Home is where we are parked

Home is where we are parked
Home is where we are parked

Saturday, August 6, 2016

CO -- Crested Butte, 8-22 July 2016

Map picture
Map picture

Two weeks in Crested Butte, Colorado…

Why we came…

To explore the incredible Elk Mountains and experience the “Wildflower Capital of Colorado”.

Wild flowers galore above Copper Lake and everywhere else around Crested Butte

The campground…

Crested Butte RV “Resort” was ok, but not worth the hugely inflated price.  The location is fantastic and we were comfortable.  For $70 a night, we had water and electric (no dump) and unreliable wi-fi.  We used the bathroom and shower facilities daily due the dump situation and were thankful that they were comfortable and kept clean.  Septic service is offered once a week for $45, but was unreliable.  The dump station in Crested Butte was renovated and reopened towards the end of our stay.  Neither the campground nor Crested Butte had public laundry facilities.  We had to go to Gunnison to wash clothes.  The Slate River runs by the RV park and it costs $30-$65 to fish it.  Additional guests cost $5 a day and if they bring their own vehicle, it’s $10 more a day.  I’m surprised that we didn’t have to pay to poop and bathe!  The campground owners worked roughly two and half hours a day, six days a week. 

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The welcome sign outside the office door

The are decent Forest Service campgrounds nearby with no hook-ups and there are plenty of places to boondock, however, the area is popular and camp areas stay full.  There are a few campgrounds 15-25 miles south of Crested Butte that have hook-ups.

We’d love to come back, but Crested Butte RV “Resort” costs WAY too much!

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RV park back-dropped by 12,527 foot Whetstone Mountain  /  Crested Butte Peak, 12,168 feet

Nearby Towns…

Crested Butte, elevation 8,909 feet and population 1,487, is a charming mountain town in a spectacular setting.  The little town is mostly compacted in a small area and can be quite congested.  Old houses and cute shops line the narrow streets.  There is one small grocery store with a decent selection and roughly 40 restaurants.  Everything is overpriced!  The area is an outdoors paradise known for its mountain biking, hiking trails, wild flowers, fishing, backpacking, rock climbing, ATV routes, fall colors, and world class skiing and snowboarding.  It’s the kind of place we’d love to call home, but there’s no way we could afford it!

Our visit coincided with the Crested Butte Wildflower Festival.  The area was officially deemed the “Wildflower Capital of Colorado” by the state legislature in 1990.  People flock here every July to witness the peak flower season and take part in the festivities.  We agree with the designation!  We were blown away by the vast array of colorful flowers everywhere we went.

The main supply town is Gunnison, elevation 7,703 feet and population 5,854, 25 miles to the south.  It has most services including a hospital, small college, and regional airport.  There is also a small Walmart, old Safeway, big City Market, and roughly 35 restaurants.  There is a lifetime of outdoor opportunities within a hundred miles.  The motto, “Base Camp of the Rocky Mountains”, is quite appropriate.   We like Gunnison a lot.  If it wasn’t so dang cold during winter, it would be on our “Potential Places to Live” list!

Welcome to Crested Butte!

Paul and Shilo welcomed us as we arrived at Crested Butte RV Resort. It was like coming home! I worked for Paul back in the Air Force and we’ve stayed in touch since. Not only are Paul and Shilo good friends, they both have an adventurous spirit and enjoy the same sorts of activities that we do. They had sought advice from us years ago about the RV lifestyle. When they left their assignment in Texas a few weeks ago, it was in a fifth wheel that they now live in as they join us in our nomad lifestyle.

Arleen’s sister Mary showed up later that evening. We thoroughly enjoy her visits and are always happy to see her make the time to join us for an adventure.

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Chatting with Paul and Shilo at Crested Butte RV Park


On 9 July we hiked Scarp Ridge…

Paul, Mary, Arleen and I set out for a hiking adventure. Scarp Ridge is a loop hike that is almost five miles with almost 1,600 feet of climbing. That sounded perfect for our group of varied capabilities.

To get to the trailhead, we drove west of Crested Butte, to Lake Irwin, and then climbed a rough dirt road to the old Irwin Lodge building. The trail immediately climbed the ridge and was rocky with deep erosion scars. We took a right at a cairn in order to do the loop in a counter clockwise manner.

We had to keep “Rock Hound” Mary moving as she picked through old mining tailings. As we climbed, we were awarded with incredible views and bouquets of colorful wild flowers. It was hard for all of us not to stop and take in the views and snap pictures.

We eventually made it to the knob and the Scarp Ridge marker. Here we could see across a chasm a deep snow cornice. It was obvious this area received a lot of snow this winter accompanied by howling winds.

We sat and enjoyed our lunch and the views of Mt. Owen, Ruby Peak, Crested Butte Mountain, Blue Lake, and Afley Peak. Below us, we could see Green Lake to the left and Blue Lake to the right. And everywhere lofty waterfalls fell. With the binoculars we were able to spy a herd of 60-80 elk grazing on a distant ridge. There were quite a few people that joined us there, all amazed at the 360 degree immensity of it all.

Arleen and I agreed that this hike ranked in the top five of hikes we have ever done.

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Hike route Scarp Ridge  /  Mary, Arleen, Me, and Paul on Scarp Ridge, elevation 12,230 feet

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Headed up to Scarp Ridge

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Getting higher.  Ruby Peak, 12,641 feet, and Mount Owen, 13,058 feet in the background

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Asters, sunflowers, and many other flowers carpeted Scarp Ridge

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Lots of color wild flowers

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Arleen and Mary perched high above Peeler Basin

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See me and Paul?  That was a big cornice!

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An incredible view from Scarp Ridge!

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Looking down at Blue Lake  /  Mary, Arleen, Paul, and me on Scarp Ridge

On 10 July Mary and Arleen explored Crested Butte…

Arleen: It was going to be a sister day! Mary and I started the day right with Mass at the cute Queen of All Saints church.

Then we wandered the streets of Crested Butte, noticing the cute homes all dressed with neat gardens and summer flowers. We also noticed the old Croatian Assembly Hall. Being of Croatian decent, we were curious to find out more information about the hall.

As we reached Elk Street, we were happy to see we had stumbled on the weekly farmers market. Since Shawn had dropped us off and would not pick us up for several hours, we were limited on how much we could carry. I bought some lavender water and Mary bought an Alphabet Menagerie book by local author Lian Canty. It’s fun to find such local treasures. I’ll have to return next Sunday to stock up on locally grown produce!

It was lunch time. As we sat on one of the many conveniently located downtown benches, a few of the ladies from church stopped and chatted with us. Though the downtown area was crowded with visitors, it was obvious that the locals are close knit yet welcoming. They recommended a restaurant.

We made our way across the street to The Last Steep, a bar and grill named for a run on the ski mountain. As our new friends had promised, the menu had a variety of healthy salads.

After lunch, we poked our heads into a few shops and made our way to the old Conoco which is now a museum. We were able to do a bit of research on some of the Croatian miners that settled the area.

After wandering around more quaint neighborhoods, we stopped in at Montoya Distillers for a free tasting and a refreshing drink. It was good that Shawn was going to pick us up! The “high alpine location makes great sense for making rum, since the altitude positively affects almost every aspect of fermenting, distilling and aging rum”.

Finally, we walked to the local grocery store, picked up a few items for dinner and called Shawn for a pickup.

That night I fixed my famous Green Chili Chicken Mushroom Enchilada Casserole (only famous cause Shawn loves it). Paul and Shiloh brought over a fresh locally made strawberry rhubarb pie. The five of us enjoyed a delicious dinner which was followed by hours of lively conversation.

The next day we bid farewell, first to Mary, after she and I visited the local cemetery noting more Croatian names.

Next, we bid farewell to Shiloh and Paul with promises of seeing them this winter in Utah for some skiing and snowshoeing.

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Scenes around Crested Butte

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The buildings and homes are adorable

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Sampling rum at Montanya Distillers

On 11 July I hiked the Three Lakes trail…

The trail head is nearly 10 miles west of Kebler Pass at the Lost Lake Campground. I enjoyed the drive along the well maintained dirt road through one of the world’s largest aspen groves. There were folks camped all over the woods and the Lost Lake area was especially busy. I parked just below Lost Lake Slough and planned to do the short loop counterclockwise.

