The storms this week have put a damper on my hiking plans. Most of the peaks on my immediate goal list are too long to complete before the storms hit, so when I saw the weather was good near Savage Peak I jumped on the chance to get in a quick weekday summit. I drove past the Missouri Lakes trailhead and drove the 4WD road to the stream crossing. I didn’t need to put my truck into 4WD (which was good, because it’s still not working). There were some large puddles to splash through on the way in.
I parked at the stream crossing, and wore my sandals to cross the river and start the trail
The road curves around a bit, but you can just go straight up the hillside and pick up the road from there. The stream was only a couple of inches deep. You could drive across it, but it only saves you about 100 feet of hiking, so it’s not really worth it.
I followed the road for about half a mile to the diversion dam, where the road ended and the Missouri Lakes trail began.
This was a class 1 trail that followed Missouri Creek. I loved how easy it was to follow up and into the basin, crossing the creek several times on sturdy bridges.
I followed the trail west. At about 11,000’ I came upon avalanche debris. The trail was well maintained and easy to follow through the debris.
This is also a good place to get a visual of the route. This is where you’ll be aiming.
I continued following the well defined trail to 11330’, then left the trail to head south towards the ridge, aiming for a rocky ramp that hugged the side of the mountain.
Once on the ramp, I followed it east to the base of the ridge.
At the base of the ridge I turned right, and followed the ridge west
Here’s the first good view of Savage Peak
This is a simple, class 2 ridge hike to the summit.
There is a small false summit just before the true summit
I summited Savage Peak at 7:40am
There were some great views of Missouri Lakes
I left a summit register and headed back the way I’d come
Here’s a look down the ridge
Here’s how I exited the ridge
And headed back into the basin
Back in the basin I headed northeast until I linked back up with the Missouri Lakes Trail.
And followed the trail back through the landslide area and across the bridges
Once back on the 4WD road I followed it back down to the stream, and my truck on the other side.
I made it back to my truck at 10am, making this a 9.24 mile hike with 3314’ of elevation gain in 5 hours, just as the storms were rolling in.
Now, off to visit some Hot Springs and get that back window fixed.
* I did these peaks with Arrow Peak as a weekend hike. CalTopo put the entire route at 41 miles, 10511′ of elevation gain, Strava gave me 30.9 miles and 15795′ of elevation gain. Either way, it was a good workout (see photos at end). Approach directions can be found here.
After hiking Arrow Peak I decided to get a look in the daylight at the approach to the Trinities. I continued southeast along the same trail I’d hiked in on until I came to the area where I was supposed to begin the ascent up to the Trinities
However, when I got there I noticed there wasn’t a place to set up camp, and the area had a lot of water. I couldn’t find a good place to cross the water without getting seriously wet. I did not want to start a hike early in the morning wet and cold.
I thought about the route for a minute, went through some pictures I’d taken earlier in the day from Arrow Peak, and decided to continue along the trail for a bit to see if I could find a better spot to set up camp, and a better entry point. This hike is a loop, so I just continued heading southeast. The trail became more and more faint as I hiked along
After hiking for a mile and a half I came to the area I intended to spend the night at 11,970’. There were waterfalls here, a creek, willows, and a few trees.
I set up a bivy under a tree, filtered some water, ate an early dinner, and jotted notes down in my journal.
There was a 20% chance of rain today, and wouldn’t you know it? It started to rain. Also, the clouds looked like they were going to attack me.
Luckily the rain stopped and I decided to head over to the creek again. This creek looked much easier to cross then the marshy area, but in the interest of not needing to change out of my hiking boots and into my sandals tomorrow morning (thus eliminating unnecessary gear) I decided to build a rock bridge over the creek. I put on my water sandals and got to work. It was my intention to hike up this side of the mountain and connect with the proper trail once in the basin. I wasn’t 100% sure the route ‘went’ but it seemed like a better option than ascending from below. I figured it this didn’t work I’d turn around and start with East Trinity instead, and get wet on my way out.
When I was done making the rock bridge it was still too early to go to sleep. There wasn’t much to do so I relaxed, enjoyed the view, and broke out the whiskey. Before the day was out I had about 16oz of whiskey (I knew because I’d placed it in a marked sports bottle. Also, I have a high tolerance for alcohol and don’t get hangovers so this isn’t out of character for me). I saw a group of hikers come over the pass and head towards me. They were doing Vestal tomorrow and were looking for a place to camp for the night. I told they they’d have better luck near the approach and they were off. Not long after that I went to bed. It was still early, but it had been a long day. Whiskey puts me to sleep.
I woke up well before my alarm. It was still dark out but there was a full moon and I could see the mountains clearly. I saw shooting stars and thought to myself how lucky I was to be here right now. I was actually warm (that’s rare for me when I backpack) and I didn’t want to get up. I also didn’t need to for a while. I watched clouds come in and started to worry: there was a 40% chance of rain after noon today and I didn’t want to get stuck in the rain while on the traverse. I’d heard from other hikers yesterday it took about 8 hours to complete. I did some math in my head and decided to get up and get going. The last time the weather had said 40% chance of rain after noon I got caught in a thunderstorm at 9:30am.
I’d prepped most of my gear last night, so this morning all I had to do was roll up my sleeping bag and put away my bivy sack and ground cover. I filtered some more water and I was off. (side note: I’ve had the same water filter since 1998, and wouldn’t you know it, they’ve improved since then? This week I bought a gravity bag water filter, and it’s AMAZING! I can fill my entire water bottle in 2 minutes, and since there’s a lot of water in the area I convinced myself to drink as much as possible this weekend. Normally I don’t drink while hiking, but this weekend I filled up my Nalgene 3 times!)
It was just beginning to get light out when I set off at 5am. I hiked straight up the side of the mountain, and when I reached the top I was thrilled to see my idea had worked: the route easily connected with the trail (there wasn’t a trail exactly, but the routes lined up and I was now going in the right direction).
There were several headlamps already shining on Wham Ridge. Looks like they got an even earlier start than I did. Smart. I was a little worried about the cloud cover. I could see rain in the distance and the clouds were forming fast. I told myself I’d keep going until I felt uncomfortable. I didn’t feel my real point of no return would come until I summited West Trinity and decided to either head back or continue on for the day.
I dipped down a bit into the basin and headed south towards the ridge. There seemed to be a couple of options to ascent the ridge. I chose the gully directly in front of me.
The gully started out with large boulders and ended with scree. I took it slow and kept an eye on the weather.
At the top of the gully I turned left and headed east to the saddle. This was a very simple trek that followed a faint trail behind the ridge.
The first part of this trek was simple and straightforward as I hiked up the ridge
Then it became more tricky. There were no cairns here. I stayed on the south side of the mountain and continued climbing east. I encountered a series of class 4 gullies and took them up. There were several gullies and they all seemed to ‘go’. (Side note: when I got home I pulled up 4 different GPX files of this route and none of them lined up in this area, so it seems there are several ways to climb this part).
The gullies eventually brought me to the ridge, which I followed to the summit
I summited West Trinity Peak at 8am
West Trinity Peak
The weather looked like it would hold so I made the decision to continue towards Trinity Peak (also, I didn’t want to downclimb those gullies! Definitely do this traverse west to east if you’re not a fan of downclimbing gullies, as the gullies don’t quit and you’d have to downclimb every one of them heading east to west).
I continued southeast towards the West Trinity/Trinity Saddle
Instead of following the ridge, take the gully down. It’s class 2 and leads you to the saddle. You won’t be losing any unnecessary elevation.
Interestingly, there were cairns between West Trinity and Trinity Peak. This is interesting because they would have been useful elsewhere, but were only present for this short section.
Don’t stick to the ridge, but follow the cairns as they skirt the south side of the mountain
The cairns (circled in red) were very helpful here
They led me to a class 4 chimney. Climbing today seemed extremely easy. It was really nice to just hike with a flimsy drawstring pack instead of my normal backpack. The difference in my climbing ability was amazing. I wasn’t off center and pulling myself up was a breeze.
At the top of the chimney you’ll want to keep heading right towards the ledge, but DON’T DO THIS!!! I did, and I can tell you that ledge is super scary (but doable if you hug the ridge: there’s less than a foot of space to walk on and not much room when the boulders bulge out). However, you’ll need to do it twice because it doesn’t go anywhere and cliffs out.
Instead, go left and you’ll once again find cairns that will lead you north and then east to the summit
I summited Trinity Peak at 9:25am. It took less than an hour and a half to get from the summit of West Trinity to Trinity.
Here’s a look over at East Trinity Peak
I took the gully down to the saddle of Trinity/East Trinity
The entire time I was descending I kept my eye on East Trinity, looking for the best way to ascend. It looked to me like the best option would be to keep towards the center until the end, where I wanted to summit towards the left to avoid any difficult traverse there may be if I topped out on the right (side note: there didn’t appear to be any difficulties if I’d chosen to summit to the right instead). You can’t see it in this picture, but at the very top there are two chimneys to the left. Take the one on the right (I cliffed out about 10 feet from the summit and had to retreat and find a different route).
At the saddle there was a gully to cross before heading up
Once inside the gully the rock was surprisingly stable, but there were a lot of large rocks that were easy to kick down, so if you’re hiking with a partner be careful not to dislodge rocks.
The only time I had trouble was when I got towards the top. Like I said before, stick to the left, and then choose the gully to the right.
This was class 4 climbing.
To my left I saw another ‘kissing camel’ formation. The cool thing about this one is it includes a heart
After taking the wrong route, cliffing out and backtracking, I headed a little more south and found an area I could climb and make it to the ridge
I was thrilled when I topped out and could see the summit an easy hike away!
I summited East Trinity Peak at 10:30am. It had taken me less than an hour to make it to East Trinity from Trinity.
East Trinity Peak
Here’s a look back at Trinity Peak. I was talking with someone on my hike out who told me she’d attempted the traverse a few years ago, but couldn’t find a way to summit Trinity Peak. They’d ‘missed the peak’. If you’re unable to find the access points, or want to keep this part of the hike class 2 (or easy class 3), just make your way to the Trinity/East Trinity saddle and hike back up the gully to summit Trinity Peak (shown below)
Time to head back down. The ridge down from East Trinity was straightforward.
With a couple of surprisingly steep sections
I made it to the saddle and scree-surfed down the gully to the lake
I skirted the right side of the lake and headed back down to my camping area
Here’s a look back at the route I took down from the East Trinity ridge
I made it to my stashed gear at 11:22am. The traverse had taken me just under 6.5 hours to complete. Notes on the traverse: It’s very committing, there’s a lot of route finding, and I felt in the route I took there were a lot of class 4 moves. I got a lot of good scrambling practice in, and honestly wish I would have attempted this traverse earlier: I felt like I leveled up in my class 4 climbing skills, and I was deliriously happy with this hike. And the weather had held! Woot!
I filtered some more water, took off my shoes to air out my feet, and ate a couple of sliced mangoes (my first food of the day: I get nauseous when I eat and hike but figured I needed some calories for the way out).
Time to head out. I found a stick that made a great trekking pole to replace the one I’d lost yesterday and headed out the same way I headed in, after about a mile of wading through willows and water to find the trail.
Connecting back up with the class 1 trail that would lead me to the beaver ponds, through the avalanche area, straddling the creek and bringing me back to the Animas River. I saw a ton of people on the trail, and talked to every one of them.
Once at the river I crossed the bridge and sat down for a while to rest before tackling the 4 miles and 1700’ of elevation gain back up to Molas Pass. I took off my shoes and soaked my feet in the river, filtered more water, and tried to eat a packet of tuna (I ate half). There were CT hikers across the river from me. They shouted and asked if I minded if they bathed. I’ve been there, and I didn’t care. They seemed overjoyed at the idea of a bath, and I wasn’t going to deny them that gift.
There were mosquitoes and fleas here so I didn’t stay long. I packed my gear back up and started switchbacking up the mountain to Molas Pass
I left my newfound trekking pole at the information sign and made it back to my truck at 6pm. It had taken me about an hour and 45 minutes to hike those 4 miles and 1700’ from the river. I got different mileages/elevations from Strava and CalTopo for my triup, so I’ll leave those here.
In the end, I was thrilled I’d decided to hike today! Sometimes it’s really difficult to get started, but once I’m going I’m really enjoying myself, and the sense of accomplishment I get from summiting peaks and challenging myself is amazing.
Also, I’ve done this approach as a day hike (with Vestal) and this time backpacking for Arrow and the Trinities. For me a day hike is absolutely the way to go: The extra weight made the trek in and out so much more tiring than it needed to be. Long days don’t bother me. Everyone’s different, but I much more enjoyed the hike in and out from Vestal than I did this time.
I chose this peak for today because it was the closest one on my list of unfinished bicentennials to Cielo Vista Ranch, where I’d just spent the morning hiking. I drove to the Willow Creek Trailhead and backed into the only available parking space. Vehicles were parked and double parked in each space, as well as several hundred feet down the road on the drive in. This is a popular trailhead and it was a Saturday afternoon.
It was raining a bit as I got out and looked around. There is an open and stocked bathroom here, and lots of signage.
I opened the trail register container and was disappointed to find another full register. Every page was so full people were just writing in the margins of past pages. This one is from 2019. There were probably 7 pages total, which could probably get filled up here in a week. How are these useful when they aren’t kept up to date? Signing these seems useless.
I went back to my truck and got my stuff ready for the hike tomorrow. I didn’t have a flashlight so I decided to use my phone’s flashlight app. That meant conserving battery, so I put it in airplane mode. Then I people watched. There was a man hiking with a small dog in a basket, a group of about 20 high school aged backpackers returning from what looked like their first outdoor experience, and two men hiking in to Willow Lake to summit Challenger and Kit Carson tomorrow. I spent a good 30 minutes watching a man trying to turn his pulled trailer around in the parking lot. He must’ve been looking for a dispersed camping spot and wasn’t able to find one before the trailhead. Turning his rig around in the parking lot of the Willow Lake trailhead was his only option, and it took dozens of attempts. His rig was loud and he set off several car alarms in the process. It was all quite entertaining.
When the mosquitoes came out I decided to call it a night and went to bed early. I woke up at 2:30am, decided I was way too comfortable, and went back to sleep. The only bad thing about having a bed in the back of my truck is I don’t seem to want to get up in the mornings. I was on the trail by 4am.
The trail starts at the east end of the parking lot and almost immediately comes to a junction. I turned right here, crossed a creek, and continued on a sandy trail.
During the first mile of this hike, as I was hiking in the dark, I kept hearing chirping. It sounded like one of those bird boxes that’s put in the middle of nowhere to monitor birds and chirps every few seconds was out there somewhere, and broken. It wasn’t chirping on my way back, so it either ran out of battery or was an actual bird going crazy at 4am. The Willow Creek Trail is a class 1 trail that switchbacks all the way up to Willow Lake. Here’s an overview
And some pictures of the trail
There are a couple of streams to cross, each with bridges/rocks
Before making it to the lake there’s a camping area. Someone has set up communal bear bag hanging areas, which I think was a brilliant idea. What’s even better is people actually seem to be using them. I saw two such areas, but there may be more.
After the camping area it’s a short distance to Willow Lake. I went up this rocky area
And was greeted by this sign and the lake. I turned left at the sign
I made it to Willow Lake after 5 miles of hiking
I continued following the trail until just before the boulder field. At this point I left the trail, turned left and continued north/north west up the hillside
There is no trail, but the route is easy to follow, as after I gained this small ridge I kept the creek to my left and willows to my right and continued north up to the basin.
It’s important to try to stay as much in the center here as possible, as to the right there are willows and shallow ponds to contend with. (I made this mistake on my way in, but was able to avoid it on my way out. I scared several deer out from willows in the process.). At the end of the basin you turn right and head east
This area was a bit mushy, so I went to the right around this rock/water to avoid getting wet, and then entered another basin
There were a lot of friendly deer here who didn’t seem to mind my hiking past them. I gave them room, but they let me get within 20 feet of them with no problem.
I headed east into the second basin, which was full of large rocks
There are a lot of ways to summit this point. I decided to gain the ridge and follow it to the summit of PT 13580
Once on the ridge it was an easy hike to the summit. The only problem was the sun was rising directly in front of me as I was hiking and I couldn’t see anything due to the glare. These pictures are from the way back down. While hiking up this ridge I heard someone from over on the Kit Carson/Challenger side yell “rock!” every couple of minutes. It’s amazing how sound carries out here.
I summited PT 13580 at 8:45am, after 6.8 miles of hiking
There was a summit cairn at the top, as well as a summit register. I didn’t open it, but I could read through the glass it was recently placed there (6/20/2020?)
It was a beautiful day and I stayed for a long time on the summit, enjoying the views
When it was time to go I retraced my steps back down the ridge into the basin. Here’s an overview, with Willow Lake to the south
And step by step…
Staying higher and dryer this time in the lower basin
It was easier this time to avoid both the willows and the creek
Once Willow Lake was in view it was easy to make my way back down to the trail
There are some beautiful waterfalls here
I made it to the camping area and was startled to see bighorn sheep just off the trail. The camping area was full of tents but the hikers were all out hiking. It seems while everyone is out hiking for the day the sheep came to play. They posed for me while I took a few pictures. Yes, they were a little unkempt, but friendly enough.
Here are some shots of the class 1 trail back down to the trailhead
I made it back to my truck at 12:30pm, making this a 13.38 mile hike with 4934’ of elevation gain in 8.5 hours. Here’s a topo map of my route. Oh, and just for reference, using my iPhone’s flashlight took up 66% of it’s battery in 2 hours (while on airplane mode).
I drove back home, cleaned up, and noticed I was full of mosquito bites. Curiously, they were only on the left side of my body.
I did a ton of research before setting out for this hike. It was my goal to link up the Chicago Basin with the Noname Creek Approach via Twin Thumbs Pass. All of my research said it was “doable”, but I hadn’t found a trip report indicating it had ever been done, so I went in kind of expecting to fail. I was trying to eliminate hiking into the Chicago Basin to summit Jupiter and then hiking back out and attempting Jagged Mountain via the Noname Creek Approach. If I could link up the hike via Twin Thumbs Pass I’d be saving about 20 miles and several thousand feet of elevation gain. And it almost worked…
Sleep is for armatures, so I left my house at 8pm after hosting a Girl Scout awards ceremony, arriving at the Purgatory Trailhead at 2:15am. I was on the trail by 2:30am. The first 10 steps hurt. A lot. My pack was wayyyyy too heavy. I’d gone through it multiple times eliminating what wasn’t absolutely necessary and it was still painfully heavy. I’m not sure how much it actually weighed (I was too scared to weigh it) but I’m guessing it was around 45-50lbs. That’s excessive, especially for someone who only weighs 105lbs. But I just couldn’t lose any more weight: I’d already thrown out unnecessary items like a camp stove (it was all peanut butter and beef jerky for me this weekend) a pillow (not needed), a change of clothes, bug repellant, etc. and had switched my “good” backpacking sleeping bag for a lighter weight one. What was weighing me down was all the gear: rope, harness, carabiners, webbing, etc. All that stuff was necessary if I wanted to attempt Jagged this weekend, which I did.
So those first 10 steps hurt and I should have known then to stop and reassess this adventure, but I told myself it would eventually get easier if I just kept moving so I just kept moving. Yep, I kept moving but it didn’t get easier. I gingerly hiked my way down the Purgatory trail towards Cascade Creek, losing elevation the entire way and thinking to myself “hiking down shouldn’t be this difficult”.
The trail follows Cascade Creek southeast towards the Animas River. There’s a bridge here to cross
and a good trail to follow to the Railroad tracks. I crossed the tracks and continued on the Animas River Trail.
The trail is easy to follow, but was overgrown in areas. It follows the Animas River, which I could hear but not see in the dark.
While the trail follows the river it still has numerous small ups and downs in elevation, which I thought were completely unnecessary: I’d rather stay at a steady elevation. The sun started to rise and I made it to the Needleton/Purgatory/Cascade Junction and followed the Needleton Creek Trail to Chicago Basin. Side note: It is not 7 miles to the Purgatory Trailhead. From this point my tracker says it’s 10 miles. A little ways up there’s a trail register and information area. I didn’t sign the trail register because I hadn’t intended on exiting this way.
From this area it’s another 6 miles to the Chicago Basin. This part of the trail follows Needle Creek as it climbs towards the basin. I loved hearing the water rushing past and seeing the waterfalls along the way.
It seemed like it took forever to make it to the basin. I realized I was almost there when I saw the avalanche debris. There really wasn’t very much damage, and luckily there were already clearly established trails as a workaround.
The hike into Chicago Basin is indeed beautiful!
I didn’t see much evidence of mountain goats. I was here last year and they were everywhere. This year I saw a couple, but nowhere near as many as before.
Normally I like to do the hardest peak first, but today the easier peak was my first goal for several reasons: I wanted to get a look at the backside of Jagged to see how much snow there was on route and I wanted to see if there was still snow on Twin Thumbs Pass. I knew I didn’t need all my gear to summit Jupiter so I stashed my pack and just brought the essentials: water, my camera, and some snacks. Oh yeah, snacks. I should probably eat something? I had about 12 almonds and kept them down so I considered it a win.
If you go left at this junction it takes you up to Twin Lakes. If you continue straight it will take you on a well established path towards Jupiter.
The trail crosses Needle Creek and heads west up the hillside
About halfway up the hillside there’s an old mine. I’d already explored this mine the last time I was here so I didn’t feel the need to go inside, but I did see a pack outside, and called in to say hello to whoever was exploring.
I met a man who was really excited about the mine. His hands were white from the walls, and it looked like he’d been having a time. We chatted for a bit: He’s already hiked the Colorado Trail and was now looking for a way back to Durango. He asked me if I knew if the trail “went” and since I’d already done a lot of research on the Johnson Creek/Vallecito trails when planning this trip I knew if he made it to the saddle he could take Columbine pass over. I envied this man his freedom to just explore and not worry about time and wished him luck. I wish I had more time to adventure!
I continued on the trail to treeline, crossed a creek, and here the trail (mostly) stopped. I felt so much better hiking with just the essentials: I felt like I could skip up this mountain!
There were a few cairns and what looked like overgrown social trails but no established trail after the small creek crossing. Here’s the route I took up the side of Jupiter.
It’s much steeper than it looks, but the wildflowers made up for the difficulty.
About halfway up the hillside I started getting worried about the weather. There was a 30% chance of rain today between 2-4pm, and the clouds forming didn’t look good. Luckily the wind was blowing them away from me, but I kept an eye on them just in case. I really, really didn’t want to turn back at this point (but I would have if necessary). I kept looking for the man I’d met, watching for his ascent of Columbine pass, but I never saw him again (even from a distance).
I continued on and came across cairns. There seemed to be several ways around this part. I took the solid line up, the dotted line back down.
I continued up the side of the mountain, aiming for the cairn I could see at the top of that pile of rocks, sure that was the summit (spoiler alert: it wasn’t)
Imagine my surprise when I made it to the top of that pile of rocks, only to see… this
Wait? I thought this was a class 2 hike? That looked like class 3 scrambling to me. I was a little put off I’d left my helmet back with my gear in the basin and a little upset with discovering this had been a false summit, but decided to just go ahead and finish. I took the solid route up, the dotted line down. I felt the dotted line route was indeed class 2+, but the solid route was class 3. There were several ways to summit here, and so many cairns they lost their intended purpose.
I summited Jupiter Mountain at 2pm.
I’d been hiking for almost 12 hours at this point, but without my full gear for the past 2 hours I was feeling pretty good. I decided to take a look around. Jagged from this side was mostly snow free!
Twin Thumbs pass was obscured by Point 13,472, but it looked mostly clear of snow as well. This was all good news. Now I only had to worry about the north facing sides of the mountains (which hold snow longer).
Time to head back. Here’s the route I took off Jupiter (this also shows Columbine pass in the background)
And back down to treeline
Back at treeline I had a better view of Twin Thumbs pass. It appeared clear. Now it was time to retrieve my gear and head up to Twin Lakes.
I saw my first mountain goat of the day here
I re-crossed Needle Creek and stopped to filter some water. It was a warm day and I was forcing myself to drink. It was making me nauseous, but at least I wasn’t light headed. The cool water felt really good, and I started just drinking it from the filter to save time. After my water bladder was full I went to find my pack. Argh! I wasn’t able to find it! This was not good. I was sure I’d left it by the sign? After about 5 minutes of searching I realized there were two similar signs and I was at the wrong one. I made my way about 10 yards further and was relieved to find my pack where I’d left it, and as an added bonus, no goat/marmot damage to be seen. The downside? There were so many mosquitoes here! I’d wanted to rest for a bit, but the mosquitoes wouldn’t quit, so I decided to just get going.
My pack was on the ground so I sat down to put it on and groaned as I leaned to the side to stand up. That pack was heavy!!! Time to trudge up to Twin Lakes. Luckily this is a very well marked trail.
About halfway up I saw my second set of goats for the day. They were directly on the trail and looked me straight in the eye as I got close. I was wondering how we would pass each other politely when one of them just veered off the path a little to the left, went around me, and then hooked back up with the trail. They must be used to this…
From this angle Jupiter looks imposing
As I continued on I saw a sign that said “No camping beyond this point: Including Twin Lakes Basin”. Well shoot. There went my “Plan B” of sleeping at Twin Lakes if I couldn’t make it over the pass. Oh well, it looked like the path was clear, so it shouldn’t matter anyway.
I made it to the Twin Lakes area and had a great view of my intended route. There looked to be a little snow, but nothing I couldn’t handle
Also, there’s hidden snow here, more than anticipated
No worries though: I just put on my crampons, tested the snow for stability, and easily traversed over to the final gully before Twin Thumbs pass. I took the solid route up, and the dotted route down (the dotted route is the better route).
There were no cairns or paths or footprints here, or anything indicating anyone had used this route in the past. I was huffing and puffing by this point but really wanted to just get over the pass. When I made it to the top this is what I saw
Ok, this looks good! I could see where I wanted to be and the path I wanted to take to get there.
Right now I was pumped! I probably had 2 hours left of daylight and a clear visual of where I wanted to be. And it was all downhill. I began my descent through a class 4 chimney (not as easy as it sounds with a full pack on my back. Also, this move wouldn’t have been necessary had I taken the dotted line route.) I was immediately taken aback by how steep the scree here was.
It quickly became apparent the route up to Ruby Basin (should I need to use it) was much steeper than it looked on a topo map.
This is where my trouble began. I made it to the first patch of snow and thought it would be similar to the snow I’d encountered in the Twin Lakes area. I stepped on it and promptly sank up to my waist. My feet however were still dangling in the air beneath the snow. This was not good. It wasn’t lost on me I’d narrowly avoided breaking a leg. My large pack is what had caught me and kept me from sinking further. It took some time but I was able to get myself out of the hole I’d fallen into.
A bit shaky now I stood where I was and considered my options. I probed the snow a bit with my trekking pole and realized there was a layer of snow a couple of inches thick over the rocky ground. This layer broke easily (obviously) and I did not feel comfortable traversing on it, even with crampons. I looked for a clear line of scree/rocks to traverse to get me where I wanted to go and just couldn’t make out a snow free path.
I could continue to descend and look for a snow free path, but I gave finding one a low probability since the areas I couldn’t see were the steeper parts of the route. It looked like no matter what I was going to have to cross snow. The sun had already gone down behind the mountains and I figured I had about an hour of daylight left. There was nowhere to camp on this side of the mountain.
I had two options: either continue on and hope to find an area without snow I could cross or to turn around and head back. The choice was obvious. I wept a few silent tears, turned around, and started my ascent back up and over Twin Thumbs Pass: making it to Noname creek was optional, making it back to my truck was mandatory. Here’s the path I took back up to the pass. The dotted line is the path I took down. I’d recommend the solid line.
Ok, so I turned to head back to the pass but my shoes immediately slipped as if I were wearing ice skates. This wasn’t good. The scree here was terrible for an ascent. I hadn’t brought along my microspikes (to save weight) but I did have my crampons, so I took those out, strapped them on, and wouldn’t you know it? Better than microspikes! Sure, I was ruining the crampons, but at this point the benefits outweighed the risks.
I knew I was racing against the clock: the sun was rapidly setting and I needed all the daylight I could get. I found an unexpected boost of adrenaline and booked it up to the pass. I was shocked at how quickly I moved, and actually entertained the idea of hiking all the way back to Needleton tonight and attempting Jagged in the morning.
I made it up and over the pass and kept my crampons on until I made it past the snow near Twin Lakes. Here I stopped to take off my crampons and at this point the adrenaline stopped and exhaustion took over. I took off my crampons but was too tired to take off my pack and put them away so I carried them in my left hand. This worked well until it got too dark to see and I needed to carry a flashlight (I’m not a fan of headlamps).
I was stumbling in the dark. Stumbling because at this point I was exhausted and also because I’d completely ruined my hiking boots: they had holes in them the size of quarters and the tread was completely gone. That pass had been more brutal than I’d anticipated. Every few steps I’d slide due to lack of traction and catch myself. One time I didn’t catch myself quick enough and I landed on my shoulder in a bunch of willows. Ouch. That was it; I needed to stop and set up camp. Now. Gone were my fantasies of setting up camp at Needleton, or even in Chicago Basin for that matter.
But I’m a rule follower and I’d seen the sign. I wasn’t allowed to camp here, and I knew it. So I kept on. It seemed like I’d hiked for miles before I finally made it to the “no camping past here” sign, and when I did I dropped all my gear and haphazardly set up my tent directly in front of it. I did a terrible job: I couldn’t see in the dark and honestly I was too tired to care what I was doing. It took me twice as long as it should have to set up and I did so directly beside the trail. Dumb move, and I knew it, but I didn’t care. I needed to rest. Oh, and eat. So far all I’d had were a few almonds and I knew I needed more calories. I opened my bear sack and had tons of options: beef jerky, tuna, almonds, peanut butter. I chose dried mangoes. Not the most caloric but it was what my body was craving. I only wished I’d brought more.
I fell asleep around 10:30pm and woke up every half hour after midnight. You see, I was camped directly next to the trail, so every set of early morning hikers intent on Eolus, Windom, and Sunlight passed right by me. As they did so they all directed their flashlights at my tent. What they most likely didn’t realize is that when you shine a light on a tent it doesn’t allow you to see inside of it, but it does brightly illuminate the inside of the tent. So every 30 minutes or so it was like someone turned on a light inside my tent. My fault for so many reasons I know, but I was too tired to care. And cold. It had been a bad idea to swap my good sleeping bag for a lighter weight one.
In the middle of the night I could hear a goat beside my tent. It was occupying itself with the bandana I’d left outside. I could actually hear him a foot or so from my head, and mentally visualized him picking up the bandana with his teeth and swishing it from side to side.
I left my tent at daylight. My bandana was now separated from my trekking pole but lying inches from where I’d been in my tent. Apparently the goat didn’t want the souvenir. I wasn’t hungry but forced myself to eat a packet of tuna and quickly packed up my gear. Taking down the tent was the worst: my fingers were frozen stiff, despite it being about 40* the night before. My whole body ached from yesterday. I wasn’t sure I was going to be very efficient today, and laughed at myself for thinking last night I could even attempt Jagged today. I was honestly considering camping at Needleton and making the rest of the journey tomorrow.
It was Saturday morning but I didn’t pass many people as I exited the basin. I hurt all over, but especially my shoulders, and specifically my right shoulder. I was worried I’d broken my clavicle when I’d fallen into the willows yesterday. Every hundred feet or so I had to stop and lean over to take the weight off my shoulders for a bit. I tried re-adjusting my straps to distribute the weight more evenly but that wasn’t helping. When I made it to the bridge 2 miles from the Needleton junction I stopped and took off my pack. I realized one of the upper straps had come unbuttoned and fixed it. This seemed to help a bit, but I was still worried about my shoulder. It was red and sore and there was an unfortunate bump right on the collarbone. It wasn’t lost on me I’d carried most of this gear for nothing…
I’d rested for a bit and decided that was enough for today and was on my way. I met a trail runner who stopped to talk for a bit. “Isn’t Chicago Basin as close to heaven on Earth as you can get?” she asked. I agreed, but mentally thought Purgatory was a more apt name, and most likely why Chicago Basin felt like heaven. I really thought she was running to the junction and back but I never saw her again (and she should have caught back up with me if she were doing so).
I was bummed. The weather was perfect, which meant I was wasting a perfect day not summiting something. And I hurt. I was sore and each step hurt more than the last. My shoes were trashed and I’d carried 30 extra pounds of unnecessary gear for dozens of miles and elevation gain for naught except conditioning. Suddenly Sherpas made sense. By the time I made it to the Animas River I was done feeling sorry for myself and instead decided to focus on the positive: I’d been here three times but never hiked the trial in the daylight. I was going to enjoy the view of the river and the shade and the occasional view of the train passing by
I was actually making good time and made it to the railroad crossing around lunchtime.
I’d made a deal with myself here I’d take off my pack for a long time (at least 15 minutes) and have lunch and soak my feet in the river. The mosquitoes had other plans however. Eventually I figured out they came in small swarms and if I killed all 12-15 of them I’d have a solid 2-3 minutes before the next swarm arrived. On the positive side the water was cool and it felt good to sit for a bit.
Lunch was a couple spoonfuls of peanut butter. I strapped on my gear and got ready for the hardest part of the hike: the last 4 miles and several thousand feet of elevation gain. I headed northwest and hugged the side of the mountain
I was pleasantly surprised to realize this trail is mostly in the shade. I was also surprised to realize just how closely this trail comes to Cascade Creek. Hiking this at night I’d always assumed the creek was down much further from the trail than it actually is.
So the shade was nice but the elevation gain was exhausting! I kept gaining and then losing elevation for what seemed like no purpose whatsoever. Why couldn’t the trail just gain steadily in elevation? It was disheartening to gain a couple hundred feet just to lose it again.
There were raspberries on this trail, and while I’m not fond of raspberries these were by far the best I’ve ever had. I couldn’t collect them fast enough (sorry woodland creatures that would have benefited from them, but they were delicious).
This meadow looks totally different in the daylight
The last quarter mile was the worst of the entire hike for several reasons: This part was a steep uphill climb, the sun came out again from behind the clouds, I was tired, my pack was heavy, and I ran out of water just as it began. This last quarter mile took me half an hour to complete (which is very, very slow for me).
Last time I was here I’d hiked Pigeon and Turret’s 39 miles in a day and I’d had hallucinations. This time I realized I’d gladly hallucinate again if it meant not being in this much physical pain from carrying such a heavy load. The only redeeming factor to the weight was I’d used every piece of equipment I’d brought (except the climbing gear, but that was necessary if I’d intended to climb). The physical pain was terrible, and I wondered to myself how long it would take me to forget the torture I’d put myself through over the past two days. Hopefully less than two weeks because I totally plan on doing this again. Soon.
I made it back to my truck at 2:30pm, making this a 41.5 mile hike with 11,098’ in elevation gain in 37 hours.
But my adventure wasn’t over yet. I limped back to my truck and set my pack on my tailgate. I unlocked my truck and downed an entire 2 quart bottle of cranberry juice in-between huge gulps of air. It was still early enough to make today productive, so I decided to drive to a Subway, get dinner, and then sit in my truck and figure out what to do next. A nap was definitely in the plan.
