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August 16th, 2014

Silver Lake with a Twist

It was another beautiful August day in Telluride and I wanted to make it up to Silver Lake before the wildflowers faded.  It hasn’t gotten real cold at night yet, but any day now, we’ll wake up and see a dusting of snow on the mountaintops. 

I wanted to do something different with Silver Lake and my Telluride hiking book suggested hiking to Jackass Basin and then hike over the ridgeline and down to Silver Lake.  The guide book rates Jackass Basin as difficult, primarily because the trial is difficult to find and follow.  I can attest that this is very true.  In fact, on the way up, I couldn’t find the Jackass trail.

So, I decided to go up the Silver Lake side and go over the ridge into Jackass.  I figured it would be easier to find the trail at the top and follow it down.

As always, Silver Lake is a great hike.  From the Bridal Veil power station, it’s about an hour hike to the lake.  Much of that hike is steep, but the views are gorgeous.  The wild flowers were abundant and the temperature was perfect.  It’s a popular hike, so you will likely run into several other hikers on the way. 

Silver Lake – Jackass Ridgeline

To get to the ridgeline, I followed the trail to the left of the lake.  This trail circles the lake.  The wildflowers are the best I’ve ever seen up there in the 8 summers that I’ve lived here.  My pictures don’t do them justice.  As I approached the far side of the lake, I started bushwacking towards the ridgeline.  My guidebook said to go up and over the saddle, but to me it looked like there were multiple saddles.  I picked the wrong saddle, which meant I had a steeper and higher hike than necessary.  In the future, I’ll continue to go to the far end of the valley and hike up the last saddle on the left ridge.  That said, I made it.

The view from the ridgeline is spectacular.  I wish I had had more time there, but the clouds started rolling in.  The ridgeline is definitely not the place to be in a thunderstorm.  In reality, it never rained the entire hike, but it’s a good idea to be cautious. 

Jackass Basin

At first glance, Jackass Basin isn’t as spectacular as Silver Lake, and first impressions are sometime correct.  There’s a stream that runs down the center of the basin, but there’s not anything very unique about this basin.  Don’t get me wrong, it’s beautiful, but it takes a lot of effort to get to.

Once I figured out that I had ascended the wrong saddle, I walked the ridgeline until I got to the right place.  I was very glad to see a clear trail from the top leading into the basin.  Little did I know that this was pretty much the only clear trail on the way down.  The further I descended into the basin the more faint the trail became.

A Missing Trail

From the mouth of the basin, the stream plunges probably 100 feet into the Bridal Veil basin over a long series of waterfalls.  A collapsed mine cabin also sits at the mouth of the basin.  I hoped to pick up the trail from there.  The guidebook recommended that I keep the stream to my right as I descended and follow the trail or animal paths all the way down until the trail intersects with the Silver Lake trail. 

At first, this was fairly easy.  I often lost the trail, but the bushwacking was easy and the obstacles were easy to get around.  However, the further I descended, the worse it got.  I saw no evidence of a trail and the cliff bands that needed to be negotiated became much trickier.  In the beginning, I was excited to see a trail, but usually the trail would only be visible for a couple dozen feet.  After a while, if just felt like someone was intentionally trying to frustrate me.  At this point, I realized that I was stupid for hiking this one alone.  I strongly recommend doing this hike with someone who actually knows where the trail is located. 

Obviously, I made it down.  I never connected with the Silver Lake trail and instead crossed the river at a different place.  My legs suffered numerous cuts, and there were far more insects out that I ever remember. 

I’m not going to recommend the Jackass hike.  The waterfalls were great, and it’s certainly great if you don’t like seeing people, but the lack of a clear trail made it very difficult.  However, I do recommend hiking up to the ridgeline about Silver Lake.  It’s much more accessible that the Ballard Mountain ridgeline (another story). 

I parked fairly close to the power plant, so the whole hike took between 4 and 5 hours with not many stops.  As always, I recommend getting a ride up to the top of Bridal Veil if you are hiking further.  The jeep trail up there is easy to hike, but there’s a lot of traffic and you will be eating dust for 45 minutes.  The best part begins after the power plant.

Both Silver Lake and Jackass Basin reach 12,200 feet.  Add a few hundred feet to reach the ridgeline.

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