Today, during my two-week camping stay in Crested Butte, I hiked Scarp Ridge in the ghost town of Irwin.
Getting to Scarp Ridge Trail
Getting to Scarp Ridge Trail requires driving up a portion of Keebler Pass. The final mile, after Irwin Lake gets a little rocky and steep, but there are no low hanging trees and it is reasonably wide. I read many AllTrails reviews that almost scared me away, but VANgo handled it mightily. I’m glad I went!
After mastering the road, I contended with the parking issues. Signs posted all along the roadway warn, “Private Property. Please stay on road.” In some places, the signs were taken down, so I parked in that area. It didn’t say “No Parking” until reaching the trailhead, so I realized it was OK. But starting out a hike worrying about 4×4 and parking isn’t the most relaxing.
Catskiing at the Old Mining Camp
The private property is owned by Eleven, which provides catskiing out of this mountain base which was once a mining camp that closed in 1952. A handful of old buildings, including Irwin Lodge, pepper the landscape along with a few new ones built for the Disney film Mountain Family Robinson. In the winter, this area of the Elk Mountains gets 450 inches of snow, more than double that of Crested Butte, thus the draw for catskiing.
Today, however, Scarp Ridge was dry beneath clear skies, just the way I like it! The 5 mile trail is a lollipop loop with an extension to a ridge. Again, a reviewer’s comments on AllTrails about a poorly marked and easy to lose trail concerned me.
The Hike to Scarp Ridge
- Distance: 4.9 miles
- Type: Moderate, Lollipop Loop
- Elevation Gain: 1,630 ft
- Other: Dogs Allowed
- All Trails Link
I felt like I was on a different one. I had no problem following the trail, though there are a few offshoots, so it is best to bring the map along. Scarp Ridge trail begins in the trees with meadows of wildflowers. Then the trail splits and gives hikers a choice to climb clockwise or counter-clockwise.
The counter-clockwise direction weaves a little more and as a result is less steep. I took this direction, though it doesn’t seem to matter much. The trail was not as steep as Gothic Mountain, but is still gains 1,500 feet in two miles and just over 1,600 feet in all. Perhaps my legs were tired from my previous days hikes, but the hike out of the woods into the tundra just felt hard.
I was going nowhere fast at 11,000 feet, but it gave me time to admire the deer that Annie spotted up on the ridge. Anytime Annie freezes, I know she has found some animal. Only about half the time I see what she is staring at.
The trail continues up through the open expanse which provides 360-degree views all around at the first ridge. Continuing on the spur, provides another view. I had a hard time deciding which view I liked best. To the south I could see Lake Irwin, to North a small tarn, and to the West a waterfall.
The bluebird sky and cool breeze made for a wonderful day on the mountain. It was even more enjoyable to have the views on Scarp Ridge to myself, even if only briefly.
As I followed the steep descent, lovely vistas remained on my right almost the whole way down as I stepped aside for fellow hikers climbing up. In all, I probably only saw about 20 people which is pretty quiet for a Colorado trail, but it was enough to fill the limited parking area that was once empty at the bottom of Scarp Ridge.
Keebler Pass and Lake Irwin
Upon my return to Crested Butte down Keebler Pass, I couldn’t believe the transformation of Lake Irwin. At 7:15 in the morning, colloid was rising from the quiet water. By 11am, it was a watersports haven and kid’s camp. Fishermen, paddle boarders, and sun bathers took over the area.
Amazingly, despite all the traffic coming up the pass, I still spotted a mom and two does crossing the road. Not once, but twice. Two separate threesomes! I couldn’t believe it. Unfortunately, I only have one poor iPhone shot of one of the babies who stopped to look at VANgo. It’s not even worthy of a post. At least I’ll have it my memory, for now anyway! ETB