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Backpacker Magazine – August 2009

Where Solitude Rules - Wilderness Hideaways

Lose yourself in a private paradise the crowds have overlooked.

by: Dougald MacDonald

Fairy Head, Cutler Coast (Tim Seaver)
Fairy Head, Cutler Coast (Tim Seaver)
The Boundary Waters (Airphotona - Jim Wark)
The Boundary Waters (Airphotona - Jim Wark)

Guide's Secret The Whites
"Mt. Adams is way less crowded than Mt. Washington," says Jim Shimberg, of Rhino Guides. "King Ravine on Adams is as wild as Tuckerman, but nobody's ever there." Hike 5.5 miles from the Appalachia trailhead.


Find more crowd-free hikes.

Gore Range, Colorado
Trek to a high valley where the peaks have no names.

With long approaches and not a single summit on Colorado's 100 highest list, the Gore Range is a blank spot on the map for list-keepers and dayhikers. Which makes it ground zero for solitude seekers. Spiky peaks as high as 13,230 feet ring Upper Slate Lake, but only one summit, Guyselman Mountain, is named on USGS topos; the rest carry alphabetical nomenclature bestowed by the Colorado Mountain Club in the 1930s. Start at Brush Creek trailhead and hike 10 miles on the Slate Creek and Gore Range Trails to reach the lake, which is surrounded by Peaks J through T.

Plant basecamp among the trees near the northeast end of the lake, at around 10,850 feet, and scope the routes you'll tackle over the next couple of days. Peak Q, the dominant summit at the head of the valley, is a challenging Class 4 scramble up the northeast face and east ridge, with snow lingering well into July. Peak L features a knife-edge passage on the southwest ridge. Several summits offer more modest hikes. A traverse of the whole cirque would challenge Himalayan mountaineers. Return the way you came.

Days 4-5
Maps USGS topos Squaw Creek, Willow Lakes, and Vail East
Permits None
Info (970) 468-5400;

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West Coast Red
Sep 23, 2011

Not convinced the writer has done the Sespe trip described. The upper Alder Creek route is ridiculously overgrown and has effectively been abandoned by the Forest Service since the Day Fire (2006). Mutau to the Sespe via Johnston Ridge is fine, best in autumn, but not Alder.

Sep 20, 2011

We attempted this trail last weekend and just about had to get air-lifted out. The trail from little Mutau to McDonald Cabin and on past Alder Creek, is basically non-existent. Even if you find it for a little while, it is obliterated and lost quickly. I do not recommend trying this. The trail from Mutau to Johnston ridge is better maintained, although strenuous going up. No water past the hot sespe creek. Fill a few liters before you leave the Sespe and avoid hiking in the summer months. Maybe an out and back trip from Mutau on Johnston ridge would be a safer choice.

Feb 03, 2011

How much of the Sespe Wilderness hike is in the recent past burn area? Was up in the Mutau Flat area recently and lots of burn. ????

Feb 03, 2011

I have hiked the Cutler trails in Maine for all seasons! They are spectacular...woods and ocean...a great combination!

Oct 29, 2009

We did the hike around Easter 2008 down the creek from Piedra Blanca and camped at Oak Flat. The trail crosses the river several times. The water is chilly and at that time of year but didn't go above mid-thigh on an adult. If there is a good side to the wildfires, it has to be that you can see the wildflowers better. They recovered quickly.

Dale Johnson
Aug 29, 2009

If you want solitude on backpacks, go high and off trail. For 10 such great Colorado backpacks, go to this web site:

Aug 20, 2009

The trail to the Sespe Hot Springs, and certainly the hot springs themselves, are not the place I'd go if seeking solitude. These are well-known hot springs.

Also, the locale suffered from wildfires a couple of years ago; recovery is far from complete. I advise you to check with the local ranger station to determine the current condition of the flora recovery.

Finally, the Ventura, CA County backcountry can get mighty hot in the summer. Visit the Sespe hot springs in the cooler months.

Matthew Davis
Aug 20, 2009

Solitude yes, but hiking the Border Route Trail is certainly not for the novice backpacker. The scenery is fantastic but the trail conditions inside the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness are very rough. Blowdowns are plentiful, the trail tread is obscure in places hit by wildfires, and heavy brush is abundant.

Aug 20, 2009

I strongly recommend you not do this hike in the summer months. We did the hike a few years back and I suffered from heat stroke due to the extreme 100+ temps.

Aug 12, 2009

I just did this hike last month and only saw 2 other people on the trail. Had a great time and the scenery was awesome!


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