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"Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature's peace will flow into 
you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, 
and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves."
~ John Muir

This is another hike that left me both exhilarated and mellowed out.

I've gone up and down this trail through the gulch between Quail Mountain and Mount Hope many times. I used to be able to run part of the way up and all of the way down. With my Granny Knees I have to walk all of it now.

The scenery is just as beautiful, challenging, and fun as it ever was. Now I notice even more wide fantastic views and little details than I did when I could run this trail.

My beginning elevation was 9,500 feet but I went down to 9,200 feet both out and back. Hope Pass, the high point today, is 12,600 feet elevation. That's a gain/loss of 3,400 feet each direction. The distance from my starting point to the pass was a little over 5½ miles, which included some backtracking outbound. The distance on the return was about the same because I took a different, slightly longer trail the last two miles. 

Beautiful field of wildflowers less than a mile from the pass -- and look at that clear blue sky!

All the photos on this and the next three pages are from today's hike.


Even though there wasn’t supposed to be any chance of rain today I got up at 5:30 AM so I could get up the mountain early and back down before the inevitable afternoon clouds rolled in.

"No rain" was the forecast Leadville, not Hope Pass. It frequently rains at and below the pass in the afternoon in summer. Several times I've been up there in sleet or snow during the race. In August, for Pete's sake! It's not even a 14er.

Today's weather was just about perfect, though -- upper 40s in the morning to low 70s in the afternoon (cooler on the mountain), sunny, few to no clouds, and breezy.

Lake Creek at Parry Peak CG; the creek is 25-30 feet wide here and flowing fast.

Because Lake Creek is running so high and fast from late snow melt this year, I didn’t even attempt to cross it south of Twin Lakes on the race course. I know how dangerous that crossing can be this time of year.

I aimed farther upstream where there are bridges.

Previously we’ve been able to cross a wooden footbridge about two miles west of the town of Twin Lakes on Hwy. 82 and use a trail to connect to the Big/Little Willis trail used on the LT100 course. A friend warned us that bridge was out and to use one even farther west at Parry Peaks Campground.

That’s where we went, but on the way back today I discovered there’s an easier access across the creek at a “gaging station” ¼ mile east of the campground entrance:

Seems to me it should be "gauging" and not "gaging" but that's the way it's spelled on the sign on the little green building you can see in the picture above.

We saw the bridge on the way to Parry Peak CG this morning but I wasn't sure if it would connect to the trail I wanted. It does. I'll use that bridge when I come back to hike the trail up Big Willis Gulch next week.

On the way to the campground we stopped at the parking area where the previous wooden foot bridge is “out.” Oh, boy, is it! It’s in several groups of pieces on both sides of the roaring creek. This is one of several washed-out sections we saw:

There’s a new metal bridge sitting nearby on dry land. It looks funny in its location. Guess the Forest Service is waiting for the creek to subside before installing it (good idea):

We drove back through the campground, which is in a fee area, and across the creek on a sturdy vehicle bridge. This is a nice, shady campground, good for folks with small RVs and tents.

We were able to drive part way back a gravel road (82A) paralleling the creek before running into a locked gate. Jim turned around there and I began my hike with Cody at that spot:

Maps we consulted showed a trail continuing on from the end of the road shown above. With Jim gone, I had to go on faith that I'd find the trail(s) that connect to the trail with which I'm familiar that goes up to Hope Pass.

In about ¼ mile I came to another little road that does go down to the gauging station. Good -- I can use that bridge next week and not have to deal with the fee area.


Between the gauging station and the old washed-out bridge there is a beautiful canyon with high rock walls where the creek makes several curves and drops down. The falls and chutes are really great with all the water rushing through right now: 




I spent a lot of time peering over the edges for about a quarter mile on the way out and back. I loved it. Most of these pictures are in the afternoon when the sun was more directly overhead and the walls made fewer shadows:




Very cool. Gotta show this to Jim.

Soon after the gravel road turned into a very muddy trail there was an unmarked intersection. Oh, dear. Now what?

Most of the footprints went right. So did I. The trail crossed a wet, marshy area with a good-sized beaver lodge, then headed decidedly UP the side of Twin Peaks Mountain.

Beavers like this pond; Lake Creek is between the pond and Mt. Elbert.

I went about ¼ mile and decided I must be on the wrong trail.

I've run/hiked the trail from the old bridge only a couple times previously -- in 1999 during the LT100 training runs and another time a couple years after that. I remember it as being closer to the creek and in the valley through aspen groves, not going up Twin Peaks.

View of southern flank of Mt. Elbert from across Lake Creek

I turned around, went back to the trail intersection, and followed the second choice, which did stay at the same elevation. Very soon it came to the old washed-out bridge. Perfect, I thought. Now I’ll be able to find the trail I want.

Not. It quickly dead-ended at a couple of campsites with fire rings. I simply couldn't find the trail from my faded memory so long ago.

Nice, shady place for Cody-gator to swim

OK, back to the other, sloppy trail with more footprints.

I just kept going up and up and when I came to another trail intersection about ½ mile up, there was a sign pointing left (and down) to Twin Lakes and right (up) to Big and Little Willis Trails (next photo).

Then I knew where the trails went.

The lower one intersects the LT100 course at the bottom of the climb up to Hope Pass; there is a large metal sign there that says “Closed to All Vehicles.” If I went that way I’d have to go downhill and then climb back up.

Outbound I went right and up;  I returned several hours later via the lower trail.

I assumed the higher trail was the one that comes out on a bridge over Willis Creek part way up the LT100 course.

The many times I’ve climbed up to Hope Pass in the last fourteen years, I’ve always wondered where that trail went! I decided to find out.

I stayed right and climbed higher and higher. Except for some steep sections with loose grit/rocks, it was a very nice trail through pleasant aspen and pine forest. There are also some good views from this trail of Twin Lakes; you don’t get that on the Big and Little Willis trails until you get above treeline. 



When I reached about 10,000 feet elevation the trail was more flat, contouring around the NE side of Twin Peaks in Willis Gulch.

I could hear Willis Creek long before I could see it far below.

In about half a mile I came to the bridge crossing the creek – and there was the trail going up to Hope Pass that I am so familiar with!


Continued on next page: back on familiar trail to Hope Pass -- wait till you see the beautiful views above treeline!

Happy trails,

"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil, and Cody the Ultra Lab

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© 2011 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil