Friday, September 5, 2014

Hiking West Maroon to Hasley Pass Loop

Sept 4th, 2014

Our hike for today was a bit more ambitious than yesterday. We were hiking the West Maroon to Hasley Pass Loop – listed in our guide book as a 5.51 mile loop, starting at 10,417 feet and gaining 1,816 feet in elevation to top out at 12,121 feet at Hasley pass Summit. The trail description said that this was easy and moderate with one steep section up and one steep section down. Average hiking  time was about 3.5 hours.

Note- the West Maroon trail is a very popular tail, about 11 miles in length, that continues over West Maroon Pass to Aspen.  We would be hiking just the first section of this trail, before turning up to get to Hasley Pass, and looping back around.

But first, we had to get to the trail head, located 14 miles and 45 minutes (that says something about the speed on this road) down Gothic Road, from the visitors center in Crested Butte. Gothic Road is just the continuation of CR 317, the main road that goes through Crested Butte and Mt. Crested Butte.


As you run out of paved road, the road becomes an unpaved, narrow road that……


Snakes its way right along the edge of the cliff side, with barely enough room for one car (or truck). I held my breath the whole way! And, fortunately, we did not encounter any on-coming traffic!


Though we did stop on the road to hop out to get this picture…..the scenery was spectacular!

Continuing on Gothic Road, you drive through the little town of Gothic, which seems to exist only to house the Rocky Mt. Biological Laboratory. This would have been very interesting to visit when open. Gothic road continues  over Schofield Pass to the West Maroon Trailhead.


We had left our camper about 8:30 am, and set out on the trail about 9:50am. The trail started in beautiful forest……


Quickly opening up to meadow. This is the remnants of an old cabin, with the trail winding right around it. What a beautiful (if remote) location for a cabin!


Some wildflowers were still blooming –

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The purple spikes looked like Fireweed, the blue, Lupines? IMG_6321

Crested Butte is known as the “Wildflower Capital” and this trail would be glorious in early Summer, with flowers blooming waist high…….


The trail followed along a stream (though higher up the hillside) with beautiful waterfalls and the sound of rushing water. We kept stopping to just soak up this beautiful countryside! The weather was lovely -  cool, warming with the effort of hiking. A bit cloudy in the distance, with a chance of afternoon showers.


We hiked along this first section of trail, noticing the effect of the increased elevation (starting at 10,400 feet). The higher elevation makes your heart beat faster and you find yourself a bit ‘breathless’. On level trail, or with just a gentle incline, we were managing pretty well. Once we turned up for the assent to Hasley Pass……Oooh boy! This was the section of ‘steeper trail’ and the elevation was kicking our butts! But we just took it slow…..stopping to catch our breaths, much more often than seemed reasonable, but we kept making steady upwards progress.


By just after 12 noon, and before the final push upwards, we knew that we needed a break, so we stopped on this nice rock outcropping to have lunch.


With a bit more effort - actually, the worst of the uphill was behind us……..


We made it to the summit!


The pictures can not do justice to the amazing views!

After a bit of time at the summit, we were ready to head back. Now this is where it gets a bit tricky……The guide book had us backtracking just a bit, then it said “ No junction or trail here. Go right, cross country from here for the return route”. So we set off cross country, without a trail to follow. We did have our trail GPS with our return point marked.


We followed what seemed like a trail of some sort for a ways, before we knew that we needed to drop down off this ‘bench’ to a lower level.

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This seemed like the most accessible route down. If you look closely in the middle of this picture you can see a rocky ‘drainage’. We scrambled down this (me on my bottom for some of the ways)! I made Fred take a picture once we were down!

We continued cross country, picking back up on a horse trail, following our progress on the GPS, and noting our relative position to where we wanted to be. At some point, it looked like we had gone too far, and had missed the point where we should have started down to meet up with the main trail. The guide book was a bit vague about this landmark, noting “It is easy to miss your turn south. There is no sign . The visible trail continues west….A shallow gully heading south is your clue”. We either missed it, or we did not go far enough…..We still don’t know! We decided to turn back and see where we could head down.

A note here – it was now about 2:30 pm, the cloudy sky had turned into a sprinkle, and  the wind was chilly. We stopped to put on our fleeces and our rain jackets and pants. 

Our GPS did give us an orientation to the trail that we were looking for, and we knew that it was right below us. We backtracked and never did see where one could reasonably assume the guide book had meant for us to go. Looking for a ‘shallow gully’……We saw half a dozen of them!

We were standing on the hillside, looking in the direction of the trail, when we noticed some people (in the way distance down the hill) on the trail that we needed to be on. We set out, with this as our destination……

Hiking down …..through knee to waist deep vegetation, slippery from the rain…..side stepping down the hill. Me holding tight to Fred’s hand, following his footsteps. Fred is good at this sort of thing. He kept giving us a landmark….”See that tall spikey thing? We will walk down to that. “ Then on to the next tall spikey thing….Aiming for the path that we had glimpsed.


This picture is taken looking back up the hill that we had come down. We started, not at the top ridge, but at the clump of fir trees just below the peak, sort of in the top, center of the picture. Just guessing….it was about 1/2 mile and 600 feet down.


When we finally made it back to the marked trail…….the relief was overwhelming! Enough to make us both want to cry! I was so glad for Fred’s hand, always there to help me all the way down hill!

We sat down……I was pretty shaky……and ate a granola bar. it was about 8 tenths of a mile back to the truck, but good even trail, and downhill!

All done, our GPS indicated that we had hiked 6.9 miles, in 6 hr 25 minutes. Temperature at the truck – 43 degrees with a steady patter of rain. We were tired, chilled, but so glad to be back!

Reflecting on the hike…… The hike, itself, was spectacular! We had seldom seen such beautiful scenery. Most of the trail was pretty easy….the difficulty came on the steeper sections due to the elevation. In hindsight, we should have just backtracked on the marked trail, rather than head off cross country. But we were feeling up for an adventure.and we thought that the trail intersections would be easier to spot.

There are so many emotions……..Relief! and confidence in our ability to keep calm and find our way using the GPS. Lack of confidence in unmarked trails and guide book descriptions. In my mind…..the host of “What ifs”, creating a real sense of anxiety. But, confidence in our physical capabilities…..after all, we did complete almost 7 miles of hiking, some over very uneven ground, with an elevation gain of over 1,800 feet, and all starting at an elevation that left us breathless!

Mostly, I had a strong desire for a hot shower and a warm dinner and an evening spent curled up in a cozy camper wrapped in a blanket!    : )

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