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  1. #1
    Registered User Slugg's Avatar
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    Default West Elk Wilderness (CO)

    Iím planning a trip in the West Elk Wilderness of CO. If anyone is local or knowledgeable of the area and would be willing to answer a few questions of mine, I would appreciate it. My questions are really just confirming the actual existence of (or lack thereof) trails listed on the map.

    This Southern boy canít wait for his first backpacking trip in the Rockies!!

    Colorado Rob? Anyone?

  2. #2
    Registered User colorado_rob's Avatar
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    I can certainly try to answer any questions, but it has been a few years since I was last in the West Elks. We tend to drive a lot on both sides (north/south) of the West Elks.

    Holler away, I'll give it a shot! Give me your start/end location and general route for your BP trip and I can poke around. Have you heard of the app "cotrex" (I know, sounds funny... but of course it means "Colorado Treks"). The trails in the app usually have current or at least semi-current conditions reports.

  3. #3
    Registered User Slugg's Avatar
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    I had not heard of that app, I’ll definitely check it out, thank you. I was originally thinking of a loop, taking Mill Castle 450 to Castle Creek 441 to Cliff Creek 840, then make my way to Beaver Creek 464, 601, 455 out. I am anticipating pretty unmaintained, difficult to follow trails. But I read a report from a few years ago indicating 464 ceases to exist entirely, and may be slower going than my allotted time will allow. And 601 is super steep so if it’s in similar shape..

    So I thought instead maybe instead take Elk Creek 854, make my way west then curl back north to Cliff Creek Trailhead. I’m getting dropped off and picked up so a loop isn’t necessary.

    What it boils down to is..has 464/601 been rehabilitated since the report I read? I doubt it. Obvious highlights I’m missing? I’m planning on hitting West Elk Peak, Mill Castle, and Castle Creek..If I end at Cliff Creek instead I have plenty backtrack options if the going gets too slow. Could also get picked up at Swampy Pass. Maybe that app will have current reports on the trials in question..I’ll check it out.

  4. #4
    Registered User colorado_rob's Avatar
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    I have never hiked those trails, sorry, I won't be much direct help.

    Looking on COTREX, there are no comments for 450 or 441, but there is one for 840, might not apply, but it says the "southern section" of the trail is gone. So that might affect your decisions.

    Looking at Alltrails for 450, that looks great, quite a few recent reports, trail looks to be in good shape. I can't find anything on 464 or 601, sorry! Neither COTREX or Alltrails.

    I think further research on Alltrails is your best bet. COTREX doesn't seem to have much beta in the West Elks, kind of disappointing.

    When are you coming? Now starts the best time of the year to hike in Colorado, for about a month, sometime more. And FWIW, I'm intrigued by the little research I just did and have to get in to that area again soon! I've only touched the northern section of the West Elks, and a slight bit on the southern edge.

    BTW, cell coverage is pretty thin in that area, so not sure how you're going to adjust your pick up place real-time, perhaps you're carrying a Garmin or other type of satellite communicator.

    One more question: how many days are you looking at? Just curious. We're leaving in a few hours for a couple days (doing a 1-night loop in the eastern San Juan's), back late Friday if I can be of any more help then, not that I've been much help so far!

  5. #5
    Registered User Slugg's Avatar
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    Hey no worries, thanks for looking into it. I’m hoping to avoid crowds so I’ll take the lack of info on the apps as a positive. I’m flying into Denver in a few days with my wife and then driving to Crested Butte to stay with a friend of ours for the week. We plan to do a day hike over to Aspen through Maroon Bells as a group but then I’ll go off by myself for some time in West Elk. I’m planning to spend 3 full days/2 nights but could tack on another night if needed. I will have a Garmin to communicate with my wife for pickup but thanks for the note on cell service.

    The fact that I could find very little information on West Elk, seems like I won’t encounter many people. That, combined with its massive size (200 miles of trail), is what drove me to decide to take my BP trip there instead of Maroon-Bells/Snowmass or the Raggeds.

  6. #6
    Registered User Slugg's Avatar
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    Have a great trip, btw!

  7. #7
    Registered User colorado_rob's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Slugg View Post
    Hey no worries, thanks for looking into it. Iím hoping to avoid crowds so Iíll take the lack of info on the apps as a positive. Iím flying into Denver in a few days with my wife and then driving to Crested Butte to stay with a friend of ours for the week. We plan to do a day hike over to Aspen through Maroon Bells as a group but then Iíll go off by myself for some time in West Elk. Iím planning to spend 3 full days/2 nights but could tack on another night if needed. I will have a Garmin to communicate with my wife for pickup but thanks for the note on cell service.

    The fact that I could find very little information on West Elk, seems like I wonít encounter many people. That, combined with its massive size (200 miles of trail), is what drove me to decide to take my BP trip there instead of Maroon-Bells/Snowmass or the Raggeds.
    Yep, when I did a little research this morning, I read in a couple places that the West Elk wilderness was the LEAST visited wilderness in the state. I'm going to make it a point to get into there next summer. Heading to the Wind River High route in WY next week, then off to the east for a long bike ride then the good old AT.

    Love that hike from Crusty Butt, er, Crested Butte, to Aspen. Gorgeous. I'd recommend the 4-pass loop but of course it's a zoo these days.

    BTW, two years in a row I've led a CO mountain club trip on the "5-pass loop" down near lake city. Just as pretty as the 4-pass, but almost no people. Here's a Caltopo link:

    https://caltopo.com/m/7QN0

    Maybe next visit check that one out. It's also called the "Tour de Horns" as it circles around Wetterhorn and Matterhorn peaks. Only 21 miles or so, but it's a good 3-day hike. Pic attached from one evening at camp.20210717_201725a.jpg

  8. #8

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    Quote Originally Posted by colorado_rob View Post
    I'd recommend the 4-pass loop but of course it's a zoo these days.
    Agreed about the four pass loop. My wife and I did the loop a couple of weeks ago during the week and it was a virtual traffic jam. Last weekend I did a northern loop near it, and it was almost as good and far fewer people.
    We have a house up in Glenwood Springs now. I had not even heard of the West Elk Wilderness until this thread. I might try to make a trip down there before the end of the season. Definitely post the conditions when you get done!
    2005 SOBO Attempt (500 miles)
    2024 (?) SOBO Planning

  9. #9

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    On the COTREX APP if you tap on a trail an information window pops up. One piece of this info is the USFS district that manages the area with that trail. From the following website you can get a phone number for the appropriate USFS district.

    https://staythetrail.org/forest-service-offices/

    if anyone knows trail conditions, it would be a USFS ranger managing the area.

  10. #10
    Registered User Slugg's Avatar
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    Follow-up trip report:
    I started my trip by taking Mill Castle 450 7.6 miles and 3500 feet upward to Storm Pass, where I branched off of an official trail and took the path 1.5 miles and another 700 feet up to West Elk Peak, the only 13er in the West Elk Wilderness and my first 13er. 450 was easy to follow and trafficked enough to not be overgrown. I saw a solo backpacker set up in camp and what looked like a father-son pair out for a day hike on this trail. The 1.5 mile path to the summit was a trail in parts, not in others.
    Then I went down and the mountain and off-trail for 6 miles. I followed a route shown on Gaia off the peak down until the ďrouteĒ branched away from the Castle Creek drainage. Instead of following the GPS, I followed the drainage down as far as I could, then followed some cattle trails to a junction with Castle Pass 441. I took 441 east .2 miles to a good campsite where I saw a moose 150-200 yards away, the first moose Iíve seen in the wild. I watched it munch in the swamp for a good hour, what a treat. I slept well that night.
    I woke up and took 441 5.1 miles west to Cliff Creek Trail 840; trail was in good shape for the most part, a few grassy spots harder to follow. I saw 3 other backpackers on this section. I branched off onto 840 and for the next rest of the trip, the trail became much more remote, overgrown and difficult to follow. Cattle paths constantly branch off the real trail. I felt at times like the trail wouldnít even exist if not for cattle..I was following hoof prints in the mud, not shoe prints. I took:
    840 for .8 miles
    1.9 miles on Sheep Lake 848 to Sheep Lake where I took a long lunch and rest. Great spot. Highlight of day 2.
    2.1 on Sheep Lake 551. This did not follow my otherwise excellent map at all, or Gaia. I had no idea where it was going to junction with another trail but figured following it was my best option.
    .9 on Soap Basin 442, where I passed what looked like an empty permanent cowboy camp. Full on tarp ďhouseĒ, shower setup, separate tent, etc.
    2.1 on Soap Creek 443, where I met 4 horse riders with 6 or 7 other horses in tow resting at Little Robinson Cow Camp.
    1.6 on Little Robinson 860.
    1.6 on Mosley Ridge 851. Steep.
    CAMP
    .1 on 851
    8 on 840 out to pickup at Cliff Creek Trailhead.
    It felt like once I got off Castle Pass 441, to the west side of the wilderness, the place was more used by cows, cowboys, and horse riders than hikers and backpackers, but I didnít mind that. The views were excellent and the solitude all you could hope for. The trails in places may not have followed the map, but they never ďceased to existĒ. This is the map I used, which I mentioned was excellent: https://www.outdoortrailmaps.com/pro...ss-hiking-map/. It shows mileage, and while note 100% accurate the routes were more accurate than my Gaia map. The vastness of everything was overwhelming at times in a good way, I wasn't sure what to even take pictures of.. I would return to this area.
    IMG_7824.jpgIMG_7846.jpgIMG_7847.jpgIMG_7857.jpgIMG_7910.jpg

  11. #11

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    Thanks for the report. I will have to check it out (possibly next summer)
    2005 SOBO Attempt (500 miles)
    2024 (?) SOBO Planning

  12. #12
    Peakbagger Extraordinaire The Solemates's Avatar
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    Thanks for the report. We’re headed to CO next summer and might try to hit this area on the way to the San Juans.
    The only thing better than mountains, is mountains where you haven't been.

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