The trail climbed steadily to the smaller and more scenic Lost Lake. Like everywhere else in the area, the flowers were incredible. I stopped briefly at the lake’s outlet and made some long casts. Four to six inch long, colorful brook trout smacked my floating grasshopper fly…it was fun. A steady stream of people kept showing up nearby so I decided to walk to the opposite side of the lake. The little brook trout continued to smack my grasshopper and I enjoyed fishing in peace.

The next leg of the trail took me to a beautiful waterfall. Surprisingly I had the pretty cascade to myself and lingered a bit to snack. Shortly after I left the waterfall, a short section of trail opened up for a great view to the north. Lost Lake Slough laid spread out below and was framed by peaks in the Raggeds Wilderness, including the crazily eroded Marcellina Mountain.

My final stop was Dollar Lake. It was smallest of the three lakes and seemed to have the most trout. Again, they were little 4-6 inch long brook trout that liked my grasshopper flies. There were also more flowers and a bigger variety. I enjoyed taking flower pictures almost as much I did hooking trout.

The final leg of the hike was a fairly easy descent through the woods. There was a lot to experience on the short 4.25 mile route. It was easy to see why it was so popular!

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Three Lakes loop route  /  This pretty waterfall was about  40 feet high

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Wild roses and daisies near Lost Lake  /  Fly-fishing Lost Lake

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Typical brook trout from both Lost and Dollar Lakes  /  More flowers near Lost Lake

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A good view of Lost Lake Slough and Marcellina Mountain

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Fly-fishing Dollar Lake  /  Columbines were thick around Dollar Lake

On 12 July we tried to hike to Yule Lakes…

Brittany Walker Konsella in a 14er article states that Yule Lakes is one of her favorite hikes. A bonus would be a lake that hopefully harbored cutthroat trout. We’d take the moderate trail over the pass and then do some route finding.

We drove nine miles northwest of Crested Butte and parked at Paradise Divide. Much of the route was on a narrow, four-wheel drive road. We hiked around a small knob and made our way around a few old mining digs and campfires before setting out on the long-closed mining road.

We were immediately awarded with a view of the Yule Pass and the trail to get there. I had Arleen walk up ahead nearly a half mile to capture a perspective shot with Purple, Treasury, and Cinnamon Mountain looming above. The upper Slate River was hundreds of feet below the trail and multiple waterfalls cascaded down the opposite side of the impressive drainage. While she waited for me to catch up, Arleen was busy taking pictures of the wild flowers.

We caught up to another couple and a German Shepherd, and could see they were having some difficulty crossing a 30 foot wide scree area. The sure-footed dog made it safely across the treacherous 45 degree slope but the man was having difficulty. Every time he carefully stepped out to cross, rocks tumbled hundreds of feet into the Slate River chasm. We evaluated the situation, decided it wasn’t worth the risk, and turned back.

We noticed some Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory (RMBL) researchers near the upturned “cones of shame” on a wild flower field. They explained how they were using the cones to increase the temperatures on a microscale and evaluate the changes in plants and carbon.

When we got back to the parking area, Arleen set off on a faint trail headed up and north, singing, “Follow Me”. Well, the day was young! I was not sure where the trail would go, but I followed her.

The lupine and other flowers distracted us with their bright displays. The famous Maroon Peaks steadily grew in the distance ahead of us. Eventually, the trail disappeared so we blazed our own route to the top of the north shoulder of Cinnamon Mountain. The aptly named and prominent mountain tops out at 12,293 feet. We relaxed for a while on the shoulder, 11,750 feet, and tried to absorb the incredible view that included the distant Maroon and Snow Mass Peaks. The unplanned, unknown, surprise route turned into a special adventure!

Next, we continued our clockwise loop. On the way back we stopped at Emerald Lake. I made a few casts but only saw a few fish and that were just a few inches long. But the lake, the flowers, and the surroundings were very pretty.

We did not make it to our goal, but we agreed, it was still a great and memorable day.

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Hike route towards Yule Lakes and Cinnamon Peak  /  High above the Slate River basin

Headed up to Yule Pass.  Arrow points to Arleen. (Click on picture to zoom in.)

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The trail cut across multiple rock slides.  One was too dangerous for us to cross.

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Learning about vegetation monitoring by a member of the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory  /  Taking a break by the lupine flowers on the side of Cinnamon Peak.  Maroon Peak is in the distance.

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Glacier lilies, lupine, and purple fringe

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Another good spot for a break.  /  Crossing a snow field on the side of Cinnamon Peak

We had an incredible view from Cinnamon Peak’s shoulder!  Maroon Bells are on the left.

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High above Elko Park.  Snowmass Peaks on the left and Maroon Bells on the right.

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Emerald Lake and colorful Avery Peak

On 14 July we hiked to Copper Lake and East Maroon Pass…

We arrived at the Copper Lake trail head early, hoping to beat the crowds. We saw signs alerting us that we were on RMBL land that reminded everyone to stay on the trail and not to disturb anything. It also warned of “bears, foxes, and scientists”. The scientists have been roaming the area since 1928.

The popular trail first stops at the pretty Judd Falls. The mountain stream drops a hundred feet through a narrow chasm cut deep into the rocks. We sat briefly on a memorial bench that provided a great view. We also met a very unprepared backpacker tackling the long, hard route to Aspen. He had no maps and asked us if he was on the right trail!

Our trail stayed mainly in the trees and climbed gradually for the next three miles crossing into the Maroon Bells Wilderness. We had four creek crossings. We were able to cross two without getting wet. But for the other two, we took off our boots and crossed in bare feet. Our feet were nearly numb from the frigid water by the time we made it to the other side. After the last creek crossing, the trail pitched up for a challenging mile long climb to the lake.

At last, we popped out of the trees for a delightful view of White Rock Mountain, Avery Peak, and Precarious Peak. To the north we had a glimpse of East Maroon Pass. We took the left at a fork and finally reached the scenic lake.

Arleen climbed a moraine near the middle of the lake while I traversed Copper Creek, where it exited the lake. As I crossed, I watched a few trout dart in different directions. A good sign!

When I reached the inlet, I was shocked to see hundreds of cutthroat trout milling around in the ankle deep creek. I almost stepped on trout and got splashed as they darted out of my way. I could have grabbed them with my hands! It reminded me of salmon runs in Alaska. I made a few casts in the lake and landed one or two but set my rod down to admire the phenomena in the tiny stream. Here at 11,300 feet in mid-July, the colorful cutthroat trout were in the midst of their annual spawning event. I decided to just leave them to their business.

When I rejoined Arleen, I let her know I wanted to climb the trail to East Maroon Pass. She had been eyeing it too.

Above the lake, the trail traverses a few formidable rock slides. It was difficult to focus on our steps while being distracted by the scenery of the surrounding peaks, shimmering lake below, and colorful wildflowers. We reached the cairn that marked the pass, 11,825 feet, and Precarious Peak slid back like a curtain, revealing Maroon Bells far above to the northwest, and the East Maroon Creek drainage far below. What a sight! We sat, snacked, stretched and enjoyed the view for a while.

Amazingly, we had only seen the one (clueless) backpacker on the way up. But on the way back we met a number of backpackers and dayhikers just setting out despite the late afternoon hour. But it was still fewer than we had expected for such an impressive, accessible area.

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Hike route to Copper Lake and East Maroon Pass

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Happy to be in the Maroon Bells Wilderness  /  Sunflowers and Crested Butte Peak  /  Judd Falls

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Copper Lake.  The blue speck on the left is me fly-fishing.

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There were hundreds of cutthroat trout spawning in the tiny stream!

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Taking a break on the way up to East Maroon Pass

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Jacob’s Ladder flowers above Copper Lake  /  Our favorite alpine critter: marmot

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Relaxing at East Maroon Pass, elevation 11,825 feet

On 15 July we hiked to Hasley Pass…

We drove the Gothic Road out of Crested Butte to the trail head for the West Maroon Pass. From Gothic, the road requires a high clearance vehicle and it gets very narrow. So we set out early to avoid meeting other vehicles. The parking area is a couple of miles north of Schofield Pass. We were surprised to see about 25 cars and I was disappointed to be hitting the trail behind a group of 15-20 women…hopefully they wouldn’t be too gabby! I prefer peace and quiet during wilderness hikes.

