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, Segments 21-22, THE CT High Point (07/22)

I felt compelled to try to reach the CT High Point. I failed on my previous attempt (blog link). It was time to try again from another trailhead. Spoiler alert, I succeeded!

After a day hike on the CDT (blog link), I landed at Spring Creek Pass where I first hiked northeast to Snow Mesa before tackling the 15ish mile jaunt southwest.

Segment 21 – Snow Mesa

Segment 21 is 14.8 miles with 3,116 feet gain and 4,157 feet loss. My plan was to enjoy a bit of the mesa, leaving the bulk for another time. With blooms past peak, obscured views and a desire to save energy for my attempt to reach the High Point, I only hiked 3 miles out making for a round trip of 6 miles with 1,400 feet elevation gain/loss.

This hike was also listed in the book, The Best Hikes on the Continental Divide Trail: Colorado, by Liz Thomas and the CDT Coalition.

The first part of the hike was through a beetle kill forest, but I found a few blooms and this unique sign.

I’d seen a big cattle roundup the previous day. I wonder if they missed these cows.

The final section to the mesa includes a rocky ascent.

There was a lot of thistle and pika in this section.

The mesa is about 3 miles. You can imagine the scene during peak bloom.

I found one flower I hadn’t seen previously. According to my Seek app, it’s Arctic Gentian.

I also found these sweet blue blooms, which I believe are also a type of gentian.

There were a few tiny patches of Forget-Me-Nots.

You can imagine the views on a clear day. But alas it was time to descend back through the rocky section.

There were tons of pika and it was pretty easy to grab a photo on this day.

First stonecrop blooms of the season.

I got a bit of a view of Coney Peak, my next destination.

Segment 22 – Jarosa Mesa to The CT High Point

Segment 22 is 17.2 miles with 3,829 feet elevation gain and 2,385 feet loss. My plan was to turnaround at the High Point leaving less than 2 miles of this segment undone. As mentioned I succeeded with this 32-mile 3,500 foot elevation gain/loss round trip hike.

The segment begins on an open mucky road, leading to smelly grazing sheep; definitely not a section I’d choose to hike.

I came upon this large group of campers. If it was fall I’d say it was hunters.

This sheepherders camp was next. Thankfully I wasn’t greeted by any aggressive dogs. Interestingly there was a horse saddled and ready to go.

I was happy when the trail finally departed from the road.

Little did I know I’d be spending another day on a mesa, this time Jarosa Mesa.

Red Mountain is aptly named, and changed colors with the light. Uncompahgre Peak is on the right. After spending time on Uncompahgre Plateau, it was cool to see.

The mesa wasn’t all smooth trail. Some was a bit of a mine field of rocks just waiting to sprain an ankle.

My wildflower identification app says this is a type of gentian. It makes me think of an alpine iris. I’ve never seen them before.

It wasn’t 11am yet, but the thunderstorm clouds were already making their presence known.

The flowers kept me distracted. I hadn’t seen Three-Flowered Avens for a while and was surprised to find them above 12,000 feet.

This yurt, provided by Colorado Trail Friends, is a popular place to wait out storms, socialize or spend the night.

I found my own friends (healthy trees) with whom to shelter during the storms.

Hopefully these cones will become trees, replacing all those killed by beetles.

Deciding how early to be on trail is a compromise. Some who need to make big miles will leave at 3-4am, missing out on views in exchange. I tried to leave by 5:30am so I could still enjoy the views and avoid using a headlamp and risking falls.

I enjoy early morning light.

The tall bluff is my destination. I was hopeful the dark clouds were leaving. It wasn’t even 7am yet.

The top part of the climb is technical. Not somewhere I wanted to be caught during a lightning storm or in heavy rain.

Can you find the marmot greeter?

Looking back from where I’d come. This photo provides an idea of how these bluffs are not flat.

There were so many false summits, with more mesas to walk.

The final bluff is finally in sight. Notice the welcoming sky!

And FINALLY there it was, the CT High Point! I arrived about 9:30am.

