Precarious Peak and Copper Lake – A Hike with West Elk Project

Precarious Peak in the Maroon Bells – Snowmass Wilderness in the Elk Mountains is impressive to say the least

A desire to do something new took me to the top of Precarious Peak in the Maroon Bells – Snowmass Wilderness in the Elk Mountains.  It was impressive to say the least, so we’ll just start with that.  What will be much harder to describe (and definitely cliché-sounding) is the constant feeling of elation that I felt as I walked through scenes of green aspen groves, cold creek crossings, dark timber, and high rocky peaks where tufts of shedded mountain goat hair clung to my hand hold above 13,000 feet.


The ridiculous-looking “Spider Face” off of White Rock

On Saturday morning I left the Copper Creek TH at 8:30 AM with my friend Tom Runcie.  We had spoken about “getting on top of something high” while at work the previous week, I guess hanging out on ladders painting big houses can do that to a man.  We made the decision at the cars we would try to hike up Precarious Peak (13,380 ft), or really we just thought we’d go for a walk and see how far we’d go.  Either way, Tom had never climbed Precarious and I hadn’t even been to Copper Lake yet so we started with an open mind for the day just really hoping we didn’t get caught in any thunderstorms.


Pika are everywhere

Maybe we were letting off steam after a week of work, or maybe just eager to see what was up that beautiful valley, but we made good time to Copper Lake.  The lake is flanked by Cassi Peak to the west, Precarious Peak to the north-northwest, East Maroon Pass to the northeast, another basin that leads to Triangle Pass to the east, and the ridiculous-looking “Spider Face” face off a sub-peak of White Rock Mountain to the south.  As we sat down on a rocky prow covered in small pines that juts out into the lake, trout were feeding everywhere.  It’s a special spot where you almost felt bad for being there as you took in the beauty of the place.  We happened to run into  We happened to run into our buddies and fellow freeskiers Brandon Clabaugh and Mick Osmundson who had camped at the lake the night before to get in on the fishing that morning.  As Brandon was explaining that the fish had been going off Mick pulled a cutthroat out right on cue, and there was much rejoicing.

We continued past the lake for a quick jaunt up to East Maroon Pass.  As we crested the top, it really felt as if we were on another world.  With the 14,000-foot peaks of the Maroon Bells, Pyramid, and Castle in sight, the high alpine scenery started to sink in and I was blown away by how big everything started to feel.  The view north down the East Maroon Creek Valley is flanked by Pyramid Peak overshadowing the west side of the valley and the smaller Hilliard, Keefe, and Hunter peaks to the east with Castle Peak poking out behind them.  You can see all the way down to the foothills of the Roaring Fork Valley where there is a little place called Aspen you might have heard of.

From our vantage point, Precarious Peak rose to the west along a jagged ridge where the grass faded away and I really wished it was mid-winter and I had skis on my feet.  This was actually a really common thought that pervaded both Tom’s and my  mind constantly and dominated our conversation throughout the day. “If only we could snowmobile up here,” or “Man, we need another stable year like 2011,” and “Let’s get ready for winter camping” were repeated a handful of times as if we kept on forgetting that obviously, those would all be freaking amazing things.

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