Fryingpan Drainage - Chapter 5

Fryingpan Drainage -- North of Road -- Chap. 5 Section 1

Remote and untraveled...


USGS Maps: Nast, Mount Champion, Meredith, Ruedi, Red Creek, Crooked Creek Pass USFS Map: White River National Forest

Roads and Trailheads

Fryingpan Road trailheads

Start in the town of Basalt, just off Colorado Highway 82 between Aspen and Glenwood Springs. Drive E through Basalt on Midland Avenue (the main street in the old part of town). As you head E, Midland Avenue becomes Fryingpan Road which follows the Fryingpan River drainage. At 13 miles you'll drive by Ruedi Reservoir Dam, and just past there you'll find parking on the right at the turnout for Ruedi Creek campground and boat ramp. From parking, walk up the Fryingpan Road a few hundred feet and look for trailhead signs on the left indicating the trail to Ruedi Overlook and Red Table Mountain.

For what used to be called the Diamond J Trailhead, and is now the Montgomery Flats Trailhead: From the 4-way stop sign in Basalt (Two Rivers Rd & Frying Pan River Rd), follow the Fryingpan Road 25.9 miles to a marked driveway on the north (left) side of the road (street number 26501). Head up the driveway a short distance and park in a snowplowed area with signs designating it for for hut users. Do not block the driveway. From parking, foot travel the driveway 0.1 mile NE, where you will find the designated 10th Mountain trail marked with blue plastic diamonds. Take care to stay on the marked trail, otherwise you'll be trespassing on private property and land owners in Western Colorado have been known to shoot trespassers on sight.

To reach the Savage Lakes Trailhead, drive from Basalt up Fryingpan Road 26.5 miles to a main fork at a bridge. Take a left here on North Fork Road. Follow North Fork Road 2.6 miles to Elk Wallow Campground. This is usually the winter snow closure. Depending on snow coverage and plowing, continue by car, foot or snowmobile up North Fork Road past the campground. Take the left fork 1.3 miles past the campground, and continue to the Savage Lakes Trailhead (9,880 feet) on the left side of the road at 5.5 miles from Elk Wallow Campground. Identify the trailhead by a Forest Service sign board set about 40 feet back from the northerly side of the road, and possibly hidden by the snow plow bank.

Route 5.1.1 Red Table Mountain from Ruedi Reservoir

Climb rating: Harder skins Ski rating: Intermediate, S2+ Recommended seasons: All with snowcover Starting elevation: 8,000 feet Summit elevation: 11,620 feet Elevation gain: 3,720 feet Round trip distance: 14 miles Day trip? Yes

Map: No text map, use USGS Ruedi and Red Creek

This long and arduous tour nets you the remote ridgetop of Red Table Mountain. Drive the Fryingpan Road to Ruedi Reservoir. Once you're past the dam, locate the obscure trailhead on the west side of the road (see section introduction). During heavy snow years the trailhead may be obscured by snow plow banks. Now it's time for a navigation challenge. The trail through timber is obvious in places but tough to follow in others. Solution: Know your map skills; use a 7.5 minute USGS map, compass and altimeter. A GPS unit could also be helpful. In general, the route starts by traversing and switchbacking through steep timbered terrain up to the summit of Red Hill (really just a bump on the ridge). It then follows a series of broad timbered ridges to an open timberline area on Point 11,430. From there, pick an avalanche-safe line to ridge crest saddle (11,620 feet). Return via your ascent route, or do a multi-day traverse of Red Table Mountain by skiing the ridge crest E to Mount Thomas and Lime Park, then exiting via the Lime Park Road (see Colorado 10th Mountain Trails). We'll leave the navigation details of that exploitadventure for the practitioner. After all, is not adventure part of our purpose here?

Route 5.1.2 Burnt Mountain and Tellurium Park

Climb rating: Easier skins Ski rating: S2- Recommended seasons: All with snowcover Starting elevation: 8,250 feet Summit elevation: 11,178 feet Elevation gain: 2,928 feet Round trip distance: Approximately 18 miles Day trip? Yes, or overnight at hut

Maps: No text map, use USGS Crooked Creek Pass and Mt. Jackson. Also see

This and several of the following routes are reached from the vicinity of the 10th Mountain Harry Gates Hut, with details covered in this author's Colorado 10th Mountain Huts guidebook. While you can reach the hut via several aesthetic routes covered in that book, we're concerned here with high routes above the hut. Thus, the following is the quickest way from trailhead to the general region of the Harry Gates Hut.

Drive the Fryingpan Road to parking at the Diamond J Lodge (see section introduction). Walk across the Fryingpan Road and locate the 10th Mountain trailhead markers. Scramble up the road bank, then ski NE through an open area and on into aspen forest. Take care to intersect the first switchback of a logging road here (8,400 feet). Stay on the road up to Montgomery Flats (9,100 feet); continue through Montgomery Flats and join the wide cut of Burnt Mountain Road at 9,450 feet. Continue up the road. It takes several switchbacks that can easily be cut if you're climbing with skins. After the switchbacks, continueStay on the road to a highpoint at 10,030 feet.

From the road highpoint, you can travelstay on the road to the Harry Gates Hut, but if you're headed directly to Tellurium Park and points beyond it's better to bypass the hut. To do so, from the road highpoint stay on the road and ski downhill and around the shoulder of point 10,224. Just as the road begins to head N, leave the road and ski NE up an obvious logging spur. This is known as Choker Cutoff. It traverses for a mile to glades on the west side of Burnt Mountain, then continues to lower Tellurium Park. Rather than slogging to Tellurium Park via the cutoff (you've just had a full dose of that), climb the glades on Burnt Mountain to the summit (11,178 feet). Make a few turns down the northeast face of Burnt into Tellurium Park, head N through Tellurium Park for about ¾ mile, then take a pack trail west back to Choker Cutoff or the Harry Gates Hut. Follow your approach route back to Diamond J Trailhead.

