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Newbie in Maroon Bells Wilderness
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Michael Ray
(topshot) - MLife

Locale: Midwest
Newbie in Maroon Bells Wilderness on 08/14/2010 21:16:14 MDT Print View

View my gear list

View my videos of this trip (Pics are embedded there to save space here)

For proper background of this TR, please read at least the beginning of the TR for Phase I of this trip

Coming from the Wind River Range, we left Craig, CO, about 12:30 pm the following day after having resupplied a few items at the Walmart and stopping at a TCBY so I could replace my long plastic spoon (FYI Baskin Robbins' are the most durable). We made it down CO SR 13 to within 12 miles of I-70 when it was blocked by a mudslide shortly before we got there. Rather than sit there for an undetermined amount of time (we were to learn in a while it may have been closed for up to 2 days!) we backtracked a bit and detoured via Buford about 80 miles, half of which was a muddy gravel road through the White River NF. We made it to our lodging in Glenwood Springs at 5:30.

The morning of August 5th, we had breakfast at McDonalds and then drove to the Avalanche Creek TH. The water was low here, too, so a normal car could make it back there if desired. We started our hike at 8:45 am. On this phase of the trip I did not take James' tent just in case, and I had a better idea of food that would be needed so I left with a skin out of around 26 pounds. The pine smell was great just like in the Wind River, but there was some other sweet smell that was mixed in as well, at least on the lower third of the trail. This trail's topography reminded me of some of the Smokies trails from last summer except for the meadows and obviously higher elevation. The views were different but often times just as spectacular as what we saw in Wyoming. James and I got separated when I stopped at the long cascade below the intersection with Capital Creek Trail. I failed to leave some kind of sign on the trail and he didn't see me when he caught up. When I realized how long I'd been there and that he must have passed by, I finally left and reached Avalanche Lake just after 3. He was already setting up camp, and I got my tarp up just as a light rain began to fall. There were very few skeeters here compared to Wyoming and we also saw no other backpackers on the trail coming up. When I went to hang my bag, I was glad I had 48' of rope instead of 40' like my first trip since the only suitable branch I could find was 26' in the air – once again I thought an Ursack would be far more convenient. When the rain stopped I fixed Bangers & Mash for dinner. I must say that even though I'll make my own stuff from now on, Packit Gourmet makes some really tasty goodies to eat on the trail. I tried their award-winning Smoothies for breakfast as well and they were quite good and surprisingly filling.

I decided to sleep in my hiking shirt since it has a velcro chest pocket where I could place my damp socks to dry. I had purchased some 2nd Skin at the outfitter in Pinedale, WY, on our way out as he didn't have any Leukotape to try. Unfortunately, it didn't seem to work any better than my waterproof bandaids as the jello-like stuff squeezed out from under the “skin” part. This morning I decided to try 2nd Skin with a bandaid over that to hold it all in. We left camp just after 9 and I made it to the 12050' saddle next to Capital Peak (1400' gain) at 10:40. I finally got to see some large wildlife even if it was just a couple deer. The wildflowers (and views) near the top were fabulous – tons of color – and there were mushrooms, too. Huh? I met a Scouter at the top who had just come from the Jamboree and was going to climb Capital Peak the next day and we chatted for 20 minutes. Heading down the other side we came across some blowdown and shortly after that I met the 2 rangers hiking up to take care of it. It's hard to believe they can't use a chainsaw and come in on foot – how inefficient! I passed into an authorized grazing area. I thought horses were bad for trails, but cattle are much worse. A thunderstorm rolled up behind Capital Peak but it stayed just east so all we had to deal with was lots of wind and a few sprinkles. By the time I had made it about halfway on the Ditch Trail, it had cleared up again. The last third of the trail (that has the ditch running along it) was worse than the Pole Creek Trail in the Wind River for monotony, but was thankfully shorter. It did save us from the marshy valley and having to climb out of the valley though. I saw a hummingbird at the trailhead while lunching on my gorp and then we climbed the jeep trail about a mile to reach the Hell Roaring Trail. We thought we missed the spur for Hardscrabble Lake but as we decided to climb toward Williams Lake we saw a sign for it. The trail to the lake had been cleared of trees but once there a lot of blowdown made moving around the lake a pain. We headed west and found what must be the main camping area in just 100 yards. We arrived at 4 from another 10 mile day. I soon discovered the resident beaver family as I saw a parent swimming out in the lake and again later bringing home some dinner (or maybe building supplies?). Good hanging trees were non-existent so I hung over one that had not fallen completely. I was never too concerned about my bag since I was also using an Opsak and tried to clean my hands before I ever handled the outside of the bag. One night in Wyoming I just left it on a large boulder. I had Ramen Pot Pie again since our next camp would be dry, but just a while later we decided to hike out anyway to gain more time at our last loop.

I got up a bit early at 6 to get a sunrise picture over the lake. Thankfully, the weather cooperated this time as the skies were clear. We left at 8 and started up the ridge. I was reminded of how I enjoyed walking along the ridge on the 2 sections of the AT I did, but the views here were more numerous and stunning and the ascent was tougher. I still wasn't having much luck with the 2nd Skin jello stuff staying in place. Even though my blisters were small, the small “skin” pieces that came in the package must need to be just a bit larger to more effectively contain it. I made the 1900' gain to this 12050' saddle in just under 2 hours. What a rewarding view it was, too. The trip downhill became an adventure. I saw and followed 2 cairns, but the only trail I saw was right at the second one and headed back up and along the ridge. After half a mile I decided this must just be a horse trail so I went on a steep off trail descent to cross the headwater valley of Hell Roaring Creek, following animal trails as much as possible. Even below treeline, the vegetation wasn't anywhere near as thick or tall as I'd seen along Avalanche Creek. It took me 40 minutes to make it across and hook up with the trail and it's a good thing I intersected where I did because I soon lost it again in tall, thick weeds. This time I backtracked and finally found where it made a sharp left turn and I was off again, but in many spots it was barely even a track through the heavy vegetation. There was a point where the trail came up next to the creek to expose a nice cascade flowing over conglomerate rock, which was the first time I had seen that in this area. The remainder of the trail went back to being nasty, overgrown, viewless for the most part or eroded. I would avoid going up that trail if at all possible. I made it out to the TH at 1:30 and somehow James beat me by over an hour (he is much quicker than me going downhill) and I didn't even stop for a break except for a few pictures. We headed back to Glenwood Springs to get cleaned up and ate dinner at Rib City (highly recommended).

On Sunday, August 8th, we arrived at the TH and the small lot was packed with us taking the last “normal” slot. We left at 9:30 and really tried to hustle to not get passed. Mission accomplished. We passed a few, but none passed us and we saw lots of people coming down on our way up so we knew it wouldn't be any trouble getting a decent spot. I made it to site 10 in 3.5 hours (2700' gain in 8.5 or so miles), starting with less than 23 total pounds. Once again we were blessed with low water and great hiking weather.

It's pretty wild to have springs within a couple hundred yards of each other outputting 35 degree water as well as 103 degree water. I found a pair of women's slip-on shoes at an empty site so I didn't have to worry about walking the slope to the springs barefoot or keeping my heels bandaged. I went down from 5 to 6:30 and then again from 7:30 to 9:15 with the break for curried tuna couscous. Unlike a normal hottub, I had no discomfort sitting in the pool for long periods of time. I wish I had taken my camera down since it was a nice sunset.