Did you know it’s difficult to find a place to sleep in your car in Durango? Seriously. Every parking lot I entered had “no camping” signs, and many even had “no sleeping in your car” signs. So I drove to a park on the edge of town, thinking this would be a good place to rest for a while. I got out my list of peaks I want to attempt in the next few months and did some calculations. None of them were close enough to drive to tonight to make them worth summiting tomorrow. Drat. It looked like tomorrow was shot as well. Which was probably for the best seeing as how I couldn’t move at the moment, but I was still disappointed.
It was too hot to sleep in my truck without the windows open and there were a surprising number of children screaming at the park as if being there itself were pure torture. I gave up on the nap and drove for a few hours until I found a National Forest Trailhead I could park at for the night, avoiding suicidal deer running across the road. This was a fabulous idea and I was able to sleep under the stars.
I woke up as the sun began to rise and drove the rest of the way home. I was itching all over, and when I looked in the mirror I noticed I had so many mosquito bites it looked like I had the chicken pox. Lovely. I randomly picked a CD out of the glove compartment and began singing 9-5 at the top of my lungs along with Dolly, my mood instantly improved. Until I stopped for gas. I slid out of the truck and my legs buckled underneath me. I quickly looked around to make sure no one had noticed me, and then pulled myself back up into my truck, laughing at myself for even thinking I could’ve hiked another peak today. My body needed a few days to rest, and I need to figure out a way to lighten my pack…
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.
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!
This week has been challenging 14er wise. I’m working from home all week, so basically
I could’ve hiked any day I wished. I’d
planned on hiking Monday, but we had a big storm roll in and blanket all of
Colorado with snow. That meant I couldn’t
hike Tuesday either. I made an awesome
choice and hiked Uncompaghre Wednesday.
I was quite pleased with myself, and wanted a similar success today. Most of the peaks I still have left to hike
were too snow covered to hike this week, so I went online last night and tried
once again to get information on the Crestones.
The webcams made it look like they were pretty devoid of snow, but I
wanted to make sure before heading out there.
The forecast said it would be clear, with temperatures in the 50s with
25mph winds. The winds were higher than
I’d have liked, but in the past the wind speeds have been overrated, so I didn’t
pay much attention to them.
I checked my schedule for today and cleared it a bit (my son
would pick up my daughter from school) and tried to get to be early. That didn’t work, but I did manage to get in
3 hours of sleep before waking up at 1am to head to the trail.
This is where my bad luck began. I’d copied and pasted the GPS coordinates
into my phone, and when they pulled up they looked like what I’d printed out
from my research: same mileage, cities,
highways, etc. So I just followed the
directions on my phone and arrived at what I’d thought was the trailhead. It was kind of weird I’d gone through a
residential area, but it was on an unpaved road and we were backing up to the
forest, so I figured this was the trailhead.
But when I started on the “trail” (no sign, which is a pet peeve of
mine) I realized I was at a water treatment plant? I pulled out my GPS and I was right where I
was supposed to be, but when I zoomed in I realized I was about 15 yards off
from the exact trailhead, and since I was in the middle of nowhere it would
take me 20 miles to go around on the roads and park in the proper spot. I
briefly considered just hiking towards the trailhead but thought better of it
and drove around. The lady who’s house I’d
parked in front of would appreciate I’d moved my truck from her front lawn.
This meant I’d arrived at the trailhead 30 minutes later
than my intended time. I was already
cutting it close (I know, I know, it’s a bad idea to put time limits on hikes,
but I’m a single mom and have a lot of other responsibilities too: If I’m going
to hike I have to accept these time restrictions, summit or no). 30 minutes can equal 2 miles if I book
it. I seriously hoped I didn’t just
endanger my ability to summit because of this stupid mistake.
The drive in was 2WD all the way.
And there was ample parking at the trailhead
Woohoo! A trail
sign! I LOVE these things! This meant I was on the right trail.
I grabbed my stuff and was off at 5:30am. Right away I had difficulty. The trail obviously went to the right, but
there were several social trails.
And it was dark. GPS
is great, but it’s off a few feet in every direction, and I couldn’t really
tell which way to go. There was a stream
to the right, and I figured that was where I was supposed to go, but there didn’t
seem to be a way to cross it?
In the dark (even with a great flashlight) I couldn’t see
across the stream, and it didn’t look like the trees made a bridge across. I spent another 5 minutes looking at my GPS
and going in circles before taking the plunge and just walking across the
stream, not knowing how deep it was. My
feet and legs were wet because the water was about a foot and a half deep, but
there was an obvious trail when I made it to the other side.
Woot! I was on my
way! The first 4.5 miles was
switchbacks. Lots and lots of
switchbacks. I didn’t mind much, because
I was working out the elevation gain in my head and this was an easy way to get
in those 4.75 miles to Willow Lake.
I crossed several smaller streams in the dark and saw
numerous waterfalls. I’d be getting
pictures of them later! (here they are)
Side note: water at
this altitude/temperature means ice. If
it looks wet, assume it’s slippery and unstable. I know this from experience.
Especially on those log “bridges”.
The last quarter mile before the lake was where the trail
got rough. Well, not rough, but
messy. Lots of ice and snow and mud on
the trail. Yuck!
The view was great though!
The only downside from this route was I wouldn’t be seeing a sunrise (it
was on the other side of the mountain). It
looked like I’d picked a great peak to climb today. There was minimal snow when compared with
other 14ers and no clouds!
Just before reaching the lake I was watching my feet as I
was hiking (ice, remember?) and I saw what looked like toes in the mud. I briefly thought it was a print from someone
wearing those shoes with the individual toes, but quickly realized it was a
(small) bear print! Woot! Awesome!
That meant there was a bear in the area!
It looked bigger than a cub print, but not big enough to be a full grown
bear, and the prints were heading away from me (back where I’d came from) so we’d
missed each other. Oh well, maybe I’d
see it on the way down?
I pressed onward, over what looked like it was a waterfall
at various points during the winter
And arrived at the lake!
It was now 7:40am. I’d
hiked 4.75 miles in 2 hours 20 minutes. Uphill.
Immediately the weather
changed. The wind picked up
dramatically, and there was no sun? The
temperature dropped as I looked for the correct trail. I knew it went left behind the waterfall on
the other side of the lake.
My GPS told me to go one way, but that way was now “closed
for restoration” so I did my best to look for the proper trail. No dice.
I ended up kind of bushwhacking my way through some willows (there had
been a trail there previously that was not too overgrown) and up some rocks to
where I saw a sign indicating the trail.
I checked my GPS: success!
I kept trudging, admiring the view
As soon as I made my way over the waterfall area I got a good
look at the Crestones: This view offered
a stark contrast to their backsides! I
was amazed at how much snow there was here in the middle compared to the east! No worries though, snow was easy enough to
I crossed a few very slippery half-frozen streams and made
it to a large basin.
The wind was howling at this point. I looked up at the intended route and sighed
inwardly: a gully. A BIG gully.
I hate gullies! The first part
didn’t look too bad though, and it looked like the sun was coming out?
Nope, it went right back behind the only cloud in the
sky: the one very similar to the one I’d
encountered on Blanca Peak last month. UGH! The weather was supposed to be sunny, clear,
warm, and windy? When will I learn 14ers
create their own weather? It WAS sunny,
clear, warm, and windy everywhere except in the basin I was in.
