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Published: April 27th 2008
Distance: 4 miles
For the second day of my impromptu Glenwood Canyon mini-trip, I decided to head south and cross over Independence Pass on my way home. This route passes through Aspen (I felt poor just driving through town) along HWY 82 before climbing up into the mountains south of town. Along the way, travelers pass by four different wilderness areas: Maroon Bells-Snowmass, Hunter-Fryingpan, Collegiate Peaks, and Mt. Massive. This area houses the tallest mountains in Colorado, Mt. Elbert and Mt. Massive respectively. Oh yeah, and the vistas are pretty incredible the whole way. This route back to Denver is far from direct, but well worth the time if you are a big fan of mountain scenery.
With so many wilderness areas and hiking options just off of the highway, I had a difficult time deciding where I wanted to go for my hike. I ultimately settled on the Lost Man Trail in the Hunter-Fryingpan Wilderness. This wilderness area was a late edition to Colorado’s wilderness lands. It was originally going to be added on to the adjacent Mt. Massive Wilderness, but some technicality kept it separate. The area gets its name from two major bodies of
water: the Fryingpan River along the northern border and Hunter Creek in the west. At a little over 82,000 square miles, Hunter-Frying Pan is one of the smaller and less-frequently visited wilderness areas. HWY 82 skirts the southern and western borders of the area before crossing over Independence Pass.
The Lost Man Trail is a roughly 9 miles horse-shoe shaped trail that arcs through Hunter-Fryingpan’s southeast corner, southwest of Independence Pass. There is about 2000 ft of elevation change from one trailhead to the other. The lower trailhead is about 4.5 miles west of the upper trailhead. With my legs still rather trashed from the previous day’s hike (see the Dead Horse Trail entry), I decided to just do a small, four mile section of this trail that heads from the upper trailhead to Independence Lake. The lake sits in a bowl surrounded by several 13,000 ft peaks including Geissler Mountain to the east and Twining Peak to the west. Beyond the lake, the trail continues on over Lost Man Pass to Lost Man Lake before descending into the valley below.
From the parking area, the trail immediately enters the Hunter-Fryingpan Wilderness and sticks to a steady moderate
climb along the headwaters of the Roaring Fork River. The river is little more than a stream here, but it picks up quite a bit of power as it flows off to the east and north. This entire hike is spent above tree line, although there are a few stunted pines that dot the surrounding landscape. The trail continues along a narrow gulch and comes very close to numerous year-round snow fields. Along the way, I got caught in a brief but intense storm that whipped up a rain-snow mix. The shallow but scenic Independence Lake is reached at the 2 mile point. The trail continues along the lake’s western banks up to Lost Man Pass.
The Lost Man trail would be an ideal shuttle hike for groups with more than one car. With the two trailheads being as close as they are, it would be convenient to leave one car at each and do the entire trail in one day. Otherwise, hikers are looking at 18 miles out and back or a 13.5 mile loop where the last 4.5 miles would be along the side of HWY 82 (which I wouldn’t advise). For longer hikes, there are several
trails that branch off of this one. The Midway Trail is accessed shortly after leaving the lower trailhead and the South Fork Trail starts at around the 4 mile mark. At the upper trailhead, a short but steep trail climbs up to Linkins Lake in a basin overlooking the area.
This was easily the highest altitude hike that I’ve done all year long. Winter shows up early at these heights, so be ready for snow as early as September. Of course, my standard warning about fast-moving storms certainly applies here as well. I advise bringing rain gear even if there isn’t a cloud in the sky.
Directions: From Denver, take I-70 west for 150 miles to Glenwood Springs. In town, follow signs for HWY 82 (which is the main drag in town) south toward Aspen. Continue along HWY 82 for about 40 miles through Aspen. The lower trailhead is about 14 miles east of Aspen and the upper trailhead is another 4.5 miles further. Both trailheads are just off the side of the highway and are well signed. For those heading back to Denver, HWY 82 continues over Independence Pass before it dead-ends at US 24. From this
junction, you can take US 24 south through Buena Vista and continue on to Colorado Springs. I chose to take 24 north to Leadville, then HWY 91 northeast to Copper Mountain and the junction with I-70.
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