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From highway 82 between Basalt and Aspen, turn south at the lighted intersection at the town of "Snowmass" (about 4 miles south of Basalt) and drive about 2 miles to an intersection where you must turn either left or right. Take the left fork and drive east and south on N690. The road is paved another 4 - 5 miles, then becomes, good quality, graded dirt for another 4 miles to where it crosses Snowmass Creek. Beyond the creek crossing, the road climbs uphill to another intersection. Turn right and proceed south on a less maintained road to the trailhead just a few more hundred yards. As you drive that last segment, you will first pass a trailhead for East Snowmass Creek, then a short distance later, you come to the end of the road and the parking and trailhead for the Snowmass Creek trail.
Over summer weekends, this TH may be filled to capacity with cars parked along the road in. The main parking area serves as the only designated parking for both Snowmass Creek and East Snowmass Creek. No designated camping here, so only vehicle camping, though when the parking is not so crowded, you may be able to pitch a tent nearby. No vault toilets, but at the register, ReStops are provided for use, free of charge. Further access on the road is blocked by a locked gate that marks the property boundary for Snowmass Falls Ranch. Cattle may be close by and the odor can sometimes be strong.
From the TH, the trail climbs east uphill, passes through a gate (please keep closed) and turns south and climbs steadily gaining about 200 feet before leveling out and contouring above the ranch property. The Forest Service trail # is 1975. A little over a mile in, (perhaps 1.5 mile) it intersects another trail which leads down to Snowmass Creek where one can wade across to access the West Snowmass Creek trail, fairly easy to spot heading off across an open field and into a stand of aspen. The place where you wade across is between groups of willows. That trail # is 2187 which climbs up and passes by Haystack Mtn. to join the Capitol Creek Trail. The Moon Lake trail, which is not a Forest Service maintained tail, breaks off from the Haystack Trail.
Once across the creek begin heading up the West Snowmass Creek/Haystack trail using directions in Gerry Roach’s book for accessing Capitol Peak from this direction. The trail takes you across a nice meadow before entering the aspen forest and for a short distance, gains just modest elevation, crossing a diversion ditch, and then begins a much steeper ascent. The trail is well-used and easy to follow at this point and there is evidence of pack horses travelling this way. Hike until you come to a location where the trail levels some and there is a nice stand of evergreens just below and evidence of a camp area. This is a good place for a short break. The USGS survey map shows the trail continuing from the 9,800 foot level uphill and into a basin below Haystack Mountain. Make sure you do not get diverted onto this trail and stay on the route described by Roach that leads up to Moon Lake. Look for a meadow that Roach describes that the trail crosses and then leads to a well-used pack horse campsite. We did indeed cross in the middle of one long meadow and then shortly after that, came to another where the trail headed a short distance downhill toward the creek and took us to two very nice campsites.
Now Roach’s directions said to head to the SW end of the meadow here and look for a trail that continues up the valley. We could see a trail a little higher up on the grassy, exposed hillside, but at the time, we figured it was the old trail heading toward Haystack. There was a rock cairn at this end of the meadow and we followed a fainter, lower trail that led us into the forest and in a short distance, seemed to split and the lower fork just disappeared in dense forest. This was leading us the wrong way, so what follows now is not a route we suggest following.
We backtracked some and tried another fork that led us uphill and seemed to keep us heading up the valley. But as we continued to follow it, it became quite faint as well, especially in a forested area, where we had to zig and zag around a lot of fallen trees and other obstacles. After a fair amount of struggle, we emerged at an open grassy slope, well above the creek, thinking the trial must be up higher. It appeared to us that further travel up the creek on the west bank where we had been was not advisable, so we began to look for a way to cross the creek. Dense willows prevented a crossing further up, so we backtracked a little and then found a way to cross that took us down a steep embankment and a hop across on some large boulders. It appeared that some others had crossed here before.
