CO – Lizard Head Loop – San Juan NF (Part 1)

I know, I know, I rushed through the smoky skies of Colorado to Utah. I played in the La Sals and upon my return to Moab I reviewed the smoke map which left me confused. I’d seen reports the Sierra were clear but I knew there fires in Yosemite. The Ruby Mountains of Nevada were clear. Parts of Colorado had been clear over the weekend. But with a shift in wind direction everything could change in a few hours. I was tired of feeling like a dog chasing it’s tail. It was still much too hot to hike in red rock land. My adventure buddy Joan encouraged me to go back to Colorado since it was only a couple hours away.

I stopped in at the Dolores Public Lands Office for recommendations on trail options and dispersed camping. One of my new phrases is the most WOW per mile. The rangers recommended a loop in the Lizard Head Wilderness. I decided to start from the Kilpacker Trailhead as it would minimize the road walk needed to close the loop. 

My first destination was Navajo Lake. Kilpacker Trail #203 which merges into Navajo Lake Trail #635.

The first five miles were fairly unremarkable through mixed meadows and forest. At the next junction I decided to take a detour up to the ridge above Woods Lake for a look see. 

Look at those colors. Now we know what this state is called Colorful Colorado! I believe these are the San Miguel Mountains.

This mountain really charmed me. 

Soon enough I was headed back toward Navajo Lake with El Diente Mountain on the right side of the trail. 

Navajo Lake with El Diente Mountain (14,159′) on the right, and Gladstone Mountain (13,913′) in the back. 

My goal for the next day is the ridge and a hidden surprise between it and Gladstone. 

Although I’d only hiked 7 miles, the dark clouds and feeling uncertain about the challenges ahead, I stopped by mid afternoon. I found this protect campsite and had the lake to myself. 

As is true in the high country, storms came and went. I talked to a few hikers returning from a summit of Wilson Peak (14,017′). The trail I’d be taking in the morning is midway up the left boulder field. 

El Diente Mountain reflecting in Navajo Lake

As I wandered around, I was a bit disturbed discovering this as a kill zone. 

Not a bad room with a view . . . while trying to dream of something besides the slaughtered remains or my next day challenges.

To be continued . . .

Hike Details:

  • Date(s) Hiked: September 13, 2017
  • Mileage: about 7 miles (per View Ranger)
  • Elevation Gain/Loss: about 2,250′ up and 1,140′ down between 10,008′ and 11,584′ (per View Ranger)
  • Trail Conditions:
    • Tree obstacles: minimal (Kilpacker trail a little worse than Navajo Lake trail)
    • Overgrowth: minimal (Kilpacker trail a little worse than Navajo Lake trail)
    • Signage: moderate
    • Terrain: easy accept for some moderate climbs and descents
  • Navigation Skills: minimal
  • Water availability: moderate (review map in advance)
  • Camping availability: moderate
  • Solitude: I met a group of hunters at the trailhead, a couple groups leaving Navajo Lake, and a couple day hikers, plus a group of a couple guys camped near the lake.
  • Bugs: nearly non existent
  • Wildlife: lots of pikas!
  • Precip: be prepared, yep I got wet
  • Temp: 38 overnight low in my tent
  • LNT: Although this is a high use area I saw very little abuse of LNT.
  • Jan’s Cherry Picker Delight Scale: 4 cherries (out of 5)


  • Check in with the ranger station in Dolores
  • Plan on a long drive to the trailhead
  • Plentiful dispersed camping near the trailhead




UT – Haystack Peak, La Sal Mountains

Driving up La Sal Pass and Geyser Pass Roads, Haystack Mountain stands proud although it’s only 11,641 feet compared to the bigger 12-13,000′ peaks. First impressions are meh but since Joan and I were in the vicinity after our hikes up Mann and Pilot peaks, we decided to give it a go. 

There is not an official trail up Haystack, however, there is a easy to follow, well-defined use trail to the base from near the Moonlight Meadows trailhead. You’ll need to do your homework to figure out where to fine the use trail. Joan points the way to the summit. 

From a distance the mountain looks like suede, but alas it’s rocky, rocky, rocky. Once on the rocks, there is no trail nor cairns. My saying is “pick your poison!” 

It’s a lot steeper than it looks once  you are past the bushes in above photo. Crawling was the best technique as shown here by Joan. 

I was beginning to ask why oh why are we hiking this? We are hikers not climbers! But Joan in typical fashion said lets just slide down this. Ha not really but we both thought about turning around at different times. 

Joan’s years of dance gave her a distinct advance in the balance department. 

I was not thrilled when we reached a false summit and found more and more rocks and rocks. 

This photo shows that false summit. 

The views were a good distraction, although those black clouds were a bit of a concern. We sure didn’t want to find ourselves on this barren mountain should lightning make an appearance. There is no way we could quickly descend. 

Joan was the first to celebrate success. 

She even did a little dance. 

But alas another tiny bit to go.  It took us a couple hours to reach the summit from the trailhead.We had views from the top into the area we’d hiked the previous day. 

Soon enough it was time to head down, something I wasn’t looking forward to (photo by Joan). 

On the steep part, it was a lot of crab crawling (video by Joan).

Thankfully the rain waited until we were successfully off the rocks. We both love our hiking umbrellas. Since it’s hunting season, Joan’s choice of orange for a rain cover is wise. 

Looking back at Haystack Mountain, it sure doesn’t look impressive. The trail takes you up to the shoulder, then it’s make-your-own trail time. 

One of my goals for this fall was to experience the changing colors of the quaking aspen. 

It took us about four hours to complete this hike. It was more challenging for me than the previous day due to the risky footing. 

We drove to the Warner Lake trailhead later in the day. 

We took a short stroll on this trail. It was great to find a little vegetation on the other side of the mountain. This photo shows the false summit. 

Hike Details:

  • Date(s) Hiked: September 10, 2017
  • Mileage: about 3.5 miles (per View Ranger)
  • Elevation Gain/Loss: about 3,500′ (per View Ranger)
  • Trail Conditions:
    • Tree obstacles: minimal
    • Overgrowth: minimal
    • Signage: none
    • Terrain: ROCKY!
  • Navigation: map, compass and electronic GPS helpful
  • Water: none
  • Camping: moderate
  • Solitude: we didn’t see anyone
  • Bugs: none
  • Precip: come prepared
  • Temp: unknown, maybe 50’s?
  • Jan’s Cherry Picker Delight Scale: 3- cherries (out of 5) (great views, but hated the rocks)




UT – Manns Peak and Pilot Peak, La Sal Mountains

On my continued quest to find a smoke-free zone, my bestie adventure buddy Joan invited me to Moab. While it’s much too hot to hike for me to hike in red rock country, the La Sal Mountains (to the southeast of Moab) rise up above 12,000 feet. This range is part of the Manti-La Sal National Forest and is not a designated wilderness area. 

We started the hike off Geyser Pass Road near the Burro Pass Trailhead (which can also be reached from Warner Lake). 

The trail to Burro Pass is a high use mountain bike trail, part of the WE (Whole Enchilada) and it seems the gate was replaced with these steps which prevent the open grazing cattle from escaping. 

It’s a nice steady climb up to Burro Pass from the trailhead. 

At the pass, the bikers follow the Whole Enchilada Trail (WE).

Bikers are not allowed on the Manns Peak trail. Since this is a fairly new trail system, it does not appear on most maps.

Shuttle buses bring loads of bikers up to the Burro Pass Trailhead (so they can ride the WE back to Moab). We learned the first group leaves Moab around 7:30am. We started our hike around 8:15 arriving at the pass about an hour later. If we’d left 15 minutes earlier, we would have avoided their traffic. 

Manns Peak at 12,272 feet doesn’t look too daunting from this angle. It took us about 2.5 hours to reach the summit from the trailhead.

Soon enough we found ourselves on the rocky nose, where there is a wonderful staircase through the steepest section. 

Photo of me climbing the staircase, courtesy of Joan (as are all photos of me in this post). 

Looking back at where we came from and Joan beginning the rocky ascent. 

You can see the trail in the trough of rocks. 

Joan points at the peak. 

After the rocky section, the trail disappeared. 

