The West Slopes of Horseshoe Mountain provide a good early season climb for those trying to get in shape for the rest of the summer. Although not as exciting or adventurous as the Boudoir Couloir on the east side, the West Slopes are also a *classic* route. Not readily apparent from the trailhead, once up to 11,600 feet or so, if you remember to turn around and face west every once in a while, you'll be presented with some great views of Mounts Elbert and Massive, (and if you can recognize them La Plata Peak and Mount Oxford--zoom lens work well.)
Gold Basin Trailhead is the one to find. It is located on Weston Pass Road (Lake County 7). The shortest path to Gold Basin TH from a major road is the intersection of Highway 24 and Lake County 7 (just over 7 miles south of Leadville.) From the intersection, (okay, the "tee,") proceed east for 7.5 miles to the trailhead. The first 2.3 miles are on paved road. The next 2.9 miles are on a dirt road that will have you thinking "this isn't that bad." At mile 5.2, the rocks begin, and although marginally passable with a regular car, you'll certainly appreciate a high-clearance vehicle. You'll be thinking that until mile 7.0, when the real fun begins, and if you're not driving a high-clearance vehicle, it might be the last thing your car does. The last .5 miles are rough. Then, right before you reach the trailhead, it becomes a regular dirt road again.
Apparently, Gold Basin Trailhead is approachable from the east as well, and although I can't vouch for it, it is the recommended approach for cars.
Gerry and Jennifer Roach's "Colorado's Thirteeners" book has excellent instructions for reaching Gold Basin Trailhead from any direction.
Instead of trying to paraphrase what Gerry and Jennifer Roach have already so eloquently written in "Colorado's Thirteeners," I will pretty much editorialize their description:
"Start at the Gold Basin Trailhead and 1.1 miles up the rough 4WD road that climbs north above the Weston Pass Road. Pass under some large power lines three times and, after the third crossing, climb east to the top of Point 11,660. (From Point 11,660, the path is obvious...if you've studied the topo at all...
) Gold Basin to the east of this road is private property, so avoid any temptation to cut east toward Horseshoe too soon. (The private property is very well marked, and even fenced in many places; you shouldn't make any mistakes...
) You can clearly see the upper part of the West Slopes Route to the northeast from the top of Point 11,660. The route ascends the rounded slope directly west of Horseshoe's summit."
"From the top of Point 11,660, hike north to get around the northern end of the Gold Basin private property and descend east to a broad, 11,580-foot saddle. Get onto some old vehicle tracks and follow them northeast through the trees. (I followed this route on June 5th, and due to lingering large patches of snow, I didn't even see the road until well on the slope above. However, navigating through the trees even without the help of the road is very easy.
) Continue east on the vehicle tracks up the rounded slope above (Class 1).
The grassy slopes will be flower-strewn in June (not early June, but the slope is so wide that it would've been beautiful
) and July and, to the west, you will have expansive views of Elbert and Massive in any month. At 13,400 feet, the slope steepens and the grass is replaced with talus. Continue up the talus and reach Horseshoe's summit plateau just south of the highest point (Class 2)."
From the summit, you get a clear view of the cirque below, and great shots of Mount Sherman just a bit to the north. Nothing spectacular at the summit itself, other than that great feeling of summiting another mountain.
Due to high winds, it was COLD at the top. Any smart mountaineer will always bring extra clothes, so be smart! Otherwise: