Fryingpan Drainage - Chapter 5

Upper Fryingpan Drainage -- South of Road -- Chap. 5 Section 2

Remote and untraveled...


Roads and Trailheads

USGS Maps: Meredith, Mount Champion USFS Map: White River National Forest

As for routes north of Fryingpan Road , the trailheads for this section are reached via the Fryingpan River Road from the town of Basalt on Highway 82.

Rocky Fork Creek, Road 505, Hagerman Pass Road

The Rocky Fork Trailhead is a fisherman's parking area just below the Ruedi Reservoir dam. Look for the signed turnoff to the right when you've driven 11.5 miles from Basalt.

Road 505 (a.k.a. Upper Fryingpan Road) is a dirt spur off the paved Fryingpan Road. In winter it remains snowcovered and is shared by skiers and snowmobilers. It's the main access to the 10th Mountain Betty-Bear Hut (see Colorado 10th Mountain Huts guidebook). Early in spring (usually by mid-May) the road is plowed 5.8 miles into the Upper Fryingpan drainage, after which it's gated on occasion but usually open. If you find it gated be sure to complain to the USFS, since this is one of the most important trailhead access routes in the area. To reach Road 505, drive the Fryingpan Road from Basalt 26.6 miles to the Biglow Fork. Be certain sure to take the right fork and continue 5.8 miles. Here Road 505 takes an obvious right turn off the main paved road. A sign at the turn says "Fryingpan Lakes." In winter, park on the widened part of the main road (9,120 feet). In spring, continue 6 miles up Road 505 tothe parking at the end of the road is at (10,000 feet).

Hagerman Pass Road is simply the continuation of the Fryingpan River Road. It heads over Hagerman Pass to the town of Leadville (not plowed). To reach the Hagerman Pass Road Trailhead, simply drive the Fryingpan River Road to snow closure and snow plow turnaround (see trailhead descriptions above). The closure (about 9,200 feet) will usually be about 33 miles from Basalt, up around a corner from where you'd park in winter for Road 505. Hagerman Pass Road is a popular unimproved road in summer, and a good snowmobile route for winter access.

Elk Wallow Campground and Cunningham Creek Road

From the town of Basalt on Highway 82, drive the Fryingpan River Road 26.6 miles to a Y fork known as Biglow Fork. Take the left fork (North Fork Road) and drive 2.6 miles to Elk Wallow Campground (8,830 feet). This is the winter road closure. To reach Cunningham Creek Road, continue 1.3 miles past Elk Wallow Campground to a Y fork. Good signs here indicate the Cunningham Road is the right (south) fork.

Route 5.2.1 Rocky Fork Creek

Climb rating: Harder skins Ski rating: Intermediate, S2+ Recommended seasons: All with snowcover Starting elevation: 7,500 feet Summit elevation: Varies with route Elevation gain: Varies with route Round trip distance: Varies with route Day trip? Yes Map: No text map, use USGS Ruedi and Meredith Photo: [none supplied by author]

While not exactly a high route, this valley tour is worth a morning on light skis or snowshoes. For the true hardcore, bring winter camping gear and stay on this route to Larkspur Mountain and then on into Lenado (see chapter 7???). For the mellow option, park at the Rocky Fork Creek Trailhead just off the Fryingpan Road (bring your fly fishing equipment for the famous trout). Walk a bridge over the Fryingpan River, ski up the south side of the river for about ½ mile, then take a road spur into the Rocky Fork Drainage, which soon becomes a pack trail. Though there is heavy timber in this area, avalanche danger could exist in places where the trail passes below steep gullies. Keep your ducks in order.

Route 5.2.2 Hagerman Pass Road to Hagerman Pass

Climb rating: Easy skins Ski rating: S2- Recommended seasons: All with snowcover Starting elevation: 9,200 feet Summit elevation: 11,925 feet Elevation gain: 2,785 feet Round trip distance: 14 miles Day trip? Yes Maps: Northern Fryingpan, South; and Southern Fryingpan, North Photo: [none supplied by author]

This is a fairly long slog that everyone should do once. After all, no one in the town of Basalt will speak with you unless you've skied to Hagerman Pass. Start at the Hagerman Pass Road snow closure (see section introduction). Near the usual snow closure, a dead-end fork heads SE from what is the main road. You can head up the main road, but after what has to be the longest, most low-angled switchbacks in the world, you'll wish you'd slapped on your skins and gone up the aforementioned fork, which leads about 2 miles into the Ivanhoe Creek Drainage. This description assumes that you did.

When the fork ends, stay a bit right and endure through a bit of rough brush to the open flats of upper Ivanhoe. Here you can regain the main Hagerman Pass Road, which you follow to the upper (southeast) end of Ivanhoe Lake. Here you leave the road again, and make a skin climb up NE for ¼ mile to regain the road at about 11,500 feet. Continue up the road to the pass. Open slopes in this latter section could hold avalanche danger. If so, stick to timbered areas and wind-blasted ribs. Return via your ascent route. Note that the roads in this area are popular snowmobile routes, and 10th Mountain Hut Association has marked much of the Hagerman Pass Road as a route over Hagerman Pass to their Skinner Hut (see Colorado 10th Mountain Huts.) With lightweight nordic skis, given the right conditions it's become popular among certain hardcore groups to skate the Hagerman Pass Road. If you're plodding along and see such a lung with two arms and legs, please move aside so they won't get hypothermic from a blocked trail.