I was happy to have about 15 minutes to myself to enjoy my surroundings and think about this accomplishment.

After enjoying the summit for about 30 minutes, it was time to descend. Notice the sky.

This was the first Kingscrown I’ve seen with red leaves.

I was hustling to get off the technical sections.

But couldn’t resist capturing the shapes and colors.

In my dreams it was all downhill on the way back, but nope in the San Juan Mountains it’s either up or down, rarely flat. I believe that is Castle Lakes in the canyon.

The above photo was taken at 11:15, then this one 30 minutes later. Yep, rain arrived!

AT 12:15 I was trying to get down off this ridge when it began hailing.

I quickly dropped into a ravine and took shelter with the shrubs. I was thankful for my umbrella but still got quite wet and cold. The storm dropped about 4″ of hail over the next hour.

I had two miles to hike to get to water and camp. My feet were so wet and cold. Thankfully the rain gave me a break to set up camp, gather water and change into dry clothes. It still took hours for my feet to warm up even with a hot meal.

The flowers didn’t care.

As I returned to the trailhead the next morning, I could see Snow Mesa where I’d been previously.

Gosh darn, why are you on my trail?

I chatted with the shepherd who said these dogs were friendly. They barked at me and invaded my space so I was still quite uncomfortable.

Colorado Trail Segments Hiked:

As of this post, I’ve hiked 225 miles toward The Colorado Trail plus 153 bonus miles (repeats/side trails) with over 61,000 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:

WA – North Cascades, Maple Pass Trail (Sept 2021)

I’d always wanted to see the tapestry of autumn colors found in the Northern Cascades.

I was a little early for the larch show but the overcast skies made the other colors pop. That’s Lake Ann hiding below the still green larch trees. “Larch is any of the coniferous trees belonging to the genus Larix categorized under the family Pinaceae. Although these are classified as conifers, larches turn yellow and lose their needles in the autumn or fall just like deciduous trees. These are medium-sized trees with the typical pyramidal canopy of conifers. They are found in places with cold climates and plenty of moisture.” Source: Coniferous Forest

As I gained elevation I found a few larch showing off their golden hue.

I hiked the trail counterclockwise, stopping at Lake Ann first, then taking a break at Heather Pass before climbing up to the first Maple Pass then traversing the ridge to reach the second Maple Pass. This little tarn and snowfield were visible when I began my descent. Rainy Lake is further down the drainage.

THIS is the tapestry I came to see.

I shared the trail with a grouse family.

I loved this hike so much I couldn’t resist returning a week later. As much as I hoped for brilliant blue skies showcasing the golden larch, Mother Nature had other plans. It was a damp brisk 33F when I started my hike around 8am. There was fresh snow on the nearby peaks.

As I gained elevation I found snow level. The tapestry of color was dulled by a thin veil of white.

I believe this is Wing Lake (or Lewis Lake) which I’d planned to visit after reaching my highpoint turnaround. On this date I didn’t plan to hike the loop, instead just going to Maple Pass before returning to Heather Pass where could spend a few hours exploring this side trail and these lakes.

Another bucket list item was seeing larch IN the snow, maybe not while it was snowing.

The cloud ceiling dropped and not long after I reached the first Maple Pass, I found myself in a whiteout.

To say I was giddy is an understatement. So much WOW in that little storm. It completely changed the landscape providing lots of photographic opportunities, although I was wishing for my winter gloves.

I was still a bit early for peak larch season but I was beyond thrilled with this experience. I’m guessing once the slope above Lake Ann is covered in yellow larch, the reds and oranges of the other foliage will be gone thus making my timing spot on.

I think this pika was smiling at me.

All too soon it was time to say goodbye to nature’s quilt.

