CO – Guanella Pass, Square Top Lakes (08/22)

Most hikers arriving at this trailhead are focused on 14,065′ Mount Bierstadt. I could see the trail from the parking area and thought this would be one I could at least reach the pass.

But much like my previous hikes at Berthoud Pass, I landed here unintentionally. It was a stopover between destinations. I wasn’t prepared for a big climb and was more interested in a light hike day. Square Top Lakes seemed to fit the bill.

I enjoyed my best Colorado sunrise this summer.

Vehicles started arriving about 3am for a sunrise summit of Mount Bierstadt. I took this photo at 6:30am showing the parking lot overflow.

It was a low cloud or foggy day, perfect for a stroll to visit these lakes. This is the lower lake, the upper is tucked in the bowl above, with the ridge leading to Square Top Mountain.

Looking down on the lower lake, I could see that Mount Bierstadt was shrouded in clouds. The hikers must have been disappointed to miss the sunrise show as well as any views. I bet this location would provide a mountain reflection in the lake on a clear day.

I spent some time at upper lake watching the tiny figures of hikers on the ridge and a fisherman on the shoreline. I never saw any fish jumping.

The water was so clear. I’m sure on a warm day I would have enjoyed a swim. The brown line is a shelf.

If I was feeling more energetic I might have wandered up this hill to the ridge.

I recently learned these are Whipple’s Penstemon or Five Thread, which can vary in coloring from burgundy to white.

I found Elephant Head Orchids still blooming.

Star Gentian

There were a lot of arctic gentian, but none were open. Maybe they need sun to open like poppies.

Mountain or alpine gentian.

It’s always fun to find a triad bouquet.

Buckwheat.

A new plant! Hopefully someone can help identify.

These are similar to Kingscrown. Someone told me they are called Queens something.

Oh summer, I’m not ready to say goodbye.

It was a perfect day for layering.

And a perfect day to visit these lakes.

By 11am the clouds had dropped further reducing views to near nothing. I was glad to have hiked earlier in the morning. See the hikers in the distance?

This was a 5.25 mile 900′ elevation gain/loss round trip hike.

Resources:

CO – Maroon Bells Wilderness, Four Pass Loop (08/22)

Some hikers detour off The Colorado Trail (CT) to summit a 14’er (like Mount Elbert), but I’ve never been one to follow the crowd. I had plans for another CT segment but when I realized my proximity to Aspen, I couldn’t resist this opportunity to attempt this hiker’s Disneyland trek. It had been on my list for at least five years and after spending a couple months hiking at elevation I figured I was in the best shape I’d ever be to take on this extreme challenge.

Sadly this is an area impacted by social media fame. So instead of starting this post with pretty photos, I’ll introduce it with a few warnings. I thought I might have to activate my SOS for a few hikers. Based on my observations I’d say 25% of hikers were in over their heads and hadn’t done proper research nor conditioning. With limited entry access, extra planning is required (USFS link). I was hopeful the stars would align and I could make this spur-of-the-moment trip happen.

I started from Maroon Lake, the most popular trailhead. If you catch the light right, you can see the maroon colored peaks reflected in the lake.

I got an early morning start and was happy to arrive at the wilderness boundary to hopefully avoid the hordes of day hikers arriving on the shuttle buses.

The first hour includes this gnarly rocky terrain. I know now how the Rocky Mountains got their name. Funny I met a gal on my return trip who said “this wasn’t in the shiny brochure.” LOL

Clockwise or counterclockwise? Based on my research I chose clockwise and didn’t regret that decision. Why? I’d rather hike up treacherous trail rather than down. As a bonus, the scenery gets better as you continue the loop clockwise. It’s about 2 miles and 600 feet of elevation gain to this junction, mostly over that crazy rocky terrain. Most casual day hikers head for Crater Lake. Many backpacking the loop camp at Crater Lake their first night.

Crater Lake is very small and shallow, not exactly a place I sell as destination worthy, although in the early morning I captured this reflection of Maroon Peak.

The ascending continued. There was plentiful water and campsites leading toward the first pass. I didn’t know how far I would be able to go given possible thunderstorms and elevation gain.

That’s West Maroon Pass in the distance.

While the flowers were waning, I was delighted to find more of these gentian, a new species for me since I’ve been in Colorado.

The grape lupine stole the show, with the scent filling the air.

Hikers on the pass made it easy to see the finish line.

But I still had a ways to go.

This was my first experience with a bottleneck. I hadn’t seen other hikers until I got close to this first pass and then it was easy to get stuck behind slower hikers.

Looking back down from where I’d come. You can tell by the posture of the first group that the trail is steeper than it looks.

The final push!

West Maroon Pass Success! One done, three to go. Yes, that’s a patch of snow. It was 7 miles, 2,700 feet elevation gain from Maroon Lake Trailhead to this 12,493′ pass, taking me about 5 hours.

Looking down the other side of the pass as you drop down before heading up Frigid Air Pass. Take what you hear about water available with a grain of salt. I was told there was no on-trail water between the two passes and yet I found several streams. I’d also heard there wasn’t any water on the way up West Maroon Pass but once again there were plenty of options. Of course these are not dependable sources.

On my way down the pass, I found Elephant Head Orchids near some of the streams.

Blooms lined the trail making it hard to stay on the task of getting myself up the next pass.

Thankfully the clouds weren’t looking threatening.

First view of Frigid Air Pass.

Frigid Air Pass. It was super steep and treacherous toward the top of this 12,411′ pass. A young overweight, out-of-shape guy from Florida fell several times on his way up and then passed out at the top. I thought he was a goner and I was going to need to activate my inReach SOS. According to my tracker from the trailhead to this point was 9.5 miles with 3,473′ gain and 792′ loss, taking me about 7.5 hours.

Amazing topography.

Day hikers can reach this pass from the West Maroon Trail in about 5 miles. It’s another access point for those wanting to hike the loop, and is accessible via Crested Butte.

Then it was time to go down, down, down to find water and a campsite.

Looking back at the unique notch at Frigid Air Pass. Most surprising to me was the amount of shrubbery at high elevation.

I was thankful to find a small stream and grabbed the first campsite. I chuckled when several groups asked where I got water to camp at this location. They walked over the stream! It turned out to be a great location as I avoided the condensation experienced by the majority who chose water and meadows. Bear canisters are required due to poor food management in the past. I didn’t see any bear evidence however I met a couple of gals who said they found bear prints in a sandbar running through a meadow.

I had a great view of Frigid Air Pass from near my campsite. These dark clouds never resulted in a thunderstorm.

I was excited to experience Trail Rider Pass, supposedly the hardest in the loop with the most WOW views. But first, I had to spend a few miles descending.

Who doesn’t like a waterfall?

I ran into a group I’d seen the previous day who estimated their arrival time at the pass to be 2pm. I sure hoped I wouldn’t be climbing that many hours.

The maroon-colored mountains were replaced with some more variety.

Now this is a place where I’d like to spend a day. Too bad another group had already claimed this best-of-the-loop campsite.

Looking back at the premier campsite as I climbed toward the pass.

I finally got a view of Trail Rider Pass. You can see the trail traversing along the steep slope. The yellow spec in the air is a paraglider.

I wondered where this person launched from and where they planned to land. They came really close to the ridge.

Almost to the pass.

Trail Rider Pass at 12,420′. I’d now covered 17 miles with 5,000′ elevation gain and 2,600′ loss.

So much geology eye candy.

Looking back down from where I’d come. There’s the pond with the amazing campsite!

I found more maroon.

Snowmass Lake was a scene stealer on the other side of the pass.

It took me a long time to descend to the lake with the many WOW views and photo opportunities.

Looking back at the pass.

I could hardly wait to reach the shores of the lake and go for a swim.

Don’t be scared little pika friend.

I found some composite rock among the maroons.

I had to make my way across this rock fall before I could reach the lake.

That color! So close . . .

I FINALLY made it, and yes took a nice swim.

As much as I wanted to camp at Snowmass Lake, it was already crowded by mid afternoon. So it was time to descend further so I’d be ready to hike up to the last pass in the morning.

I found a spot with nearby views and away from the crowds, who were across the meadow.

I thought I might see a moose or other wildlife in the meadows at dusk or dawn. I didn’t find any however one gal I met the next day said they saw bear prints.

Once again this storm didn’t develop. I wondered if monsoon season was over.

The reds popped the next morning on the other side of my campsite.

These colors reminded me of home with the reds and grays mixed together at times.

The trail skirted near the gray and red mountain I’d watched the previous night from camp.

The colors improved as the light changed.

The trail provided views of the mountains surrounding Snowmass Lake. They are so unique it was nice to recognize the location.

Buckskin Pass at 12,470′ seemed to require the least amount of effort of the four passes. North Maroon Peak and Maroon Peak are visible as the last two humps. I was now at 24 miles with 6,777′ elevation gain and 4,073′ loss.

Celebrating completion of Pass #4!

Looking back from where I’d come. If you look closely you can see Snowmass Lake. The valley is where I’d spent the previous night.

Looking down at the drainage toward Maroon Lake, where I’d be heading to close the loop and complete my hike.

I enjoyed views of Maroon and North Maroon peaks. I met a couple on their way to climb North Maroon.

Looking back at Buckskin Pass.

I was excited to see more of these blooms which I’ve learned are a star gentian.

There were also more of the gentian I’ve seen most commonly.

Another type of gentian I’ve discovered while in Colorado.

This section of trail can be busy with day hikers and runners heading for the pass.

The mountains have so much texture and color.

I was shocked by the hordes of hikers between Maroon and Crater Lakes. It was not the best way to end such a wonderful loop but I went in with the expectation of high use.

I was looking forward to a swim and had forgotten the lake was fenced off and inaccessible. In the bright light I could see green lining the bottom.

According to Gaia this was a 28.5 mile hike, with 6,800 feet elevation gain/loss.

Was it awesome? YES! Was it challenging? YES Would I recommend? YES for those mentally and physically prepared, just go in with realistic expectations.

Tips:

  • Review the USFS website (link) for current guidelines and regulations especially regarding access.
  • Bear canisters are required although I found one sign that included Ursack. I didn’t find that info elsewhere.
  • Prepare for moose, elk, bear and marmot sightings.
  • Take climbing and acclimation seriously.
  • The USFS is working hard to improve LNT by moving campsites that are too near trails, lakes or streams.

CO – THE Colorado Trail, Collegiate West Segment CW03 (08/22)

Segments 11-15 are Collegiate East (CE), while Segments CW01-05 are Collegiate West (CW). According to The Colorado Trail Guidebook, “the East is the classic CT route. It has been a part of The Colorado Trail since 1987. Collegiate West was added to the CT as an option in 2012. The East is considered more civilized with more convenient town and trail access. It’s also lower in elevation” which is why I chose to hike several CE segments in June. In typical Jan fashion why hike the segments in order when you can mix things up? It’s been fun meeting hikers multiple times as I play hopscotch between segments.

After my time in the San Juan sections, I couldn’t resist more time above 12,000 feet. This segment is considered the highest segment in the Collegiate West staying above 12,000 feet except for the southern 3.7 miles. It’s 15.9 miles with 3,532 feet elevation gain and 4,591 feet loss hiking south toward Durango. My goal was to hike south 12-13 miles; however when my air mattress failed my first night, I opted to turnaround at 8+ miles instead completing 16 miles round trip with 3,000 feet elevation gain/loss.

I started at Cottonwood Pass, hiking south toward Tincup Pass Road.

Several hikers wisely camped at this small pond near the trailhead avoiding thunderstorm exposure in the upcoming few miles.

The Collegiate West has long been a primary route for those hiking the Continental Divide Trail (CDT) although many choose to hike the Collegiate East if they arrive in the early season.

At 7am I could only wonder if these dark clouds were coming or going. There are several ponds/lakes near the ridges, sometimes offering both water and a place to camp.

