Three Apostles Basin
Octobedr 14, 2021 · Collegiate Peaks Wilderness
The hike to the Three Apostles Basin could be considered the first Winter trek of the season. I had originally planned to do this trek based off a week-in-advance weather forecast for the area. The original forecast was for snow the day before the hike, and sunny on the day of the hike. However, unsurprisingly, the day of the hike turned out to be overcast with periods of heavy snow, but most of the day the snow was a light wind-driven snow, though it was not terribly windy on this trek.
I was not disappointed that it was not sunny for this trek. On the contrary, weather is part of what makes each trek special, and this trek was no exception. The overcast day and light snow throughout the day made this a very special hike. It is the tail-end of the shoulder season where the Fall colors have faded, and dark leafless branches of Willow shrubs dispersed throughout dark yellow and gold grasses set against an overcast sky makes for striking and contrasting darker colors along the trail.
I did this trail as a mid-week hike, with the hope of less traffic on the trail. As it turned out, there was not a single person on the trail other than myself, which added to the special and unique effect of this trek.
The trail follows a leg of the Continental Divide Trail, I have been on most of the trail before, to Lake Ann, a little over a year ago. The trail up to the split to either Lake Ann or the Three Apostles Basin is fairly easy, with spectacular views and moves quickly. The trail is lifted a little bit above the valley floor and follows the South Fork Clear Creek, giving a unique perspective of the valley in either direction.
Looking back down the trail, to the North is Ervin Peak with Hope Pass tucked behind it. Ervin Peak has a South face, and as such the snow melts faster on this face, the result is a layering of colors. Starting at the valley floor are dark green conifers, then a layer of light green, then treeline. Just above treeline, there is a light layer of snow covering the granite peak, which is obscured by low clouds.
Looking South, down the trail, you can see Ice Mountain, which makes up the Three Apostles. The weather is thicker and more ominous looking in the Three Apostles Basin. The outline of the lightly covered Three Apostles peaks are hard to make out, as the basin is soupy looking with a dense white fog. The Three Apostles peaks are in constant view throughout the trek, though mostly obscured by low clouds.
For the most part the trail is snow-free, though there are patches of snow here and there along the trail. However, the persistent wind-driven light snow set against dark green conifers give off a magical wonderland feel to it. The valley is ringed with several named peaks, including a fourteener, Huron Peak. Though one of the more interesting peaks is Granite Mountain. It is a tilted cone-shaped peak, and the light snow covering it brings out dramatic and contrasting lines in the granite.
At the base of Granite Mountain is a marsh with several beaver ponds that are beginning to freeze over. The frozen edges of the ponds are covered in a thin layer of fresh snow. The unfrozen centers of the ponds give off a visual of still, black water. The branches of the beaver lodges are covered in a thin layer of snow with dark branches showing through. These striking, contrasting colors set against an overcast sky, and a light snow along with the deafening silence give off a sense of truly being alone in the wilderness.
Given the weather and the absence of other people on the trail, I was surprised I did not see more wildlife. However, you are never truly alone on the trail. Where there was snow on the trail, there were fresh footprints of some four-legged animal with paws, as well as hoofed footprints in the snow on the trail. However, the paw tracks were fresher than the hoofed tracks. What was odd about the tracks is that they were too narrow for a mountain lion but seemed too wide for a fox or coyote. Whatever it was, it was always just out of sight.
Just before reaching the split between Lake Ann and the Three Apostles Basin, there was another meadow, though this one had a very distinct smell to it. I stopped in my tracks and looked around for a Moose but did not see or hear any. Moose have a very distinct smell, they smell like horses, but their odor is stronger and thicker. Given my history with Moose encounters, as they are typically close quarters encounters, I moved slowly through this marsh looking around and listening for sounds of Moose. Moose also sound like a bulldozer when they move through the trees and Willow shrubs. I did not see any tents or horses. I do not believe it was a group on horseback.
Shortly after the Moose-smelling marsh is the split between Lake Ann and the Three Apostles Basin. It is a nice flat area with incredible views back to North of Granite Mountain, Virginia Peak, and Huron Peak. Based on my trip planning, I expected the trek to be a constant, but gentle glide up to the Three Apostles Basin. That could not have been further from the truth.
For some reason, the documented trail is no longer accessible, and an alternate route has been established. This alternate route follows a deep ravine up to the basin and is very steep. Imagine the difference between a staircase and a ladder used to get to the roof of a house, the angle of the trail was somewhere in-between those two. This was a surprise, and complicated as the trail was now covered in about two inches of snow, making it very slippery, even with traction spikes.
I did stop several times to make sure I was indeed on a trail for people and not following a game trail. I am certain I was on the trail for people. However, my just out-of-sight four-legged padded foot companion was nearby. The tracks were very fresh, and it was now snowing a heavy wet snow, so the tracks were new.
The conifers are very thick on this last steep leg of the trail, and the thought began to run through my mind that upon reaching the basin, it would be at the foot of a talus field at the edge of the tree line, with very little room to move around. Thankfully, that was not the case, though the basin is not very big, but that was okay. Once at the basin the trail flattens out and the Three Apostles are very close.
The Three Apostles make up three peaks in Ice Mountain and on this day, it was clear to see why it is called Ice Mountain. The headwall rises quickly and is covered in a light layer of snow. The clouds were very low here, and the peaks of the Three Apostles were often obscured. However, every now and then there was a strong gust of wind and shortly after that one or more of the Three Apostles peaks would come into view. I found a place out of the wind, had lunch here and watched the peaks come into view, and then get enveloped in thick white clouds again.
It was very peaceful here. Of course, I would have liked to have seen this on a sunny day, but the light snow, light wind and low clouds made this a very special trek. I took my time on the return, taking a lot of pictures. The temperature was dropping slowly, the temperature on the trail ranged from 19 - 29 degrees. I stepped off the trail just before sunset. This serene trek took about nine-and-half hours and came in at 10.9-miles roundtrip. I feel this was a perfect and fitting end-of-shoulder-season trek in the Collegiate Peaks Wilderness.