ADVENTURE DATE(S): September 22 and 29, 2021

TIPS:

  • This can be a super busy trail. There is room for about 50 cars in the main parking area and signs indicating overflow parking on the highway. When I arrived in the late afternoon the day before my first hike there were at least 100 cars on the highway. It was on a heavy overcast day. I started early and only saw about a dozen people. There wasn’t anyone in overflow when I finished my hike. On my return trip, it was damp, cold and mostly overcast again. It was a much busier day even though both trips were on Wednesdays under cloudy skies and had early starts. When I finished on that second day, there was a mile or two of cars parked along the highway.
  • This hike is outside North Cascades National Park, but just on the boundary.
  • The Heather Pass/Maple Pass trail is a loop and can be hiked in either direction. After reading reviews I decided on counter clockwise. The benefit is a more gradual climb and more controlled descent. If you go clockwise, you’ll face a steeper ascent and a less controlled descent on the sections between the first and second Maple Passes. If you don’t want to deal with the steep sections, I highly recommend going counterclockwise to the first Maple Pass and then turning around. You can see the differences on this profile pictured below.

RESOURCES:

LINKS:

WA – Alpine Lakes Wilderness, Ingalls Pass (Sept/Oct 2021)

The forecasters got this one wrong. I like to camp near trailheads so I can get an early morning start. Well on this day instead of hiking I read. Living in your car has some drawbacks and on long rainy days there aren’t a lot of options. Yes I could have been like those I saw hiking anyways, some carrying backpacks. That’s the difference between those from the Pacific Northwest and this sunny Californian. I also could have driven back to town but I don’t like wasting gas and since hanging out inside was something I avoided during COVID times, that wasn’t a great option either.

As I drove to the trailhead the next morning, I was mostly excited to see this view of I believe Fortune Peak, although a little concerned about snow since I didn’t have my microspikes or weatherproof shoes with me. Afterall I packed for this trip when it was over 100 degrees. I met a few of the backpackers coming down after a wet cold night. They were regretting not waiting a day for better weather and views.

It was a great hike to the pass. I had views of Mount Rainier and cloudy views of either Mount Adams or Mount Saint Helens. The Esmeralda Peaks are in the foreground.

Finding larch turning yellow at the pass and seeing Mount Stuart with it’s first dusting made Ingalls Pass a worthy hike.

This is looking down into Ingalls Creek drainage which I’d hiked from the other end a couple weeks previous, though not quite making it this far (blog link).

At the top I found a marmot enjoying the warm sun.

The colors remind me of California’s Klamath Mountains. Ingalls Pass is to the right in front of the colorful mountains which I believe includes Fortune Peak on the left.

In one of the rock fields, I took time to watch the pika scurry about. This one blended well with the rocks.

With the yellowing larch signaling a change in season I headed further north hoping to find them in peak color. I returned to Ingalls Pass a couple of weeks later to see how autumn was progressing. I’d say I found gold!

I was still full of energy and feeling strong when I arrived at the pass so decided to continue on toward Ingalls Lake. Headlight Basin is beautiful. You can see why it’s a popular backpacking and hiking destination. This is looking back up at Ingalls Pass.

This is the route to Ingalls Lake. There isn’t a trail; it’s more of a multiple-option cairn route, sort of what I call pick your poison. I started up two different routes and realized they were too risky for where I was in my knee rehab. If you zoom you can see people scrambling among the rocks. If I were to see this photo, I’d think it would be easy to stick to the boulders making it a somewhat easy climb but in reality there is lots of class 2 scrambling.

Instead I enjoyed lunch with views like these into the Ingalls Creek Drainage. As a bonus I had time to people watch. Some were suffering greatly carrying overnight packs, even though the lake is off limits for camping. I met a ranger on my way down who was on her way up to check permits and relocate those camped in closed areas.

I made the mistake of taking the alternate trail on my way down. The main trail is a much nicer grade and provides even better views. The shorter alternate trail drops down steeply and then regains some elevation to meet up with the main trail. In retrospect I wish I would have done an out and back on the main trail.

Dr Seuss trees.

Very few trees were as mature as this one. I wonder if a fire wiped out old growth at some time in the fairly recent past.

I was still a tad early for peak color but it was still a WOW experience and not one I regretted.

