Electric Pass
excerpts from the book
Incredible Backcountry Trails 
by David Day

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Incredible Backcountry Trails
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    Distance: 8.7 miles (round trip)

    Walking time: 7 hours

    : 3,755 ft. gain/loss
    Cathedral Lake Trailhead (start): 9,880 ft.
    Cathedral Lake: 11,866 ft.
    Electric Pass: 13,500 ft.
    Electric Pass Peak: 13,635 ft.

    Trail: Generally well maintained and easy to follow.

    Season: Midsummer through mid-fall. The higher parts of the trail are usually covered with snow from November through early July.

    Vicinity: Near Aspen

    Electric PassElectric Pass


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    This hike is most notable for the panoramas that can be seen from the summit of Colorado’s highest named mountain pass. No fewer than five of the state's 14,000-foot peaks can be seen from the 13,500-foot vantage point. The area is also home to a fair number of mountain goats, and when I did this hike in the summer of 2002 there were four of the shaggy white animals waiting for me at the top of the pass. They let me get within 100 feet of them, but that seemed to be their limit. They studied me until their curiosity was satisfied and then calmly ambled on up the ridge toward Cathedral Peak.

    From the trailhead the path climbs slowly through a shimmering forest of quaking aspen, paralleling Castle Creek Road for the first ten minutes until it reaches Pine Creek. It then bends to the right and follows the creek upward in a westward direction for the next 1.1 miles. The steep terrain prevents the trail from approaching the stream too closely, but the sounds of the rushing water are never far away. Over the next mile the trail gains 1,000 feet of elevation as it struggles to stay above the cascading creek.

    1.4 miles from the trailhead the path enters a beautiful basin, and for a short while the trail is relatively level. But the respite does not last long. On the west side of the basin there is another steep set of switchbacks that climb the last 200 feet to the higher cirque where Cathedral Lake is located. From there it is an easy 0.3-mile walk to the lake. Between the switchbacks and the lake you will pass at least three forks in the trail where other trails take off to the right for Electric Pass. If you want to see the pass first you should turn right on one of these trails. Otherwise bear left toward the lake.

    Cathedral Lake is beautifully situated in a high alpine cirque just above timberline. The western skyline is totally dominated by Cathedral Peak, a rugged volcanic extrusion that is just 57 feet short of the magical 14,000-foot elevation mark. The impressive peak is flanked by a series of sharp pinnacles, and its eastern ridge extends almost all the way down to the northwest side of the lake. Many people choose to spend a night on the eastern side of the lake and climb to Electric Pass the following day.

    From Cathedral Lake an obvious trail goes north up the alpine tundra to the saddle below Leahy Peak and then turns west to Electric Pass. The first 1.7 miles of the trail to the Leahy Peak saddle are very well defined and easy to follow, but many people mistakenly think when they reach the saddle they are at Electric Pass. Although the views from the saddle are nice, the best is yet to come. When you reach the saddle below Leahy Peak turn left and follow a less well defined trail that continues westward. The trail soon begins to traverse across a talus slope and the footing can be a little tricky, but with care it is really not that difficult. From the Leahy Peak saddle to the pass is a 20-minute walk with 300 feet of additional elevation gain.

    The trail does not stop at Electric Pass. Rather it makes a sharp right turn and continues another 300 yards to the top of a nearby peak that is unofficially called Electric Pass Peak. This peak is just 140 feet higher than the pass, and most people climb it before hiking back down. Nearby Cathedral Peak is also a tempting goal. Its summit is only 450 feet above the trail, but the obstacles along the ridge would make it a very difficult climb

    Most dramatic are the views to the west of Electric Pass. Conundrum Creek Valley lies 3,300 feet below the ridge, and beyond that lies a vast expanse of 13,000- and 14,000-foot peaks that include Pyramid Peak and the Maroon Bells. There is an old trail that continues down the west side of Electric Pass to Conundrum Creek, but it is now seldom used. From the pass the steep, unmaintained trail immediately drops down 1,000 feet of loose scree before finally reaching solid ground near Cataract Creek. The last few miles of the trail between Cataract Creek and Conundrum Creek are clearly visible below, but I wouldn’t recommend this route.

    The book includes more text, more photographs, and trail maps.

    If you are interested in a supplemental map of the Electric Pass Trail
    we recommend:
    Aspen, Independence Pass  (Trails Illustrated, map #127)

    Click here for DISCOUNTED MAP ORDERS

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