This was a great long weekend in an underutilized central Colorado wilderness area, where we circumnavigated one of the most famous geological formations in the state, “The Cs”, approaching via a southern valley, climbing to a prominent pass, hiking across a high ridgeline over the area’s eponymous peak, and its broad shoulders, and returning via a trail-less basin.
Climbing slightly from the trailhead at about 9000′, the Cs were visible through Aspen forest and wildflowers  and the trail gradually rose through pines and spruce . Making our way past some high elevation cattle around south of the Cs, we climbed a valley, passing up a chance to camp at a scenic lake  and eventually found a mediocre campsite with a spectacular view . You may notice that I could not find a very level spot for the tent, so unfortunately the dogs were rolling on top of me all night.
The next morning we continued up the valley  and started the climb to the pass, passing from evergreens into flower-strewn tundra at about 11,000′ . Looking back as we climbed, a different view of the Cs was visible . Reaching the pass at about 12,500′, and after a short break for a snack, we started toward the first high point  through uncommon fuchsia Indian Paintbrush. Reaching that high point at about 12,900′ we saw yet another view of the Cs  as well as panoramic views in other directions . We then continued across a high tundra ridgeline to the peak at 13,100′ . From the peak, the Cs are seen down the ridge , and the final section of the ridge is visible to the third high point . At first it was lovely tundra and flowers , but soon narrowed to a nervewracking knife edge  that tested my trust in my dogs’ footing, especially my old-timer. It’s hard to capture in photos, and to be honest, I wasn’t taking photos when we were at the crux. I’ve learned it’s best to just let them do their thing, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t holding my breath a few times.
Once across the ridge to the final high point, we looked back at the Cs and down on the basin that we would be descending . Views in other directions were also spectacular from there . At that point, I tried to find the trail marked on the Gaia Topo (but not on a USGS quad), but I wasn’t able to find any cairns or track. Not a big deal really, since it was straightforward to pick our way down through the tundra and rocks. At various point, I used GPS to navigate to the marked trail, and never found anything beyond a faint game trail that soon died out. At one point, the “trail” was clearly tracking a steep boulder-filled ravine that was prominent in satellite photos, but nothing you would attempt to walk down. Ultimately, I gave up on finding the trail in that section, and just enjoyed the 1500′ descent. We saw hundreds of elk, a waterfall  and the valley below . Looking back up, the large steep basin was lovely and green . Again, while the setting was scenic and clean water plentiful, a square meter of level ground was not to be found.
The next morning, facing several miles through a steep forested area, I made another effort to find the Gaia Topo trail, which was supposedly running along the main creek near our campsite. I found something plausibly resembling a trail, but after a while, it was clearly diverging from the trail marked on the Gaia map. So I backtracked, and yet attempted again to find the trail near a water crossing. Again, I found something plausible, but it soon degenerated into a faint track that led me into dense forest, totally surrounded by deadfall and boulders. At that point, I had convinced myself beyond any doubt that the Gaia trail did not exist, and turned to plan B. Making the best of the situation, we followed a seasonal drainage to the main creek, and the main creek to the valley, where I found a cattle trail. That was an easy sentence to type, but two taxing hours for gray-face Zelda and me. Max was fine, he lives to explore. It would have been a lot easier if I had known that no trail existed, since I would have just made my own off-trail route from the beginning. Frankly, I was just lucky that I didn’t choose to do the route in the opposite direction, since I probably would have given up because the forecast afternoon thunderstorms limited my time on the ridgeline to early in the day.
In the valley, back on a trail, we ran into the rancher who runs his high elevation cattle in that part of the wilderness, and has roamed the area on horseback for 50+ years. I told him my route, and he confirmed that there has never been a trail in that basin, except for the one I found in the lower part, which was his trail. Very friendly guy, he told me about another adjacent basin with a large herd of wild sheep, which would also be a good future trip.