ADVENTURE DATE(S): September 19-20 and October 1, 2021

RESOURCES:

LINKS:

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

ID – Sawtooth Wilderness, Grandjean Grand Loop (Part 3 of 4)

I left Middle Cramer Lake a little too early to catch sunrise. My previous post covered the section from Baron Creek through Baron Lakes, Alpine Lake and on to Cramer Lakes where I spent my third night on trail (link).

Upper Cramer Lake provided some nice reflections.

I could hike along this trail forever.

Another reminder of the change of seasons and altitude. Also good lessons about campsite selection. I’d escaped frost although the temperature dropped to 31F in my tent at Middle Cramer Lake.

Climbing to find sun. Good morning!

It was another morning of hiking out of one basin into another, this time I’d be ascending to Cramer Pass, one I’d been looking forward to seeing as others had shared it was their favorite. That’s Temple Peak front and center.

One of the games I play is trying to figure out the escape hatch.

Yes that’s the trail. It was in great shape and easy to follow considering it was in the middle of a talus field.

I wasn’t expecting it to go under Temple Peaks. If you look closely you can see the trail paralleling the ridge. I liked how the red rock morphed into the white/gray color.

Switchbacks switchbacks how I love thee.

With the rocky environment, there were plenty of pika. They tend to be quite shy so I rarely get a photo as I’m usually too impatient. One of the things I’ve learned is that where there are pika there are also marmot but in the Sawtooths I only saw one and never heard the pig whistle so prevalent in other alpine areas I’ve visited.

Once on the ridge I climbed up a big further to get a better view.

It was a lakes kinda of day. Descending from Cramer Divide you first see an unnamed lake and then Hidden Lake. It doesn’t look very hidden to me.

Virginia Lake, Edna Lake, Vernon Lake, and some unnamed lakes at the pass were visited before settling on Ardeth Lake for the night. Where there are lakes, it’s hard to resist a dip or two or three; maybe that was why I was having a hard time making miles?

I’d reached 45 miles after hiking four days.

This was such a great site for enjoying the water with my own diving and sunning rock. It wasn’t my favorite lake for views but it sure was relaxing.

The next morning it was time to ascend another pass to reach another lakes basin.

Looking down at Tenlake Basin, known for plenty of wildlife activity. I met a guy the previous day who said there was so much fresh bear scat.

Some of the lakes in the Tenlakes Basin not visible from the trail.

And then I was nearly to the top of another pass.

. . . . to be continued (link to Part 4 of 4)

Adventure Date(s):

  • August 24-30, 2019

Hike Details:Tips:

  • The Ranger Station in Stanley and the Visitor Center at Redfish are helpful resources as is the Riverwear store in Stanley (also has outdoor gear). If you need to refill water, you’ll find potable water in a hose near the gray water dump station at the Stanley Ranger Station.
  • Self register for a backcountry permit at the trailhead. LOVE this system!
  • The best food and WiFi I found in Stanley as of this date was the Papa Brunee’s. You can usually access the WiFi 24×7. The library offers the same but my experience showed it much slower. I liked the coffee kiosk in the Riverwear parking lot. Of course the Stanley Baking Company & Café is always a good option but it can be quite busy. There’s a quick line at the bar if you want coffee and a bakery item. Grandjean Lodge also has yummy food if using that trailhead.
  • If you are arriving via Lowman, you won’t find any cell service in Lowman nor until you are nearly in Stanley.
  • There are tons of dispersed camping options in the Sawtooth National Forest. Check with the ranger station for recommended roads and options.
  • Grocery options are slim in Stanley. If you are going to be in the area for an extended time, it might be worth a trip to Challis or Hailey, both over an hour away.
  • Check out the nearby hot springs for post-hike recovery. Sunbeam Hot Springs is about 20 minutes to the east. Kirkham Hot Springs is about an hour south just past Lowman.
  • Laundry and showers are available at Redfish, as well as in Challis at the Pioneer Motel and RV Park. Another option for showers is the Grandjean Lodge.
  • If you’re looking for a place to hang out between trips, the park is a good option. The beach at Redfish Lake and along the Salmon River are other great options.

Resources:

Links: