Peak(s):  Milwaukee Pk  -  13,522 feet
Pico Aislado  -  13,611 feet
PT 13,020 A  -  13,020 feet
Music Mtn  -  13,380 feet
Date Posted:  09/13/2018
Modified:  09/14/2018
Date Climbed:   09/12/2018
Author:  aholle88
 Sand Lakes Linkup via Alternate Routes  

Tour De Sand Lakes


Date Climbed: 9/12/2018

Peaks Climbed: Milwaukee Peak 13,522 / Pico Aislado 13,611 / UN13020 / Music Mountain 13,355

Route: Milwaukee SE Spur -> Traverse to Pico via "The Wedgie" -> 13020 -> Music West Ridge -> Descent of Music's East Ridge

Stats: 19.6mi / ~8k / 9hrs car to car

The purpose of this trip report is to provide some information on a couple of alternative routes in the Sand Lakes area. The peaks in this area are beautiful and rugged. Pristine alpine lakes sit below steep off trail approaches similar to that in the Wemi and Gore. Rocky, narrow class 3-5 ridges line the skyline. And the rock is as bomber as it gets in the alpine of Colorado. Milwaukee to Pico is an undertaking that requires near bluebird weather, especially if day tripping, as you need to cross over 2 mountain passes that would not be ideal in an afternoon storm.


Knowing the road to the upper trailhead was not going to happen in the Impreza, the bike was thrown in the car at the last minute in an attempt to save time. Starting out at the lower TH at 7am, I was hoping to made the 2.5mi trip to the upper TH in 30-40 minutes, which actually turned into an hour. Bring your climbing legs if you decide to bike this road as is very steep, especially in sneakers and not clip ins. It'll be worth it later. The road is 100% rideable, with some mildly technical sections of loose steep rock that'll get your legs burning and heart pumping. There were some aspens changed, but not many yet of the ones lining the road.


After locking things up at the TH, it was an easy and much more mellow grade climb up to Music Pass. The views from this pass are amazing and is a great easy hike on its own if you are showing your friends or family around from out of town. From the top of the pass, the descent into Sand Creek goes quickly. You will pass a sign for the trail down to Little Sand Lakes and the Dunes, continue on straight. The next sign is for Lower Sand Lakes on the left, continue straight here as well for Upper Sand Lake. I believe this is where you would turn off to the right (there was an unmarked trail there) to head up to Milwaukee Pass for the standard route up Milwaukee. There are many fairly flat switchbacks heading up to Upper Sand Lake after you cross the creek. Some of them are even downhill and it can seem like forever until you reach the lake. A lot of this terrain is runnable if one wanted to make the day go by a little quicker.

Finally, I was greeted with one of the more incredible lake views in the state at around 9am. Upper Sand Lake is huge, and guarded by the very rugged cliff band of the ridgeline between Music and Milwaukee. I spent about 15 minutes here, eating Oreos and chugging some filtered water from the creek, soaking in the views of the route ahead.


The route up to the SE spur heads north from the lake, past a campsite or 2 and to the right side of a willow-filled gully. There are some slabby, flatiron-esque rock features to climb heading up into the upper basin above the lake on the right side of the gully. Minimal to no bushwacking required. Quality warm-up scrambling. At a fairly obvious point, you will cross over, towards the left, above the willow gully. Aim for a grassy ramp weakness in the SE Ridge, shown here.


Once on the ridge, you will be greeted with a daunting view of the terrain ahead, as well as an above average view of Music. Route finding is basically a game of "choose your own adventure." There is a wide variety of options ranging from Class 3 to Class 5. It's slabby, amazing, bomber, all good adjectives here, rock that is a blast to climb. Just remember to be able to down climb anything you climb up. It did appear that most of the options "went" without too much concern for cliffing out. The initial C3/C4 moves can quickly turn into C5 terrain higher up on the slab though, which is where you could get yourself into potential trouble.

Some of the scrambling sections on high quality conglomerate:


A look back down the ridge:


The terrain above the scrambling, the view of Music, and south ridge of Milwaukee from the point where the ridges connect:


After several hundred feet of hand touching rock and friction holding you on the walls, the scrambling mostly ends and it is a mellower rocky walk to meet up with the Music->Milwaukee ridge. A west wind whipped off the N<->S ridge, luckily this would only be for a short time and I was on the summit of Milwaukee at 1045am. The rest of the ridge ran E<->W and the peaks blocked the wind, which made the scrambling much more enjoyable. Views in all directions from this summit are spectacular. Skies were blue, and the next peak on the agenda lie ahead.


The east face of Pico looks challenging from afar, and a narrow ridge lies in the path. The ridge from Milwaukee to the base of the finish is fun and scrambly, with some exposure to the North. At some point, the route drops off the ridge on a grassy ledge to meet up with the base of the east face climb. Yup, it still looks challenging up close. The intended route begins above a grassy section in a crack known as the "Wedgie." It is not as exposed as it appears once the climbing starts, but it is still an area where you do not want to fall. Once out of the crack, some more scrambling on slabby conglomerate ensues and the summit nears.


30 minutes after leaving Milwaukee, it was a brief sigh of relief to know that the most difficult sections were behind me as I stood on the summit of Pico, but there was still some hefty vertical to be gained an a completely unknown route up Music to explore. I ate some more Oreos, snapped a few pictures, and moved on. Next up was 13,020. The route was mostly class 2 and was more of a grind on the legs than the previous climb since it did not involve any scrambling. The views north to the Crestones and south across to the Deadman peaks are worth the climb.


This is where the standard route for these peaks continues on the ridgeline and descends a nasty gully to the North before ascending Milwaukee Pass. After reading negative reports of this, I wanted to avoid that. There was one trip report that used the Tijeras/Music saddle to wrap around to Milwaukee, I knew I could at least access this and get to the South ridge of Music. The pictures and profile of the descent from the saddle of 13020 and Pico looked much more pleasant than the north side. The ascent up Music did not involve THAT much more vertical than Milwaukee Pass. So the plan was set in place.

The view from below the saddle of 020/Pico towards Music and a profile of the West and South ridges of Music with Tijeras off to the right:


I began the descent off the saddle and traversed high across the tundra, through 1 or 2 cliff bands on mostly grassy slopes. Once at the base of the west ridge, I could see the route to the grassy ramp for the south ridge, which was the plan. However, it was around this time I was starting to feel the effects of the big day. Also remembering the wind whipping around on the N<->S ridge from before, I thought twice about being on the exposed south ridge with wind and tired legs. From the saddle of 020 and Pico, the West Ridge of Music looked very inviting, class 2-3 at most with the exception of the initial access. Remembering from the previous summit of Music via it's south ridge earlier this year, it did not seem anything would be too imposing. I made the decision to head straight up the West ridge at this point, which proved to be a great call.

A few views of the terrain on the West Ridge and looking back into Deadman drainage:


The first few moves onto the ridge were Class 3, maybe 4. There might have been an easier option but the direct approach was simple enough. After that, the ridge itself was mostly class 2, some class 3, and one or 2 optional class 5 moves (one mantel in particular that was fun) if staying proper. It would have been easy to walk up to the right side of the ridge direct on the grass, but what's the fun in that? The ridge was steep, but exposure minimal. After 6k already on the day, it was definitely a grind up that 1200 or so vertical. An hour and a half after leaving 13020, I finally reached familiar ground. The wind was howling as expected which confirmed the decision to skip the South ridge. I stayed on the summit for about 45 minutes in a wind break on the east side of the ridge. This area is certainly a special place, and it was nice to relax finally, taking in the views in all directions.

This shot is looking north from the summit of Music. The quality SE Spur route is directly front and center. The flatiron-esque warm-up scramble is on the right of this shot. The access ramp is behind the grassy slope at the bottom of the SE spur blocked from view.


The descent off the east ridge of Music was uneventful. An easy class 3 downclimb to a "saddle" and short couloir feature. Descend here, aim for the gully and follow the dried up creek steeply down to the lake. There is somewhat of a climber's trail here. The views from Lower Sand Creek lake are nothing short of amazing. Tijera's east face is impressive!


Leaving the lake, I managed to miss the trail. After a few minutes of exploring, I was too tired to care and gave up, bushwacking down to what ended up being the lower part of the Upper Sand Lake trail from earlier this morning. This might have actually been quicker anyways, avoiding the switchbacks. We almost missed the trail when we did Tijeras/Music earlier this year as well but we put more effort into finding it again that time. A right turn onto the Sand Creek trail and it was off to Music Pass. The climb up did not feel bad at all. Maybe it was the motivation to get back to the bike or maybe it was the 5 hour energy that I took coming down from Music, but either way, it was nice to feel half way decent after the brutal ascent up Music.

At 315PM, I was at the pass saying goodbye to the beautiful area once again. After 3 trips now up in this area, it is easily one of my favorite views in Colorado. Once back at the bike, it was a fun ride back down the steep, rocky, and dusty road. There were quite a few hunters at the trailhead, must be a good area for deer/elk. I did see one herd of Elk and a couple of deer on the day, hopefully they got to see some as well!


Overall, this route was very fun. The ridge up Milwaukee is a great alternative to the standard, involving much more vertical of scrambling on bomber rock. It also avoids the exposed ledge/notch section of the standard route. Thanks to metalmountain for the trip report and the idea on that. Also thanks to Chicago Transplant for the report on the idea for the descent gully off Music/Tijeras which sparked the idea for the exit via Music. Anyone looking to do Milwaukee->Pico should seriously consider Music as an exit strategy as well to avoid the nasty terrain descending into Cottonwood. It does add some vertical but overall not that much, and you get to enjoy Lower Sand Creek lakes to finish the day off. If one were looking for the "easiest" route up Music, the hike up Deadman drainage to the West ridge might be the ticket but I'll let some other hearty soul take on that challenge and report about it.

If you've made it this far, thanks for reading and as always, be careful out there! The peaks in this area are not to be taken lightly and anything read in this trip report should be taken with a grain of salt. After all, I could just be some idiot from New York who only climbs mountains to burn calories for the ice cream and donuts afterwards!

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
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 Comments or Questions

Ice Cream and Donuts
09/14/2018 11:06
Great "Plan B" Andrew! This looks like a really stellar day in an awesome part of the state. Not bad for a Yank!


Freaking Sick!
09/15/2018 19:31
That area looks incredible! Thanks for sharing!

Chicago Transplant

Fun trip
09/24/2018 10:09
Glad my report was useful, we thought there might be a way up that side of Music, thanks for confirming!


Plan B
09/24/2018 21:35
Thanks Justin, trip turned out to be a great one considering it was mostly planned at 9pm the night before! Per usual for us these days.

Tornadoman - enjoy the area when you go, itâs one of the better places in the state!

Chicago transplant - thanks for that report! It was definitely helpful to know there was a decent way out of Deadman drainage, always more fun doing a unique route instead of the standard slogs!


05/31/2019 07:57
yet another area I'd be sure to explore if I still lived in CO. With limited time in-state, however, I'll just put it in the hopper for my next random expedition lottery.

(I don't actuaslly have an expedition lottery hopper, but I maybe I should build one)

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