July 14th-16th, 2017
Snowmass Wilderness, Colorado
We started out the weekend battling traffic on I-70, which I am almost used to at this point. Toby and I switched off driving at Leadville, where I was able to purchase another pair of socks from Melanzana because I had foolishly forgotten to bring a second pair. By the time we reached to top of Independence Pass (tallest paved pass in the U.S. I think?), it was dark out and the road we socked in with clouds and fog. It’s pretty thrilling to drive over a mountain pass in the fog, I recommend doing it sometime. We bumped our way six miles down a road/trail in Lincoln Gulch to meet up with our group and settle in for the night, arising just a few hours later.
We ran into Aspen, hitting up Jour de Fete for breakfast before caravanning our was over and past Snowmass Village, finally arriving at the last parking spots at the Maroon-Snowmass trailhead. Our group was a cool seven people, most of whom were out there doing reconnaissance for an Inspiring Girls-run expedition. Toby and I were to stay only one night, and the others two, so they were carrying more gear. Our goals was the set of lakes called Pierre Lakes up the Bear Creek drainage. There is no official trail out to Pierre Lakes, but we had route guides and GPS points to help us navigate our way up.
This was my first time off-trail, and it’s definitely a mental jump. I will allow you to read the above links to trail descriptions for a great and detailed account if you want to get yourself there, and here, I will tell you of my experience.
The first few miles are very chill, taking you through the lovely valley of Snowmass Falls Ranch before popping out into public land. There are beautiful views of the towering ridge lines above and the lush stream bed below .
The first tricky part was crossing Snowmass Creek, which was intimidatingly deep and fast-flowing. We managed to find a sturdy enough log crossing that required some delicate, balancing movements but was overall solid. I had a little bit of a tremor in me after crossing the log. We were then able to meet up with a socially made trail that was fairly easy to follow through beautiful old aspen groves, eventually moving along on the banks of Bear Creek.
This trail brought us up and into the drainage that we wanted and began to climb through tough meadows, positively brimming of stinging nettle. (I recommend pants, as I got the full effect of the nettle by wearing shorts.) We then popped out onto an easy to follow trail along a talus field, which brought us into view of the next challenge: the waterfall.
You can read that navigating the waterfall is difficult, but I truly underestimated just how difficult it would be. There were some cairns to vaguely guide the way, but a good amount of the time, I ended up climbing up rock like this:
A combination of heady class 3 scrambling and bushwhacking can be truly spiritually taxing.
After the ascent of the waterfall, I believe we got off trail, because we found ourselves scrambling straight up a talus field of boulders, eventually veering west, back into the brush. A little down climbing, bushwhacking, and upward climbing later, a giant storm started to move in. As much as I appreciated the grandeur of hearing thunder rumble around the walls of rock around us, I was pretty much done for the day.
Perched up on the large talus slope, I looked down toward the valley to see a grove of trees with a clear spot for camping. Through consensus and my asking for it, we decided to post up there for the night, having been traveling for eight hours. I’m pretty picky about ending my backpacking days early. I like cooking and setting up camp in the light, and being in bed, asleep by the time it’s dark. That means nine o’clock. I think a few others in our party were tired as well.
So, we did not make it to Pierre Lakes this time. Toby and I simply did not have the time. We managed to make it down very quickly the next morning, aided by knowing a little more about the landscape and the virtue of walking down.
I won’t lie, this hike really took the wind out of my sails. I haven’t felt that challenged and run down by a hike in a while, and it took a toll on my confidence. Looking back, however, I can see the things that I could have done differently, like make sure I was fueled better, and preparing myself with the trail descriptions more thoroughly. I know I’ll have another chance to do cross country navigation, and hopefully this trip will have made me more prepared for the challenges.