Summiting both Maroon Bells and Pyramid Peak left us exhausted, so we opted to stay in Aspen before our next hike. Thankfully, the Snowmass Creek trailhead was only 13 miles away. We began our ride in the afternoon and were pleased to find the route almost entirely connected by bike paths. Still, those 13 miles and 1500 ft of elevation gain took nearly all of my energy to complete. We setup camp by the trailhead and went to bed early for the long day ahead of us.
Our hike began at 2:45 am, and we slowly made our way down the long approach to Snowmass Lake where the real climbing begins. The majority of peak baggers would backpack into the lake and summit on separate days, but we were attempting to do all 22 miles in one day. By the light of our headlamps, we meandered through the woods. At the six mile mark, we hit the “log jam” and crossed a creek using various trees that had fallen by avalanche. Around 6:00, we reached mile 9. Dawn had just broken, and we were greeted with views of Snowmass glittering off the reflection of Snowmass Lake.
We ate breakfast in silence while taking in the views and studying the route we would be climbing. Then, we were off towards the summit. The trail wound through willow bushes along the shore and opened into a pile of boulders. We rock hopped while climbing which was technically simple, yet tedious.
The boulders gave way to a faint trail of dirt and gravel, and we continued up and up. We crested a hill which revealed another massive boulder field stretching all the way to the ridge. Our objective was to gain the ridge and follow it to the summit. We hopped, climbed, and navigated rocks of all shapes and sizes as we made our way up. The grade was relentless, and I had to stop and take a breath every few steps. Maybe it was the fact that we started before 3 am, maybe it was the steepness of the boulder scramble. Whatever it was, I felt pooped. Nevertheless, we continued on and up and up and up until we finally stood on the ridge leading to the summit.
The final push was a rock scramble with some exposure and Class 3 maneuvers. Compared to the last couple summits, however, the climb seemed simple. Or perhaps my skills and comfort level are adjusting to the circumstances. Regardless, it took about 35 minutes on the ridge to the summit where we collapsed for about 25 minutes. Trailhead to summit took about 8 hours.
From the summit, we could see the Maroon Bells and Pyramid Peak through the smoky haze. Capitol Peak, the next summit en route, was also in view. After pictures and a brief rest, we began the long process of retracing our steps down the mountain.
We carefully made our way down the ridge to the point where we had crossed over, then started boulder hopping down the mountain. Picking through boulders was, unsurprisingly, a lot easier going down than up.
The next section was a bit slower and more challenging as we did our best not to slip with gravel and dirt underfoot. My least favorite moment of the day thus far was slipping only to get a handful of thistle thorns in my hand. Well, at least they weren’t in my butt.
After what seemed like an eternity, we boulder hopped the final section and wound through the willow bushes along the lake. It was already past 1, and we still had 9 miles to get back to the trailhead.
At this point, we both popped in our headphones and let podcasts entertain us back to the trailhead. Though we were both feeling the long day, we enjoyed the views coming back to camp that we hadn’t seen in the dark. We crossed the log jam with just 6 miles to go.
Not long after, the thistle thorns in my hand were no longer the most painful part of my day. One step on a stick caused my left ankle to roll inwards, and I fell into the middle of the trail from pain. The swelling started immediately. I’m really good at rolling my ankle, but usually the left one is dependable. Damn stick. After a few moments and many choice words, I made it to my feet and continued hobbling down the trail.
My pace slowed, and I tried to let Roman Mars’s voice soothe me as I listened to a 99% Invisible podcast episode. (Pretty much my favorite podcast, click here to check it out!) I was grateful for easy terrain, but the trail seemed to go on forever.
I rejoiced when I saw cars in the distance parked at the trailhead and my camp for the night. It had been just over 14 hours since our hike began. I immediately took some ibuprofen and started snacking. Not long after, a man who we had met the night before invited us to his camp for beers. Days like this require beers. We were thrilled and oh so grateful for the refreshment and company. Will was eager to hear our stories and delighted us with his own tales of adventure travel.
We went to bed early and slept in late, just a short ride ahead of us for the next day. We still had a decision to make – were we ready to attempt Colorado’s most infamous and dangerous 14er? Should we ride to Capitol Peak?
If you’re keeping track…
792 Miles Biking / +82,500 ft elevation gain
238 Miles Hiking / +98,800 ft elevation gain
32 – 14,000+ ft Summits
We are Bekah and Sean, out on an adventure to summit as many CO 14ers as possible this summer and reaching them via bicycle! Follow along here or on Instagram as we complete our Summer of Summits.