On our first day in Colorado we spent some time with friends and had a picnic at Boulder Falls. We also went running in Boulder to help us begin to acclimate. Along the way we saw some prarie dogs, which we counted as the first legitimate wildlife sighting of the trip. We were pretty excited about it, but our friends were puzzled. They see them virtually every day.
After leaving Boulder Falls, we drove through Rocky Mountain National Park on the way to Winter Park. We did see several large herds of elk, but a pair of thunderstorms kept us from exploring any more. After leaving the park, a monster downpour nearly forced us off the road. It was a dark omen for the rest of our trip.
Dave, Christy, and I left the condo in Winter Park early Monday morning. Unfortunately, construction at Berthoud Pass and a couple of wrong turns stretched the 100 mile drive into a 3 hour marathon. After a bumpy drive down a forest road, we reached the trailhead around 11:00. There were only 2 other cars in the parking area.
We hiked down to the creek, which was running high and fast through the canyon. We hiked upstream enjoying a number of fascinating rock outcrops, including one natural arch. We also passed a lot of nice wildflowers in the sunny meadows. Along the way, we spotted the first and only snake of the trip. It appeared to be some type of water snake. Afterwards, we saw what appeared to be a large blue woodpecker.
We hiked fast, and covered 4 miles in less than 2 hours. The terrain was fairly gentle, and the elevation was moderate, so we were able to make up for our late start. We reached a couple of 100 year old cabins just in time for lunch. We explored them briefly before hiking on. Soon we found ourselves in a maze of mysterious passageways. I climbed through several of the boulder caves, before the sound of thunder forced me to retreat to the safety of the woods.
We had just reached the trees when the storm hit. Lightning striking the ridge above made us appreciate the relative safety of the trees. It was still scary though. It hailed so hard it left the ground white. Luckily it passed quickly, and turned a hot afternoon pleasantly cool. We had hoped to climb back down to the bottom of the canyon, but descending a metal ladder in a thunderstorm was out of the question. Instead, we returned the same way, with a new respect for the Rocky Mountain thunderstorms. We vowed to start the next hike early.
OH MY GOD
We left Winter Park 5:30 Tuesday morning so we could start the hike early. We made it over Berthoud Pass without any trouble, and headed for Idaho Springs. From there, we had a decision to make. Should we drive most of the way to Golden, before heading up the Peak to Peak highway? Or should we attempt a dubious shortcut up Oh My God Road? Our map showed it as a faint dashed line heading up the mountain to Central City. We decided to go for it.
We wondered if it was named Oh My God Road out of appreciation for the scenery, or out of fear. It turned out to be a little of both. The views were nice, but we were more intent on the sheer drop just to the right of our tires. We clung to the edge of the canyon rim as we climbed slowly up the dirt road. As it turned out, it wasn't too bad. The road was fairly wide and well maintained. Along the way, we passed a couple of old mines which were interesting to look at. Unfortunately, we did not have time to investigate them further. Eventually we reached Central City, which looked interesting at first glance. However, we soon hit the casino district. It was a big disappointment.
From Central City, it was an easy drive up the Peak to Peak highway to Nederland, and then a back road up to Eldora and on to Buckingham Campground. We reached the trailhead at 8AM, and it was still quite cold, even in the sun. We hiked up the trail toward Pawnee Pass, climbing the hillside high above Boulder Creek. We hiked up through open woods and sunny meadows filled with wildflowers. We had seen some nice flowers along Lost Creek, but this was truly spectacular. The hillside was literally covered. We saw Columbine, Indian Paintbrush, Bluebells, all kinds of Sunflowers, and dozens of other species. Along with the flowers, we had nice views of snow capped peaks all around us. On the far side of the canyon, a high cascading waterfall tumbled down from Diamond Lake.
After an hour and a half or so, we reached a junction at the site of the 4th of July mine. The entrance had caved in, but there was still some old mining equipment to investigate. It proved to be an excellent excuse for a break before we climbed the switchbacks toward the Arapaho Glacier.
The climb up was long, but not too steep thanks to the switchbacks. Along the way we saw Marmots, Pikas, and more wildflowers. We reached the glacier overlook just before 11AM. The glacier was nice, although it was smaller than I expected. The views of the distant mountains were probably more impressive.
We had an early lunch here, and we were able to fend off an aggressive Marmot the entire time. We debated climbing South Arapaho Peak, but the route looked rough and clouds were beginning to build. Probably my greatest regret of the trip was not climbing the peak. Instead, Dave suggested climbing an unnamed 13000' peak to the east. It was an easy climb on rocks and grassy patches. From the top, we had a nice view back up the gorge to the glacier and North and South Arapaho Peaks. We could see several milky lakes in the gorge below, and the vast expanse of the plains to the east.
We headed down around 12:30. Although the clouds continued to build, they never amounted to anything. Although we retraced our steps, we enjoyed the hike back all over again. We reached the car around 2:30, which gave us plenty of time for ice cream in Nederland. It was much enjoyed, as the cold morning had turned into a hot, dry day.
MARMOTS, PIKAS, AND PTARMIGANS, OH MY!
On Tuesday evening we decided to car camp instead of heading back to Winter Park. We found a nice, secluded spot at Camp Dick (really!) near Peaceful Valley. The campground was close to our trailhead on Wednesday, and was nearly empty. It was a nice spot by St. Vrain creek to relax.
We got up early Wednesday morning and headed to Allenspark. We missed the turn to the trailhead the first time, but eventually found the Old Ski Road. The turns to the trailhead were all well marked, and we got there just after 7AM. This was an all-time record for us for a dayhike.
We started up the trail to St. Vrain Mountain, passing through a forest of Aspen and Lodgepole Pine. The trail climbed gently at first, but we were moving slow thanks to soreness from Tuesday. We soon left the cool, thick woods and followed a stream up through sunny meadows. Once again we were treated to a nice variety of wildflowers, though they didn't compare to the previous day. Soon we were climbing more switchbacks toward a pass on the ridge between St. Vrain Mountain and Meadow Mountain. We reached the ridge after a couple of hours, and crossed over into Rocky Mountain National Park. From here, we had an oustanding view of Longs Peak, Chief's Head, Wild Basin, and the surrounding mountains. We took a short break here and watched some hawks cruise over the grassy tundra.
We followed the ridge, curving around behind St. Vrain Mountain. Once on the far side, we left the trail and headed for the summit. It was a steep climb without a trail, so our progress was slow. We worked our way up through grassy patches until we encountered a huge rockslide. There wasn't any way around it, so we began climbing the rockfall. Among the rocks we spotted several Marmots and Pikas. Near the summit though, we had our strangest wildlife sighting. Among the rocks was an some type of odd roosting bird. At first I thought it was a grouse, but it seemed out of place at 12000'. Upon further inspection I decided it was a chicken. The rare Alpine Chicken! Actually it turned out to be a Ptarmigan. I was fascinated by it. What does a Ptarmigan eat? There was nothing around but rocks. My inspection didn't bother the Ptarmigan at all. it just went about it's business, whatever that was. I'm not sure it even knew I was there, even though I was only a few feet away.
We scrambled over the last few rocks and reached a small rock shelter, which blocked the wind. It had taken us about 4 hours to go 4.5 miles, but the last trailess 1/2 mile had taken over an hour. We enjoyed a nice lunch in the shelter before exploring further.
Getting up from lunch was difficult, since my legs had turned into 2 huge cramps. I was able to walk it off though, and we descended from the summit along the crest of the mountain. From the far end, it looked like you could continue following the ridge far into Rocky Mountain National Park. It was tempting, as the lakes in Wild Basin looked very inviting. Above it all, Longs Peak dominated the view. To the south and west, we could see the St. Vrain Glaciers and a large portion of the Indian Peaks Wilderness.
Once again we descended by the same route. Along the way we saw a couple of other groups of dayhikers and a couple of people on horseback. The hike down was tiring, as we were pretty exhausted from 2 days of streneous hiking.
We returned to Winter Park through Rocky Mountain, but not before stopping in Estes Park for pretzels and ice cream. Estes Park was touristy, but not bad. Certainly nothing like Gatlinburg, which is what I had feared. Our second drive through the park was a quick one, but we did see several herds of elk along Trail Ridge Road. However, several stops along the Colorado River didn't turn up any moose.
We made it back to the condo in Winter Park in time to soak in the hot tub. We had just started in on the cans of Foster's when the storm hit. Have you ever been hailed on in a hot tub? Not fun! Each pellet caused a small explosion of steam when it hit the water. We ran for the condo, barely making it before the full force of the storm hit.
A DAY OFF
On Wednesday night we met up with Myron and Dorcas, who had just arrived from Winston-Salem. Thursday morning, Dave headed out, returning to Charlotte by way of South Dakota. We had planned a hike for Thursday, but a major accident at Berthoud Pass had left the trailhead unreachable. We were pretty exhausted from the last two hikes, so we decided to take the day off.
After another logistical nightmare getting our gear organized, we checked out of the condo. Myron and Dorcas were itching to hike, so they headed to Leadville the back way, going through Granby. They decided to hike the Colorado Midland Railroad trail to the Hagerman Tunnel. The highway department expected to have the highway open by 1pm, so Christy and I decided to drive up to Rollins Pass.
It was a pleasant drive, first through thick pine woods and then alpine tundra. Along the way we passed an old railroad trestle that was still standing. We had planned a short walk to a lake from the pass, but a line of black clouds was approaching from the west. As an alternative, we walked from the road through a meadow to an overlook of a small lake. It was a nice place for a picnic lunch, and was within running distance of the car if the weather worsened.
On the way down, we attempted to destroy our rental car. Dollar rent-a-car was doing everything in their power to overcharge me. Here's a tip for you travelers out there: if you want to do business with a company that will lie to you and attempt to defraud you, take a look at Dollar rent-a-car. So anyway, we decided to take it out our poor little Plymouth Neon. I was actually aiming for every pothole and rock on the way down. Along the way, we brainstormed some additional ways to ruin the car. Here's what we came up with:
1) Drive the last few miles back to the airport in 1st gear.
2) Sand in the crankcase and sugar in the gas tank. See, I did learn something useful from "The Monkey Wrench Gang".
3) I always wondered just how much pressure it takes to leave a scratch with a key.
4) Let's not forget the interior. Let's leave a pound of raw bacon in the back seat for week.
5) It's never too late to take up smoking. Oops, I keep dropping my cigarette on the seats.
6) Drain all the oil and drive around town. (Oil leak, what oil leak?)
If you have additional suggestions, please send them in! Or better yet, get a car from Dollar (don't forget to buy the insurance) and try them out yourself. Have fun with it!
After lunch we left the pass, only to discover (at 2pm) that the highway was still closed. After all of that, we ended up taking the back way to Leadville anyway. On the way to Granby, I discovered that my Colorado map was missing. I didn't really know where I was going. However, we spotted a sign for a rest area. I figured it was time for a break, and rest areas usually have maps on the walls. We pulled in, only to discover that the "rest area" consisted of a dirt parking lot and 2 port-a-potties. Really, I am not making this up.
After several hours of scenic driving we reached Leadville. We met Myron and Dorcas in a bar downtown. They had enjoyed their hike, though the altitude had left quite an impression on them. We headed to Twin Lakes, where we got a campsite at the Lakeview campground. We settled in for the evening, and Christy and I enjoyed a pasta dinner. We were carbo-loading, since we were planning to attempt a 14er, Mt. Belford, the next day. I set the alarm for 4:30, and we crawled into the tent just after dark.
Back to Hiking and Backpacking Trip Reports
Please remember to Leave No Trace!