It was a toasty afternoon, and we soon both had a healthy sweat going. We had not been up this valley for about 17 years (climbing Oxford, Belford, Missouri, Emerald and Iowa from Pine Creek on different excursions), and did not remember the trail very well. After crossing the bridge over Pine Creek, and intersecting the Main Range Trail, we continued up the Pine Creek valley for about another mile and a half until we came to a wonderful camping sight in the trees to the north of the trail in a big meadow. We set up camp about 7:00 p.m. at 10,500'.
We were up and on the trail by 6:30 on Saturday morning. There were no clouds to be seen as we made our way up to Little Johns Cabin and the turnoff for Elkhead Pass (take a right) and South Pine Creek Trail (take a left). We went right and continued on the meandering trail, slowly gaining elevation and passing the beautiful Bedrock Falls, until we came to the turnoff for Elkhead Pass (if you're heading that way, take a right). We continued straight up the valley, on the trail that leads to Silver King Lake, with our twin-summited objective sticking up in the background. The trail eventually crossed the creek (to the south side) and was intermittent in the snow, so we opted to ascend the grassy tundra above and past Twin Lakes and eventually picked the trail back up as it came to Silver King Lake.
Once at Silver King Lake (actually just above), follow the well constructed trail as it zig-zags up the grassy ridge and soon crosses the northeast slopes of Unnamed 13,762 on a trail that resembles an old mining trail, but is well cairned in the talus slopes. The trail ends up on the northeast ridge quite a ways above the low point of the saddle between Unnamed 13,762 and Pt. 13,352. The route from this point to the top is the most fun of the trip! Nice 3rd class scrambling on good rock with huge drop offs to your left and the expanding views all around. We hit the summit around noon and hung out for almost an hour. The views were awesome. Yes, I know ... I keep saying this every trip report (haha). We could see the Elks and could clearly make out Snowmass, Capitol, Pyramid and Castle. Obviously, Harvard, Columbia, Yale and Princeton were easily distinguishable. We could see the bulk of Uncompaghre. And, there was LaPlata. And, of course, Emerald, Iowa, Missouri, Oxford, and Belford. Right about the time we decided to descend, the thunder was rumbling and there were large dark clouds over Harvard.
We took our time going down the ridge, back down that neat trail from the saddle to the ridge above Silver King Lake, and down towards the valley where the snow obscured part of our trail coming up. About the time we got to the valley, the heavens opened up with large snow balls. Actually, they were about the size of marbles, but were packed snow (not ice). We definitely felt them as they pelted our pancho-clad bodies. We sat for awhile waiting for the electricity portion of the squall to pass, and it soon did, and we were on our way back to our camp. It rained a bit more, but nothing of substance. At least it dropped the warms temps down a bit for the evening.
On Sunday, we got up, packed up and backpacked out to the truck. We arrived back in Denver mid-day to 97 degree temps. As far as the trip title goes, it was 5 miles in on the backpack, 14 miles roundtrip for the day hike, and then 5 miles on the backpack out. Thus, the 24. The only people we saw were either on the trail or camping, all within the vicinity of, or below, the Main Range Trail intersection. Solitude can definitely be found the further you head up this valley. Happy Trails!
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