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Boulder, CO

A guide to the wilderness of the West.

Ridge Running


Ridge Running

Derek Bartz

Trip Date: July 24-26, 2015
Location: Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve; Sangre de Cristo Wilderness
Miles: 25? 
Vert: 10,000'
Start/Finish: Music Pass 2WD TH & Horn Creek TH
Permit Required?: Self Register
Season: June-October

Headed back down to one my favorites, the Sangre de Cristo Mts, to bag some peaks and do some recon on the traverse (which sits at the top of my list of CO adventures).  Slow traffic had me at the 2WD parking lot for Music Pass later that expected, and I didn't leave the car until 6:40pm.  My plan was to hike up to tree line and camp in the basin just below the Milwaukee Pk-Marble Mountain saddle; didn't make it.  Clouds were forming already as I made my way up the road to Music Pass, and it sprinkled most of the time heading over the pass and down to the meadow alongside Sand Creek.  The weather looked bad, so I thought I'd just set up camp alongside the creek, but once there I couldn't believe all the campers already claiming these spots.  I pushed on in the darkening clouds, making the turn for the Cottonwood Pass trail before, and began looking for any sort of flat clearing to put up my tarp.  It was 8:45pm, nearly dark, and then it started pouring...perfect.  Still in the trees, I finally found a somewhat clear spot I considered fair enough to sleep on (in reality the worst camping spot I've ever).  My umbrella was doing wonders keeping me dry, but setting up the tarp was a bit tricky.  I crawled in soaking wet, and listened to the thunder and rain drops as I fell asleep.  Memorable hike in.

I awoke at 4:30am to be up on the saddle for sunrise, the view of The Needle and Broken Hand Peak is one of the best in Colorado.  I struggled to follow the faint path/cairned route in the dark, but made it just in time, inspiring to say the least.  

From the saddle, I followed the incredible trail (seriously, one of the best in the state) up to Milwaukee Pass.  The Milwaukee Pk to Pico Aislado traverse was the original plan, but white out conditions on the west side of the crest quickly put an end to that.  I was able to easily find my way up Milwaukee though, skirting the airy ledge and then regaining the ridge to the summit.  A rather satisfying summit, considering I had chickened out on this climb some 3 years prior with Michele; oh how things have changed.  Clouds continued to glide by the summit ridge and disperse over the Sand Creek drainage, the ambiance of the morning was fantastic.

Milwaukee Peak.  The airy, class 3 ramp allowing access to the summit ridge.

Summit views.  A wall of white to the west, and whispy clouds to the east.

Upper Sand Creek Lake see from just below Milwaukee Pass

It was early, so I decided to run the ridge over to Marble Mountain.  As I made my way along the grassy slopes along the ridge, the clouds instantly vanished making me second guess my decision to bail on the traverse over to Pico.  Next time, besides, I still got to run this freaking awesome ridge!

Misty Mountains

Broken Hand Peak, Crestone Needle, South Colony Lakes, and Humbolt Peak



Walking back down to Music Pass I was pleasantly surprised to be stopped by an NPS employee conducting a survey on the backcountry use in the area.  Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve is mostly know for the dunefield, and even the Park Service didn't know much about the users who were utilizing the mountainous terrain the preserve has to offer.  The easy access to the area (a simple 3.5 mile hike from the upper TH) via the Music Pass 4WD road has had an impact on the Sand Creek drainage and lakes, it was nice to see the NPS addressing the issue.

After some chocolate milk from the grocery store I headed right back into the backcountry, making the sweaty climb to Dry Creek Lakes from the Horn Creek TH.  In the morning I took a direct line up the steep, grassy slopes to the summit of the apptly named Horn Peak.  Once again, the views from here are superb.  After breakfast on the summit, I would go on to skirt the basin via the ridge connecting Horn Peak, Fluted Peak, and Little Horn Peak.  It was a mix of glorious grassy slopes and solid class 2/3 rock hoping the entire time; ah the Sangres!  Super fun.  Once on the north ridge of Fluted Peak I was on the true crest of the Sangres, the line that the full range traverse would follow; can't wait to be walking through here again in the future.  After bagging Little Horn Peak I quickly left the ridge and descended down a super steep and slippery gulley  (not advised) to the Horn Creek drainage, where I bushwhacked to the trail and back to the car.  

Dry Creek Lakes Basin

The obvious route around the basin.

The ridge continuing on to Mt Adams