Editor's Note: Mary Ellen Gilliland is the author of the ever-popular "The Vail Hiker" book. She just released a full-color, sixth edition of the guidebook, available for purchase at The Bookworm of Edwards and outdoor stores for $19.95. The Vail Daily is excerpting hikes from the book each weekend this summer.
Seven lovely sisters surrounded by breathtaking mountain scenery await hikers enroute to Fall Creek Pass. On the pass' 12,580-foot summit, you straddle magnificent Holy Cross Ridge with views east to the massive Ten Mile Range. This trail's beauty has no equal.
Drive 13 miles south of Interstate 70 Dowd Junction exit 171 on U.S. Highway 24 to the Homestake Road, no. 703. Turn right and proceed along a gravel road past the Gold Park Campground to a side road at 8.5 miles, road No. 704. Turn right onto this rough road and drive west-southwest for 2.3 miles. Reach a "T" at 10,200 feet near the Fancy Lake trailhead and turn right. Go north on rough road 727 for 2 miles, passing a junction at about 1 mile where you keep right and go slightly downhill (avoiding the uphill left switchback). Park in a level area beside a jeep road that leads straight ahead. The main road continues uphill and left to a diversion dam.
The 4WD road straight ahead connects within 50 yards to the Holy Cross City jeep road. Your drive has eliminated an uphill trek on that road to reach this point. If you hesitate to drive the rough route to this trailhead, walk up the Holy Cross City 4WD road from Gold Park.
The trail begins on a short section of 4WD road that quickly intersects with the Holy Cross City road. Turn left onto this historic route. Climb alongside French Creek for about 1.5 miles to a large meadow at 11,200 feet where the road forks just beyond a creek crossing. The road to the left goes to Holy Cross City, a historic 1880s gold camp now a ghost town, a 1 to 2 hour side trip.
The right fork leads to Hunky Dory Lake and Seven Sisters Lakes. The trail circles the east side of the large meadow and then climbs into the Holy Cross Wilderness to Hunky Dory Lake. Named for a nearby gold mine, it is the first of many splendid tarns along the trail to Fall Creek Pass. Just past it lies the remains of a cabin and some rusted mine machinery. A waterfall on French Creek may also catch your eye. The trail follows French Creek, climbing moderately here, and then rises sharply to rock-punctuated meadows above timberline. Mt. Whitney, 13,271 feet, comes into view at right.
The Seven Sisters Lakes start with the smallest and gain in size as you approach Fall Creek Pass. The trail levels off among the lakes, allowing hikers to catch their breath for the 1.5-mile tramp up the pass.
Catching one's breath is difficult because the scenery is breathtaking. The seven shining sisters hide among wildflower-upholstered knolls and benches, and then surprise hikers with their individual beauty. Look for rosy queens crown; listen for marmot, or whistle pig.
Hiker, historian and author Mary Ellen Gilliland lived first in Vail and then Summit County since January 1970. She has skied and hiked backcountry trails for more than 40 years. She has written 16 books. For more information, visit summitandvailhikes.com. This column is copyrighted 2012 by Mary Ellen Gilliland.