Always in search of a new river canyon to explore, I had pondered the Upper Fryingpan River on various occasions. Its headwaters are part of the Hunter-Fryingpan Wilderness and with a location pushed against the continental divide, my curiosity was stirred. Researching the area, I found a trail following the river canyon up to the Fryingpan Lakes. Not too far from home for a day hike but enough out of the way to thin the normal crowds found on most trails in our area. I decided to go for it.

Driving through the lower canyon, I pass fishing spots I have spent hours matching wits with wily trout. They usually win. As I continue up the valley towards its head, I travel beyond the borders of previous visits. The valley walls close in and the canyon ahead sucked me into its grasp. The mountains and ridges connect to form the spine of the continental divide and have a trace of snow on them. Just out of summer, the surrounding area is at its visual peak. Combining left over summer greens, brilliant yellows and oranges of autumn, and the white cap of impending winter.

Leaving the pavement behind, the road steepens. There is nothing like driving a narrow dirt road cut into the side of a mountain on way to a wilderness canyon for the first time. In one spot the road disappears around a curve blasted into the rock. The exposure on the canyon side is a bit intimidating. I get out at a widened spot just before and hike a short distance to peer around the corner. My nervous condition proves to be just that and the road ahead does not lead to a do or die situation.

Arriving at the trailhead my eagerness to explore a new river canyon multiplies as no other vehicles are present. A condition quite unusual in Colorado. The unfortunate truth about trails leading into our wild areas, they are loved to death. It is a special treat to explore a wilderness area such as this, but to have it to myself is incredible. So off I go.

Mornings are the time of day I most enjoy on hikes. The air is crisp and there’s a sense of renewal. The hike starts by trekking through a dense spruce forest. Lichen and moss cover the ground in abundance and the anticipation of what lies ahead sharpens the awareness. Claw marks in the peat expose a digging site and upturned rocks scattered about remind me of whose home this is. I act accordingly. I am merely a visitor and a privileged one at that.



I remember a sign at the trailhead that said moose also live in the area. All this adds to the strong emotional response to the day ahead. Soon, I step out of the forest into an avalanche clearing. The trail has climbed the side of the canyon and the small river below can be seen in gaps in the willows. I pause to set up my camera then continue on. I have too much to see.

Back in the trees, my sense of hearing heightens as the thick cover limits the distance my sight can penetrate. Every noise intensifies as my imagination takes full force. Being a calm morning, the sound of wind blowing through the trees is non-existent. This magnifies other sounds and adds an importance to those noises you might not normally hear. I pause from time to time to focus on specific sounds peering through the trees to find their origin. With no success I continue on.

Soon I step into a larger opening where the crest of the divide comes into view. It tops the east walls of the valley and is now quite prominent. The canyon has entered a sweeping curve to the south and the mountains ahead dominate the scene. Many are over 13,000 feet in elevation with the largest being Mount Oklahoma 13,845 and Deer Mountain 13,761. Lacking that few hundred feet of height to put them over 14,000 lessens their notoriety and is probably what has saved my pristine wilderness experience. People are drawn to fourteeners which adds to the visitation of the wild areas that surround such a mountain. Ah, just here to enjoy the moment.

All to soon I realize today will not be the day I reach the lakes. A definite disappointment, but that's alright, spending any less time enjoying the newness of the area in exchange for adding trail miles would be an injustice. Anyway, I know I'll be back.