On the other side, we headed up a dry drainage and found a rock cairn but were not sure how to interpret the cairn as far as leaving this narrow drainage or continuing in it. There was no clear evidence of a trail leaving it, so we continued on up. At several points, we contemplated leaving this narrow gully, but every time we checked outside of it, the downed timber in the forest and steep slopes encouraged us back into the gully, where we could move forward and upward more easily. Eventually, this led us to near the base of some cliffs below a point on the USGS map marked as 11,865. Having gained several hundred feet in elevation, we were now forced to contour through the trees and steep slopes whether we liked it or not. Our progress was now even slower and more difficult, but eventually, we came onto an open slope above a meadow a few hundred feet below us where we could see a trail. The meadow we figured was the one at 10,400 feet that shows on the map right in the stream drainage. Contemplating our climb up to here, earlier on, as we were in the steep gully, we could look back west across the creek and see a higher trail cutting through open grassy slopes, well above the creek. This we figured was probably the unofficial trail up to Moon Lake that we had missed. It had departed the campsite meadow higher up than we anticipated.
Now that we were on more open ground, we found ourselves progressing up an open, avalanche slope toward a saddle of sorts in the ridge above us. This put us back on the route we had intended to follow, so from this point on, you can use our beta with some confidence. This saddle and ridge would be the NE ridge coming off UN 12,903, a high 12er that Ken Nolan and Teresa Gergen had both advised us to climb while we were in here. But we were too focused on our main goal to consider a side trip and already frustrated with the loss of trail and time. The saddle we aimed for was along that NE ridge, and went between the open 12,000 foot contour and the closed contour of same elevation just next to it. This was a saddle recommended by Mike Garratt that would take us across the short head of a bowl and across to another ridge. We arrived at that saddle and then contoured south and into a nice, grassy location directly north of and below a second ridge of UN 12,903, that goes directly east. Once again, Mike’s directions helped us here as we headed for another notch in the ridge that required gaining a few hundred feet up a steep slope and then narrowed to a couloir. We were not at all sure we were heading for the correct notch, and when we crested out and saw what lie on the other side, we initially thought that perhaps we had chosen the wrong notch, because there was another higher on the same ridge. At first, it appeared we would have to drop through a cliff band to descend into the next basin, but upon closer inspection, we could see a route opening up through the low trees that would lead down without great difficulty and take us onto a talus slope. At the head of this drop, you will have a very clear view for the first time of your destination.
From the notch, descend down into the basin below and plot a route through the small and large talus and boulder fields. Mike G. had indicated it was not as bad as a Google Earth view made it appear, and overall, while there is some rocky mess to deal with, there are also nice stretches of tundra as well. Drop to the bottom of the talus, maintaining as much elevation as you can and then scramble up some large blocks and sloping cliffs to a tundra and rock bench area that leads gently upwards and towards the great couloir that lies just east of UN13,060. Continue traversing to the base of the 600 foot couloir.
The next great effort will be making progress up this couloir. We started out on a snow slope and gained maybe a hundred feet in elevation before deciding that the snow was so soft and slippery, we would be better off on the rocks to the side. This was not so true. Once on the rocks, we found them to be very loose, unstable, and mud abounded adding to the difficulty of finding stable footing. If you attempt this earlier season with more snow in the couloir, then ice axe and crampons of micro-spikes would be advisable along with earlier arrival. Slowly and carefully, make your way up, being careful to not cut lose a few boulders that could severely injured party members below. We found that the higher we went, the more difficult forward progress became. Arrive at the head of this couloir, grateful to still be uninjured, if that is the case. What lies ahead is the only really enjoyable part of the climb.
The remaining 400 feet along the east ridge to the summit will involve a lot of 3rd class scrambling up and around great boulders, short drops and fractures. It is delightful scrambling and made the final ascent to this difficult summit enjoyable at least for a few minutes. When we arrived, it was nearly 2:00 PM after a 6:00 AM start. We lost at least an hour because of missing the upper section of the Moon Lake Trail.