Near the beginning of my hike I met these three geologists, from I believe the Rocky Mountain College, off to do some research. Taylor Park Reservoir is visible in the distance. It’s accessible via Cottonwood Road and gets heavy camper/RV use making for great hitching opportunities for hikers looking to get into Buena Vista to resupply or rest.

There were still a few snow patches near the trail. I can’t imagine attempting this section in the snow as there are long traverses along steeep hillsides.

In typical Rocky Mountain fashion the trail is rarely flat. It drops off this ridge and then goes up to toward the next peak.

There were still plenty of flowers showing off their colors. I was thrilled with the long season I experienced.

I love all the geology colors and textures. This is one of the reasons I came to Colorado!

This was the nearest I came to snow and the trail turned so I didn’t even have an opportunity to grab a handful.

The marmots are happy greeters.

This is Lost Lake, requiring a drop of 700 feet and a 0.3 mile detour. It’s also popular with day hikers as there is a direct trail from the highway. On my return trip I saw a group on the shoreline. It would take a lot of motivation on my part to descend knowing I’d have to climb back up the next morning, but at over 12,000 feet water sources are few and far between, plus this would be a good option for shelter during a thunderstorm.

This section had a lot of rocky trail areas. It was great for my feet/ankle conditioning, balance and micro muscles, but they sure were tiring.

I believe these are cobweb thistles. They were loaded with bees.

I found Colorado Columbine blooming on nearly every segment; although to date I was still missing that perfect photo of a meadow full with a cool background.

The first colorful buckwheat blooms I’d seen this summer.

This is the beginning of a long traverse that goes along the lower tan area below the pointed mountain, front and center. I worried about the condition of the trail but am happy to report it was flat and sufficiently wide. I didn’t have any exposure concerns although others might.

There were lots of surprises to be found along this stretch of trail that looks barren.

Much of these green hillsides were filled with anemone in Dr Seuss mophead stage. It would have been amazing to see the mass display.

Mountain Deathcamas (per Seek App)

I’m guessing these are either a bud or seedpod.

Bladderpods

I finally solved the mystery of the purple heads I started seeing a few weeks ago.

Hard to believe there would be Elephant Head Orchids on that barren looking hillside, currently devoid of water.

My biggest surprise was finding Alpine Springbeauty blooms.

There was some shrubby fireweed.

Then the terrain changed as I exited that long traverse through tundra. I found trees! I marked these areas on my mapping app as places to hide during thunderstorms.

Star Gentian, a new one for me.

I never get tired of seeing Sky Pilots.

There was new geology eye candy as I crossed over the pass.

The light was flat and I wanted the sun to come out and brighten up this spot. This is prime moose habitat, and on my return trip I was happy to find some nearby.

While still above 12,000 feet, this little valley is home to creeks and thunderstorm-safe camping.

Where there’s water, there are prolific blooms.

Healthy bunch of monkeyflowers near a stream.

Gentian with a visitor.

I startled a family of ptarmigan. Do you see mom?

Then I was off to find my campsite, a place with water and sheltered from thunderstorms.

And yet another colorful mountain. They don’t call it Colorful Colorado for no reason.

Looking toward my next day’s objective.

I camped earlier than I would have preferred but I knew the thunderstorms were coming. I sat near this rock pile watching marmots and pikas, hoping for a fab photo opportunity.

At 2:30pm the rain began and didn’t stop until 11:30pm. The thunder crashed, rocked and rolled as did the lightning. It was a crazy night and I was grateful for my protected site.

Stars came out at midnight, accompanied by heavy wind. The next morning I found alpenglow, the first on The Colorado Trail.

With my air mattress going flat every hour, I made the decision to turn around rather than spend another miserable night. These old bones don’t like that hard ground. This ridge would need to wait for a future visit.

A hiker in front of me saw this group of three moose (meese?), including a bull. They spooked and we heard a female voice yelling WTF. Soon we found her outside her tent. That could have ended badly.

See the hiker in the rocks? Yep, that’s the trail. It took focus and concentration to get through these areas without twisting an ankle or falling.

More geology eye candy.

What a surprise as I crossed over the pass. The valley was filled with low clouds or fog.

I still wasn’t motivated to drop down to visit Lost Lake.

I enjoyed watching the fog swirl up and over the ridges.

It was my first gusty day since being on The Colorado Trail.

By 11:30am, I was past due a break. I knew this wind shelter was within sight of the trailhead and it offered cell. Wouldn’t you know it within 15 minutes a rain cell moved over and by the time I got back to my car I was soaked. What a way to end this section. Forecasts seem to be worthless and it’s just as well to plan on thunderstorms and rain. Locals told me it’s been unusually wet this summer.

Colorado Trail Segments Hiked:

As of this post, I’ve hiked about 233 miles toward The Colorado Trail plus 161 bonus miles (repeats/side trails) with over 64,000 feet of elevation gain/loss.

Tips:

  • The Guthook/Far Out App and Colorado Trail Association Guidebook and Databook are helpful in planning section hikes. The guidebooks details parking and trailhead options along with the elevation profile. Far Out was a great way to plan my turnaround based on mileage and elevation gain/loss. I also used Gaia with the Colorado Trail Nat Geo layer.
  • Lake City was a decent resupply and regrouping town. I used WiFi at the Library and a coffee shop.

Resources:

CO – THE Colorado Trail, Segments 23-24, San Juan Mountains (07/22)

I’d planned to hike most of the San Juan segments as a continuous hike, but the mileage was just too much for me to do as an out and back so I looked for baby 4WD accessible roads or nearby trailheads to make this hike manageable. Since I’d previously driven to the Highland Mary Lakes Trailhead (blog link) I was thrilled to make this my starting point, although in retrospect I might have made more Colorado Trail miles had a selected another option (reference elevation profile).

My plan was to hike east to The Colorado Trail high point in Segment 22 and then hike west/southwest to the ridge above Elk Creek in Segment 24. Spoiler alert: neither happened. Instead I hiked about 15 trail miles between Highland Mary Lakes and Carson Peak view ridge (and back again plus the access trail). The elevation gain proved too much along with living above 12,000 feet for multiple days. My total mileage was about 35 with over 5,000 feet elevation gain/loss.

There are warnings in the databook about being careful around sheep dogs. This signage was posted at the USFS office in Silverton.

As I came up the Cunningham Gulch/Highlands Mary Lake Trail, I heard the familiar baa baa, a cow bell or two and an occasional bark. Soon enough I saw lots of sheep near and on the trail. I took a wide birth around the sheep and kept my pepper spray at the ready.

The trail soon joined the CDT/CT trail but wrapped around the hills where the sheep were grazing. I was hopeful they’d stay on the other side. I was extremely nervous about those big white sheep dogs protecting their livestock, especially after being bitten by a large dog while hiking in the Marble Mountain Wilderness a couple years ago.

But alas I find the sheep in the valley between the ridges. They were so noisy. I don’t know if they were bleating warnings about me or something else.

Notice the trail in the lower middle of this photo. What I thought was a “patch of snow” on the mound above the trail turned out to be one of the guard dogs. It was laying down when I first saw it then it must have sensed me and sat up, barked but didn’t act aggressive. The sheep were well below the dog (and me). I quickly hike on, turning around frequently to be sure the dog wasn’t following. Whew!

I was thrilled to be away from the sheep and guard dogs and finally on my way east toward my first destination Stony Pass.

I camped near this location on my return trip. The colors of this unnamed mountain were unbelievable.

At Stony Pass, there was evidence of mining. I was wishing I had a true 4×4 so I could have parked at this road junction. It would have made my hike a bit easier.

Stony Pass marks the separation between Segments 23 and 24.

I continued east with my hopeful turnaround destination the Colorado Trail High Point at 13,271 feet, 17.5 miles away.

Marmots and pikas love these high elevation areas. These three cracked me up as they were all on alert enjoying the sun.

The pika are so busy and much more shy so capturing a good photo is so much more difficult.

I believe this is Canby Mountain.

I took so many photos of Sheep Mountain. It was very photogenic with it’s colorful reds.

The trail looks deceptively easy, but it’s constantly climbing or descending.

The dark clouds, intermittent rain and growling thunder make it challenging to know whether to attempt another pass or give up and camp or take a break. I crossed over the Continental Divide at least 6-8 times each way.

I was feeling vulnerable near the pass with lightning in the distance.

I didn’t make the miles planned my first day and decided to make camp rather than risk another pass. It was the right decision as it rained for a few hours. There are few if any recognizable campsites in this section. I found this somewhat protected area near a stream. Notice my tent off to the middle right. The stream looked like glacier silt as it was running gray with sand after the heavy rain.

Thankfully it was a night without nearby lightning but I got a taste of camping among drenched plants.

The views from the campsite didn’t disappoint.

With lots of condensation and wet from the rain, I took an early break the next morning to dry out my gear. Notice the perfect blue sky, not something to be taken for granted or expected to last for long.

The Cataract Lake area is gorgeous, and once again I took many photos.

By the time I reached this ridge with a view of Carson Peak, I was feeling extremely fatigued. It wasn’t even noon yet and I hadn’t hiked many miles but I didn’t see how I could make it to the Colorado Trail high point and back. I would feeling discouraged but always give myself permission to change plans. My priority is enjoying the journey and keeping my body healthy. I met a gal who said she too was feeling the affects of climbing up the other side and would be camping early at Cataract Lake. I took a long break to contemplate my decision. Would I regret turning back?

The high point would need to wait a future hike. It wasn’t meant to be and I decided to lollygag away my day instead of stressing about miles and destinations.

I camped at Cataract Lake and while I didn’t find the gal I met earlier, I met another gal by the same name going the opposite direction. We had a splendid afternoon and evening getting to know each other and sharing tales of our lives.

Early the next morning I was retracting my steps and feeling so much stronger than the previous day. The light was much nicer for photos.

These deer or elk (on the shadow line) were aware of me even from this distance.

Me and my shadow, plus an illustration of how sometimes the trail is not at a very friendly grade.

The flowers were prolific in some areas. You know I was smiling!

The geology colors were eye candy.

I was surprised to find Elephant Head Orchids at this elevation.

I finally got a good photo of the Kingscrown plants.

Sheep Mountain was even more photogenic on my return trip.

I was so happy to make it over another pass without threatening thunder, lightning or rain.

This is an inviting place for a break. Of course I would love to camp there but it was at 12,818 feet; much too exposed and too high for thunderstorm safety.

Seeing the white paintbrush was a special treat. I don’t think I’ve seen before and definitely not in such mass displays.

I ran into the gal I’d met at my turnaround spot and we camped together my last night. We had awesome 360 views and spent the next morning with shadows and light.

I love cheery sunflowers.

Instead of returning on the Cunningham Gulch Trail, I took the Highland Mary Lakes trail where this waterfall marked the end of my section hike.

I’ve heard so much about the San Juans and have dreamed of experiencing them myself. This hike exceeding expectations. It left me with that WOW per mile feeling but also left me exhausted. It humbled me with those climbs and descents. What’s next? I’m working on that.

Colorado Trail Segments Hiked:

  • 1-5
  • 12-13
  • 11
  • 10
  • 9
  • 8
  • 7
  • 26-27
  • 23-24

As of this post, I’ve hiked 206 miles toward The Colorado Trail plus 134 bonus miles (repeats) with over 56,000 feet of elevation gain/loss.

Tips:

  • The Guthook/Far Out App and Colorado Trail Association Guidebook and Databook are helpful in planning section hikes. The guidebooks details parking and trailhead options along with the elevation profile. Far Out was a great way to plan my turnaround based on mileage and elevation gain/loss. I also used Gaia with the Colorado Trail Nat Geo layer.
  • Silverton was a good resupply and regrouping town. I used WiFi at the Visitor Center and Library, plus at the Coffee Bear cafe. Dispersed camping options were okay but since I was there peak season it was busier than I would like.

