Of Passes and Mountain Headwaters

There could be interesting names for this trek, perhaps “The Other Four Pass Loop”, or “The Williams Mountains Circuit”. But truly, this trip evolved from my desire to touch those remote parts of the Hunter Frying Pan Wilderness nestled in distant basins between the two drainages.
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I traversed four passes, though only half of those are named. Trails existed at the beginning and the end of the route, but in the middle, boulder hopping, elk tracks and trickles of streams shaped the way. There were people only within the first and last half-hours of travel, the other 47 and a half hours were solo, except for all the extraordinary life. IMG_0156
I started high, and climbed higher. Mountains extended in all directions with only nature visible in the foreground and beyond. The Williams Range formed the backbone of my journey, and while I would encircle the long ridge with its craggy peaks, I would also descend and ascend a diversity of deep valleys.
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Where water sprang from the ground or seeped from melting snow, slopes were alive with seductive fresh flowers, as though summer was just starting.
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Exposed higher meadows still held their fading glory, tinged with early fall golds and reds.
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After cresting the second pass, I dropped into a fork of upper Hunter Creek. Water flowed, fell and frolicked among pink flecked granite boulders, graced with verdant flowers and foliage. Almost dancing my way downvalley, I paused at a broad meadow edged by spruce trees, through which a calm creek meandered.
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The sky was growing darker and as moisture started to fall, I sheltered in the embrace of the nearby forest while snowflakes fluttered. It was as though I had stepped into a magical kingdom. As I resumed my wandering, I sensed vibrations, and on turning, watched a magnificent herd of deep brown elk with young, bound almost silently through the woodland. A path upslope beckoned and I followed keenly. It released me on a perfect knoll, at the head of the second river fork and upper basin.
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Here I would become immersed in the changing colors of evening playing on the mountain spine, highlighting its pinnacles and spires.
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Then later turning to a moonlit night sky.
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Crisp morning light articulated the third pass and its family of peaks that drew me on.
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From over 13,000 feet I soaked in views of mountain ranges from new perspectives.
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And met new friends who seemed a little shy.
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Too soon, I was as far away as I could be in this wilderness landscape. That signaled time to turn, to drop two thousand feet, then turn again and climb, through a stately Colorado mountain valley.
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Grateful for the expansiveness of this terrain that held me till the sun was low above the ridgelines, I stretched out on my sleeping pad and again observed the changing light.
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I marveled how this sweet blush of color turned each day, yet how seldom we pause to recognize such luminescence. At that moment, I was thankful to be so alive outside where rare shooting stars burst brightly across an inky sky.
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Seven Sisters Lakes

Over the past several years, a stepped cluster of lakes, the Seven Sisters, have captured my imagination and longing to explore.IMG_9928

Previous explorations had taken me up and over the gorges of tumbling creeks feeding the Frying Pan River. I rested at their lakes and scaled summits, looking across to the mysterious ridge that bounded the lake family comprising my missing puzzle piece.IMG_9858

The lakes are nestled in a remote mountain cirque within the Holy Cross Wilderness, just beyond the watershed of the Frying Pan River, and are perched at 11,000 to over 12,000 feet in elevation.IMG_9872

Others arrived at the trailhead access eager to summit 14,005 foot high Mount of the Holy Cross, or hike to a large lake at the head of the deep Fall Creek valley. IMG_9792

My goal was to go further and to spend a few days wandering the lakes and ridges of this other rugged basin hidden over passes and between larger valleys.IMG_9800

A well worn track led through Rocky Mountain Spruce forest with a lush groundcover floor. Soon I emerged to the beginning of a subalpine ecosystem.IMG_9789

The scenery was immediately exquisite, including rocky ledges, cascading falls and brilliant blooms.IMG_9841

Gaining the top of the Pass, I had views of the Gore Range to the east, and a glimpse of my destination to the west. IMG_9831

Keen to see more, I gained a slope south of the Pass and summitted Mt Whitney. Expansive mountain panoramas extended endlessly. Too soon, it was time to descend and seek a home for the night.IMG_9867

… With water; a delightful garden;IMG_9861

and friendly neighbors. IMG_9903

Morning light powerfully illuminated my surroundings. I couldn’t wait to adventure further.IMG_9850

My hope was to reach the uppermost of the Seven Sisters Lakes, then climb to the ridge above, although a snow cornice seemed to guard the final step.IMG_9930

The route was along firm granite rock interspersed with bright alpine flowers. It led towards the summit until I reached the snowy rim. Being highly respectful of white slippery slopes, I sat on a warm rock and ate lunch. Refreshed, I resumed my quest and discovered a way to the top. At last the puzzle was complete as looked back upon the lakes and ridges where my desire was born.IMG_9880

Happily, my rambling continued. I felt wonder and joy as I encountered grand vistas to delicate details of this wild landscape.IMG_9960 IMG_9946

I experienced another sunset with fiery clouds, a sickle moon rose as comets sped across the dark night sky, and the cycle completed in the pink dawn of another day.IMG_9927