CO – Highlands Mary Lakes Lollipop Loop – Weminuche Wilderness, San Juan NF

The access road to this trailhead near Silverton makes this hike a bit less popular than the one to Ice Lakes. The first couple miles are mostly through forest interspersed with waterfalls. 

After climbing 1,300′, I found the first lake and wandered around two more while enjoying open alpine tundra views. I wasn’t as awestruck as I’d been when I saw Upper Ice Lake but found it enjoyable none the less.

I continued to follow the trail and/or markers up to the Verde Lakes viewpoint. 

I got teaser views of the Grenadier Range. Now those look like my kind of mountains! 

And found the Verde Lakes. I think I might like to visit the high lake to the left in photo. The topography is interesting and makes for easy off-trail exploration.

I continued climbing to connect the Highland Mary Lakes Trail #606 to the Colorado Trail (CT) / Continental Divide Trail (CDT) #813. There were occasional markers and tread but nothing clearly marked. The views became more and more WOW as I climbed. 

It’s always fun to be back on trail after spending time route finding. The CT/CDT was smooth sailing! 

Notice the HUGE cairn on the top right side of photo. I saw several along the CT/CDT. It appears these are a popular way to mark the CT although unnecessary except in snow, which can be long-lasting in the San Juans. 

To complete my loop, I transitioned from the CT/CDT to the Cunningham Gulch Trail #502

As I drove back to the main road from the trailhead, I noticed this  . . . looks to me like an old glacier???? 

Hike Details:

  • Date(s) Hiked: September 20, 2017
  • Mileage (per ViewRanger): 7.5-8 miles
  • Elevation Gain/Loss (per ViewRanger): 2,400′
  • Elevation Low/High (per ViewRanger): 10,800′-12,900′
  • Trail Conditions:
    • Tree obstacles: minimal
    • Overgrowth: minimal
    • Signage: moderate
    • Terrain: a few steep spots but mostly well graded switchbacks on actual trail otherwise fairly easy alpine tundra off-trail hiking; some wet and muddy sections.
  • Navigation Skills: minimal for trail sections, moderate for off-trail sections
  • Water availability: plentiful below tree line
  • Camping availability: moderate below tree line
  • Solitude: I only saw one individual fishing at one of the Highland Mary Lakes; otherwise it seemed I had the entire area to myself on the day I was there.
  • Bugs: None
  • Wildlife: None
  • Precip: None this date, but pretty windy
  • Temp: Unknown but would guess 40-50
  • LNT: Mostly excellent except at trailhead. I found a PB jar near the top of a bald.
  • Jan’s Cherry Picker Delight Scale: 4+ cherries (out of 5)

Tips:

  • Dispersed camping available near trailhead, but beware of mice problems.

Links:

Resources:

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CO – Ice, Fuller and Island Lakes – San Juan NF

This VERY popular trail, not far from Silverton, met my criteria for wanting to witness the aspen display their fall colors. 

Lower Ice Lake was not much more than a pond this late in season. 

I was confused by this waterfall that looked to be encased in ice. 

Upon closer inspection I found bleached rocks. 

As I crested the hill, I was in awe by the color blue of Upper Ice Lake. It was a WOW moment! This is an unedited photo. 

Then it was off to find Fuller Lake

Fuller Lake

I climbed up further and obtained this view of Fuller Lake, an unnamed pond, and Upper Ice Lake

I was trying to connect to this trail but decided once I reached this talus field that it just wasn’t worth the effort. 

The pond looked pretty inviting on my return trip. 

Then it was time to find Island Lake. If you look closely on the right side of Upper Ice Lake you’ll see the faint trail to Island Lake. 

Island Lake was a sweet heart-shaped lake. 

If you are uncomfortable with exposure, you might want to skip Island Lake. There was a large section that was pretty sketchy as it looked like an avalanche had wiped out the trail. I watched one gal almost lose it. Thankfully she had a lucky recovery.

A nice view back into the Upper Ice Lake basin as I descended from Island Lake

The Island Lake trail also provided a good perspective down to Lower Ice Lake and the canyon from which I’d come. 

There were several waterfalls along the way, but the sun didn’t cooperate for photo-worthy captures. 

Hike Details:

  • Date(s) Hiked: September 18, 2017
  • Mileage (per ViewRanger): about 10 miles round trip
  • Elevation Gain/Loss (per ViewRanger): 4,000 feet
  • Max/Min Elevation (per ViewRanger): 9,863′ to 12,905′
  • Trail Conditions:
    • Tree obstacles: Minimal
    • Overgrowth: Obvious recent trimming
    • Signage: Minimal
    • Terrain: Steep in places, but in general excellent conditions
  • Navigation Skills: There were a few social trails to waterfalls, campsites and peaks which could be a little confusing on the way to Upper Ice Lake. The trails to Fuller and Island Lakes are pretty obvious but unmarked.
  • Water availability: Plentiful
  • Camping availability: Moderate below tree line; there is also nearby dispersed camping and campground options.
  • Solitude: Expect plenty of company. It’s a busy trail.
  • Bugs: None
  • Wildlife: None
  • Precip: None on this day
  • Temp: Unknown but guessing 40-60
  • LNT: excellent given the amount of use this trail receives.
  • Jan’s Cherry Picker Delight Scale: 5 cherries (out of 5) LOVED it!

Tips:

  • Avoid crowds by starting early, hiking on weekdays and later in season. Be mentally prepared for the trail being busy.

Links:

Resources:

CO – Lizard Head Loop – San Juan NF (Part 2)

My tent was perfectly positioned near Navajo Lake to be warmed by the first rays of light. 

As indicated on my previous post, my intention was to head up to Rock of Ages Pass near Wilson Peak (14,017). The trail was quite rocky but well defined within a smooth trough for much of the ascent.

Looking down at Navajo Lake as I continued my ascent toward Rock of Ages Pass

This is the false summit I’d seen from camp. The ridge providing access to Wilson Peak was in my sights now. 

There was mining relics laying witness to earlier years on this mountain. Nearby is Mount Wilson (14,246). I’d seen a sign pointing in the direction earlier and kept my eyes open for possible routes. Seemed impossible, but I know it’s not.

From the ridge looking down toward the Silver Pick basin

You can see the trail in the middle which was my ascent trail. The rangers who recommended this loop didn’t tell me about this very rocky sketch with plenty of exposure. Definitely not my favorite. 

I call this extreme exposure. 

Once I got past the ridge, I had to get down this mess on the mostly non-existent Silver Pick Trail.

Looking back at what I’d descended thus far. There is no real trail just lots of rocks and slip sliding marks from previous hikers. Once again this was way outside my comfort zone. I happened upon more mining history.

I was so happy to be out of the rubble headed toward Lizard Head Trail #505 with it’s namesake mountain, Lizard Head (13,113) clearly evident in the distant. It took me 6 hours to reach the trail junction after leaving the ridge.

Notice the trail on the high left side of scree field. 

The weather had been threatening all day and my wishes to have thunderstorms hold off until I’d descended the sketchy rock thankfully came true. By late afternoon however the hail, rain and thunder became intermittent. 

As I hid out under a bush with my umbrella and poncho, a little surprise was waiting. 

Between breaks in the storm I decided to get over Lizard Head Pass

My luck ran out and as I neared the top, the storm came on with ferocity leaving behind hail highlights. The lighting after the storm was phenomenal.

After crossing over the pass, I quickly ducked into the first thunderstorm-safe campsite I could find. The temperature dropped quickly, the thunder grumbled, lightning flashed, it started hailing, then sleeting . . . then snowing. 

This was my view as I unzipped my tent in the morning. 

In my rush to find a campsite and get out of the cold, I’d missed my trail junction. I call this a happy accident as I would have camped at a much lower elevation and missed these amazing views. 

You can compare this image to one a few photos above to see what happened during the night. 

Ah, the missed junction. I needed to take Cross Mountain Trail #637.

Then I was on my way, down down down. 

With many opportunities to look back at Lizard Head Mountain

It was a frigid 31 degrees in my tent. I hiked for a few hours in all my clothes including my long underwear, down jacket, rain jacket, 3 hats and 3 pairs of socks. 

Getting to experience first snow and see this beautiful landscape highlighted white was a real treat. 

To complete my loop, I transitioned from the Cross Mountain Trail to the Groundhog Stock Driveway Trail

The Groundhog Stock Trail was surprisingly beautiful. I really enjoyed the open meadows, interspersed groves of trees and views of where I’d been including the ever present Lizard Head Peak

I hiked the road between Groundhog Stock Trail and the Kilpacker Trailhead, where my car was parked. My how this view changed. 

The view from three days earlier. 

Related Post:

Hike Details:

  • Date(s) Hiked: September 14-15, 2017
  • Mileage: about 18 miles (per View Ranger)
  • Elevation Gain/Loss: about  4,500′ gain, 5,600′ loss, ranging in elevation between 10,086 and 13,310 (per View Ranger)
  • Trail Conditions:
    • Tree obstacles: minimal
    • Overgrowth: moderate, some bushes and plenty of decaying summer plants, made worse by rain and snow.
    • Signage: moderate
    • Terrain: combination of rocky exposed to smooth well groomed
  • Navigation Skills: experienced for the section between Rock of Ages Pass to Lizard Head Trail
  • Water availability: moderate (review map in advance)
  • Camping availability: moderate
  • Solitude: I only saw two people from the time I left Navajo Lake until I was part way down the Cross Mountain Trail where I started meeting a few hunters and hikers.
  • Bugs: nearly non existent
  • Wildlife: lots of pika!
  • Precip: be prepared, yep I got wet, cold, and snowed up.
  • Temp: 31 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) Views were outstanding, rocky section of trail was challenging.

Tips:

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

Links:

Resources:

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)

Tips:

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

Links:

Resources:

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)

Tips:

Links:

Resources:

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!

Tips:

Links:

Resources:

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