Route 5.1.3 Avalanche Peak

Climb rating: Harder skins Ski rating: S3+ Recommended seasons: Mid to late winter, and spring Starting elevation: 9,600 feet (Gates Hut vicinity) Summit elevation: 12,803 feet Elevation gain: 3,841 feet Round trip distance: 13 miles Day trip? No

Maps: No map here, use USGS Crooked Creek Pass and Mt. Jackson. Also see

Avalanche Peak is an attractive summit usually accessed from the 10th Mountain Gates Hut (see Colorado 10th Mountain Huts). The climb is usually done from the hut or a high camp. Doing the route from the trailhead would involve about 5,700 feet of elevation gain, and many miles-doable in a day by a strong party in the right conditions, but best done as an overnight.

Climb Burnt Mountain (see route 5.1.2). Ski the glades on the northeast face of Burnt Mountain down to Tellurium Park, then navigate throughout the Park to Tellurium Lake. From the north end of the lake head N for about ¼ mile, then climb E to a small clearing (10,660 feet). Head to the top of the clearing and continue up to a poorly defined shoulder and through several more clearings to timberline (about 11,500 feet). The idea is to reach timberline so you can travel through sparser vegetation and see where you're going. Once at timberline be careful of avalanche exposure as you contour N along the trimline for ½ to ¾ mile to the west shoulder that drops from the peak's summit. There is no obvious ridge line, so take care to identify the best route to follow the shoulder to the summit. During times of low avalanche danger, wander up the west face. Some parties have found a better route heads up the next shoulder to the south (near Last Chance Creek).

To descend with low avalanche danger, head down the west face, or follow ridges and ribs for avalanche avoidance. Once at timberline retrace your route to Tellurium Park, then take the Choker Cutoff (route 5.1.2) back down to the Burnt Mountain Road.

Route 5.1.4 Savage Peak-South Ridge

Climb rating: Harder skins, Easier boots Ski rating: Advanced, S3+ Recommended seasons: All with snowcover Starting elevation: 9,880 feet Summit elevation: 13,139 feet Elevation gain: 3,339 feet Round trip distance: 5 miles Day trip? Yes

Map: Northern Fryingpan, North (see below).

Get alpine. The forest on this route goes fast via a steep climb, and you pop into the alpine reaches of the Holy Cross Sawatch Mountains. Start at the Savage Lakes Trailhead. Take great care to follow the cut of the Savage Lakes trail as it parallels Savage Creek and climbs through dense timber. At 10,800 feet the trees open up a bit. Leave the drainage here by climbing left (N) up through fairly steep forest to a bench at timberline (11,440 feet). Next, take obvious open slopes E to a saddle (11,930 feet). Now you're on Savage Peak's rowdy south ridge, which you follow to ¾ mile to the summit (easy boots or harder skins). Descend your ascent route, or explore other options in this chapter.

Route 5.1.5 Savage Peak-South Bowl

Climb rating: Harder skins, Easier boots Ski rating: Advanced, S4- Recommended seasons: All with snowcover Starting elevation: 9,880 feet Summit elevation: 13,139 feet Elevation gain: 3,339 feet Round trip distance: 5 miles Day trip? Yes Map: Northern Fryingpan, North Photo: [none supplied by author]

The beauty of Colorado is that almost every peak has a classic moderate line. This is Savage Peak's offering. Climb Savage via the South Ridge. All the while you'll catch glimpses of the superb open slopes on the peak's south reaches. These are your goal. Once at the summit, traverse W a few hundred yards, then drop S. Open slopes will funnel you into an enjoyable gulch, which spits you out on a bench at 11,000 feet. Follow any open skiing you see to its bitter end in dense timber, then use map, compass, altimeter, GPS and prayer (not necessarily in that order) to get back to the Savage Lakes Trail, which you use for your trailhead return.

Route 5.1.6 Savage Peak-Savage Couloir

Climb rating: Harder skins, Advanced snow Ski rating: Extreme, S5- Recommended seasons: All with snowcover Starting elevation: 9,880 feet Summit elevation: 13,139 feet Elevation gain: Round trip distance: Day trip? Yes Map: Northern Fryingpan, North Photo: [use photo from collection]

You glissed the Savage Couloir? Oh you savage! This fine route is one of the more obscure in the Sawatch, but once you're gazing down this narrow slot, excitement will erase any ambiguity you may have been entertaining. The route is simple. Take Savage Peak's south ridge (5.1.5) to the summit. Just before the summit, you'll pass above the couloir. Pick an entrance and enjoy. Egress is the problem. One escape involves dropping to about 11,600 feet, traversing east, then picking a safe climbing route up to Savage Peak's east ridge, which you then follow to the summit. Escape via the South Ridge or South Bowl. Savage Couloir was first glissed in spring of 1997 by me, Bob Perlmutter and Jason Troth. The descent included a front flip by rider Troth, who because of a subsequent dazed mind, left his camera on a rock near the summit and had to re-climb the peak the next day to retrieve it. How savage.


Map below (Northern Fryingpan, North Half) is a Flash file and may not display on some devices. If not, perhaps you can use our PDF version.