With monsoon moisture taking a brief intermission at the beginning of September, I aimed for a trip that would again let me wander up high and preferably above tree line. Pouring over the map, I traced along the continental divide close to home.

Even with patterns of rain, lightning threats have begun to disappear as of late. Cool weather, mean wind and changing colors were a reminder that this summer season is coming to a quick end.

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I entered the north fork of Lake Creek, located off of Highway 82 (Independence Pass HWY) and soon crossed into the Mount Massive Wilderness. Immediately I left the trail and began a laborious ascent up to 12,495 feet and the lonely Blue Lake late in the evening.

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Easy route finding via the stream coming down from Blue Lake.

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Blue Lake and the thirteen thousand foot peaks that surround it.

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I spent a quiet night at camp amongst howling wind.

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I took in a gorgeous sunset view of the 13ers opposite of camp, including Mount Champion (13,736′). Even as darkness fell and the clouds disappeared into the night, the wind whipped into the early light of morning.

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A demonstration of the overnight ice that formed in small pools around Blue Lake.

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The sun appears early when you’re camped this high, and it made for a good thing as I had planned a long day featuring an off-trail climb over the continental divide, a bushwhack, and swamp trudge down the Marten Creek drainage. From there I would gain the Fryingpan Lakes trail and look for second nights camp.

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Feeling small once I gained the ridge above Blue Lake.

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The continental divide and the pass I would take in order to drop into the headwaters of Marten Creek lie straight ahead.

I dropped 900 feet in elevation first, then gained back 770′ to the top of the pass. Maps point out a prominent trail to the pass here, but this is far from the current truth.

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Deer Mountain

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Better tasting than bottled

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My approach to the divide. To my left is a gully view looking south into the north fork of Lake Creek.

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The valley that Marten Creek built and a look at what would consume a good portion of my afternoon. Crossing the divide here also meant that I had left Mt. Massive, and entered the Hunter-Fryingpan Wilderness boundary.

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It took me a significant portion of time to convince myself to leave the pass. I was spending Labor day in a beautiful and abundant landscape surrounded by absolutely no one.

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Spires and loose boulders teeter atop each other ever so slightly.

Once I began the drop, I followed a faint, obscure and braided trail down into the valley.

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Left over snow fields dot the crown of this high and expansive valley; they have a significant chance of staying permanent through the remainder of the year.

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Looking back from where I came. Careful steps and decisive pole plants for knees and balance abound down to the valley floor.

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The walk got much more difficult as I entered treeline and began darting the valley looking for the most dense and distinguished game trail that I could find.

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The drainage inevitably becomes choked with tall willows and massive boulders.

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An example of easy to follow above, although my energy and time were getting drained. In my brief scouting of this trip, I underestimated the time it would take to move about the length of the valley.

Eventually I began to hear oblivious voices, and I soon ended my people-less hike at a water feature and gaging station at the confluence of Marten Creek and the Fryingpan River. It felt a relief to begin following a trail and making solid miles again as I then began to ascend up to the Fryingpan Lakes.

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The changing colors and the views were just as impressive, if not better than before. Fresh snow still resumed on essentially the backside shoulders of Mount Massive.

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A large concentration of 13ers in such a small vicinity; a peak baggers dreamland.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFryingpan Lake in the near and Deer Mountain far.

Campsites aren’t easy to come by near the lakes (or at least not hard to come by for those who are too tired to look). I was too exhausted to set up my camp then fish into the evening. I decided to walk a little farther upstream and call it a day.

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Fresh frost early the second morning.

The following morning I continued hiking up the headwaters of the Fryingpan River. Again I was inundated with willow bushes and wet shoes. A well established trail prior to the lakes disappears past it.

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Deer Mountain (13,761′)

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Sunlight

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… and shadows

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The look back down valley from my approach onto the continental divide. The trail reappears at this point and resumes down into the north fork of Lake Creek.

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Unnamed lake on the south side of the pass.

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The expansive basin that I had walked the day prior, suddenly didn’t seem so big anymore.

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