Here is was cloudy, cold, and very, very windy. I rounded some large boulders and looked at
the hike in front of me. Lots of snow
covered the trail, with no footprints. I
was probably the first to take this route since before Monday’s storm. No worries though, I liked hiking in the
snow. I put on my microspikes and headed
I made my way to the gully.
It’s actually much bigger than this picture indicates. I looked at my watch. I had exactly 2 hours to summit both
peaks. In normal conditions, even with a
little snow, this was doable. Today
however was another story. I decided to
start climbing and see how far I could make it, then adjust my goals.
The gully sucked.
There wasn’t enough snow to make it easy to climb, but there was a lot
of ice. And wind. Lots and lots of wind. Bitter, cold, snow-filled wind. I picked a ledge and followed it, which was
much easier than hiking up the scree/snow.
I gained the first ridge and looked at the rest of the route. It went to the right of the gully. Right where the wind was swirling snow into
The weather kept getting worse.
The wind picked up and knocked me into the side of the
mountain, hard. It pressed and held me
there as ice crystals swirled up and around me and gave me an unwanted
dermabrasion on the only exposed surface of my body: my face.
I stood back up and got my bearings, but another gust of wind did the
same thing all over again. This was not
going well. I got out my map, and looked
at the ‘easy’ ridge I’d get to summit after making it up the side of the
gully. Ugh! It was covered in snow! (and most likely ice) And that wind! Down here it had to be at least 65+MPH. Up there?
Probably worse. I did some mental
calculations, and figured it wasn’t safe for me to try to cross that snow/ice
covered ridge in this wind. It was
knocking me around like a doll down here: I didn’t stand a chance on the exposed
ridge. Maybe I could wait the weather
out and see if the sun re-emerged and the wind died down? It was early yet, but how long would that
take? Even now I wasn’t sure I’d be able
to summit one, let alone both of the peaks I’d wanted before I had to turn back
around to make it home on time, help from the sun or not. How far could I make it if the sun was
out? Was it worth the wait?
Take a look at this video.
See where that snow is circling to the right of the snow filled gully? That’s the route I needed to take, and then
across the ridge to the left.
Then I really got to thinking. If I wasn’t going to summit today, what was I
doing mentally calculating how much further I could go? Here I was, cold, on top of a gully, halfway
up the side of a huge mountain, trying to gauge how much farther up I could
safely climb, when I had no intention anymore of summiting. The wind was knocking me around, the ice was
terrible, and my fingers were numb. The
climb up the gully had been difficult and slow, and I knew from experience the
hike down would be worse (center of gravity problems mixed with ice means slow
going and causes slips and falls). And
here I was, mentally calculating how much further I could go before I absolutely
must turn back because of TIME. To make
it to a class I was teaching on outdoor survival skills. Wouldn’t it be ironic if the reason I didn’t
make it to the meeting was because I needed to be rescued?
Good point. I turned
around and headed back. Summiting was optional, but making it down was
mandatory. The gully down was indeed
worse than the way up, and took me twice as long. By the time I’d made it to the bottom my
fingers were turning white and I couldn’t feel them anymore (they kept gripping
snow for traction, and I don’t do well in the cold). The look back was beautiful though!
I re-crossed over the waterfall and looked at Willow Lake
I probably should have noted the ice hanging from the
waterfalls earlier. It was cold here,
and had been for a few days.
There were tons of waterfalls on the way down, and lots of
mud/ice to trudge through. No sign of
that bear though.
Oh, but the birds were ‘singing’
What really hurt was turning back and looking on the mountain I hadn’t climbed. It looked warm and inviting on this side, yet I knew once I rounded the back it was a bitterly cold snow-globe of ice, wind, and snow. What’s worse is turning back today meant I might not get to hike another 14er this year: I don’t have many more available days so this might be it. I took a good look at all the mountain ranges on my way in. They’re socked with snow, and all are getting wind this weekend. Snow I can handle, but this kind of wind? Not fun.
It ended up being an 11 mile hike, I’m not sure about the elevation gain, but 3500’+
I’ve hiked 43 14ers and this is the first time I’ve had to turn back due to weather. And what’s worse, it was due to the wind and ice, not snow, rain, lightning, etc. Oh well, the mountain will still be there next year. I’ll try again!
Please don’t mind the hot mess that is my hair in these photos: I came straight from my shower at the gym and forgot my hairbrush on the hike.
I’ve been trying to do this hike for a while now, but the
directions I’ve been finding on the web have been wrong (imagine that). The two sites with directions state the
trailhead is 3.9 miles from the initial checkpoint. So I’ve done that several times, even driing
as much as a mile in either direction, and I’ve been unsuccessful in finding
the trailhead. But after purchasing the
Pikes Peak Atlas earlier this week, and talking with a friend at the Humane Society
who’s done the hike, today I was able to successfully find the trailhead!
OK, so it’s not 3.9 miles from the checkpoint as indicated,
but more like 5.5. In any event, if you
take the USAFA southgate entrance and make a left on Stadium drive, the turnoff
will be before the next checkpoint. In
fact, it will be about 20 feet before the next checkpoint, on your left. Follow the dirt road and the trailhead will
be clearly marked. My advice is to
bring with you a sturdy hiking pole, water, waterproof hiking boots, and a
sense of adventure.
I saw some wild turkeys on the drive up…
To be honest, there isn’t much information about this hike
online, so I’ll detail it here. Please note these are “early season” conditions, and it had snowed/rained for the past 3 or 4 days, so I’m sure the water levels were higher than normal.
Yes, the trailhead is clearly marked, in multiple
It’s hard to get lost for the
first half mile or so, but after that it’s anyone’s game. I saw
two other vehicles in the parking lot when I got there, so I surmised I’d end
up meeting two different hiking parties. I also forgot my map in the car. Well, I didn’t really forget it, as I remembered when I was about 10 yards from my truck, but I didn’t feel like going back to get it. In any event, I’d taken a picture of the trail at the trailhead. How difficult could this be?
I saw several scruffy looking rabbits along the trail.
The trail goes straight up for about 90% of the hike.
Here’s the indication you’ve left the USAFA
And as soon as you get to the top of this hill there’s a
great view, and this is where you’re leaving the easily marked area of the trail.
Check out this really cool water collection pool in the side
of the mountain! I’m sure it’s a
waterfall of it’s own earlier in the season.
The first ¾ of the hike is up through a lot of loose
granite, over creeks and yes, up waterfalls.
The trail actually goes up the waterfall. For anyone who’s ever climbed up granite, you
know it’s very slippery when wet. This
was indeed the case here.
The trail is difficult to find in places, but I reasoned
since I was hiking towards a reservoir, as long as I followed the water I’d
eventually find it, right? That ended up
being a good assumption. Also a friend
of mine told me she’d recently done this hike and kept thinking it couldn’t be
right to keep crossing the waterfalls, but that was indeed how it was done
(Thanks Paige for the advice!). I was
lucky it was still early in the season and the leaves hadn’t emerged yet. Otherwise it would have been really difficult
to see through the brush to find the eventual trail.
