Crested Butte and Black Canyon of the Gunnison

After many years as residents of Colorado, neither of us had ever visited Crested Butte. So this July we rented a condo for a week and corrected this oversight. We drove our AWD Traverse just in case we encountered some bumpy roads. This was the best decision of the trip as many trailheads and scenic drives would have been difficult to impossible to access in our low slung Saab.

The worst packing decision of the trip was being unprepared for water crossings on hikes. Again because of the big snow last winter, the runoff was still high and we missed some great hikes because we didn't bring our Keen sandals. (And even under normal conditions, many trails have stream crossings without footbridges, unlike Rocky.) But despite this error, we found no shortage of things to do and were already planning our next visit before this trip was finished.

We drove to Crested Butte Monday morning from around Morrison, after a seeing Chicago with the CSO at Red Rocks the night before. Our first afternoon we settled into our cozy condo which was in the nearby ski village of Mount Crested Butte, a 5 minute drive (or free bus ride) north from the main village of CB. After a yummy lunch back in town at The Last Steep, we did the Wildflower Walk, turning around nearly at Peanut Lake. We loved the wildflowers, the ubiqutous fat tire bikes and the relatively (compared to Estes Park) uncrowded little Victorian town.

Tuesday we were thwarted by water. We ended up skipping hikes either because of the rain, high water on the trail or water or snow on the road. In search of a hike, we ended up driving up all the major northward leading gulch roads, all unpaved (Gothic, Washington and Slate River), as well taking the road around Mount Crested Butte. On the Washington Gulch Road, we made it as far as the Painter Boy Mine where we watched more Rufous Hummingbirds than we'd ever seen before feeding and feuding in an area rich with wildflowers. In spite of the wet weather and low clouds, the views and flowers were wonderful.

Hillside of wildflowers near Crested Butte

Finally we decided to head west on Rt 12 to Lake Irwin, only to find more rain and high water. We kept heading west on Kebler Pass Road under drizzly skies, but Mike could no longer stand being in the car. So we decided to just get a wee bit wet and hiked from the Cliff Creek Trailhead into the West Elk Wilderness, hoping to reach Beckwith Pass. In the end, we got absolutely drenched, but kept going hoping the rain would lift, but not considering what a mess the trail would be on our way down. Oops!

I couldn't handle another day of wet and muddy, so we opted to check out the Black Canyon of the Gunnison on Wednesday. The visitor center had a good intro film and outside a volunteer let us look at the sun through a helioscope. It was a great little drive along the south rim and we did most all of the hikes and viewpoints along the way, totaling about 5 miles.  Clouds came in at sunset, along with an awesome lightening show across the valley in Montrose on our way home.

Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park

Thunderstorm over Montrose as we left Black Canyon of the Gunnison NP

The rest of our stay in Crested Butte the weather cooperated. Thursday we hiked to Scarp Ridge for a full day of hiking with fantastic views all the way out to Maroon Bells and Snowmass Wilderness. Our thanks to Dick B. for recommending this hike!

View from Scarp Ridge

Wildflowers on the Scarp Ridge hike
Friday we drove up Slate River Road Gulch to Paradise Divide, after which the road was still closed. We then worked our way across very narrow and winding roads to the Washington Gulch trail for more spectacular views and tons of wildflowers. We made one more trip up Gothic Road and checked out the RMBL. Look for their schedule of talks if you go. We were sad to miss one on marmots.

Wildflowers on the Washington Gulch hike

Our drive home took us across Kebler Pass road again, where we'll return this fall when the aspens are changing.  Then we headed up Hwy 133 where just north of Paonia is a neat little waterfall right off the road to the west. Definitely worth a stop and leg stretch. We exited I-70 at Hwy 131 just to try a new route, then took Co Rd 1 (aka Trough Road) along Gore Canyon to Kremmling and up to Grand Lake where traffic was stopped by a major moose jam. Two large racked bulls were right on the side of the road minutes before we arrived, but we did get a pretty good look at them in the willows.

If you're planning to hike in Crested Butte, we would highly recommend the 2010 book Crested Butte Colorado 60 Scenic Day Hikes by Ann and Mike Poe. In addition (or instead if you don't want to spend $25 for the book) the Latitude 40 degrees maps Recreation Topo Map for Crested Butte and Taylor Park is indispensable and well worth the $12.

Click here for more/larger photos from this trip.

Black Lake Hike

Susan, Lauren and Steve at Alberta Falls
Glacier Gorge, in Rocky Mountain National Park, is Mike's favorite area for hiking in Rocky. It has a little something for everyone -- easy hikes to Alberta Falls and Mills Lake, and longer, more challenging hikes to Black Lake and Frozen Lake. 

Usually the trail to Black Lake is clear by mid-July, but the winter of 2010-2011 was an exceptional snow year for most of the Colorado Rockies. About a mile before Black Lake, we started to encounter a lot of deep and slushy stuff, but it was worth the extra effort and mosquitoes to get part way up the drainage into Black Lake.

Yellow-bellied Marmot on the trail
One of the highlights of the trip was observing a particularly nonchalant marmot on along the trail between Mills Lake and Black Lake.

Snow on the trail

We especially enjoyed having Steve & Lauren along on this hike. Living in Breckenridge, they are one of the few people we hike with who actually have more oxygen while visiting us in Estes.

Taking a break at "Mike's Rock" in the drainage above Black Lake
 Click here for more pictures from this hike.