Resources:

CO – THE Colorado Trail, Segments 26-27, Celebration Lake to Indian Trail Ridge (07/22)

Most everyone agrees the San Juan Mountains are one of the WOW sections of the trail. With early melt this year, they were ready when Joan had time off and we could coordinate another J&J adventure.

Joan created a route where we could shuttle cars between two trailheads on Highway 145, East Fork and Bear Creek. These trails both connect to THE Colorado Trail, the more northern to Segment 26 at Bolam Pass, and the southern at Indian Trail Ridge in Segment 27 (leaving me a few miles short of completion). These segments are 31.5 miles with 6,013 elevation gain and 5473′ loss. Our route was 50 miles with 4,500′ elevation gain and 6,500′ elevation loss.

It was a day to test our rain gear and systems, which we would ultimately use daily. It reminded us of our time in Washington on the PCT a few years ago.

Hail also became a daily occurrence. Our umbrellas and tree cover made these time-outs more tolerable.

I’ve been trying to capture good photos of these plants for weeks. Still not a great image but I did learn they are Kingscrown (Rhodiola integriflia).

This is a similar but different plant, most likely a clover.

We found lots of Elephant Head Orchids.

I should have taken more photos of this bloom, as this image is a bit blurry. It was fairly common plant.

We saw a ton of these in bud and a few starting to open but none in full bloom.

Near Bolan Pass there was a seriously mucky muddy road to walk. It was like walking in mashed potato snow, nearly as bad as postholing. We were so happy to get back onto a single track hiking trail.

With a 70% chance of daily rain and thunderstorms, the flowers were thriving.

Our first night we camped near Celebration Lakes. We happily stopped early to dry out and get camp set up before more rain.

We didn’t have to go too far the next morning before we found mountain views we crave.

We loved walking next to Hermosa Peak.

The next objective was Blackhawk Pass, but first a look back at Hermosa Peak.

Colorful Blackhawk Mountain.

Just when you think you are getting close . . .

You find more and more and more climbing to be done, and the inevitable building of clouds.

Joan also uses her umbrella for sun protection and heat management.

Near the top of the pass, we could see the use trail to Blackhawk Peak (12,681′). No, we weren’t tempted.

The 360-views of the Rico Mountains were amazing.

It was impossible not to celebrate at the pass.

I enjoyed finding these blooms I first saw at Colorado National Monument a few weeks earlier, now I just have to remember the name.

With thunder rumbling and clouds building we didn’t get to lollygag at the pass near as long as we would have liked. I believe this is Whitecap Mountain (12,376′).

As we headed down we were greeted by a marmot (zoom to sign).

We found a great campsite that offered the best of both worlds, views yet protection during thunderstorms.

I woke up and saw the full moon rising.

This buck seemed to like this area and spent a lot of time roaming back and forth. I couldn’t grab my camera in time to get the best photo but when he came back for a second lap I caught this one.

This day started without much WOW, but we still found reasons to smile. This is part of a long waterless stretch that we’d started the previous day.

I was thrilled to discover we’d arrived at our exit junction much earlier in the day than planned which allowed us to spend a bit of time on the Indian Ridge Trail. This is looking up toward that 5-mile trail section. We really wanted to camp up there if we could find a thunderstorm safe area, but alas without water and only slanted lumpy options we dropped some of our gear before heading out for a jaunt.

With an eye on the clouds and an ear on the thunder, off we went to play in these huge tundra meadows.

Alpine tundra plants showcasing the La Plata Mountains.

This ridge is a pika and marmot playground. This area isn’t flat and in fact we turned around 2.5 miles short of the high point. I’ll have to catch from the other side if I want to complete Segment 27.

After all that frolicking it was time for a rest and no one does it better than Joan, although she still has her shoes on which is a rarity during breaks.

Joan caught me at some point taking shelter from the hail.

Our exit was via the Grindstone to Bear Creek Trails.

We had views back at where we’d been and used our Peak Finder apps to determine the names of others.

Hidden in the grasses we found a large collection of mariposa lilies.

The flies were quite bothersome on this trip, not necessarily biting flies but irritating with tons landing on and buzzing us. Of course there were some mosquitoes as well. Our defense was rainwear and headnets.

I wouldn’t necessarily recommend the Grindstone Trail as it’s low use, overgrown, with recent burn and many log obstacles. Safe campsites were hard to find while water was not.

As we dropped elevation we were provided a few filtered views of the La Plata Mountains.

The upper portion of the Bear Creek Trail was filled with meadows and views of the burned trees.

Where’s the trail? After all the recent rains, our lower half was soaked from the wet plants.

We enjoyed the aspen groves as a break from the tall grasses..

Sadly an invasive thistle has filled many meadows. They were 6-8 feet in height.

We only saw one hiker on our exit trail until near the trailhead, although we did see a few folks fishing along Bear Creek.

I’ve gotten spoiled hiking the wide and well maintained Colorado Trail, and at this point in my fitness much preferred to this side trail.

This J&J adventure ended much too soon, but it won’t be the last. Where and when who knows, but until then I’ll continue to hike more miles on the Colorado Trail.

Poppy the Pack (blog link) is well broken in after many trail miles. Most likely I’ll make a few revisions on my second version I plan to make this winter.

Colorado Trail Segments Hiked:

As of this post I’ve hiked 191 miles toward completion of The Colorado Trail plus 114 bonus miles and over 51,000 feet of elevation gain/loss.

Tips:

  • The Guthook/Far Out App and Colorado Trail Association Guidebook and Databook are helpful in planning section hikes. The guidebooks details parking and trailhead options along with the elevation profile. Far Out was a great way to plan my turnaround based on mileage and elevation gain/loss. I also used Gaia with the Colorado Trail Nat Geo layer.

Resources:

CO – THE Colorado Trail, Segment 9, Holy Cross Wilderness (07/22)

Holy Cross Wilderness is named after Mount of the Holy Cross, which became famous in 1873 when William Henry Jackson first photographed the cross of snow on the northeast face of the mountain. The area became protected as a national monument in the early 1930’s. The United States Congress designated the Holy Cross Wilderness in 1980 and it now has a total of 123,409 acres. The wilderness is characterized by rugged ridgelines and glacier-carved valleys, spruce-fir forests, cascading streams and dozens of lakes; elevations range from 8,500 feet to 14,005 feet.