The summit you first arrive at may have a register. When we opened it, the contents were soaked and there was little in it anyhow. It is not a comfortable summit with only large, jagged boulders upon which to sit. As we did so, I began to contemplate another high point, maybe 50 yards west of us along the ridge that seemed as high as or higher than us. The scant beta we had on this peak had mentioned a place referred to as “The Wings of God,” that was supposed to be a brief, exposed 3rd class scramble along the ridge to get to the summit. Since this western summit appeared as high, I decided to take the time to go over to it and tag it just in case. Upon ascending it, it became clear this summit closer to Clark Peak is indeed higher than the first. On the trip over to this other summit, there is place with a little bit of exposure as you cross over and around some large rock blocks, one of which teeters as you cling to it and swing over to a firmer footing on the ridge. It only takes a few minutes to make this traverse. In fact, we found another register here, in much better shape, containing many more names and left by the Roach’s. The exposed section between these two summits was apparently what Teresa Gergen called “The Wings of God.” It's not as bad as the name suggests.
Considering the difficulty of reaching this peak, and this summits’ inauspicious location and appearance, it’s not very surprising that few would ever climb it. It’s really just a bump along the east ridge of the much higher Clark Peak to the west. But the view here is really very amazing with the backside of the Maroon Bells in view in one direction and Snowmass Mtn. in another and the crystalline Pierre Lakes far below.
The scramble back down the 400 feet along the east ridge will be equally enjoyable. Take time to pose for some dramatic photos. Back down at the saddle, debate your return options – going back as you came or going down the south facing couloir from this saddle that drops 1,800 feet to connect with the Bear Creek trail into Pierre Lakes Basin. We thought the latter option to be the better. This would prove to not be true, but here's the account.
Leaving the saddle, begin the arduous descent down the scree and boulder- filled trough to the south. On one side, high, nearly vertical rock walls loom over you. It is very steep going at first and requires care at every step. As you descend, the angle of repose for the boulders lessens just a little. As the couloir curves, you can begin to see the bottom section where the rocks fann out toward the forest and Bear Creek. It required well over an hour to descend that 1,800 feet of talus, and as we neared the end, where it began to level out some, it became frustrating that we still had to continue on the talus to reach the forest by the shortest route we could find. Once in the trees, we quickly located a faint trail and began following it.
Another 15 – 20 minutes later, you may come to a place where the faint trail now just simply disappears. This turns out to be just above the falls. All you can do, it you cannot locate a trail is to begin heading down steep, open, grassy slopes toward low aspens. Enter the aspen forest and battle your way on through, perhaps locating a few cairns here and there. You may find yourself at times in steep gullies, full of vegetation and debris. After battling your way through all this, the terrain levels and you now have a large talus field to cross. Heading out across it, watch for a couple of cairns to start out, but as you cross you may not find any more until near the exit of the talus. Once across the talus, descend close to the creek and all of a sudden, you should find the trail again. From here, you still have nearly 1.5 miles on the west side of Bear Creek before the crossing of Snowmass Creek. Continue hiking now through much more level terrain, but following a trail that leads through dense vegetation presenting more difficulties in staying on it.
One of the more impressive sights on this hike out is the north-south ridge to your east above Snowmass Creek. Glowing sun on the upper reaches may display the multitude of crags, gullies and cliffs. It was most impressive. On more than one occasion, you may again lose the trail, either in fallen timber or dense vegetation, and then regain it. Farther on, cross Copper Creek and that may provide some assurance that you will soon come to the crossing of Snowmass Creek. It should be about 15 - 20 more minutes. Wade across, from an open area to join the Snowmass Creek Trail and enjoy the remaining three mile plod back to the trailhead and your waiting vehicle. For us, with a 6:00 AM start, we did not make it back to our vehicle until 9:40 PM - our longest single-day ever in the mountains. This was our next to last 13er summit. We were most relieved to get this one marked off the list. More than beat up by this epic day, we gave UN13,060 a nickname: UN13,SOB!
Be sure and check out the link to Gary Neben's account on Mountain Handbook of his ascent of UN12,903. In that route description he provides useful information about the West Snowmass Creek Trail and the upper section of that trail to Moon Lake.