Keller Mountain is another Gore Range summit which is easily accessed from the Bighorn Creek trailhead near Vail, or for Front Range hikers, the Rock Creek TH north of Silverthorne. On the Vail side, a three mile hike places you at an old cabin from which the real ascent begins. Done from this direction, to reach the summit, there is a long ridge walk. The climb should not exceed Class 2+ unless you deliberately find some scrambling you want to do. The trailhead is accessible to all passenger vehicles, but parking is extremely limited. Done by itself or even combined with North Traverse Peak, Keller can be completed as a longer day hike, but there's also an excellent backpack approach possibility as well. From Rock Creek TH, Keller makes a good day-hike by its east ridge and can also be combined with North Traverse Peak. If you do not return by Keller's east ridge, expect a difficult bushwhack in beetle-kill forest. Lidar reduced elevation by 5 feet.
Keller Mtn. South Ridge Route
Old Cabin 10,810 ft.
5.6 mi / 2,775'
From either direction on I-70, take exit 180 about 4 miles east of the main town exit for Vail. As you exit, go south and onto Bighorn Road. Drive east on that road .8 mile and turn left onto Columbine Drive. This road is easy to miss and climbs steeply uphill, goes back under the interstate and then comes to a very small trailhead parking area amid some condo units. There are only six parking slots. If unable to park here, you may need to go back to the Bighorn Road/Interstate interchange area where there's a parking lot on the south side of the interstate, just as Bighorn Road makes its turn to the SE.
A few miles east of the trailhead parking back on Bighorn Road is the Gore Creek Campground, a National Forest Service fee area with vault toilets and water. Reservations may be made for campsites at www.reserveamerica.com. Other than that, there is virtually no other place close by with at-large/primitive camping. Your best bet may be to go up to the summit of Vail Pass and drive down the Black Lakes Road where there is a pullout parking area right where the road is barred from vehicular traffic and becomes the Vail Pass bike trail, east end. This is not a primitive camp location but you may be able to sleep in your vehicle.
Gore Creek CG ›
N 39° 37' 37.13", W 106° 16' 26.43"
Elevation 8750 ft.
National Forest Fee campground
Like the Pitkin Lake trail, this Bighorn trail also starts steeply but relents sooner as it approaches the wilderness boundary/sign. After about ¼ mile and 300 – 400 feet of gain, it becomes much more reasonable as it continues up the drainage passing through beetle-kill forest with a lot of downed trees. It then continues into some nice aspen glades. Near the one hour hiking mark, the trail passes close to the creek after passing through a small fern forest. The spot by the creek is very nice. You could almost camp there, but you’d be right on the trail.
After passing close to Bighorn Creek, the trail wanders away from it into open meadows and then begins a rigorous ascent to an upper level bench. It climbs steadily without switchbacks on quite a bit of loose scree, then swings right to cross a small talus field and then on up to the top of the bench to level off some. Once atop the bench at about 10,400 ft., it levels back out some and then there’s another forested mile to go before arriving at the old cabin marked on the survey map. The trail leads right to the front door of the cabin, much of which is no longer in very good shape, but we suppose it could provide some limited shelter from the rain. About 100 feet down toward the stream from the cabin is a very nice campsite. This cabin and some of the area around it appears to be a private "in-holding" within the National Forest. We saw no "Private Property" signs posted.
As mentioned above, about 100 feet away from the cabin and in the direction of the stream there is a very nice campsite that could accommodate a couple tents. There's also plenty of flat ground in this area. You can also proceed up valley some to open grassy/tundra benches with lower trees between 11,200 and 11,400 ft.
Open This Approach in a New Window
Click thumbnail to view full-size photo + caption
Year Climbed: 2012
From the old cabin at 10,810 ft., head up valley to a pass on the ridge connecting Keller with N. Traverse. The trail to the cabin continues beyond it for about ¼ mile before playing out in open meadow filled with flowers. Continue up the center of the drainage encountering more trail remnants from time to time and perhaps pass a campsite with an old fire ring. Sometimes you may see some cairns. There are some nice grassy meadows and open tree areas. At about 11,300 to 11,400 feet, there's a more marshy area with ponds that may not show on the USGS map. In about one hour, you should arrive at the head of the basin and will have to make an ascent choice; climb directly to the saddle up a rough couloir filled with loose rubble or ascend on the left side of the gully and then veer left farther up onto a mostly tundra slope that will intersect the ridge to Keller a couple hundred feet above the Keller-N. Traverse saddle.
Continue on to the first false summit – a no counter that we contoured around on the south & east side. The next mile of ridge is mainly intermittent tundra & rock. Intersecting the ridge further on as it turned more easterly after that first false summit, continue hiking as much as possible on the ridge crest. We encountered several rocky crossings & sections that slowed progress, but there was never anything above a little hard, one-hand-down class 2+ scrambling at a couple of drops. Descend to another saddle, climb back up and cross a section of sloping slabs and a short, knife-like edge. Then comes the final pull to the summit which is easier. The two summits of nearly equal height are about 5 minutes apart. The eastern one appears as high so we climbed both, but the western summit is higher. From the first false summit, it's .9 mile to the true summit - and will take longer than expected. Some people may consider a few spots along the ridge to be 3rd class, depending on exact route selection. Any such spots are very brief and minimal exposure.
For the return, go back as you came. If including North Traverse, just follow the connecting ridgeline to the saddle and over.
Links to other information, routes & trip reports for this peak that may be helpful.
Mountain Handbook ›
(Requires free registration & login to view)
"Anger is a weed; hate is a tree." Saint Augustine