Segment 9 is 13.6 miles with 2,627′ elevation gain and 3,004′ loss. I hiked this segment as three out-and-back sections.

Timberline Lake Trailhead

I hiked north from the trailhead to the segment high point. It was a 9.6 mile 2,600′ elevation gain/loss round trip hike.

The view as you leave the parking area.

Oh look, I found Mount Massive. If I hiked the trail in the traditional manner, starting with Segment 1 and continuing sequentially, I would have seen this view prior to hiking Segment 10 where I felt cheated.

During the long climb I had many opportunities to enjoy the view of Mount Massive, plus the point to the left is Mount Elbert.

Soon the corn lilies will be blooming.

Lakes, ponds, bodies of water . . . reflective wonderful.

I found these elephant head orchids blooming along the shorelines.

Where there’s water, there are mosquitoes. After the recent rains, the hatch is evident.

I think these are a clover.

Just after I reached the high point, I found alpine tundra heaven.

Colorful blooms and views of Homestake Peak at 13,209 feet.

As you can imagine I sat up on the ridge for at least an hour admiring the views and wondering what I’m missing off to the left.

I used this snow patch as my turnaround spot.

Of course I had to study the alpine beauties first. I believe this might be lewisia.

The worst part of this hike was the rock jumble terrain. It took so much energy.

By the way, I never did see a sign indicating a trail junction to Timberline Lake. If you want to go there, you’ll need to be watching your map.

Wurtz Ditch Road Crossing

I knew I wouldn’t be able to make the miles and elevation gain from Tennessee Pass so I was glad to find this option. I hiked south. This was a 12.5 mile 2,000′ elevation gain/loss round trip hike.

Finding the trail wasn’t a problem. This area gets used for winter sports, and as such you’ll see lots of blue diamonds on the trees marking their routes.

Soon enough I was back in the wilderness looking forward to meeting Galena Mountain.

I was motivated to beat the thunderstorms and was thrilled to find this front row view of Galena Mountain.

I took a detour to Porcupine Lakes for a WOW view. THIS is why I wanted to hike The Colorado Trail! Many hikers are in such a hurry they don’t take time for such detours. I’m grateful that I can prioritize experiences over miles.

The pond lilies were just starting to blooms. Soon the pond will be covered in yellow.

I found my first Mountain Heather blooms.

Then it was onward back to the alpine tundra traverse. But first some trail porn.

As if on cue, the afternoon clouds warned me not to dilly dally too long.

On the way back I stopped at one of the meadows and found these blooms which I believe might be saxifrage.

Just another beautiful day on The Colorado Trail.

Tennessee Pass Trailhead

The next morning I hiked south from the trailhead back to Wurtz Ditch Road to complete this segment. It was a 5.5 mile 460 feet elevation gain/loss round trip hike.

This section was unremarkable. According to my guidebook this swing offers outstanding views of Mount Elbert. Now you must use your imagination as the trees block all evidence of Colorado’s highest peak.

This was an unusual bridge. I’m not sure if it was built with skiers or cyclists in mind.

Of course I had to enjoy a sit and swing on both my way out and back.

I’ve been emptying my inhalers with all this climbing. Thank goodness for this wonder drug!

Colorado Trail Segments Hiked:

  • 1-5
  • 12-13
  • 11
  • 10

Tips:

  • The Guthook/Far Out App and Colorado Trail Association Guidebook and Databook are helpful in planning section hikes. The guidebooks details parking and trailhead options along with the elevation profile. Far Out was a great way to plan my turnaround based on mileage and elevation gain/loss. I also used Gaia with the Colorado Trail Nat Geo layer.
  • Leadville is nearby and is an excellent town for resupplying, doing laundry, grabbing a shower and using WiFi.

Resources:

WA – PCT Section H . . . as in Hike your own Hike, J&J Style (Stevenson to White Pass) (Days 9-12)

In case you missed the previous posts, I’m supporting Joan as she complete this section of the PCT (link to previous post). I’m chronicling what I found to do while Joan was hiking.

Days 9-12 – Williams Mine Trailhead on FR-23 (Mile 2229.9) to White Pass on Highway 12 (2295.9)

Mt Adams Wilderness – We both hiked north on the PCT. My destination was Horseshoe Meadow, Joan’s was White Pass 66 miles away. My reward was a meadow filled with pink paintbrush.

My timing was perfect to find many blooms, and I was ecstatic with my longest hike to date since my knee surgery including 2,000′ elevation gain.

The next day was filled with waterfalls and lakes as I traveled north on FR-23. First up was Big Spring Creek Falls.

Council Lake“Council Lake is a drive up mountain lake on the north west flank of Mt. Adams.  It has a U.S. Forest Service campground.  It is stocked annually with catchable rainbow trout, but also contains eastern brook, brown trout, and cutthroat trout.”

Takhlakh Lake “A very popular campground close to the shore of Takhlakh Lake. The Campground includes ten walk-in sites. The views across the lake of Mt. Adams are outstanding. The northern trails of the Mt. Adams Wilderness are nearby. Takhlakh Loop Trail # 134 originates in the campground and encircles the lake. It’s a 1.1 mile flat hike around the lake. You can also connect to the Takh Takh Meadows trail #136 that leads you to an old lava flow.” Gifford Pinchot National Forest

Pika

Olallie Lake“This campground, on the shores of Ollalie Lake, offers 5 small sites and one larger area with room for RVs. The sites offer scenic views of Mt. Adams from the lake. It’s located in a high elevation stand of lodgepole and subalpine pine.” The trail around the lake wasn’t in as good of shape as that around Takhlakh Lake, the lake was shallower, more buggy and views of Mt Adams not as wow.

Chain of Lakes – This was the least desirable of the lakes I visited. There is free dispersed camping with picnic tables and fire rings but no restrooms. It was very buggy but maybe a fishermen’s paradise although no one was around the morning of my visit. You can access High Lakes Trail from there.

Horseshoe Lake – This was by far my favorite lake as it offered great swimming. It’s a first come first serve no reservation campground and was packed with a large father/kid group. Bugs weren’t too bad and there were views of Mt Adams. “The campground is a rustic site situated on a 24 acre lake, and offers most campers a view of the water. The campground is small with only 11 campsites. Fishing, boating (electric motors only), and hiking are available.”

At White Pass, I hiked north on the PCT to Deer Lake. This was a very somber day as I thought about Kris “Sherpa” Fowler (link) who went missing in 2016. I’ve been very involved behind-the-scenes with the search.

Old signs bring smiles, with another to add to my collection.

Good morning from a new-to-me wilderness.

I was excited to find blooming elephant head orchids.

Deer Lake

Leech Lake – at the PCT Trailhead in Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest.

Joan’s last stretch was in the Goat Rocks Wilderness. This is a favorite area of mine and I’ve hiked the Knife’s Edge portion three times.

Once off trail we had a J&J day where we explored Skate Creek, a Washington State Park.

Joan’s last section of the PCT to complete is from Rainy Pass north. We attempted this in 2016 (link) but I got shin tendonitis and we had to reverse direction. This time there were fires, and although the trail was open, access was a problem. The good news is that now we had time for more J&J adventures.

Dates: July 18-22, 2021

WA – Glacier Peak Wilderness, Spider Gap / Buck Pass Loop (Part 1 of 2)

Following the map north after my jaunt through Goat Rocks (link), I stopped at Mt Rainier hoping for a walk-up permit to spend some more time near or around the Wonderland Trail, which I hiked in 2014 (link). Well luck was not with me on this day. The ranger talked me into a Plan B but when I saw the sign warning against car vandalism, I thought better. Next in line was Glacier Peak Wilderness. I hiked through this area on the PCT in 2016 (link) but sadly Mother Nature kept me from seeing much of the mountain. So maybe just maybe this would be my opportunity.

A friend recommended I park at the Trinity Trailhead and hike the 3-3.5 miles to the Phelps Creek Trailhead. Thankfully I was offered a ride for the last couple miles.

Flowers kept me entertained as I began my climb.

Soon enough I was in Spider Meadow surrounded by granite walls and wildflower-filled meadows.

Oh the sound of waterfalls racing off the granite walls.

My destination for my first night was just below Spider Gap.

Can you imagine the glacier that raced through here carving these great walls?

Fireweed left as evidence of a past fire.

Penstemon

Thistle and Indian Paintbrush.

Looking back at Spider Meadow and first larch trees. I’m sure this would be just as beautiful in the fall.

First view of Spider Glacier, my challenge for the next day. Look at the bottom and you’ll see the tiny person.

Can you find my tent?

I found these tiny flowers near my campsite.

The view of Spider Glacier from my tent. Would I have sweet dreams or nightmares about the next day’s climb?

I found a comfy slab of granite to snuggle in my sleeping bag and watch sunrise. According to Wikipedia, “Spider Glacier is .50 mi (0.80 km) long but very narrow at only 50 ft (15 m) in width.”

Before ascending, I stopped to check out the crack from which water was flowing.

I watched many hikers ascend the glacier the previous day, most without any traction devices. I knew I’d conserve more energy by wearing the microspikes I’d brought along. I can say, I had no regrets about lugging that extra weight as I climbed in the early morning hours on frozen sun cups.

Waterfalls decorated the walls.

And then I was nearly at the false summit. I’d been alerted the previous night by a group who’d climbed to gap and glissaded back down to camp.

The final push after the false summit.

I was proud of myself of making it up the climb.

Now to get down the other side, to Lyman Lakes. You can see the path on the right bank. I was told, just say NO! It’s really an animal track and ends on an abrupt cliff. Once again I was happy to have my microspikes. I just descended through the snowfield. What a beautiful basin.

The next important navigation tip was to stay to the right as you exit the snowfields, otherwise you’ll find yourself cliffed out.

Looking back up at the snowfield I’d descended.

I found some new flowers in the basin. These may be the dying phase of elephant heads?

Elephant Head Orchid.

Three mop heads standing in a row, E I E I E I O.

Upper Lyman Lake

Lower Lyman Lake. In retrospect I should have ended my day early and camped near the outlet of Lower Lyman.

These are shallow lakes with significant glacial flour.

Beautiful new bridge at Lower Lyman. I for one was grateful I didn’t have to ford the raging creek.

I stopped at the outlet for a dip, but since it was only 12:30pm, I wasn’t ready to call it a day.

So instead of relaxing and enjoying sunset on these beautiful lakes, I continued onward to Cloudy Pass.

Looking back at Lyman Lakes and Spider Gap.

Lupine love.

First view of Glacier Peak.

Working my way through the boulder field. This was part of the PCT fire closure in 2018.

WooHoo, I found the PCT! Since this post is getting long, I’ll continue the loop in anther post (link to Part 2).

Adventure Date(s):

  • July 27-31, 2019

Hike Details:

Tips:

  • Register at the trailhead so the trails continue to get funds allocated for maintenance, etc.
  • Be prepared for biting flies and mosquitoes. I’d sprayed my outerwear, pack and screen on tent in advance with Sawyer’s Permethrin (Amazon link), and applied Picardin (Amazon link) to my skin when needed.
  • Leavenworth is a decent resupply and WiFi location. Can you tell I was craving vegetables?
  • There is dispersed camping opportunities available near Leavenworth in Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest.
  • I found a $3 shower at a local fitness center.
  • When there isn’t a nearby laundromat or you don’t have enough to justify a load, shower laundry is great and the dashboard works as a drying rack.
  • Set mouse traps in your car at the trailhead!  Mouse 1, Jan 1.
  • Squirrel Tree Restaurants at Coles Corner was a worthy stop that filled my belly and made me happy.

Resources:

Links:

WY – Popo Agie Wilderness, Worthen Meadows Trailhead (Part 1 of 3)

After my previous week’s trip where I spent most of my time wishing I’d chosen a different itinerary, I knew I needed more WOW factor this time around. You may recall I started my first trip at the Torrey Creek/Trail Lakes Trailhead (near Dubois) as I was shuttling friends from that location to the Middle Fork Trailhead (near Lander). Task accomplished as I said goodbye to Mike and Ryan. 

The next day I began my trek from Worthen Meadows which contains two trailheads, Sheep Bridge and Roaring Fork, making for convenient loop opportunities. 

The Worthen Meadows Reservoir is nothing special, but gives you a first look at the Wind River Mountains, and provides a potential place to swim and clean up after the trip. There are also nearby camping opportunities. 

My plan was to start at the Sheep Bridge Trailhead and travel counterclockwise unless egress was prevented by snow or water crossings or other yet to be determined obstacles. Self registration is expected as permits are not required in the Winds unless you are traveling through the Wind River Indian Reservation.

By the way, a little trivia. According to Wyoming Public Media, “Popo Agie Wildernes (Puh-POE-zha), a true word stumper that is not pronounced as it looks, meaning “beginning of the waters”. The Wilderness runs through the Shoshone National Forest, which stretches out over 102,000 acres of rugged topography in the Wind River Range.” 

I was beyond excited to be on maintained trail flanked by aspen trees, which I have on my list to enjoy the changing colors this fall. 

All of the trails on the main loop are well signed, although varying a bit from map names and denoted distances. At this junction, I chose to take Sheep Bridge Trail #701, which I’d been traveling since the trailhead.

I can’t remember what these are called, but they are the primary ground cover at lower elevations (7-9,000′).  It’s fairly uncommon to see the mixed colors as they turn from yellow to pink during maturation.

It’s about 3 miles from the trailhead to Sheep Bridge itself, which provides safe passage across Middle Popo Agie River.  

Who let the cows out? Yes, there’s open grazing along parts of the trail. Yield to these wild beasts! 

I truly love visiting the various wilderness areas of our country. 

Another junction, another decision. I choose Middle Fork Trail #700

The one and only Mariposa Lily I saw on this trip. I should also mention, I saw many of the same flowers I’d seen the previous week at similar elevations, and did not repeat the photos unless there was something exceptional.

First of the season penstemon, although a breeze was preventing a great capture. 

I transitioned to Pinto Park Trail #708 at this junction. 

Elephant Head Orchids are indeed a rare beauty. They are much smaller here than in Washington. 

This was a tough choice junction. If I continued on the Pinto Park Trail, I could see Baer and Echo Lakes. 

But as I was getting tired, I elected to take the Deep Creek Cutoff Trail #709 with a plan to camp at or near Pinto Park Lake. This sign might need a little TLC. 

In many ways Pinto Park Lake was a bit of a disappointment. There were no signs pointing the way to the lake and I hadn’t noted it was off trail. There were several social trails which I explored but found thick willow and marshlands preventing lake access. However, the inlet provided great water access with nearby extremely peaceful forested campsites. 

As I continued west on the Deep Creek Cutoff Trail, I found these beautiful and interesting rock formations. There’s a lot of interesting geology in the Winds, something I’m looking forward to learning more about.

Monkey Flower are one of my favorites. 

This Columbine was so striking in it’s pure white. 

It was a low overcast morning, making Lake 10054 look a bit dreary and not very inviting. 

The trail continued to be gorgeous and in great condition. Thank you trail maintenance crews! 

And then I found snow, nothing on trail that couldn’t be avoided.

These flowers were small and low to the ground. 

These were quite prevalent at around 10,000′. I’m guessing a type of lupine? 

This was a curious grass and possible seedpods or buds, again around 10,000′ elevation? 

Two more beauties I’ve not previously seen. 

Then there I was at the end of the line, looking directly at the outlet of Lower Deep Creek Lake

Weather was deteriorating fast. My choices were, cross the outlet toward Ice Lakes Basin (on maintained trail) or continue west exploring Middle and Upper Deep Creek Lakes (without trail)? After my experience last week, I was drawn to keeping to maintained trails until I got in better shape and gained confidence with this new landscape. 

Looking east from the Lower Deep Creek Lake outlet. Maybe finding early spring maintained trail is a bit much to ask. 

Lower Deep Creek Lake as it started sprinkling. 

Although I’d only hiked 3 miles, and it was way too early to set up camp, Mother Nature had other ideas. I tried waiting at the storm under my umbrella, poncho and ground cloth, but it just got too cold. It looked like this precipitation was going to stick around for a while, and since I was here for the views, why hike with none? Setting up my tent in the rain and wind is never fun. It’s much harder to keep a two-walled tent dry during setup. Definitely not my favorite thing to do, but all I could think of was my nice warm bag and a hot cup of tea or cocoa.

It rained and hailed steadily all afternoon, so I whiled away time reading. My book of choice was Temperance Creek: A Memoir by Pamela Royes which is quite suiting after my recent trek in Hell’s Canyon on the Snake River, albeit the Idaho side. Lots of references I could relate to and a book I’d recommend. 

First light the next morning confirmed my decision to wait out the storm. 

To be continued . . .

Hike Details:

  • Date(s) Hiked: 7/24-25/17
  • Mileage: Approximately 11 (conserving battery so didn’t track)
  • Elevation Gain/Loss: Unknown, constant up and down (conserving battery so didn’t track)
  • Trail Conditions:
    • Tree obstacles: none
    • Overgrowth: none
    • Signage: near excellent
    • Terrain: very good, a few spots of muck
  • Water: plentiful
  • Camping: moderate
  • Solitude: Depends, could be busy, but mid-week with early summer conditions, it was very quiet except for a few groups of NOLS kids.
  • Bugs: plentiful but I didn’t need deet
  • Precip: expect thunderstorms in July
  • Temp: Overnight varied and seemed to fluctuate a lot from 32 to 50, highs were probably in 70’s.
  • Jan’s Cherry Picker Delight Scale: 4 cherries (out of 5)

Tips:

  • Be prepared for altitude, elevation changes, weather changes, bugs and navigation.

Links:

Resources: