September 6, 2020 · Raggeds Wilderness
The trek to Blue Lake in the Raggeds Wilderness inside the Gunnison National Forest was part of a two adventure just outside of Crested Butte. The weather on day-two was spectacular, a bug blue sky and a few scattered high-level clouds. This portion of the Raggeds Wilderness is made of layered mudstone, like that in the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness. As such, the peaks and valleys are striking layered strata. However, this area has a lush green carpet of shrubs and grasses that create a unique visual effect in the mudstone strata.
The trail follows the Oh-be-Joyful creek through a wide U-shaped valley. The terraced mudstone range along the norther wall of the valley is part of a range that makes up Schuylkill Mountain. This wall of the valley is made up of the same geology as the iconic peaks of Maroon Bells but is covered in lush green grasses and shrubs. It is remarkably interesting and is constant view through this valley.
In a high meadow, just before where the Oh-be-joyful creek forks, there is a metal bent gate. There are no traces of a fence around it, just the gate. Perhaps an intentional accident, this gate in a high meadow overlooks the mudstone peaks of Handcock Peak, Oh-be-joyful Peak and Afley Peak that make up the Ruby Range. This bent metal gate in the middle of nowhere makes for a memorable milestone on this incredible trek.
The trail begins to turn South and a steep climb to Blue Lake comes into view. Blue Lake is in a high cirque surrounded by Afley Peak, Purple Peak and Carfield Peak. The lush green ground cover leading up to the bench that Blue Lake sits in is incredible, and this would make a perfect out-and-back multi-day trek right here. From here the slope of the trail increases dramatically. Additionally, there is some trail restoration going on, so the documented trail cannot be used to get to Blue Lake.
As it turns out, is a good thing. I had been bumping this trek off the list for some time because of the last pitch to Blue Lake; the documented trail looks brutal. However, this small leg of the trail is a heart-racer. Just before the final pitch to Blue Lake, there is one more split on the trail. The Daisy Pass trail runs North-South across the trail to Blue Lake. This was where I saw the first of the cows for the day. There was a cow and her calf on the trail heading North, the calf was feeding. The Southern leg of the Daisy Pass Trail continues over Daisy Pass, and creates a large multi-day loop, which is something I am considering for the next season.
Just below Blue Lake is a small meadow ringed with shrubs, and within this meadow were more cows, at least fifteen by my count. The were laying down basking in the sun just below 11,000 feet. The thought of laying down and basking in the sun was very appealing. Blue Lake is oblong in shape, and along the leading edge of the lake, there were a surprising number of people here, though spaced out enough to make the experience special. However, there was a couple that decided to pitch their tent on the opposite side of the lake, in plane view. Their yellow tent stuck out like a sore thumb. It took some creative maneuvering to find a location along the shoreline that obstructed their tent from view, but I did manage to find such a spot. Now it was perfect.
I had lunch here and did lay down and bask in the sun for a while. I could have easily fallen asleep here. As I was beginning to slip into a high-altitude nap a woman who was doing a multi-day trek along the Daisy Pass Loop came up and sat close to me and started talking to me. She was nice, and we talked for a long time - about the trail, the weather, and as it turns out, we apparently live close to each other. I did not get her name or any info to contact her, this was just a pleasant surprise conversation with a nice woman on the trail.
The brutal last pitch on the way down is quick but slick, as this portion of the rail is covered in loose scree. Making my way pas the group of cows, who were now all standing, perhaps getting ready to head back as well. When I got to the Oh-be-joyful cut off I met a Forest Ranger. There was a new trail sign at this junction, and he told me that last week he put that new sign in and this week he was going to go to Blue Lake.
I am always impressed with how Forest Rangers look when I meet them out on the trail. They are in long pants, either a long sleeve or short sleeve button-down shirt with a collar and a shirt underneath and their shirt and pants look like they have a freshly ironed crease in them. They look like they just walked out of a Smokey The Bear poster. Also, I have yet to see a Forest Ranger with a backpack, any visible water container, food or breaking a sweat. I do not know how they do it, they are out on the trail for days at a time.
The trek down out of the wide valley goes fast. This trek turned out to be a 14.1-mile roundtrip trek coming in just under eight hours on the trail. The weather was perfect, the company and conversation at the lake was very nice, the views are incredible, an excellent day on the trail.