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Trailhead: East Snowmass Creek (Ditch TH would be better)
I drove up the night before and decided to camp along the Lincoln creek road, since I wasn't sure what the trailhead area would be like around Snowmass. I have never been to the Snowmass 14er TH before, as both times I have approached from the west. Now only the Barr trail remains for "standard 14er TH's" that I have not been to yet! Turns out that there is allowable camping right by the trailhead for East Snowmass Creek, though it is a bit of a busy thoroughfare.
The Elks are also my lowest completion range by percentage of all the 13ers (yes, lower than the San Juans, 35% Elks vs 44% SJ's). So it's time I stopped ignoring this range so much, even if I want to ski most of the 13ers so the crappy rock is frozen in place. Too bad I spotted a few lines I may have to come back for. Uggg, skimo is never ending!
Thanks to a much later start than planned, since the sleeping bag was so comfy, I arrived at the trailhead at 6am. I had originally planned to hike Willoughby (and potentially 2 more 13ers) on day 1, but with such a late start, I didn't think that was wise. Because I was debating which route to do today, I did not scope out the parking for the Ditch Trail (as mentioned in ChicagoTransplant's TR). So instead I decided to bushwhack up to the ditch trail. BIG MISTAKE!!!!! My head was spinning on the drive, running the numbers, so I didn't pay close attention to the ski runs crossing the road. So I had foolishly decided that the last run was too far, or that it didn't look much like a ski run (completely overgrown), since I was focused on driving and thinking. I was also intrigued by this gorgeous peak to my west I kept seeing on the drive in, that at the time, I didn't know what it was. So I spent quite some time on a rather vertical bushwhack with downed trees an a whole lot of prickers and other BS. I was so exhausted when I got to the actual ditch (below the ditch trail), that I was almost kicking myself for being so stupid. The overgrown ski run up to the ditch trail was so steep, I didn't have to stoop to take flower photos. The lupin really were above me!
An easy way to find the ditch trail is to open the Mountain Bike Project app on your phone, and it will easily show you on the map how to get to the little parking lot in the middle of Ritzy Aspen-Snowmass. I did this on my drive out, so I would know where it was for another adventure in the neighborhood.
I followed the ditch trail south, as I was eying the Powderhorn run above me as a way to get up to the next section. But then I saw the signpost and the trail that took me onto the more gentle slope to my east. Hiking up the advanced single track path was easy and quite enjoyable. I saw a bunch of white on white columbines that were unique to me. I'm used to the purple or maroon varieties, not the snow white kind!
When the Government Trail merged with the Bear Claw trail, I took that uphill and continued uphill till I got to Sam's Knob. Too bad the Sam's Smokehouse wasn't open today, I would have eaten my weight in BBQ on the way down! I enjoyed all the unique signs I saw along the way up.
Above Sam's Knob, the service road zig zagged in and out of the ski runs I was going uphill on. Both on the way up and down I would vary between following the road or going up the runs as my mood struck me. Some resort lift mechanics passed me and were working on the lifts while I went uphill, waving at me as we passed multiple times. I got above the Sheer Bliss lift and took a short break in a flowery meadow, when a deer became really curious about me, and kept coming closer. The mechanics even started the lift for awhile, as I watch the deer come closer.
I followed a poma lift all the way to the resort boundary, and noted all the signs designating the backcountry. Hmmm, I left my beacon in the truck. Good thing the Avy danger is ZERO right now! Beyond the "gate" is an easy tundra stroll to the unranked 13er Baldy. Only one rocky section that is easily skirted to the east as necessary.
From the unranked Baldy, it's not a long distance to the ranked but unnamed 13er, though it felt like a long distance, after all the vertical I'd hiked to get to this point! The view was even better from the ranked peak. One look at the ridge to Pt 13,336 and I was glad that I did this peak first, and wouldn't be tempted to run the ridge around like ChicagoTransplant. This way I had eliminated that option completely. When Mike says "That was fun, let's never do that again.", I'll go with never in the first place. Loose Elk rock sucks.
Even though I got to the summit really late, I stayed for quite a while admiring the view. There were only fair weather clouds in the sky and zero chance of storms, so I had all day. Only Capitol seemed to have it's angry hat on. It's like that peak is cursed or something!
Eventually I started making my way down the ridge again, resummiting the unranked peak, and hiking down the ski resort. Passed more resort employees working on the lifts and driving up the roads. On the way up, I had noticed that the Ski Patrol shack door was open. Since today was a lot hotter than I had imagined or planned for, I was running out of water. So I gratefully "enter(ed) for assistance" and refilled my water bottle.
Having learned my lesson from the morning, I followed that overgrown ski run all the way down to the road, and followed that 0.3mi back to the trailhead. Soooo nice to open my fridge for some ice cold drinks while I put my feet into the creek to ice the pounding out of them. While the ski runs weren't all steep by skiing standards (only that lower slope was steeep), hiking them was a quad buster!
Elevation gain: 4,724'
Trailhead: East Snowmass Creek
Partner: SOLO (with guest appearance by Garrett on the descent)
After a restful and restorative nights sleep, I got hiking much earlier than the day before, but yet not too early. The family from Missouri parked next to me was already stirring. The trail switchbacks up the initial slope and then follows the creek on the east slope of Willoughby. I made really good time hiking up the forested trail with abundant wildflowers.
The day had started out almost perfectly bluebird, but there were wispy clouds forming and as I got the the avalanche path on the NE slope of Willoughby the sky looked downright unhappy. Dark grey clouds hung over the ridges and peaks around me. It was only 8ish in the morning, and I wasn't wanting to turn around just yet. But I also didn't want to summit in clouds either. So I decided to keep going, and see if it would improve. It was early, I could wait it out if needed. I got a bit higher, but still well below treeline, when it started to precipitate on me. Lightly at first, and then it turned to graupel. Not a good sign. I've been out enough to know that sometimes there is a morning storm, and then the clouds clear for a brilliant afternoon, and those that turn around kick themselves. Other times... it only gets worse. Which would it be today? I was hoping for the former, but planning against the latter.
I had been eying the east ridge direct over the other ridge that was further north. The only caveat was the upper rocky section as you gain the summit ridge. Would it be cliffy or loose? It was only a short distance to the summit at that point. Whereas the other ridge was covered in willows but was more gentle up to the upper ridge to the summit. Well, I'd rather have a shorter distance of suck, than a longer one. So I went with the east ridge direct on the left of the avy path. I went slowly uphill, as I kept an eye to the sky around me. As I got higher, I started to see the cloud edges more, and a gradual thinning of the clouds, enough to see blue sky peek through. I've also experienced my fair share of sucker holes, which lure you uphill, only to fool you with stormy summits you have to run from. So I took my time and photographed the abundant flowers on the uphill. Thankfully as I reached the rocky section above, the skies cleared, and I knew the clouds had passed to my east. That rocky section is easily bypassed to the south on a grassy slope. A cornice guards the top of the east ridge, and I had to do a short scramble to the west of the snow to gain the ridge and the summit just beyond. On the descent I went to the other, east end of the cornice.
Oh what a view from the summit of Willoughby!!!! I could have sat there staring at Hagerman, Snowmass and Capitol for hours! Absolutely spectacular. So glad the clouds went away so completely for most of my summit stay. Capitol once again developed it's angry cloud hat, and that's when I finally was persuaded to leave and go downhill again.
After the steep descent off the peak, it was easy trail all the way home. I ran into the family of 5 from Missouri and they asked if I had made it to the lake. I told them I had hiked a peak and kept on my way. The sun was hot and I was trying to charge back into the lower forrest to get back into the shade, but my feet were getting quite tired. Not sure what made me turn around on the trail for a second, but there was a guy quickly catching up to me. After a very short hello, it was apparent that he was not another "lake hiker", he had also summitted peaks in the drainage. So we took advantage of the chance meeting and hiked down the trail together, chatting about the peaks we had hiked, since it's not often that I meet another 13er hiker on the trail! He had done the route I did yesterday, but added on the traverse to 13,336 and 13,020. It was quite enjoyable chatting on the downhill, till he got to the Ditch trail cutoff, as otherwise I would have been cursing my sore feet all the way down. Hopefully I didn't slow him down too much!
Grabbed another cold beverage from the fridge and soaked my feet in the creek until frozen, before driving off to the next adventure, climbing The Castle in the LCW. Damn the amount of cars I saw streaming up into the mountains. Glad to be going in the opposite direction!
My GPS Tracks on Google Maps (made from a .GPX file upload):
I don't know what you do for a living, Otina. But you should consider being a flora/fauna photog. Your pictures always make me wonder why I bother taking a camera along on my hikes. As usual, a nice, nice report.
Brad - Then where would the adventure be, if I knew everything? Hopefully our schedules and itineraries will match up soon. I'm hoping to be back to 100% speed soon.
Jay - I'm a seismologist, but my grandfather was a pro photog for Kodak, so he helped shaped my skills. But it also takes practice, not just a fancy camera. If you have time, try new things with your camera, you can always delete the duds. Plus if you didn't take your camera, we wouldn't know current conditions!
Tornadoman - Who says you have to finish the 14ers first???
Trotter - Everything is a challenge in resort ski boots, including walking on a flat surface!
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