Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Colorado's Highest Named Pass: Electric Pass During Thunderstorm Season. Colorado Hiking.

Electric Pass Peak. 13,635' Maroon Bells Snowmass Wilderness. White River National Forest. Colorado

My brother and I shake off our grubby trail runners as we get ready to head up the renown Electric Pass near Aspen on this early, July morning. As we both are well aware when hiking in Colorado during the summer season, we need to hightail it up to the summit before the day wakes up and the notorious afternoon thunderstorms come wreak havoc with all of us hikers in the Rockies.

A zappy, excited current zings through the adventurous cells in my body as I glance at the pass on the trail map that is described by guidebooks as “treacherous” and “not maintained.” Electric Pass is the highest named pass in the notoriously high state of Colorado, a state where fifty-three 14,000-plus foot mountains are constantly on epic summiting parade by thousands of outdoor adventure seekers.

High alpine meadow and Pika habitat heading up to the pass. 

At around 13,500 feet, Electric Pass’ trail on the western Conundrum Valley side has been abandoned by humans. Nature has been invited to take the trail back due to unpredictable and dangerous rocky slopes that wreak havoc with human limbs and lives. We’re coming up from the other side, the Castle Creek side, which is a 9-plus mile round-trip, 3,700-plus foot elevation gain hike with a well maintained trail and passes the stunning and popular Cathedral Lake on route.

Electric Pass was given it's obvious and ominous name by an unlucky ranger in the 1920s who was knocked to the ground at the summit three times in a row by static electricity. He apparently literally rolled down the mountain to safety. Heeding that warning and not wanting to fool with mother nature and her proclivity to throw bolts after noon on Colorado summer days, my brother and I are awake with the birds and at the trailhead around sunrise, knowing we want to be off the summit by 11am to be safe.



Jaw dropping wildflowers. Cathedral Lake in the distance.

2.5 miles up and just one other friendly dude named Ben on the trail, we split at the Cathedral Lake turn-off and head up into the bowl of heavenly wildflower show extraordinaire as the route follows the scree and pinnacles of Cathedral spires towering to the west. We’ve hit the Vegas Jackpot with Colorado wildflower season this year as we are literally thrown into a Sound-of-Music-wildflowers-on-steroids-and-Miracle-Grow moment. An enormous giant swatch of a lush, green high-alpine meadow is completely filled with a popping, bursting kaleidoscope of flowers.

Keeping an eye on the clouds and an ear for any signs of rumbling, my brother and I know we’re still good and we stop for a snack on the Leahy Peak saddle just below the electric peak to munch on our hikers’ sandwiches – peanut butter paired with whatever we could find in the cabinet the night before.

Leahy Peak Saddle pic of me and my brother. Photo by Ben the only other human around.

Statistically Colorado is the state with the third most lightening related deaths in the country and social media is teeming with stories of near strikes and, unfortunately, people getting hit. This includes the more recent tragic story of a newlywed couple on Mt. Yale in July with the bride passing away from a fatal lightening strike. According to local meteorologists, this summer in Colorado has been more active than usual due to unsettled spring and summer skies.

Keeping these stories and thunderstorm avoidance top in our mind, we brush off the sandwich crumbs and start the scramble to the peak. We’re off official pass trail now and are making our way up jaggedy rocks, skirting to the side of the ridge-line which is still partially covered in snow in mid July. We climb higher and arrive at the unadorned Electric Pass Peak and find a rock to perch on that overlooks the massive expanse of Colorado wilderness and possibly allows us to see into other worlds and distant planets. Just wow.


Forging our own trail to Electric Pass Peak.

We are nose to nose with the famous Maroon Bells and Pyramid Peak. The massive 14ers and 13ers including Cathedral Peak, Castle Peak, and Hayden Mountain are still topped with snow and surround us. We’re in a 360 degree circle of frosted, stunning Rocky Mountains. 


Electric Pass Peak. 13,635' Maroon Bells Snowmass Wilderness. White River National Forest. Colorado
Although there are clouds in the sky, they are peaceful. We have no hair standing up on end today and no need to do barrel rolls down the mountain to safety a la unfortunate 1920s ranger. 

We take a moment to soak it all in and enjoy our Rocky Mountain high. At the top of Electric Pass safely and smartly, charged with the exertion and visual reward that came every step of the way. Life is good. Hike on.

-Annie for Outdoorsy Mama

Trip Report:
Location: Electric Pass Hike, part of Cathedral Lake Trail, Maroon Bells Snowmass Wilderness, White River National Forest, Aspen, Colorado
Length & Elevation Gain: @ 9 miles, @ 3,700 feet *approximations.
Elevations: Electric Pass Trail: @ 13,500 feet. Electric Pass Peak: 13,635 feet. *approx
Level of Difficulty: Difficult to strenuous.
Exposure: Mostly sun. Steep trail and switchbacks.
Kid friendly? The trail to Cathedral Lake and the saddle before the pass is relatively kid friendly for experienced hiking kids. The final scramble to the “peak” of Electric Pass is sketchy with steeps and jagged rocks and boulders. For experienced teens and up. Use your judgment. Know your kids.
Best Time to Go: Before noon during hiking season. NEVER when there is thunder or lightning in the air.
Reward: Stunning views of multiple 14ers in the Maroon Bells Snowmass Wilderness and Cathedral Lake.

What to Do - Lightening Tips for Hikers:
Prevention -
Check the weather the night before and before you leave.
Hike EARLY.
Plan on getting off the summit between 11am-noon.
If you see thunderhead build up, hike another day.
On the hike -
Any sound of thunder, start down immediately.
Don’t stand under a solitary tree.
Find the lowest point of open area.
Get away from water.
Adopt the lightning position.
*there are a thousand tips, these are some basics, be sure to do your homework

Where to Eat:
Pine Creek Cookhouse - After the hike, head over for a celebratory local, craft beer and lunch at the Pine Creek Cookhouse. It’s just a few minutes drive from the trailhead and serves interesting tastes like Colorado Elk Bratwurst. A+ views. Tip: Cell phones do NOT work in this valley. www.pinecreekcookhouse.com 

2 comments:

  1. What a gutsy hike and great photos. I came to visit after seeing your pics on Instagram. Stay safe!

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    1. cheers Barb! a breathtaking day up there in the high country. can't beat it. thanks for visiting and happy (and safe ;) adventuring! -a

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