23 July 2014

Capitol-Snowmass: Snowmass Lake

White River National Forest

Locate the trailhead.


DAY 1 | DAY 2 | DAY 3 | DAY 4

Day 3. Another dry night and the bench for sunset watching is now a bench for the sunrise. The same mountains are fringed with light from the new sun as glowed red the evening before. I have decided to have a short day after two 12 mile days, so there is time to paint in the morning. A couple people come up from the other sites for the water that runs past mine. They think it is a spring, but I am suspicious it is just an underground outlet for Snowfield Lake above. I watched a couple waterfalls tumble a few tens of feet and disappear into the rocks without even a splash in the Avalanche drainage yesterday. The water reappears eventually below, but it is not a spring. It is a little late by the time I get started and promptly lose the trail at the creek crossing.

Geneva Lake
Geneva Lake in mid-morning, still with a few fish jumping, from the spur to site 4.

creek above the lake
Willows above the lake extend to a row of pines and then everything gets rocky.


I follow trail up the creek through the willows a little and it eventually vanishes. The map indicates no travel along the creek, only crossing. I must have followed the route of people looking for rocks to hop. I return and yank off the boots and plunge into the ice cold creek. It is not wide and just deep enough not to trust waterproof boots to keep it out, but my feet are hurting and ready to cramp by the time I step onto the other bank. It makes the socks and shoes more inviting. The hike up through the trees is pleasant, but the high slopes of meadow and sparse tree is even better.

Devil's Rockpile
The subject of my sunset and early morning sun views. This peak has no name on my map, but the part of it hidden by trees is labeled "Devils Rockpile". I could see that applying to it all.

Fravert Basin in front of Maroon Bells
A trail on the far side of a creek in a steep ditch seems to be going my way in front of Maroon Bells and Fravert Basin.

There is a tall row of rocks piled up across a good trail to my left, so I skip that. The trail drops down into the creek where a heavily leaning sign sticks out of a snow field to mark the trail junction beneath. Now the trail is particularly crowded, as most people on the popular Maroon-Snowmass loop take this cutoff trail and skip Geneva Lake. The people at the lake seemed to be fishermen, mountain climbers, or on a wide selection of loops. Now everyone is talking about some aspect that shows they are on Maroon-Snowmass. My trail heads up under the snow and I almost miss that it also crosses back over the creek. There is another line of rocks blocking off the other end of a bit of trail just before one more stream crossing and from a little bit above I can see that someone has actually moved the junction from an area that is clear and easy to find to this spot where the snow lasts the longest and once it is finally gone, a stream can help obscure the correct route.

hikers cluster at a creek crossing near the junction
A couple groups of Maroon-Snowmass loop hikers stop for water. The trail junction is under the snow on the creek while the old junction is out in the middle of the flat.

A small cloud of a suspicious sort is developing to the southwest and one conversation turns to weather. It is on the far side of a ridge and I hope it stays over there. For now, it is just smooth hiking through the high meadows and over Trail Rider Pass.

Trail Rider Pass
High meadows and lakes on the way to Trail Rider Pass on the left.

Maroon Bells
There is that mountain again.

deep purple or even black leaves on a composite
Deep purple, almost black leaves, catch the eye.

The top of the pass seems like a good spot for lunch. The weather does not seem to be staying away, but for now it is still very nice. I drop myself right on the line of the ridge pointed at Snowmass Lake, although the other direction is nice too.

Snowmass Lake
Watching weather build up over Snowmass Lake from Trail Rider Pass.

Rockfall on my left draws my attention to the ridge where there is a mountain goat making his way down. He stops every 40 feet or so and looks at me, then continues on. He stops just past the trail, about 30 feet from me, and seems to be hoping I will move, then the nervous prancing turns into a short sprint along the ridge in front of me. He stops again about 30 feet away for a good, long glare, then continues up the ridge line on the other side.