The trail went back and forth over a steady stream of
water. I was really glad I’d brought my
waterproof hiking shoes, and wondered how I was going to hike down these slopes
(up wasn’t easy, but I had footholds).
Where there were crossings over the stream they weren’t very
elaborate: Just a couple of
strategically placed logs. This is where
a hiking pole comes in handy!
Check out these baby aspens!
I love the intense green color of the trunks.
Most of the trail us rocky granite. You can tell it’s covered in snow during the
wintertime, and I’m assuming well traveled.
Because of this there are multiple trails to the same destination, all
paralleling each other. All are
As soon as I made it to the top of the waterfalls it was as
if I was in a different world! The
temperature dropped 20 degrees and there was snow everywhere. Water was dripping like rain from the trees
as the snow melted in the morning sun. This is where I saw my first group of
hikers. They looked like cadets, and there
were 5 of them, so I figured they could indeed have been the owners of both
vehicles, but at least one.
And there were tons of animal tracks…
After about ¼ of a mile hiking through the cold I came upon
a clearing that still had snow, but it was much warmer and quickly melting.
The reservoir was beautiful!
As I approached I saw a fisherman, and surmised he was the owner of the
second vehicle. We exchanged greetings
and I snapped a few pictures.
I could hear the sounds of gunfire (expected on base) and
the drumming of woodpeckers. I saw
several fish jumping in the reservoir. I
didn’t stay long as I actually had quite a bit of work to do today. And I was getting cold. My Raynauds was really kicking in (and
unexpectedly). My finders were red and
beginning to turn white. I knew I needed
to get to a lower elevation to arm up.
The way back down was indeed more challenging than up, as I
was hiking down slippery slopes with little footing. When hiking up it’s much easier to find a
place to put your foot, but when going back down everything just slips.
And much of the trail was covered with small creeks of
Just as I made it to my truck I heard a very loud rumbling
and saw the Thunderbirds soar by! So
cool! This was totally unexpected and
awesome, so instead of taking the second hike I’d planned for today I stood
there at the trailhead for half an hour just watching them practice.
I had a very unique view of their flight, as
everyone else in the Springs was watching them looking west, and because of the
hike I’d just completed I was watching from the east. I love living in Colorado
One of my favorite parts about this experience was seeing the cadets watch the flyover from on top of the buildings.
One of my goals this year is to go on new hikes. I knew I wanted to take a new route on this camping trip, but I wasn’t sure which one to take. I ended up settling on the Rock Pond trail, mainly because it included destinations of two new ponds I’d yet to visit, and it had the option of looping around Geer Pond, a favorite of mine.
It was a couple of miles from the campsite, so I took the truck to the trailhead. While there I took a picture of the map to log my time and just so I’d be sure to have one while on the trail. As I was looking at it I realized the map wouldn’t be of much use: it was facing the wrong way! You’d think they’d have been smarter than that when posting a map. Luckily I know the area, but to someone who doesn’t, they’d get all turned around…
The hike was all downhill to the pond (about 2.5 miles one way) and followed a service road. I was the only one on the trail… except for a white tailed deer I saw walking slowly towards me from the opposite direction. She didn’t seem to notice me for a while, but once she did she bounded off the trail and was gone in a second.
I spent this part of the hike musing to myself as I followed the trail downward. I thought for some time about my love for hiking: which is considerably more enjoyable while alone.
Most thoughts centered around the kids, their lives, and how I fit into them. This may seem like a simple task, but honestly, it’s not. I’m questioning my role in Rebecca’s life specifically. She’s graduated High School, and is off to college next month (but still living at home). She doesn’t have a job, and I’ve been strongly pushing her to get one. She doesn’t seem interested in this. In fact, she doesn’t seem interested in much (therein lies the problem). I’m wondering how to motivate her, if that’s even something I should be doing (or should I just let her figure it out on her own), and how I’ll be able to “kick her out” when she turns 18 and doesn’t have a job (something that will happen if she’s not employed).
She’s begun complaining about everything that doesn’t have to do with guard (something she’s willing to drive hours away to participate in), and none of her hobbies have money earning potential. She feels distanced from former close friends, and honestly needs direction. However, I don’t feel she wants to take it from me. Personally I’m feeling as if I’ve lost my best friend, as now I actually have to play the “mom” part in our relationship. Neither of us is enjoying this much. I want my best friend back!
No one tells you the hardest part of parenting is letting them go to figure life out on their own.
I made it to the section of the trail that let me choose between going to Rock Pond or Brook Pond. I love to hike and the weather was hovering around a nice 90 degrees with no chance of thunderstorms, so this was an easy choice for me. I’d visit both.
I’m so glad I did! I only added less than half a mile to the hike, but some really cool experiences!
I found some wild strawberries on the trail. I’ve found strawberries while hiking before, but never quite so many! Usually I see one here and there… this time I saw small “fields” of strawberries in several spots along the hillside So cool!
They looked a bit overripe, so I tried a few. They tasted amazing! Warm from the sun they were hands down the best strawberries I’ve ever had (if a bit small…)
I grabbed a few to add flavor to my drink and some to bring back to the kids at the campsite, and headed down to Brook Pond.
The pond was small, but clear. I could see lots of trout swimming near the shore, and a few jumping in the middle. Most were only about the size of my hand, too small to “catch”, but knowing they were there gave hope to future fishing opportunities. This was a pond I’d swim in if I’d had the proper gear…
I circled the water and came to a small stream feeding the pond. I figure this was the perfect time to try out the water-proofness of my new hiking boots, and crossed in a mucky area. They passed the test!
Knowing I was close to Rock Pond I decided to continue on and take a break there. It only took about 10 minutes of walking to get there. This pond looked deeper than the previous, colder, and not quite as inviting. I didn’t see any fish.
I sat for a few minutes, enjoyed the cherries I’d brought for lunch, then was quickly on my way. It was 1pm and I wanted to get back to the kids before they worried.
I decided to take the trail that went by Geer Pond, mainly because I didn’t want to hike back up that service road. I’d much rather make it a loop than hike back from where I’d already been. Once again, another great choice!
Almost immediately the trail sloped upward at quite a steep angle. This made sense: I’d come down the entire way here, which meant I had to hike up at some point to make it back to the trailhead. I saw some Columbine flowers along the trail. I love seeing Columbines while hiking!
After about a mile (that passed quickly) I came across some small waterfalls, hidden inside small rock caves. They looked cool and inviting, and I wished I’d had a handkerchief to get wet in the water. Or a book. I needed to spend more time here, and I absolutely need to bring the kids here to “play” sometime soon!
These waterfalls lasted for about a quarter of a mile, then all of the sudden, I was at the back end of Geer Pond! I knew this because I’d played with the kids in this waterfall a few times before!
I found a few cool flowers: Alpine Kittentails
and then I was at Geer Pond. No one was at this pond either. All weird since it was about 1:30 in the afternoon on a Saturday in July. I kept thinking the entire time what fun it would be to snowshoe these trails!
Lost Pond was a bit of a disappointment. It seemed murkier than usual. There were some really large salamanders that were fun to watch however. And lots of flies. I didn’t stay long.
The hike out took about another half an hour. I made it to the trailhead at 2pm, which made it a 2 hour hike. I covered just over 5 miles, and stopped a bit to enjoy nature, so I considered it a success!