On the Trail: A Williams Mountain man
August 22, 2008
ASPEN ” I had seen the Williams Mountains many times, but they usually were at a distance, in silhouette ” early in the morning while driving up Highway 82, or from my mountain bike somewhere in Hunter Creek.
On a backcountry ski this June, however, I decided to acquaint myself more closely. Gazing across from the nearby Geissler range, my friends and I noted how jagged and interesting 13,382-foot Williams Mountain looked. Then, while scanning a map recently, I realized that the Williams range is, in a sense, the heart of the Hunter-Fryingpan Wilderness. Melting snow from these peaks feeds Lost Man Creek, the South Fork of the Fryingpan and, of course, Hunter Creek, which flows into Aspen.
So I decided to climb Williams Mountain last Sunday. It didn’t work out as I’d planned, but it was a great day nonetheless.
Shortly after leaving the lower Lost Man Trailhead east of Aspen in the morning, I was pelted by graupel. Right off the bat, conditions were far from ideal. But the forecast called for the clouds to lift as the day went on. So I hustled my way up the Lost Man trail to South Fork Pass, where the clouds parted momentarily to reveal the Williams range looming over a body of water called Sioux Lake.
I rambled over rock outcrops and fields of blooming wildflowers, then proceeded up a narrow couloir on the southwest ridge that proved more complicated than expected. I took a different route on the descent and, in hindsight, probably should have used another ridge going both up and down.
But back to the story at hand.
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I reached the ridge, at around 13,000 feet, and was enjoying the view over the headwaters of Hunter Creek when a new front of graupel-spitting clouds rolled in and wrapped me in mist. Hoping for the best, however, I threw on a shell and continued upward, making careful mental notes for a possibly cloudy descent.
When the “soft hail” picked up speed, however, I threw in the towel. Alone on a steep and somewhat rotten ridge, I was a candidate for serious injury if it got too wet.
Between clouds, I could spot the summit block about 200 vertical feet above, but it would have to wait for another day.
No summit, but still a memorable day in the heart of the Hunter-Fryingpan.