One of these approaches involves a long hike in on a standard trail that sees little human traffic but offers magnificent views in a truely backcountry setting. The other option is a shorter but considerably less established trail (more primitive) but this also gives one the option to tag two additional summits without much fanfare or backtracking. The views and setting are equally as impressive.
If one is approaching from the east, from the junction of Colorado Hwy.82 and Hwy.24, travel west, passing the small sleepy town of Twin Lakes for about 12.5 miles. The trailhead is 6 miles west of Twin Lakes on the north side (right) of Hwy.82 just past a climbing spot called Monitor Rock.
This is an incredibly easy trailhead to miss as it is only marked by a single wooden sign stating, 'Echo Canyon' and a pull-off that could easily be mistaken as someone's private driveway.
There is room for 4-6 vehicles at most at this trailhead however, there is additional room about ~100-200ft further up the road for 4x4 vehicles. But even this will only accomodate another 2-3 vehicles at most. There is a large concrete foundation marking this area. This trailhead is accessible in winter.
This is also the trailhead that is used for South Elbert, an unranked fourteener and Bull Hill (13,761), a ranked bi-centennial.
This trailhead and subsequent trail approaches Casco's South Ridge from the SSE.
North Lake Creek (Lackawanna Gulch)
This access point is located further up Hwy.82 and it's a total of 19 miles west of the Colorado Hwy.82 and Hwy.24 intersection or roughly 6.5 miles west of the Echo Canyon Trailhead.
Unlike Echo Canyon, this trailhead is not accessable in winter due to the yearly gate closure of Independance Pass.
This trailhead is considerably larger then Echo Canyon and will easily accomodate in excess of 10 vehicles.
The pull-off is equally easy to miss but apparent once you've driven past it! Turn right (east) onto an unmarked small, sloped dirt spur RIGHT BEFORE Hwy.82 switchbacks sharply up towards Indy Pass.
This trailhead is usually shaded till mid-morning due to the bottom verticle relief of the canyon and its' proximity to UN13,660 and Mt. Champion. It's a nice trailhead, as these things go, but it can be cold.
From here, you can also strike out due north on a good trail into the heart of the Mt. Massive Wilderness and San Isabel National Forest where other peaks such as Deer Mountain, UN13,202 and UN13,300 await.
There is also a very nice alpine lake located in the deeper recesses near an unnamed pass below the west ridge of Deer Mountain.
About a mile from the trailhead you will see a poorly marked offshoot trail which will lead up the Southwest Ridge of Elbert over Bull Hill. A worthy destination onto itself if you have extra time. Continuing straight will lead you to a very scenic valley with Mount Elbert to the northeast and Casco Peak along the west ridgeline to the north.
The route is fairly obvious until just before a boulder field. Cairns will guide the way through the talus field. There are two options, you can either break trail up a steep and loose rocky incline to make the ridge or follow a game trail through the brush to the head of the valley.
Both options of course have their pros and cons. Taking the ridge will require scrambling up steeper terrain, although this is probably the best option. Following the game trail keeps you lower in the valley for longer. If going by the ridge, you will find a class 2 scramble all the way towards the summit on a broken climbers path. By following the game path, you can avoid some ups and downs and approach the peak directly at the higher plateau on the upper portion of the ridge just before the final push towards the summit.
Don't expect anything harder then class-2.
North Lake Creek
Leave the trailhead (10,780ft), past the gate, wilderness sign-in kiosk on a good trail as it approaches Lake Creek and eventually parallels the creek.
The actual trail is extremely hard to follow in the beginning. However, the valley you need is very hard to miss as it's immediately east of you and clefts UN13,660 and Mt. Champion. [img:569513:alignright:small:Lackawanna Gulch]
The general consensus from a few guidebooks is to continue north on a good trail for about .1-.2 mile until a partial meadow, broken glen becomes visable to the east. There will also be a scant trail that picks up and heads east crossing the creek and continuing up into the valley.
I've been up here in summer and late fall and both times, the trail has been hard to follow.
If you pass an abandoned cabin on the south side (right) of the creek, you're on the right track. This will test your route finding abilities for the first half-mile or so as the forest is very thick with ample deadfall.
Keep persistant because the trail IS THERE. Contour up into Lackawanna Gulch (right-hand branch) leaving this prominant fork at ~11,500ft. The left-hand alternative will take you up into Champion Gulch and accesses Casco's North Ridge.
Just like with Echo Canyon, don't expect anything more then class-2 terrain. But this approach definitely gives a stronger aire of being 'backcountry' and offers decent route-finding.
After you've navigated the breaks and cuts in the thick brush, followed animal tracks or just generally stayed close to the creek, treeline will come slowly allowing views up into the basin. The South Ridge will eventually come into view
Continue hiking east into a small, upper basin to about 13,000ft. The South Ridge Route is unmistakable at this point. There will be a small climbers path that switchbacks up to the ridge to an obvious saddle.
From here, simply hike north staying to the mellow ridge crest on a broken climbers path.
Descend the same route or north via Champion Gulch and back to the fork at 11,500ft.
At the Echo Canyon trailhead, hike the .1-.2 mile past the concrete foundation and cut right, crossing the creek.
There is a small area with a pre-existing fire ring. This spot should accomodate 2 tents or so and is pretty nice.
At the North Lake Fork trailhead, there isn't a standard place to camp and have a fire, although there is what seems to be a kind of transitory fire ring located in the far corner. It's something I've used before and other times, I've just thrown up the tent and things have been fine.
If you leave the parking area, on the short walk up the trail, you'll notice 1-2 old fire pits that haven't been used in a while. There's also some on the other side of the creek which, provides for some decent solitude and privacy.
And of course, for those who need more 'creature comforts', there's the Mt. Elbert Lodge located 4 miles west of Twin Lakes.
I can't attest to the quality of the place but I have heard good things.