Incredible Backcountry Trails
by David Day
Incredible Backcountry Trails
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Distance: 8.2 miles (loop)
Elevations: 2,350 ft gain, 1,330 ft loss
Lost Man Trailhead (start): 10,490 ft.
Lost Man Pass: 12,820 ft.
Roaring Fork Trailhead: 11,510 ft.
Trail: Excellent, well marked trail
Season: Midsummer through mid-fall. The higher parts of the trail are usually covered with snow from mid-November through early July.
Vicinity: Near Aspen
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Despite its close proximity to the resort town of Aspen, the Hunter-Fryingpan Wilderness Area is often overlooked as a prime hiking area. Its larger neighbors, Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness and Collegiate Peaks Wilderness, with their many famous fourteen-thousand-foot peaks get all the attention. Hunter-Fryingpan has no summits that can compete with the Maroon Bells or Snowmass Mountain, but rather its special attraction is the high glacial river valleys on the western slopes of the Continental Divide. Roaring Fork River, Fryingpan River, and Hunter Creek all originate within the boundaries of Hunter-Fryingpan, and the high open valleys at their headwaters are exceedingly scenic.
Most of the trails in the Hunter-Fryingpan Wilderness Area follow the glacier-carved valleys, typically climbing to the top of one valley, crossing over a pass, and then descending into another valley. The hike described here follows Lost Man Creek for 5.5 miles to its source at Lost Man Lake, then climbs over Lost Man Pass and descends along the Roaring Fork River to Roaring Fork Trailhead. Most of the hike is through subalpine meadowland just below timberline. The views across the open valleys are terrific-especially in midsummer when the wildflowers are in bloom. Many people do this hike in the reverse direction, starting out at the Roaring Fork Trailhead. The best scenery will be in front of you, however, if start at Lost Man Trailhead.
Two trails depart from the Lost Man Trailhead: the trail on the right follows an old jeep road to Lost Man Reservoir, while the trail on the left goes around the west side of the reservoir. Be sure to start on the left hand trail. Then, within a few hundred yards, you will come to the Lost Man/Midway Trail junction where you must bear right.
0.3 miles from the trailhead the Lost Man Trail approaches the south side of the reservoir and then follows its shore as it proceeds northward up the valley. 0.8 mile after leaving the north end of the reservoir you will see a sign indicating that you are entering the Hunter-Fryingpan Wilderness Area. The wide U-shaped valley is vegetated by occasional groves of spruce and lodgepole pine, but mostly it is open grassland. The trail never strays far from the west side of the fast running Lost Man Creek.
About 3.0 miles from the trailhead the trail begins making a long sweeping turn to the east as it follows the creek bed. Then, at mile 3.8 it meets the junction with South Fork Pass Trail. This trail makes an interesting side trip for people wishing to make this a two-day hike. Deadman Lake is only two miles from the junction along South Fork Pass Trail, and their are plenty of fine campsites nearby. Unfortunately, there are no fish in Deadman Lake-probably because the winters are occasionally severe enough to kill all of the fish.
Unless you are making a side trip to Deadman Lake, bear right at the South Fork Pass junction and continue climbing eastward along the north shore of Lost Man Creek. The scenery in the upper reaches of the Lost Man Creek Valley is especially dramatic. The valley climbs eastward for 1.6 miles to a point just below the ridge of the Continental Divide then turns abruptly south into a small bowl wherein lies Lost Man Lake. By the time you reach the lake you will be well above timberline, and the rocky shore that surrounds the small lake is typical alpine tundra. Beyond the lake the trail climbs steeply to the ridge south of the lake, gaining 400 feet in 0.3 mile. When you reach the top of the ridge you will be in Lost Man Pass (12,820 ft.), the highest point on the hike.
The last 2.3 miles of trail are all downhill. From the top of Lost Man Pass the route winds down to the west side of Independence Lake, then continues on down the Roaring Fork drainage to the trailhead. Like Lost Man Lake, Independence Lake is located in a small bowl west of the Continental Divide. It is also about the same size and elevation and deep enough that it does not freeze solid in the winter. The fishing is fair to good in both lakes. Independence Lake is an easy 2.0 mile walk from the Roaring Fork Trailhead; consequently you are likely to see many more hikers on this last section of the trail. But most of these hikers will miss the best part of the loop. Although the scenery along Roaring Fork is nice, it canít really compare to the grandeur of the upper Lost Man Creek Drainage.
Finally, 0.2 mile before you reach the highway, you will see another short spur trail departing on the right for Linkins Lake. If you still have energy left you might want to make the 0.8 mile round-trip side trip to Linkins, but be advised that the trail involves another steep and tiring climb. You must gain another 400 feet of elevation in 0.4 mile. Linkins Lake is situated right on the edge of timberline at an elevation of 12,008 feet. It lies on a small bench at the base of a north-south ridge called Greissler Mountain. From the Linkins Lake trail junction it is a five-minute downhill walk to the point where Roaring Fork crosses the highway at the trailhead.
If you are interested in a supplemental map of the Lost Man Loop Trail
Aspen, Independence Pass (Trails Illustrated, map #127)
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