steps back to Tundra Top
Encountering an elk on the ice flow before the easy hike up to Tundra Top
From Tundra Top you could see a bunch of the peaks I was hiking this weekend. I spent a lot of time here, checking out the weather and looking at routes for tomorrow to see if they were clear or not. Unfortunately, these peaks require a lot of ups and downs through basins, and while I could see ridges were clear, I had no idea what the basins looked like.
I headed back to the pass, picked up the trail, and headed back down into the basin.
When I got to the lowest point in the basin I decided to attempt PT 13581 today as well. The weather looked like it would hold, and I was so close (and not yet tired) that I figured I should at least give it a try. I eyeballed this one, looking for the best route up. I decided to leave the trail, cross Lost Trail Creek, and follow the drainage until I hit the tundra that paralleled willows. Then I would stay on the tundra, using the willows as guidance before taking a gully up. To gain the ridge I took the solid line up, the dotted line down.
This proved to be a fabulous plan. The only downside was the gully: it had recently melted out and was still soft. I almost lost a hiking boot in the mud, and it was very steep. It almost felt like it should have been a winter route with snow, an ice axe and crampons.
Here it is in a little more detail:
At the top of the ridge I turned right and followed the ridge to the summit block
I was keeping a close eye on the weather. The clouds were building, and fast. Luckily, they looked like snow clouds and not thunderclouds. I had a feeling that 40% chance of rain was going to happen.
When I made it to the summit block I was surprised to find it wasn’t a class 2 hike as my (quick) research had told me. Nope, this was definitely class 3. I was glad I’d brought my helmet. I strapped it on and left my pack and trekking pole and headed in to figure out how to summit. This is the route I took: I circled around to the left, found a bunch of easy class 3 access gullies, took one up, followed the ridge around to another access gully and climbed to the top. There was exposure in the second gully.
I summited at 12pm
The weather was turning so I quickly retraced my steps back down the gullies to my gear, then followed the ridge
On the way out I took the second gully down, which wasn’t as steep, and then followed the same path I’d used as on my way in back to the trail.
The wind picked up as I hit the gully and it started snowing. Not big fluffy flakes, but more like slush being carried by the wind that splattered when it hit me. I put on better gloves and kept hiking.
The hike out was uneventful, as it was on a well maintained class 1 trail. The extra 600’ of elevation gain on the way out was kind of a bummer, so I just took it slow. The trail actually inclines gradually, so it wasn’t too bad.
Oh, and I saw a moose in the basin, so that was kind of cool. It was a little far to get a good picture of, but it’s a male.
I made it back to my truck at 2pm, making this a 15.41 mile hike with 5543’ of elevation gain in 10 hours.
Here’s a topo map of my route:
It was still early so I decided to clean up, get something to eat, and try to start my computer. It lit up but quickly turned off. Maybe it will dry out overnight and work tomorrow? OK, with my computer out I decided to do some reading. My favorite book for a long time has been “Death in the Grand Canyon”, so I picked up it’s sequel, “Death in Yosemite” and have been reading it the past few weeks. Lovely how the book reiterates, several times, how it’s important to always make good choices, retrace your steps before committing when you’re unsure if you can continue, and not to go solo. Also, don’t be a male between 20-30 years of age. I like to remind myself of these things often and use these stories to try to learn from others’ mistakes.
Idea: Devotionals for hikers (not necessarily religious) that are quick, a page or two, and detail real accidents and how they occurred. Then discussion questions to see what steps could have been employed to prevent the accident. In other words, more books like “Death in the Grand Canyon”, just in a different format.
From inside my truck I watched the marmots and pikas and chipmunks go about their business. They couldn’t see me in the topper, and it was fun to watch them skitter around. One marmot chirped incessantly for over an hour, and I as I sat there my thoughts drifted to how everyone should get to experience climbing in the mountains at least once in their life.
After reading I got out my topo map and looked at routes for the next day, prepped my gear, and got to bed early. I wanted to get a lot of rest before an early start tomorrow, and I was still a little worried about my 4WD and computer problems…
After our misguided attempt at PT 10245 a few weeks ago we really wanted to summit this peak asap, but the weather wasn’t cooperating and my cookie deliveries kept getting in the way. Finally, today seemed like a good day to try it again.
We arrived at the Barr Trail parking lot at 5:30am and were on the trail by 5:45am. The parking situation is the same as last time: $10 via card at the kiosk.
From the beginning microspikes were necessary. We kept them on for the entire hike.
The creek just after the Barr Trail / Incline turnoff was flowing nicely
The ‘cave’ had some snow
Just before the experimental forest, where the path was all ice 2 weeks ago it was now covered in several inches of snow and nicely trenched. This made it much easier to navigate.
We turned left at the experimental forest and continued along the well trenched Barr trail.
Past mile marker 5.5
Here’s where we messed up last time: We had gone all the way to Barr Camp (6.5 miles) and at the advice of the guy staffing Barr Camp took the trail just after Barr Camp, ending up at AdAmAn Peak instead of PT 10245. To be fair, the routes are strikingly similar, and while AdAmAn is unranked, it is taller than 10245 at 10405′. This time we were prepared and looked for trail 671, which is about a mile before Barr Camp. This is where we found it:
I’m sure there’s an actual trail here, but today it was covered in snow and not detectable. We put on our snowshoes and got ready to trench. At the above sign we left the Barr Trail and headed right (north), trenching our own trail, skirting the rock formation to the left
and heading down a small hill, losing about 200 feet of elevation before coming to a creek and turning left (northwest).
Here I was able to pick up the trail again anf followed it around the creek. Please note, this was NOT South Fork French Creek, but a willow filled off shoot.
We followed the ‘trail’ until it seemed to end. We were just about parallel with AdAmAn peak at this point. Here we turned right (northeast) and could see PT 10245
We were going to have to cross an aspen grove to get to the peak. When we were right in the thick of it Steffen said: “This looks like the type of place you’d see a moose” and about 2 steps later we saw evidence a moose had spent the night here. In fact, on our way back we saw moose tracks going over/through our trench, so we must have scared him/her away with our approach.
Once past the aspen grove we were in the willows. I’m pretty sure this is where we crossed French Creek, but it was frozen and covered with snow so all we saw was a marshy area. Trenching here wasn’t fun: I sank up to my thighs several times. Here’s the path we took through the trees to the summit
There were large boulders everywhere, and a band of boulder piles to the right that weren’t climbable. Sticking center left of the mountain seemed to work well.
At several points we wanted to take off our snowshoes, but then we’d encounter snow that made us thankful we hadn’t. The summit was located to the left, at the mountain’s northernmost point. There was a cairn indicating the summit. We sumited at 9:50am
There were beautiful views of Pikes Peak, with AdAmAn Peak below (the pile of rocks in the center of the photo).
We took summit photos
and headed back down, solidifying our trench
back through the willows
and to Barr Trail, where we took off our snowshoes and continued our descent. The trench on the trail was indeed deep in places, and microspikes were still appreciated after the incline cutoff.
We made it back to my truck at 12:45pm, making this a 14.15 mile hike with 4000′ of elevation gain in 7 hours. I got a bunch of pictures on the way back, but unfortunately I’m still learning how to use my camera and it had been stuck on ‘program’ mode for the entire hike down, making my pictures all dark and fuzzy. We gave each other a high-five at the bottom, glad to be able to say we’d actually summited the correct peak this time. Check off another El Paso County Highpoint! Here’s a link to the GPX file, for those interested.