Runtrails' Web Journal
Previous       2011 Journal Topics       Home       Next



"Keep close to Nature's heart . . . and break away, once in a while, and climb a
mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean."
~ John Muir

This was another beautiful weather day for a hike in the mountains for Cody and me and a long bike ride for Jim.

Temperatures ranged from the upper 30s to low 70s at 10,200 feet in Leadville and cooler but comfortable higher up. It was sunny all day with a few white clouds, breezy, and the humidity was less than 10%.  Rocky Mountain weather doesn't get any better than this!

Approaching the pond below Willis Lake:  what a pretty day!

Early (for us) this morning we drove part way to Columbine Mine on Lost Canyon Road. I dropped Jim off there so he could ride his bike back to Leadville on part of the LT100 bike route. Including some additional mileage he rode in town, he racked up about 32 miles. I'll write more about our cycling adventures in another entry.

All the photos in this entry are ones I took today.


After Jim got started I drove to the trailhead we found two days to cross Lake Creek at the gauging station. It is along the south side of the road on Rt. 82 west of Twin Lakes between the MM 77 and the Parry Peak CG entrance:

Cody and I started our hike to Willis Lake at 8:35 AM and took a little over 7 hours to go about 11 miles. Jim had the GPS so I don't know the exact distance or the elevation where I turned around at Willis Lake. I do know the elevation at the start/finish is about 9,200 feet.

I liked starting at the gauging station better than driving through the campground and starting there. The distance to the main trail is about the same from either trailhead but today I didn't have to deal with a fee area.

The parking is very limited above the gauging station; get there early if you hike from there. I was early enough that only one other vehicle was parked when I arrived. Our truck is in the center of the next photo, which I took from across the creek:

Cody and I walked down two sets of rough iron steps, shown below.

The steps are hard on dogs' feet because sharp points of metal are poking up and their claws get caught in the holes. Cody remembers steps like these; he eyeballed them, then wisely chose to walk over the rocks and dirt outside the steps until he absolutely had to get back on them near the bottom:

We crossed the creek on a wooden bridge above the concrete “dam,” shown three photos above.

I admired the rushing water going through the gorge just downstream again, both outbound and on the return  – absolutely gotta take Jim to see that! I showed more pictures of it at this link and I'll include more at the end of this entry.

About 3/4 mile from the start I came to one of the trail intersections I mentioned in the entry about my hike to Hope Pass (same link as above).

I took the upper trail marked Big/Little Willis Gulch both out and back today. It traverses the NE side of Twin Peaks to reach the Continental Divide Trail/Willis Gulch Trail/LT100 course at a bridge across Willis Creek at about 10,000 feet.

I showed a few pictures from that stretch of trail in the Hope Pass entry. Here are a few different ones I took today:

Beaver lodge in wet area



View of Willis Creek just before the bridge (in background)
and intersection with the LT100 course

After crossing the bridge over Willis Creek I followed Trail #1468 -- part of the LT100 course and formerly part of the Colorado Trail before it was rerouted several years ago -- for about ½ mile before turning right at the intersection where the two Willis trails split:



At the split I followed the trail pointing to Big Willis Gulch. It is marked #1473 on my maps.

I’ve gone up to Hope Pass on the Little Willis Trail (#1468) more than two dozen times since 1998 but I’ve never, ever been up the Big Willis Trail. I would guess that very few folks who come for the LT100 run have ever been up this trail, either.

I was looking forward to a new adventure and I found one!

Willis Lake

Although this is an interesting trail, I still prefer the route up to Hope Pass. I think it's more scenic, the trail is less rocky, and you can keep going on the other side. I didn't see any obvious trails at the end of the gulch (photo above) to get over the ridges and maps don't show trails on the other sides.

What surprised me the most is how different the two gulches are, considering how close they are in proximity. I felt like I was in an entirely different mountain range today.


Big Willis Trail (TR 1473) follows Big Willis Creek much of the way up Willis Gulch to a large basin with an upper and a lower lake.

That aspect of the trail was nice because Cody and I both love creeks.

Willis Lake, the larger upper lake, sits at about 12,000 feet between Mount Hope on the east, Twin Peaks (elev. 13,333 feet), Rinker Peak (13,783 feet) to the west, and the broad SE shoulder of La Plata Peak to the south.

LaPlata has at least three high points. The highest is 14,336 feet but it is obscured from this trail by Rinker Peak. The high ridge I could see at the end of the basin is about the same height as Twin and Rinker Peaks.

Here's a picture I took from the truck as I drove to the trailhead this morning (I know, I know . . .). Although you can't see the trails or lakes, it basically shows where I hiked today:

One of the Twin Lakes is in the foreground. Lake Creek flows into Twin Lakes through the valley from the right, which is to the west. I was pointing the camera to the south when I took this picture.

Twin Peaks (#3) is to the right; see the two little points = summits under the number? LaPlata Peak is behind Twin Peaks to the right. The ridge on its SE shoulder is the peak you can see in the distance between #3 (Twin Peaks) and #2 (Mount Hope). You can't see Rinker Peak in that picture; it's almost an extension of Twin Peaks.

Hope Pass is between Mount Hope (#2) and Quail Mountain (#1). That's where the LT100 course goes, the hike I described two days ago.

I started my hike today, and the one on Sunday to Hope Pass, out of view to the right of that photo and steadily climbed through the forest on the north (toward the camera) and east (to the left) sides of Twin Peaks. The gulch you can see coming down through the woods between #2 and #3 to the valley is Willis Gulch. The LT100 race course goes to the left of that gulch and follows a smaller gulch (Little Willis) to Hope Pass. Today I went more straight between Mount Hope and Twin Peaks, following Big Willis Gulch.

Hope that made some sense! Now back to the trail up Big Willis Gulch . . .

Above and below:  nice shady, mostly smooth trail

The trail starts off like a walk in the park – fairly wide, relatively smooth, through beautiful pine trees, with a pretty creek alongside. Part of the trail was grassy, wet, and/or muddy but not a real mess.

The trail crosses the creek several times on its way up the gulch. I walked through the ankle- to calf-deep water a couple times instead of risking falling off uneven log “bridges” like the one below left:


About ½ mile up the trail narrows and ascends rather sharply right next to the creek, which becomes a series of noisy cascades and falls. This is a pretty section but the footing becomes much rougher with rocks and roots.




Above and below:  wild roses brighten the woods





The trail goes up through the tree trunks; a little branch of the creek is on the left.

Continued on next page:  the trail changes character through the meadows and willows above 11,000 feet

Happy trails,

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

Previous       Next

© 2011 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil