I think I may have just backpacked into the most scenic place in Colorado that I have ever been to. In fact, I think the beauty and general scenery of this area rivals Glacier in some aspects.
We got a later start because the Gothic road was closed due to snow and I had to back track towards Crested Butte and take the Washington Gulch Road to Paradise Divide and then over to the trailhead. Typically, most people would take the Gothic road to Schofield Pass and then the trailhead. I knew as of June 13 there was snow blocking the Gothic road, but I gambled that a week later it would be open, I lost. No worries though, as the Washington Gulch road is a jaw dropping drive with amazing scenery. Paradise Divide at the top is an awesome area, with some unreal first come basis campsites (I would utilize one after my backpack).There were a few sketchy spots with some snow lingering, but nothing too crazy and not closed.
After some quick final packing at the East Fork Trailhead, we were on the trail at 11:30, generally not an ideal time to be shooting for a pass at 12,500 feet, but there was still not a cloud in the sky when we started. The climb up to West Maroon Pass is spectacular and the trail is in superb condition. I could not stop taking pictures of the landscape behind me, as I climbed. This was actually a good thing for me though, as the climb really killed me. I don’t know if it was the long drive the night before and lack sleep, or maybe the elevation, but I was fatigued going up that pass. The pass was perhaps the highlight of the backpack. The views towards the Aspen direction were absolutely stunning. From the pass, it was a quick descent to Crater Lake. A large portion of this route was wet, muddy and little rocky there were two wet relatively swift crossings of the primary creek in that area too. I had to carry Cup for the second one and just wear my boots because the first crossing nearly swept her down stream. I am not sure if this creek was just a little choked with snow melt or some recent rain, but it was fast moving. The mud and wet crossings were worth it though, as Crater Lake is a photogenic little gem to hike to from that direction.
You can only camp at designated/numbered campsites on Crater Lake and fires are not allowed anytime of the year. There are a total of 11 sites and we got site 9. At first the campsite did not pique much excitement in me, but then I realized that the rushing water noise was not a nearby creek, but a several hundred foot cascading waterfall coming down the sheer cliff overlooking my campsite. What a pleasant surprise! One of my most scenic backcountry sites to date! The usual camp chores and a little bit of a walk for water before dinner and then it was lights out for me and the pups by 8:00 p.m.
We slept 11 wonderful hours before breaking camp and heading back for the West Maroon Pass. The energy level, strength and breathing was much better on the way out. I think sleeping at 10k helped with that. The wet boots after the crossings were a little bit annoying, but I took an extended break to dry the socks and insoles out a little. After the big climb, it was a quick an uneventful hike back to the East Fork Trailhead.
There are a lot more rules than normal for this wilderness area, so be sure to read them before you arrive. Some notable ones include where dogs can go, no fires at most lakes or above 11k and bear canisters required for overnight trips into the backcountry. You also have to fill out a permit and itinerary (free) at the trailhead. A little early for wildflowers, however, awesome by AZ standards. You can tell this place has some potential for amazing wildflowers when the season hits.
A little early in season