On the trail: Pass is a champ | AspenTimes.com

On the trail: Pass is a champ

Scott Condon
Aspen, CO Colorado

Aspenites love the outdoors, and many love a contest, so I’m going to combine the two. There’s nothing to win, except the satisfaction of educating a fellow traveler.

I took a pleasant hike last Saturday to a pass east of Aspen that isn’t named on the maps I consulted. I’m curious if anyone knows its name. (Steve Crockett, if you’re out there, I bet you know.)

The hike began at a trailhead at the last big switchback on Highway 82, on the east side of Independence Pass. A singletrack heads into a classic U-shaped valley to the north. Majestic Mount Champion, pockmarked with old mine dumps, looms to the east.

The trail flirts with the North Fork of Lake Creek for roughly three miles. It’s easy to follow except where it becomes braided. Even then, the braids rediscover one another.

The Trails Illustrated and U.S. Geological Survey quad for the area show the trail eventually splits, but only an easterly branch was evident. That suited me, since that was the direction I hoped to do.

After a little more than two miles of easy hiking, the trail finally makes you work for the final mile or so ” gaining moderate elevation at first, then switchbacking up a slope. It’s a miniature version of Buckskin Pass, the classic route between Crater and Snowmass lakes.

What appears from the valley floor to be the pass is actually a false summit. There is a plateau featuring a deep, clear little lake at about 12,400 feet. A few hundred feet past the lake is the real summit of the pass and a big visual payoff. There is a great view to the Fryingpan Lakes, about 2 miles to the north, as well as the deep forest of the Fryingpan Valley and the big peaks of the Continental Divide and Holy Cross Wilderness. The craggy summit of Deer Mountain, topping 13,000 feet, is so close it invites you to reach out and touch it. Mount Oklahoma, the tallest peak in the Hunter-Fryingpan Wilderness, looms just beyond.

The Trails Illustrated and USGS quad maps don’t offer a name for the pass or its small lake. One hiker sharing the trail claimed locals call it Fryingpan Pass, since the lakes are so close. I’m skeptical. Deer Pass and Champion Pass seem just as deserving. If anyone knows, please write me at the e-mail address below.

Scott Condon’s e-mail address is scondon@aspentimes.com