Route 5.2.3 Diemer Lake from Hagerman Pass Road

Climb rating: Easy skins Ski rating: S1+ Recommended seasons: All with snowcover Starting elevation: 9,200 feet Summit elevation: 10,050 feet Elevation gain: 850 feet Round trip distance: 11 miles Day trip? Yes

Map: Northern Fryingpan South, see below

This might qualify as the easiest backcountry route in this book. Start at the Hagerman Pass Road Trailhead. Follow the snowcovered road NW up the longest switchback in the world. After about 2 ¾ miles of the same thing, stay on the road as it curves right and leads you to Sellar Park. About ½ mile from the curve, pay attention to your left and find the Diemer Lake Road, which you follow 1 ½ miles to a ridge (10,050 feet), then down several switchbacks to the lake. Return via the same route, or orbit the lake if you've got the nav skills. It's also possible to continue N from Diemer Lake and drop to Elk Wallow Campground Trailhead on North Fork Road.

Route 5.2.4 Cunningham Peak from Cunningham Creek

Climb rating: Harder skins Ski rating: Advanced, S3- Recommended seasons: Late winter or spring Starting elevation: Minimum 9, 200 feet Summit elevation: 12,200 feet Elevation gain: Maximum 3,000 feet Round trip distance: Maximum 12 miles Day trip? Yes Map: Northern Fryingpan, South Photo: [none in supplied collection]

Do this route in spring, and try to catch it when the Cunningham Creek Road is plowed. Drive the Cunningham Creek Road (section introduction) to snow closure or its intersection with Middle Cunningham Creek (about 9,700 feet). Leave the Cunningham Creek Road, and climb SE up Middle Cunningham Creek. As you climb you'll intersect a power line, which marks the general route you follow to a saddle (11,360 feet) at the head of the drainage. Swing E and climb a large flank (possible avalanche danger) to the summit of Cunningham Peak (12,200 feet). Descend your ascent route, or take southwestern flanks down to the Hagerman Pass Road, then climb N back to the 11,360-foot saddle.

Route 5.2.5 Sellar Lake from Elk Wallow Campground

Climb rating: Easy skins Ski rating: Novice, S2- Recommended seasons: All with snowcover Starting elevation: 8,830 feet Summit elevation: 10,210 feet Elevation gain: 1,370 feet Round trip distance: 7 miles Day trip? Yes Maps: Northern Fryingpan, North & South Photo: [none in supplied collection]

This route is also the northerly access to Diemer Lake (route 5.2.3). It's a good learner's tour with little or no avalanche danger. Park at Elk Wallow Campground (see section introduction). Start with nordic wax or skins and head S for ¼ mile across bottom land to the point where obvious power lines start up the mountainside. Using climbing skins, head up the well-defined road that begins a few feet south of the power lines. You'll reach Diemer Lake after about a mile of climbing. From the north side of Diemer Lake follow an obvious roadcut E as it switchbacks under the power lines and leads to Sellar Lake (10,210 feet). Return via the same route, or continue on the Sellar Peaks Traverse (5.2.6). Route 5.2.6 Sellar Peaks Traverse

Climb rating: Harder skins Ski rating: S3 Recommended seasons: Late winter or spring Starting elevation: 9,520 feet Summit elevation: 12,174 feet Elevation gain: 2,700 feet Round trip distance: 13 miles Day trip? Yes Maps: Northern Fryingpan, North and South Photo: [none in supplied collection]

This is another route best done when the access roads are plowed in spring. It can be done in winter by skiing or snowmobiling the closed roads. Follow directions in the section introduction for Elk Wallow Campground and Cunningham Creek Road. From the Y intersection of the Cunningham Road and North Fork Road, follow the Cunningham Road 1 ¾ miles to 9,520 feet. Leave the road here, cross Cunningham Creek (can be a wade in spring), then climb about 680 vertical feet to Sellar Lake. Because of heavy timber it's hard to navigate directly to the lake. Don't fret. As long as you're in the general area of the lake you can keep climbing to the next part of the route: the saddle (10,441 feet) on the ridge dividing the Cunningham Creek drain from the Fryingpan drain.

Stay on the ridge and climb to timberline, then to the summit of West Sellar Peak (12,074 feet). If you're ambitious, make a short glisse descent SW for about 600 vertical feet. Regain the ridge between the two summits and follow it to the east summit (12,174 feet). Make another run off the east summit by dropping about 600 vertical feet down the southeast shoulder (stay away from the cornice). Contour to the saddle which a set of obvious power lines passes through.

From the saddle, ski the line cut and nearby glades down to a place where the lines take a dogleg turn (10,560 feet). Take care with small avalanche slopes in this area-you can bypass these to the east. After the dogleg, continue down the line-cut to a road spur that takes you to the Cunningham Creek Road. Take the road to your vehicle. Note the power lines on this route are high voltage and may hang low. Stay away, and consider that your avalanche transceiver may get so much interference that it becomes useless.

Route 5.2.7 Road 505

Climb rating: Easy nordic wax Ski rating: Novice, S0 Recommended seasons: Winter Starting elevation: 9,120 feet Summit elevation: 10,000 feet Elevation gain: 880 feet Round trip distance: 12 miles Day trip? Yes Maps: Northern Fryingpan, South; and Southern Fryingpan, North Photo:

Okay, so perhaps this is the easiest route in this book. Drive to the Road 505 snow closure on the Fryingpan Road (see section introduction). With nordic wax, head up the obvious bed of Road 505. There is no avalanche danger on the first part of this route, while you will encounter a few paths near the end of the road. Keep in mind that the occasional snowmobile uses this route, and it's also a main trail to the 10th Mountain Betty-Bear Hut see


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