Starting at the Willis Gulch TH (9,280-ft), cross the Lake Fork River on a very nice bridge and continue on past some beaver ponds on your left. Follow the easy trail as it gradually ascends east up through some beautiful strands of aspens. The trail will soon start to bend south around Rinker’s huge northeast ridge. Continue to follow the trail as it officially starts its ascent up into Willis Gulch. At 10,300-ft and 2.5 miles of hiking you will come to a trail junction. The southern trail goes into Little Willis Gulch (which I believe is the Colorado Trail) and the western trail continues to head up into Big Willis Gulch. You want Big Willis Gulch and there is a sign here for your convenience. I’m guessing the first 3 miles of hiking is in the trees, which keeps the hot sun off of you on the long return trip.
Continue approximately 2 more miles on the trail to 10,600-ft. or just before you come to the lower Willis Lake, which is completely surrounded by willows. During this stretch you will notice Rinker Peak’s northeast ridge on the right, towering some 2000-ft. above you. This ridge eventually runs into the summit after it tops out over three false summits.. You will also notice Mt Hope’s own northeast ridge towering above you to the right, I found it interesting hiking up between two mammoth northeast ridges. One more observation about this stretch of trail, there are a few spots were you could actually attain the northeast ridge from the Willis Gulch Trail. If you decide to head on up to the ridge before you reach 10,600-ft on the Willis Gulch Trail you should be aware of the false summits on that ridge. That ridge harbors the Twin Peaks, which you must go up and over to continue on to Rinker’s summit.
At 10,600-ft, start your 1,600-ft. ascent up steep grassy slopes. There are no route finding difficulties, in fact you will probably locate the old miners trail that switchbacks up the south face of Rinker Peak. This trail gets you about half way up the slope until it fades away due to even steeper slopes.
After attaining the ridge the route is straightforward. If you leave the trail below at the right spot you won’t have to deal with the annoying false summits and the summit should be only a quarter mile away. The summit is not quite as expansive as Mount Hope’s but if you have the time there is plenty to explore. A short down climb west will get you unparalleled views of La Plata Peak’s beautiful, sweeping Ellingwood Ridge. Peering down Rinker Peak’s north face or Galena Gulch might trudge up some ideas of an alternate descent route, because it looks very doable from the summit. The route looks like it will deposit you right back onto hwy 82, but don’t forget about the steep cliffed-out section that you can’t see down in the trees, or the fact if you did get past that section you would be left with trying to figure out a way to cross the roaring Lake Fork River!
Be prepared for a night out in case of the the worst. Storms build faster than you think in Colorado, know your forecast.
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