A few months ago a friend and I devised a plan to travel a large segment of the alpine loop (between Lake City Colorado and Ouray Colorado) before the jeepers, ATV’s and everything arrived. One friend backed out, but another friend Jef Beardon (“1f” ) decided to join. Since we had a good weather weekend, and the snowpack was low, we decided this last weekend would be as good of time as any. This post will discuss the trip, gear choices and I’ll share some photo’s.
The route: Follow Engineer pass out of Lake City, cross American Flats, Cross Big Horn Ridge, intersect with Horsethief trail, cross the Bridge of Heaven and descend to Dexter Creek. The route was about 30 miles, and probably 6 – 7 k of elevation gain, with a segment of about 10 miles being above tree line.
Pre-trip planning and packing: I’ve decided to not necessarily focus on weight, but to focus on effort, efficiency and reliability to guide my gear selection. Our total weights all in were 30 -40 lbs each (I was closer to 30 while Jef was closer to 40 lbs due to a heavier bag, pack and jacket). To save weight we carried, one pair of snowshoes, one pair of crampons, and an ice axe each. We carried multiple ways to obtain water (steripen, MSR reactor stove, and Iodine tabs). For sleeping I used a 20 degree quilt, a combination of a torso length prolite, evazote pad and plastizote ground sheet. I also carried a BCS with the add on panel, and a bottomless cone stove. Overall, our equipment was just about perfect, we used everything except the BCS add in panel. We probably should have carried an extra pair of crampons, even though they were not used much, just because if you need to use them , you really need them at that moment, and depending on the time you cross certain areas, they might have been required.
The photo below is at the start of Day 2 near the summit of Engineer Pass
looking out from Big horn Ridge, Courthouse peak in the distance
After ascending Bridge of Heaven, no small task
There were avalanche concerns on the other side of bridge of heaven, every path down was an avalanche chute, and the warm day did cause some wet slide concern. No other options were available.
Near camp the second night
Gear usage and observations:
- The MSR reactor was totally worth it. Most water was from snow. The final camp had no water, and we setup as it was getting dark, but snow was plentiful.
- The BCS for two tall people (I’m 6’1” and Jeff is 6’5 ish). It was fine for two people and a stove. It would be better to pull the rear extension out and sleep feet into the extension.
- Cone stove: It worked well. I was worried about durability while stuffed in a pack, and how easy it would go together. It was easy to assemble, and provided enough heat the night we used it. Breakdown was also very easy.
- Trekking pole adaptation for BCS: I had a snow basket put on it, and I admit it looks crude, but once I needed a pole with a snow basket it just worked. Funky, slightly odd or not, it worked very well. The only issue was the pin was a little stuck after a day of usage and required a little force to adjust.
- My sleep system: 20 degree down quilt, plus torso prolite and evazote pad. It was pushing the comfort limit. When temperatures get below 30, I think a quilt needs a larger pad to better seal air gaps. I could have benefitted from a 25” wide pad.
- I took snow stakes, and a bottomless stove. Not a good combination. For the stove I needed open ground. The stove was light and worked. I don't know if I would have camped on snow even if I had a a full stove, since it was pretty slushy.
Overall: The trip was short, just over 48 hours start to finish, with about 24 hours of moving time. There was a lot of varied snow conditions, postholing, etc. Route finding at times was difficult. Bridge of Heaven was a challenge. The only wildlife we saw were some birds and fox tracks. It seemed as if we were following a fox a great deal at times. We saw no recent human activity for about a 20 mile stretch from lower on engineer pass road until we were picked up at Dexter Creek. It was nice, seeing the area, and it's stunning scenery, at a time of year no one frequents.