The next morning had a few sprinkles so I stayed in bed until 7. I had a Packit Gourmet Smoothie and prepared for my day hike, a trek up the highest peak on the other side of the valley. There wasn't a good opportunity in the Wind River Range for me to “bag” a peak greater than 13000' so this was my best chance. I left just before 8 with my pack down to just the essentials I thought I could possibly need. I followed an animal trail right of site 16 that curved up and around to eventually cross a small stream. I must have missed a turn I was supposed to take as I ended up too far south so I climbed NW and then N to reach the ridge on the south side of the tarn for which I aimed. I'd been told to go on the north side of the tarn but elected to stay on the south side and keep to as many grassy areas as I could. In a few steep places I almost used all fours, wishing I had the legs, power and agility of the 2 goats I'd seen, but made it to the top with several short rest breaks at 10. However, I quickly discovered I was just south of the peak I really wanted but it was clearly above my skill and comfort level to attempt. Therefore, I was content with 13350'. I was surprised by all the insects at the summit – spiders, ants, butterflies, grasshoppers and bees. You could see for up to 20 miles despite the clouds hovering just above the peaks. In fact, as I started down the south ridge, clouds started moving up the valley. I was trying to meet up with the trail near the pass where I'd been told the Columbines were quite nice (I'd seen very few in CO so far). Light rain started so I donned my jacket and gloves. The rain picked up and visibility dropped to 100' at times so I decided to drop down more as I stepped across the boulder fields, which I quite like doing. Once I got below most of the fields I could see across the valley somewhat so I started going horizontal again. However, the rain picked up once more and I still wasn't seeing any Columbines so I headed down again and spotted 6 hikers going up the trail as I came around a rise. I made my way down to the trail and walked the mile or so back to camp, arriving at 1. I just stripped down to my shoes and pants and walked right into the pool. After some more light rain, the skies cleared again 45 minutes later so I went back to my site so I wouldn't burn and to hang things to dry. I also ate a bag of trail mix even though I wasn't hungry. It clouded up again so I went down for a couple more hours before dinner of red beans, rice & sausage.

I went down to watch the sunset and then the nighttime lightshow that became a highlight for the trip began. The clouds had cleared away and the moon was new so the heavens were fully revealed. It was the first time I could easily see the bands of the Milky Way and satellites zooming across the sky. Then the Perseids started. Unlike my previous experience with them many years ago where I saw 9 all going the same direction, the 10 I saw this night were all going different directions. That show stopper that put us all in awe was like a huge roman candle that spanned an arc of about 45 degrees. Those of us in the pool were like, “Did we really just see that?!” I went back to my site about 10 & moved my pads outside & put on my puffy clothes so I could stare at the sky some more and take some pictures. I would have just slept out there but didn't want to bring my bag out to keep my feet warm in case of dew or rain later. I went to bed at midnight.

I awoke at 6 and got a nice sunrise shot over the spring. Then we got packed up and left at 8. It took us 3:25 to get down – I knew we were trying to go slow but I had no idea we were being THAT successful. I did see my only snake of the trip and some neat pink fungus. The lot was packed when we reached it – there were a lot of day hikers there. We went to a rec center for a shower and then headed to Denver to catch my flight home.

Things of note: I never used my DEET or headnet on these trips. I used 11 oz of Heet for over 8 days of meals. James uses cut-down Subway bags, which could also be used as feet VBLs, for his boiled water meals. My BIC somehow got moist once and wouldn't spark – I should practice drying it or use a fingercot/balloon to keep it protected.

Overall, I think James and I complemented one another well though he wished I talked more. :) I got exposed to some tough terrain and did pretty well. While hiking the weather was near perfect except for my summit descent so I still need to experience dealing with storms and snow while on the trail and how I'd deal with my layering and feet. I'm looking forward to having the chance to get back to the Rockies.

Michael L
(mpl_35) - MLife

Locale: The Palouse
nice on 08/17/2010 08:12:47 MDT Print View

watched "most" of the videos on your most recent excursion.

Sounds like you had a great time. Thanks for taking the time to share.

John Whynot

Locale: Southeast Texas
Re: Newbie in Maroon Bells Wilderness on 08/17/2010 10:38:31 MDT Print View

>>It's hard to believe they can't use a chainsaw and come in on foot – how inefficient!

It's a wilderness area, so no power tools are allowed for trail maintenance.

I was planning on hiking the Avalanche Creek Trail earlier that week, but decided not to drive my rental car up the road. Looks like you guys had a great trip...

Michael Ray
(topshot) - MLife

Locale: Midwest
Re: Re: Newbie in Maroon Bells Wilderness on 08/17/2010 11:18:45 MDT Print View

> It's a wilderness area, so no power tools are allowed for trail maintenance.

It just seems for the amount of work rangers need to do, they'd be the ones to get exceptions. As much as I hate to say it, thank goodness for the horse campers there or it would be really bad.