The first half mile of trail is in a giant Engelmann spruce forest and we could clearly hear the Crystal River to the east. There were a few short steep sections and we past the remains of an old cabin.

From there we were in what I can only describe as God’s Botanical Garden. We walked along a nice trail that was knee to chest high in Alpine Larkspur, Alpine Sunflower, Buttercup, Colorado Columbine, Cow’s Parsnip (evil!), Daisy, Elephant, Fireweed, Glacier Lily, Indian and Yellow Paintbrush, King’s Crown, Nuttall’s Violet, Perry’s Primrose, Purple Fringe, Purple Geranium, Queen Anne’s Lace, Silvery Lupine, Tall Bluebells, Western Aster, Western Bistort, Western Blue Flax, White Marsh Marigold and many more. They were not just along the trail in onesies and twosies. They carpeted entire hillsides! Though I tried to capture the scene with the camera, I failed.

We hiked through the flower meadows for another two miles and approached a marked fork where the right turn went to Maroon West Pass. We would be back for that Pass. Today we turned left and straight up the steepening ridge to Hasley Pass.

The amount of flowers decreased a bit and the types changed as we ascended, but remained colorful and impressive. After walking over a snow field, we climbed up a rocky ledge for the ideal picnic spot. The view was incredible of the Hasley Basin stretching out below, steely 14,000 foot high Snowmass Peak towering beyond that, and craggy Maroon Belles looming above to the northeast. Again, we had a hard time taking it all in.

We made a counter clockwise loop back along the ridge. The trail was faint and in places was impacted by erosion. It made walking difficult but we tried to avoid stepping in the meadow and on the flowers.

We took a great break on a smooth boulder that had the courtesy to break off from above and land flat making an ideal rest spot. From here we could clearly enjoy the view of Treasury and Treasure Mountains and their Chimneys.

As we rejoined the first part of the trail and dropped back into the Engelmann forest, we agreed that we would return the next week to hike to both Frigid and West Maroon Pass.

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Hike route to Hasley Pass  /  We were up there a few days ago!  Pointing to Cinnamon Peak’s shoulder

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Alpine Larkspur and Cinnamon Peak  /  The best wild flower displays we’ve ever seen!

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The trail up to Hasley Pass

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The view from Hasley Pass, elevation 12,120 feet.  Snowmass Peaks are left and Maroon Bells are right

The spectacular view over Hasley Basin towards Snowmass Peaks

We love it up here!

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Various flowers flourishing above 12,000 feet

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We were impressed by the amount of King’s Crown flowers

Headed back down.  See Arleen on the right?

Our last break about a mile and a half and 1,000 feet above the trail head

On 18 July we hiked to West Maroon Pass…

We were on the trail shortly after 7am. We got an early start to avoid traffic and to avoid afternoon thunderstorms.

We quickly hiked up and out of the forest and into the flower meadows. It was a cloudy day so the flowers were a little subdued but we were still impressed by the variety and the coverage.

At the two mile fork, this time we went right and headed up to the popular West Maroon Pass. We could see a couple folks already ahead of us on the switchbacks up to Frigid Pass. We were hoping we would have time to get there too, weather permitting.

We easily crossed a few braided streams racing down the mountain side to join Crystal River below. We marveled at the widespread bogs of Perry’s Primrose and White Marsh Marigold.

The last quarter of a mile pitches up very steeply and tops out at 12,500 feet. We were both very thankful for our trekking poles for the precarious scramble down.

We took the time to appreciate the incredible view from the top. Unlike most passes, we had to share this one with about a dozen other people. The hike is even longer on the Aspen side, but its well-deserved reputation draws trekkers from both sides. Even at this altitude we could see flowers such as Jacob’s Ladder and Rocky Ledge Penstemon adding their color. We also spotted a vibrant flower we had never seen before. The Colorado Ragwort is hard to miss with its purple leaves and bright yellow flowers.

