If coming from either the Front Range or the Western Slope, drive to Gunnison. From Gunnison, drive north on SH135 to Crested Butte. Stay on this main road as it enters the town, driving on through a major intersection with stop signs. Continue north on what becomes CR317 to the base of the ski area which is the Town of Mt. Crested Butte. Continue on the same road and a little after the main village and passing numerous condos, etc., the road will change over to a graded dirt road. During summer months, water trucks douse the road to help hold down the dust. Driving this road just after one of those trucks has gone through can change the road to a squishy, muddy mess, briefly. Begin measuring mileages from the end of the pavement. At 2.9 miles the road crosses the East River. Continue on CR317 to the site of Gothic which has a small but nice visitor center (3.4 miles) where you can inquire about parking regulations, hiking and biking trails and the research that is conducted in this area. During summer months daylight hours, this road is heavily travelled and parking is restricted to designated areas.
Continue driving NW past Gothic another 1.9 miles to the Gothic Campground, (5.3 from pavement end). There are only 4 designated sites here. From June 15 to August 15, camping in primitive, undesignated sites anywhere in this section of the East River Valley is not permitted so this campground is technically your only option between those dates. From the campground turnoff, drive another .9 mile for the Rustler Gulch turnoff (6.2 from pavement end). If in a passenger vehicle, you should park here and plan on getting your feet wet to cross the East River. It is possible to drive down the road a little and park in some limited spots, but there's little sense in trying to continue across the river unless you have 4WD. The road that heads up Rustler Gulch is FR317.2B on CalTopo. The Gunnison National Forest map does not really show this road very clearly because it follows along the wilderness boundary. If you do have 4WD and the East River is not in high stage runoff, drive on down the rocky stretch through some close, tall willows and ford the river. Once across, there is another area where about a half dozen vehicles can park and even a campsite. The road will head immediately and steeply uphill for .7 mile to an intersection where you'll see a gate across the road that heads off to the right. Park here if there's any room to do so. Two or three vehicles might be able to fit in off the road just enough to let other vehicles by. Coordinates for this spot are: N38° 59' 57.31" W107° 00' 11.05". There's a stand of tall willows here. About .2 mile back there is a road that turns off on the right that goes to a campsite, but cattle use the same area when allowed to graze here.
Right after where FR317.2B crosses the East River, there's an area that can accommodate a limited number of vehicles and some primitive camping right off the road. Then further up the road a short distance is another primitive spot that could accommodate a single vehicle on the right.
For camping further away, try the Gothic Campground about a half mile before FR317.2B or some other primitive spots either back toward Gothic or further up the main valley of the East River. Keep in mind tha primitive site camping is not allowed June 15 to August 15 in the East River Valley area.
For this "approach" there are two possible start points. If in a passenger car, the start will be where FR317.2B turns off of FR317 to cross the East River. You will then need to walk up FR317.2B to the trailhead coordinates. If you have 4WD, the start will be about a mile up after having forded the East River at the trailhead coordinates provided. There's a fence line and gate across the road/trail there.
From the gate, walk north on the old road bed. In July, you'll enjoy a plethora of wildflowers that will distract you from the hiking. Heading up the well-used trail, walk through an open meadow before entering a forested section with a considerable amount of bog, exacerbated by the horses that pass through regularly. Gingerly walk through, trying not to get too muddy this early into the backpack and continued on into open, flower-filled meadows that prompted us to frequently stop and take photos. This was just a taste of what awaits in upper Rustler. In short order, you'll come to a creek crossing that probably will require boot removal. However, a trail heading off to the right along the creek into the woods and willows goes to a place where you might be able to gingerly cross on some small logs and get across the creek. Once across, this side trail continues and eventually leads back to the main trail, but not before taking you through an incredible meadow of more wildflowers where you may want to spend even more time taking photos.
From this meadow, the open trail continues north and then begins to turn east into the upper basin. Continue up to where the trail has decidedly turned east and stop at a place where the creek, not too far below, cascades over some rock outcrops. Walk down and hop across the creek and hike up into a stand of trees and explore around. There was a faint game trail through here and a lot of fallen timber. Head upward and eastward through the timber. Near to where you exit the timber on the east side is a campsite, just the right size for two tents, with an old fallen log for cooking and eating and an old fire ring. See our field checked coordinates (2019). This makes an excellent base camp for the six 13er summits you can access from this valley and is out of the way of the day hiking foot traffic that frequents this valley. A game trail of sorts leads east from the campsite, then turns north through lower willows back down to the creek for an easy crossing and to regain the main trail.
The upper basin of Rustler Gulch is so verdant and filled with wildflowers, you'll not likely find any campsite unless you want to trod down a bunch of flowers. The camp location described above is the only really decent campsite we found that would do minimal damage to the abundant wildflowers.
UN13,140 was for us the first summit of a two summit day that included UN13,180. We undertook this hike with a little bit of information regarding the connecting ridge between the two peaks that indicated it went at 3rd class. The mileage and elevation gain estimates are based on starting from the campsite we've indicated in the approach section.
'So head out from camp and hop across the creek, cross the main trail and begin hiking up through the abundant flora & fauna that can be quite damp and quickly waterlog your boots. Take an angling path walking almost directly east to gain the first small basin at 12,060 ft. where the USGS map indicates there will be a small pond. The slopes are fairly steep, but there is little struggle with footing. There's actually a surprising amount of soft dirt between all the flowering plants. You may pass a few dwarf trees along the way and circumvent around the head of one very minor drainage with some exposed dirt and rocks.
It took us a little over an hour to arrive in the lower basin mentioned before to find there was no tarn or lake – just a relatively flat area where it used to be, a widening of the stream and a lot of marsh marigolds growing out of the marshy area. Hiking to this point, we had repeatedly stopped for flower shots.
Above this first basin, keep hiking on more lush tundra heading NE to a higher basin with a small lake just below 12,600 ft. Passing many more flowers, you'll arrive in this upper basin to find a lake of unique coloration – kind of a milky turquoise. Continue up a steep slope that has a game trail that leads north along a broad, flower-covered ridge with some willows. By this time, the distant views become something to marvel at. As we hiked by the willows, we thought we heard some strange sounds and unexpectedly, a group of deer arose from the willows and fled from us. There was no time to get their photo.
At about 12,800 feet, leave the broad ridge and cross the shallow basin on now flat, rocky rubble, heading for a saddle a little west of the first summit. There was no problem gaining the saddle on the rubble and we finished the walk out to the high point which lies at least one third of a mile SE of the maps 13,130 foot marker. This southeastern summit was undoubtedly higher than the one marked on the USGS map, so on Lists of John, it has been given an additional 10 feet in elevation by Gerry Roach & John Kirk. Take a brief break here and examine the choices over to UN13,180 or turn around and head back down as you came or you could try to find the path to the old mine between 11,600 and 11,800 ft. If you find it, you can follow it on down to the main trail and stroll back to your campsite. Much of this old mine path has been obscured by willows, etc., but an old feeder pipeline helped us follow it at times.
This route description begins from the summit of UN13,140. Mileage and elevation gain are calculated from that spot to UN13,180. Since you will likely return by going back over UN13,140, we have doubled the elevation gain and you'll need to double the mileage.
From the summit of UN13,140, you'll have two clear choices. 1. Follow the connecting ridge north and NE to the UN13,180 summit. The challenging part of this ridge will be the initial descent from UN13,140 to the saddle just below 12,800 ft. "Furthermore" reports on LoJ that the ridge goes at 3rd class. 2. The second choice will be to give up 600 feet in elevation and do a talus descent north off the summit of UN13,140 into a basin, then regain the connecting ridge beyond the saddle and follow it to the summit of UN13,180.
Because one of our party members was reluctant to attempt the full ridge traverse, we elected to do the talus descent. I (Tim) did explore for a short distance along the ridge off the summit of UN13,140 and found that one simple, 3rd class move around a rock tower early on brought me to less complex ridge work. There may have been other, unseen difficulties ahead, however. But since the remainder of our party would not follow, I had to reverse and go back for the talus descent. We also tried to traverse under the connecting ridge near the NW summit on the NE side but found that slope to be precariously loose & difficult.
So, from somewhere about midway between the NW and SE summit of UN13,140, pick a descent path north down the loose talus and scree into the basin below. You'll have a good view of this basin and the entire route over to UN13,180 so you can plot your path early on. Something to steady yourself with like trekking poles or an ice axe comes in handy. Once things begin to flatten out some after about a 600 foot loss, contour north aiming toward the 12,800 foot saddle. Regaining the saddle will not be all that easy. The slope is very steep, vegetation is limited with a lot of gravel and sandy-like soil. Towards the ridge, we had to bypass some rock outcrops. Once back on the ridge, continue north to the false 13,100 foot summit. Though the walking now is mostly on typical, Elk Mountains maroon rock, it was much easier going than the talus descent or scramble back up to the saddle. Bypass the false summit and continue NE to the interesting little summit. The final summit portion has some interesting scrambling on ledges of the layered maroon rock. Some may consider this 3rd class. It's not really exposed so we're going with Class 2+.
The view from this summit of the Maroon Bells across the valley is amazing. The peaks look very formidable and loom over the surrounding landscape. Enjoy the view. It may be possible to continue from UN13,180 to UN13,631. Since we had done that peaks nearly 20 years earlier, we did not spend much time examining the route, but see one of our attached photos for a hint of what to expect. If not going on to UN13,63, then return as you came. If you drop back down into the same basin, the climb back up to UN13,140 will go better if you take an ascending path that will follow some loosely defined ramps through the talus that first swing to the SE, then back south and SW to the ridge crest. This lessens the angle of ascent and may bring you out a little SE of the higher, SE summit. In earlier season, an ice axe may be helpful.