I’ve always wanted to visit Crested Butte during the Wildflower Festival. I finally did just that and for my first hike to Gothic Mountain via Trail 403 from Washington Gulch Road, they did not disappoint!
Camping in Crested Butte
I arrived in Crested Butte on Monday, around mid-day, and snagged a designated, dispersed campsite on Washington Gulch Road. Knowing the area was over-crowded and the Crested Butte resorted to designated sites, I intentionally arrived on Monday when weekenders tend to leave.
I was surprised by my choice of spots, in that several were vacant, but by the end of the day, all were taken on Washington Gulch Road despite inconveniently timed road construction for the week! I selected Washington Gulch Road over Slate River Road and other dispersed camping areas because I read the cell service was supposed to be good.
Good is a generous description. Where I am camped in WG32, cell service is spotty at best. I generally have 1 bar, and it drops to 0 bars more often than it pops up to 2. It wasn’t my main concern, but it is useful to have when trying to blog! I’m told the other side of the road is slightly better.
Getting to Gothic Mountain Trailhead
Gothic Mountain is accessed via Trail 403. Trail 403 goes between Washington Gulch Road and FS 317. As a result, the mountain may be accessed from two different points. I hiked Trail 403 from the Washington Gulch side.
The 3+ miles to the trailhead follows a dirt road which steepens and requires 4×4. I didn’t find it that rocky in VANgo, but my Sprinter hardly had the power to get up the hill in the high altitude. Maybe I’ll put it in low range next time.
The small dirt parking area accommodates ten cars or so and does not feature any amenities like pit toilets. I’m not sure I’d consider a stinky pit toilet an amenity, but sometimes they come in handy!
The Hike to Gothic Mountain via Trail 403
- Distance: 7.6 miles
- Type: Hard, out-and-back
- Elevation Gain: 2,998 ft
- Other: Dogs Allowed
- All Trails Link
The 7.6 mile out-and-back- hike immediately climbs via switchbacks through the forest in the Maroon Bells Snowmass Wilderness. The trail is dotted with wildflowers, and after reading all the reviews on AllTrails, at first I was disappointed. It didn’t seem like there were that many.
But as the trail gained in altitude and exited the trees into the open hillsides, my disappointment switched to pure joy. I can’t even describe the variety or the plentitude of flowers which blanketed the tundra. Most of the mountainside wash awash with white and yellow petals, though red, purple, and orange popped in between.
After a 1.6 mile steady climb, I reached an overlook. While I briefly considered stopping here, Annie needed a longer hike to expend her energy. As a result, I descended the next half-mile through more remarkable flowers. Despite the steep grade, which sometimes registered 50%, this section was worth hiking. I’m thankful for my new Black Diamond hiking poles!
Thereafter, I had to decide what to do. Should I continue descending along Trail 403, or veer off to the right to take the steep hike up to Gothic Mountain. I decided to veer right. It would be a useful hike for training, should I climb any 14ers later in the season.
The Final Mile
While the first 2.7 miles only gained around 500 feet, the final mile gained 1,500 feet! The trail first climbed through a forest of fallen trees. We were constantly crawling over dead logs. It wasn’t pretty, and I almost turned around.
Nope, I committed, so I will finish the hike, as that is my motto (if it is not wintertime). Fortunately, the trail left the forest. Unfortunately, it went straight up! There were no switchbacks to be had! The grade regularly registered above 40% and got up to 73% at one point.
While this part of the hike only featured a few wildflowers, it highlighted panoramic views. They would have been nicer if the sky hadn’t been so hazy. I couldn’t smell smoke, so it wasn’t a fire in Colorado, but I think it was remnants from the California and Oregon fires.
Anyway, I had the peak in my sights, summited the first knoll, descended and climbed again. This time the trail narrows substantially and can’t be seen from a distance. It got closer and closer to the edge which gives me vertigo due to my fear of falling.
I tried cutting the trail and scrambling over the rocks, but it just felt to steep and scary to me. Perhaps, if I were with a friend or if others were around, I would have continued, but approximately 0.1 miles from the top, I threw in the towel.
A part of me felt like such a wimp and failure, that I made a second attempt, but I only ascended another ten feet. I just kept having flashbacks of Missouri Mountain last year when I was completely terrified, and this time I didn’t have anyone to talk me through it.
That is the first time I’ve ever turned around on a trail due to fear, rather than snow or weather. I consoled myself by remembering that I hike for the joy and peace that nature brings me. If I’m scared, it’s not worth hiking, with the exception of the sense of accomplishment at the end. Upon descending, I ran into a couple of guys. I almost asked if I could follow them up, but I decided against it.
But I guess at 50, my wisdom finally outweighed my curiosity and adventure. Sometimes I wish I hiked a lot more in my 20’s when I was fearless. Oh well. While I likely gave up some of the view from the 12,737 foot summit of Gothic Mountain, overall all I saw enough, got in some good training, and enjoyed what I originally came to see…the wildflowers! ETB
PS. For those not afraid of ledges or falling, don’t let this post turn you away. It is not a technical climb.