Wednesday, January 18, 2017


The highest peak in the Lower 48 is Mount Whitney in California, and it gets a lot of attention because of that (also because it's right off of the Pacific Crest Trail and serves as a terminus for the John Muir Trail.)  It clocks in at 14,505 ft. above sea level at the summit.  However, California isn't really the home of very  many 14ers.  Even Alaska, which has the highest point in the nation and on the continent (Mt. McKinley 20,310) only has 22.  California only has 12 (although you can add 4 more if you throw out the 300 feet of prominence rule).  Washington has a couple.  Oregon, doesn't have any, and the rest of the Rocky Mountain states don't either except for... Colorado, the real home of the American 14er.  With a wicked list of 53 14ers (which can be expanded to 60 by getting rid of the prominence rule) Colorado is truly the state with the the most noteworthy destinations for peak-baggers.

Now, I don't really consider myself a peakbagger really.  I've actually not had a lot of interest in peak-bagging.  I did bag a Colorado 14er in my teenage years in the late 80s: Sunlight Peak, deep in the wilderness near the Chicago Basin.  Perhaps because I did a relatively difficult (albeit non-technical) deep wilderness 14er already, I've not really felt the need to prove anything to myself by doing more just to do it, and I actually usually rather like ridge-lines and passes more than I like peaks.

But I'm considering a 14er this year.

About three years ago, I decided after much leading up to it, that I really wanted to make backpacking into one of my main hobbies again, although mountain backpacking (the kind I most like) is remote enough for me living in the upper Midwest that I can't really do more than one trip a year currently.  Maybe when the kids finish moving out, I can bump that up to two or three without jeopardizing other vacations (say, to visit the kids, or go to Hawaii or the Caribbean with my wife, see Europe while there's still a non-Ummah conquered Europe to see, etc.)  I went hiking by myself in the High Uintas Wilderness in 2014, I went with my son to another part of the High Uintas Wilderness in 2015, and in 2016 I didn't get to take a backpacking trip, but I did spend a fair amount of time in the Wasatch doing day hiking and enjoying the mountains (I'd like to have done more, but it was a family reunion, and other pursuits had claim on my attention, sadly.)

For 2017, I had been targeting getting out of the Uintas (not that I've seen everything that I want to in that range, but there's so much to see!) and do a hike in the southern end of the Wind River Mountain Range in northwest-central Wyoming.  A friend of mine here locally was looking to come with, which I actually kind of liked, because the Wind Rivers is in grizzly country.  Not that you're likely to see many of the big guys—or for that matter, even any of them, but they are there, and one of the best ways to minimize the risk of unpleasant confrontations is to get a small group together.  Three or four would be even better than two.

Sadly, July looks very bad for both of us, and August isn't going to work for him.  I could, of course, have told him, "well, maybe next time" and gone forward with my own plans, since August is what I had targeted.  But I admit that it made me think of another route that I had on my radar which, by fortuitous coincidence, was one that I wanted to do in mid to late September to see all of the fall aspens while I'm at it.  This is the Four Pass Loop in the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness of Colorado, near Aspen.  I need to figure out the timing, but because it's a relatively short hike (probably four days; three nights) I had thought about also doing just a fairly quick overnighter at the Blue Lakes area on the flanks of Mount Sneffels.  The itinerary would have me leave home after leaving work a few hours early on Friday afternoon of September 15th probably (although I could also do the next week after that—maybe that's even a good idea.  We'll see.)  I'd drive that evening and all day Saturday to get to somewhere near Aspen on Saturday night.  After going to church locally on Sunday morning, we'd change, check out of our hotel, and go camp somewhere near the start of the Maroon Bells trail.  Sunday afternoon will probably be pretty busy because day hikers taking pictures of the reflection of the bells and the fall colors will be thick on Sunday afternoon unless it's a bit rainy or something, but we can easily get to somewhere between Crater Lake and West Maroon Pass that evening, and we'll be in pretty good shape for time.

Monday morning, we break camp and hit West Maroon pass early.  A short jaunt along the flank of the ridge that extends northwest from Belleville Mountain along a well-maintained trail above treeline gets us to Frigid Air Pass after a couple of hours—I presume we'd have lunch somewhere along that ridge and cross the second pass either early or mid afternoon—and we're in Fravert Basin for Monday night.

Tuesday we cross Fravert Basin and Trail Rider Pass to make camp at Snowmass Lake.  If we decide that we want to summit Snowmass Peak, or it's taller brother Snowmass Mountain, the next morning would be the time to do it.  If we do the mountain, then we probably don't move quite far enough on Wednesday to cross the last of the four passes, Buckskin Pass, although maybe we do.  Either way, we spend Wednesday night either in Minnehanna Gorge on the other side of the pass, or just on the near side of the pass, and Thursday by mid-day we're back at the car, and driving to the Trail Head for Blue Lakes, not far from Ouray, and hike a few miles that afternoon, probably to one of the lower lakes.  Friday, we can explore the Blue Lakes area, getting all of the way up to Blue Lakes Pass before turning back and being done with the mountains for another season.  From this area, if we really felt ambitious, we'd be within relatively easy striking distance of the summit of Sneffels itself.  Sigh.

Saturday and Sunday we drive home.  We might even make it home in time to catch some of church on Sunday afternoon.

If we skip the Sneffels day, we can head home even earlier and be home Saturday night, which might be desirable, but I'll talk to my hiking partner and see what we come up with.  For me personally, I'd love to see Sneffels while I'm not far away and already in the area, and the season is perfect.  But I also know myself well enough to know that I might be tired of camping and ready to call it quits after the Four Pass Loop.  I might also want to slow down and enjoy the loop a little more.  I might also want to not do two passes in one day on the second day.  We could always spend a night in the East Fork Basin before crossing into Fravert Basin, and just take our time in the Elks.

1 comment:

Deplorable Gaiseric said...

Well, never mind, at least on one detail. Sneffels is too far away, and the wrong direction. I'll have to make the area the highpoint of another trip altogether; there's plenty to see to keep me busy in the Sneffels general area for a good week already. Maybe I'll even make a more relaxed trip out of it; two or three nights backpacking, seeing the Blue Lakes area, the Yankee Boy Basin, etc. and then some day trips to Black Canyon of the Gunnison and Monte Verde injun ruins, or something.

For this trip, if we decide to spend more time backpacking after doing the Four Pass Loop, I'm thinking possibly the Holy Cross Wilderness, and maybe even a summit of the Mount of the Holy Cross; another interesting fairly deep wilderness non-technical 14er.

Or, I'll find something in the West Elks to check out. Supposedly light crowds out that direction.