I was excited to see mountain goats welcoming us to the summit.

By the time we arrived, the goats were gone. 

Good thing Joan came prepared with a net to capture me a goat. 

Team J&J together again, having fun, sharing laughs, giggles and challenges. 

The 360 views were WOWtastic! 

You can connect many of these peaks (Manns, Pilot, Green, and Waas). We had a loop planned with Pilot Peak at 12,200 feet, the next in line as our upcoming challenge. There is no official/maintained trail, but a well used path is apparent.

If successful, we’d be coming back via Dry Fork Creek then Wet Fork Creek trails, the drainage in the below photo. 

You can now see the trail on the left side of Pilot Mountain. From a distance it looked more like a goat trail and we were prepared to turn back. 

Can we do it? Yes we can! 

Afterall, we just climbed Manns Peak

Soon enough we could see the summit. 

Once again it’s steeper than it looks. 

More 360 WOWtastic views! It took us a little over an hour to hike from Manns to Pilot Peaks.

Looking down into Castle Valley

To the right is Mt Waas and if you look closely you can see a very tight switchback trail going up the face. But after climbing nearly 3000′ by this point, this gal had enough for this day. The dark clouds helped motivate us to get off the bald summit and spend some time going down, down, down. 

How many years will it take for this mountain to become tree covered? 

It seems only fitting to see signs of autumn in early September. 

It was more climbing back up from Wet Fork to Burro Pass. I was pretty happy when it was downhill sailing after Burro Pass. 

Water is fairly scarce and it’s challenging to connect trails, thus car camping and day hiking make a lot more sense. We were rained on for a bit during our hike and received a drencher during the night. 

The best sunset viewing was near my car. 

Hike Details:

  • Date(s) Hiked: September 9, 2017
  • Mileage: 8-9 miles
  • Elevation Gain/Loss: 4,000′
  • Trail Conditions:
    • Tree obstacles: few
    • Overgrowth: minimal
    • Signage: good
    • Terrain: mixed (some rocky sections, some loose footing with side hilling)
    • Navigation skills: moderate for some sections and for trail reroutes
  • Water: Bring your own (water is available in Wet Fork)
  • Camping: Dispersed options plentiful
  • Solitude: Mixed (we didn’t see anyone while peak bagging, but saw a few on Dry and Wet Forks, and lots of bikes on the Burro Pass section)
  • Bugs: minimal
  • Wildlife: lots of pikas and we heard elk bugling the previous night
  • Precip: Some rain
  • Temp: I’d guess in the 70’s
  • Jan’s Cherry Picker Delight Scale: 4+ cherries (out of 5) Views were outstanding!




CO – Rocky Mountain NP, Black Canyon of the Gunnison NP, Colorado NM

I had my fall itinerary planned for Colorado. The universe had other plans. I ran from the Tetons as wildfire smoke overwhelmed this asthmatic. I cruised south hoping for an escape from the haze and heavy particulates.

First stop was Rocky Mountain National Park. I drove the Old Fall River Road to the Alpine Visitor Center at 11,796′ in hopes of finding clear air. But alas it was not meant to be.

I’d stopped in the Medicine Bow Mountains the previous night and enjoyed a few hours of reprieve.

Heading south out of the park, I saw some touring cyclists whom I’d met in Pinedale a few days previous. At that time they were heading south, but it appeared they’d flipped and were now heading north. I wouldn’t want to ride or hike in these conditions.

Not a good day for flying in a balloon either.

As I continued to try to outrun the smoke, I found some clear air at McClure Pass south of Carbondale.

Watching the aspen show off their autumnal colors was on my list for this fall. At least I found aspen. Too bad Colorado wasn’t playing nice.

Near Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, I found  . . . yes smoky skies that gave me a colorful sunset.

The moon glowed orange as it rose, although I wasn’t able to capture the color in this photo.

As the sun rose the next morning, it was apparent my day was going to be smoky. After seven straight weeks of hiking and spending my days and nights outdoors, I was feeling like a caged lion.

Since I was already within a few miles of the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, why not gather some literature and get a quick introduction? I’d seen comments and photos from others saying how surprised they were and that this park became one of their favorite stops. 

I stopped at the North Rim Ranger Station. The ranger suggested I walk the Chasm View Nature Trail

I was glad it was a flat very short trail. The provided interpretive guide was well written and informative. From rim to rim the canyon measures 1,100 feet; from rim to river it’s 1,723 feet; and, the rock is a mere 1.7 billion years old. I liked this place and will return in the future. The campground on the north rim is nice and there is so much geology to explore. I didn’t even go to the south side.

I drove the road stopping at all the signed viewpoints. 

Do you see the kneeling camel

I’d been keeping my eye on the smoke maps and webcams. I swerved west stopping at Colorado National Monument

It was smoky and hot, but I drove the road for a bit stopping at the viewpoints. This is Independence Monument.

The most interesting to me was the want-to-be coke ovens, after spending time in Idaho earlier this year looking at the real thing. 

My minion friends may have been saying Howdy, but I was saying Goodbye for now to Colorado. You may be a colorful state but during this very short visit you were monochromatic in your grays. This wasn’t the least bit how I planned to spend the month but timing is everything and it just wasn’t my time. I’ll be back to explore all the planned places I researched just like I did in the Winds.

Dates: September 4-7, 2017

Links to my other Colorado Jaunts

WY – Teton Crest Trail, Grand Teton National Park (Part 4)

This day’s objective was Hurricane Pass. I’d heard this was the toughest climb on the Teton Crest Trail. I got an early start in hopes all my climbing in the Winds prepared me for this one. 

There was a group ahead of me so it was nice to monitor their progress against mine. The pass didn’t look very intimidating to me. 

As I climbed there were lots of false summits and the beginning of smoky skies. Look back at the blue skies in the previous photo. I liked how these two mountains nearly mirrored each other. Looking back toward Sunset Lake. I’d definitely made the right decision for me staying on the Alaska Basin Shelf. The “lake” was really just a pond. 

The view from Hurricane Pass looking back to the south. 

I was beyond sad reaching Hurricane Pass only to find the Tetons cloaked in smoke and the sun position not working in my favor. It had taken me less than an hour to reach the summit and I didn’t find it a significant challenge.

As I dropped over the north side of Hurricane Pass, I nearly cried knowing with the smoke I wouldn’t be able to explore the glaciers and lakes as originally planned. I have asthma and am extremely sensitive to smoke. 

This was my decision point. Of course, I had to say NO! This day was not to be mine. I’ll be back under better conditions to explore this beautiful place. 

Skies were deceiving. There were a lot of smoke particles in the air. I was hacking and wheezing. 

The remainder of the trail is in GTNP therefore all camping is by permit only. Skipping the trek to Avalanche Divide and Icefloe Lake meant I’d need to spend the bulk of the day in the smoke in my camp zone. I decided instead to change my route and return to my car via Cascade Canyon rather than Paintbrush Canyon

I enjoyed several waterfalls on my exit hike.

Check out this rock wall. I passed a trail crew who I thanked immensely for their work. 

Final decision point. To the right is Cascade Canyon, to the left is Paintbrush Canyon. To the right I went . . .

Previous days . . .

Hike Details:

  • Date(s) Hiked: 9/1/17
  • Mileage: about 14 (didn’t track)
  • Elevation Gain/Loss: unknown but it was an ascent to Hurricane Pass and then primarily descent to the String Lake parking area
  • Trail Conditions:
    • Tree obstacles: minimal if any
    • Overgrowth: wildflowers and some bushes
    • Signage: good
    • Terrain: good
  • Water: plentiful
  • Camping: restricted by GTNP permits
  • Solitude: moderate (saw only a few people between Sunset Lake and the Cascade Canyon / South Fork junction, but then saw tons and tons of people on the Cascade Canyon trail)
  • Bugs: biting flies were around at lower elevation, plus bees and grasshoppers
  • Precip: None on this day
  • Temp: Hot at lower elevation
  • Jan’s Cherry Picker Delight Scale: 3- cherries (out of 5) (would have been much higher without smoke; the Cascade Canyon was surprisingly nice with the waterfalls and mixed forest)





WY – Teton Crest Trail, Grand Teton National Park (Part 3)

I can now say I survived THE DEATH ZONE!

My primary goal of the day was to explore Alaska Basin

The cloudy skies made for perfect hiking temperatures but less than ideal views and photos. 

The Monkey Flowers were at peak and were prolific near water sources.

There were a few shady enclaves hiding Gentian flowers.

There are several lakes in the basin. I was quite disappointed by the quality of lakes in the Tetons. They are much more like ponds, not a place you want to swim nor gather drinking water. 

There is a side trail that takes you to the pass next to Buck Mountain, a detour on my agenda. 

Look closely at the mark under the clouds. That’s a helicopter! I met a man running down the trail. He said he’d had to run to the pass from the basin to call 911 on his cell. Jackson Hole is between the gap. His friend had developed severe stomach pains overnight and needed urgent extraction. Relying on cell signal in the mountains is risky; I’m thankful for my InReach (two-way satellite communicator).

What’s on the other side of Buck Mountain Pass

Looking down into Alaska Basin

Views from Buck Mountain Pass

The trail continues around the other side of the Alaska Basin

Looking back up toward Buck Mountain Pass

Do you see me? This marmot made me chuckle. He was absorbing the warmth of the rock, hiding from the breeze and hoping I didn’t see him. 

I’d originally planned to camp at Sunset Lake, but because I was outside GTNP I had the flexibility to camp elsewhere. When I found this spot on the Alaska Basin Shelf, with nearby water, I knew this would be a better home for me. I had a view of where I’d spent the day and felt as though I had the entire place to myself. 

With smoke in the air, I had a nice sunset view. Wonder if the view was better at Sunset Lake

To be continued . . .

Hike Details:

  • Date(s) Hiked: 8/31/17
  • Mileage: 8-10 miles (didn’t track)
  • Elevation Gain/Loss: minimal except for the climb up to Buck Mountain Pass
  • Trail Conditions:
    • Tree obstacles: minimal if any
    • Overgrowth: minimal if any
    • Signage: good
    • Terrain: excellent
  • Water: plentiful
  • Camping: plentiful and unrestricted by GTNP permits
  • Solitude: moderate, so a few groups on the trail but no one near my campsite
  • Bugs: grasshoppers and bees
  • Precip: clouds that didn’t result in thunderstorms on this day
  • Temp: 41 overnight low
  • Jan’s Cherry Picker Delight Scale: 5 cherries (out of 5)




WY – Teton Crest Trail, Grand Teton National Park (Part 2)

I started my second day by stepping onto the Teton Crest Trail.

I spent much of my day reveling in flowers. 

Marion Lake

Autumn is on it’s way. 

As I approached Death Canyon, I got some great teaser views of the big Teton mountains. 

Heading up to the Death Shelf. 

I heard several rock falls and actually witnessed two. 

Death Shelf was much more vibrant and moist than I anticipated. 

I haven’t seen dark brown marmots that I can recall. This one wanted to star in all my photos. 

I camped on the shelf with a great view of my future. 

The next morning I could only wonder what the weather would bring. 

Looking back toward Death Canyon and Death ShelfLink to possible explanations of the name.

Worst case of Leave No Trace (LNT) I’ve seen.  Wonder how long these skis have been here? Wonder how the person exited? Did this person receive a helicopter ride?

To be continued . . .

Hike Details:

  • Date(s) Hiked: 8/30/17
  • Mileage: 8-10 miles (didn’t track as conserving battery)
  • Elevation Gain/Loss: unknown as didn’t track however it was mostly a steady climb
  • Trail Conditions:
    • Tree obstacles: minimal if any
    • Overgrowth: only wildflowers
    • Signage: good
    • Terrain: good
  • Water: plentiful
  • Camping: restricted by permit
  • Solitude: moderate (saw a few groups around Marion Lake and one on Death Shelf)
  • Bugs: grasshoppers and bees
  • Precip: Sprinkled most of afternoon and early evening
  • Temp: 47 overnight low
  • Jan’s Cherry Picker Delight Scale: 5 cherries (out of 5) (loved the section between Marion Lake and Death Canyon, lots of WOW views)