Rocky Mountain goat
A big Rocky Mountain goat coming down the ridge line. It might have been the camera shutter that made him pause.

mountain goat running for it
Making a run for it past the strange creature that will not budge from the ridge line.

stopping to be sure one more time
One last stop to glare back before heading up the ridge.

Snowmass Mountain is another 14k foot mountain and looks like it has a big, easy slope up the east side. I try to check it out as I go down, especially from a point halfway down to the lake that looks like a good stepping off point. The trouble is, I cannot see the mountain yet from this point. Further down, I can and it looks like the scree along the slope is actually boulders and there is one final steep part that could be hard to handle. There does seem to be a trail across the green under a cliff where I was thinking one might cross over from the trail to the bowl. This mountain is a class 3 climb and considered one of the easier ones in the area. I head the rest of the way down to the lake instead. The trail down gets quite steep in places that have little room for switchbacks and a lot of erosion.

hanging out in the green
Downhill is easy at first through the rock and then the meadows.

deep purple leaves
Some more deep purple leaves. Behind it, the same flower has green leaves.

Snowmass Mountain
Snowmass Mountain is the one way in the back on the left.

some eroded bits on the way down the trail
Steep and eroded section of the trail down to Snowmass Lake just before crossing a rock slide.

spider and odd flowers
An odd flower along the path.

The trail splits with one leg going past the lake. I chose that one and find it quite full of campers. I actually plan to have a couple miles more before the end of the day, but stop for another bit of painting. The rain holds off just until I am closing up my watercolor book, then a few drops start. It is so light, it is not noticed back under the trees.

Snowmass Lake and Snowmass Mountain
Snowmass Peak, Hagerman Peak, and Snowmass Mountain behind Snowmass Lake.

big pouring of water over a sloped rock
Quite a bit of water coming out of Snowmass Lake.

There is a makeshift bridge to cross the creek as it exits the lake. It is surprisingly large already. The trail then drops down along the creek to the junction with the part that bypassed the lake and the last bit of the heavily traveled loop that I will travel. The trail then takes off from the creek. The rain is off and on along the way, but never hard even though there is rumbling. There is a group heading up to the lake chatting with a couple of day hikers who attempted Snowmass Mountain along the way. I am never quite certain from what they said if they made it. The day hikers are headed down and have some thoughts on camp spots when the trail rejoins the creek.

Snowmass Creek with meanders and lakes
Coming into view of Snowmass Creek as it meanders and pools below.

log jam in Snowmass Creek
Hiking down with a couple day hikers near a major log jam in Snowmass Mountain.

When we get to a massive log jam shortly after joining the creek, the day hikers start across it. I can see trail continuing downward, but they must know where they are going, so I start across it too. To help confirm they are not just log rolling enthusiasts, another small group of backpackers comes the other way and starts across the trees. It is a strange experience of just wandering from small log to large and around. There is so much room to cross that there is no worry about getting in the way of each other. They point out the campsites a little way down from this and I grab the one with a few trees a little up from the creek, set up the roof in case of more serious rain, and get started on filtering water since I am dry.

a second log jam
The sun comes out on the mountains viewed from the creek near my campsite. This is a second, smaller jam that only goes halfway across the creek and the other end of the trail that continues below the log jam to a ford.

beaver home on a lower lake
Below the campsite, there seems to be another lake with a beaver home in it.

I have a few wildlife visitors in my campsite during the afternoon. First there is a doe and two fawns. Then a jackrabbit comes around. He does not really want to leave and I end up chasing him out from under my roof and away from my pack a couple times before watching him to see what he is going for so I know what to protect overnight. He jumps over my sleeping bag, takes a bite of the rubber on my hiking stick, and even comes over to my shoes and takes a gnaw at the rubber on the toes while I am wearing them. In between visits by this rubber eating jackrabbit, a small buck wanders through sporting a few points. A second jackrabbit also comes and rolls in the dirt a bit before getting chased off by the first.

jackrabbit on my bivy sack
Jackrabbit searching around for something he is sure I have, hopping on my bivy sack.

Continue reading: day 4




©2014 Valerie Norton
Posted 5 August 2014

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