From our perch, we could see patches of blue sky appearing in the clouds to the south and a few areas of darker clouds. We knew what that meant. The atmosphere was destabilizing. It was “go” time.

As we rushed by the Frigid Pass fork, we vowed we would return another day. Just as we got back to the truck, raindrops hit the windshield. It was another awesome and perfectly timed day.

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Hike route to West Maroon Pass  /  Two new flowers:  Colorado Ragwort and Rocky Ledge Penstemon

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About a mile and another of thousand feet of climbing to the pass  /  A field of White Marsh Marigolds and Perry’s Primrose

Less than a quarter mile from the pass

Posing on a snowfield just below the pass

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The final stretch of trail is steep and rocky.  (Click on the picture to zoom in.)

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The view from West Maroon Pass, elevation 12,425 feet.  Fravert Basin and Snowmass Peaks on the  left.  West Maroon Basin and Maroon Bells on the right.

Looking towards Aspen from West Maroon Pass.  Life is great!

On 20 July we hiked to a saddle between Ruby and Owen Peaks and then to a ridge above Blue Lake…

We returned to Lake Irwin near Scarp Ridge! We wanted to see all the sites up close that we had seen from our first scenic hike. My goal was to climb 13,022 Mount Owen.

We tried to drive up the Green Lake Road, which runs through private property. In just a half mile, the road narrowed, switch-backed tightly, and got too rough for our big Dodge truck. We turned around and parked a mile back knowing that the extra two miles of hiking might make a long day, too long.

We hiked the two miles up Green Lake Road till we had an incredible view of waterfalls cascading from Green Lake. We took a left onto the trail which pitched further up and traversed scree slopes to eventually lead us to the alpine lake. I could see from my vantage point that there were not any fish. But, the color was incredible. We set our next goal as the saddle between Mount Owen and Ruby Peak.

We ascended several switch-backs and as we climbed, the color of Green Lake turned a deeper blue. We had to pick our route carefully due to the deep and dangerously pitched snow fields. Arleen declared that they were glaciers since they still remained in late July.

Finally, I picked a line that went straight up between two snow fields. The scree soil was saturated. With each step the rocky mud oozed and slid a little downhill. I was concerned about the hike down and encouraged Arleen to stay put. But she could see the saddle and got determined to conquer the tough route.

We finally found ourselves on the saddle. We could almost hear trumpets playing! We had an incredible 360o view! We could see from the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness to the Gunnison National forest to the West Elk Wilderness to the Raggeds Wilderness, part of the Grand Mesa, and countless distant peaks. The bonus was that we were surrounded by the epic Crested Butte wildflowers.

Clouds were growing and the hike had already been tougher and longer than expected. I made the decision to forgo further climbing up Ruby or Owen Peak so we headed back.

On the way down, Arleen literally mud plowed through the steep sections. It was not pretty, but she made it down safely. We were still motivated and had some time so I suggested we try to get a view of Blue Lake.

We hiked down past Green Lake and turned north and took a section of trail that we nicknamed the “Walk of the Falls”. Along the one mile route, we admired four different waterfalls flowing from Arleen’s “glaciers”. They were so pretty with all the flowers!

Finally, we topped the ridge and peered straight down to Blue Lake. We noted a network of trails that leads to the lake from Scarp Ridge and along Oh Be Joyful Creek. We vowed we would return some day and explore those trails.

The clouds were popping and it was “go” time. We hurried back down the trail and were amazed to see a few dozen folks headed up the trail. They were pushing their luck!

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Hike route to Ruby and Owen Peak saddle and Blue Lake overlook  /  Waterfall number two and lupines

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Waterfall number one  /  Ascending the scenic route

Green Lake and Lake Irwin far below

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Looking east towards Green Lake from the saddle, elevation 12,225 feet

Looking west from the saddle

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Waterfalls three, four, and five.  There were even more waterfalls along the route!

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Looking down at Blue Lake


We spent two weeks playing near Ouray CO.  We are in Silverton CO for the next three weeks and then we’ll spend five weeks near Pagosa Springs CO.  Summer in the Rockies is WAY too short!

Parting shots…

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The bench outside the Visitor Center  /  Watch for marmots!