CO – CDT, Wolf Creek Pass, Weminuche Wilderness (07/22)

My next destination on THE Colorado Trail was Spring Creek Pass. There’s no quick way to get from Silverton to Lake City. As per my style I looked for a hike to break up the drive.

So I cheated on The Colorado Trail with a hike on the Continental Divide Trail. Well . . . since these two trails share tread for 314 miles, many of the sections I’ve been hiking, I didn’t feel too bad, especially since I consider myself a section cherry picker. I’d just come off Segments 23-24, the best in my eyes thus far. I knew I would probably be disappointed, but I was hopeful. I’d heard many times the Weminuche Wilderness is a favorite.

Wolf Creek Pass holds special memories from the time I snowshoed to the Lobo Overlook a few years ago (blog link).

When I saw the communication towers, I was reminded of the crazy snowshoe trek. Instead of heaps of snow I found dark thunderstorm clouds. I spent the evening at the overlook storm watching. It was quite a show!

It ended with a lovely rainbow, before the heavy rain came for several hours during the night.

There was a lot of beetle kill trees making me think a lot had changed in this area since my book was published in 2016.

I love finding old signage.

Another new wilderness for me to mark off my map.

Much like hiking through burned forests I decided to focus on the smaller delights.

The first monkey flowers I’ve seen in Colorado.

First gentian blooms of the season as well.

Bino Bob was the perfect prop for this colorful mushroom.

Just like with burned forests, this standing dead trees require a lot of trail maintenance. I met a group of young women who were doing just that. They were amazing packing cross-cut saws through this wilderness. I was happy to have the opportunity to thank them.

I finally arrived at lovely Rock Lake.

Besides the lake, the blooms and creeks were a highlight, while the deceased trees were detracting.

The trail was in fairly good condition although there were several areas of erosion that might cause those with exposure concerns a bit of anxiety.

I liked the stretch with these rock formations highlighted by plentiful blooms.

This was a 9.4 mile round trip hike with 1,200′ elevation gain/loss. In my opinion there are a lot more WOW views in Colorado and I wouldn’t consider it “best” of anything.

In fairness, this book was published in 2016. There are three hikes listed which I’ve already done as part of The Colorado Trail and I agree they have been highlights for me as well.

  • Tenmile Range
  • Kokomo Pass
  • Porcupine Lakes
  • Cataract Ridge

I hiked Snow Mesa a little too late in the season for me to consider it WOW but I’m guessing a couple weeks earlier would have been flower power, especially if you hike it on a blue sky day.

North Clear Creek Falls

As I headed north on the Silver Thread Scenic Byway, I couldn’t help but be reminded of my trip in April 2017 (blog link) when there was still plenty of snow around.

CO – THE Colorado Trail, Segments 23-24, San Juan Mountains (07/22)

I’d planned to hike most of the San Juan segments as a continuous hike, but the mileage was just too much for me to do as an out and back so I looked for baby 4WD accessible roads or nearby trailheads to make this hike manageable. Since I’d previously driven to the Highland Mary Lakes Trailhead (blog link) I was thrilled to make this my starting point, although in retrospect I might have made more Colorado Trail miles had a selected another option (reference elevation profile).

My plan was to hike east to The Colorado Trail high point in Segment 22 and then hike west/southwest to the ridge above Elk Creek in Segment 24. Spoiler alert: neither happened. Instead I hiked about 15 trail miles between Highland Mary Lakes and Carson Peak view ridge (and back again plus the access trail). The elevation gain proved too much along with living above 12,000 feet for multiple days. My total mileage was about 35 with over 5,000 feet elevation gain/loss.

There are warnings in the databook about being careful around sheep dogs. This signage was posted at the USFS office in Silverton.

As I came up the Cunningham Gulch/Highlands Mary Lake Trail, I heard the familiar baa baa, a cow bell or two and an occasional bark. Soon enough I saw lots of sheep near and on the trail. I took a wide birth around the sheep and kept my pepper spray at the ready.

The trail soon joined the CDT/CT trail but wrapped around the hills where the sheep were grazing. I was hopeful they’d stay on the other side. I was extremely nervous about those big white sheep dogs protecting their livestock, especially after being bitten by a large dog while hiking in the Marble Mountain Wilderness a couple years ago.

But alas I find the sheep in the valley between the ridges. They were so noisy. I don’t know if they were bleating warnings about me or something else.

Notice the trail in the lower middle of this photo. What I thought was a “patch of snow” on the mound above the trail turned out to be one of the guard dogs. It was laying down when I first saw it then it must have sensed me and sat up, barked but didn’t act aggressive. The sheep were well below the dog (and me). I quickly hike on, turning around frequently to be sure the dog wasn’t following. Whew!

I was thrilled to be away from the sheep and guard dogs and finally on my way east toward my first destination Stony Pass.

I camped near this location on my return trip. The colors of this unnamed mountain were unbelievable.

At Stony Pass, there was evidence of mining. I was wishing I had a true 4×4 so I could have parked at this road junction. It would have made my hike a bit easier.

Stony Pass marks the separation between Segments 23 and 24.

I continued east with my hopeful turnaround destination the Colorado Trail High Point at 13,271 feet, 17.5 miles away.

Marmots and pikas love these high elevation areas. These three cracked me up as they were all on alert enjoying the sun.

The pika are so busy and much more shy so capturing a good photo is so much more difficult.

I believe this is Canby Mountain.

I took so many photos of Sheep Mountain. It was very photogenic with it’s colorful reds.

The trail looks deceptively easy, but it’s constantly climbing or descending.

The dark clouds, intermittent rain and growling thunder make it challenging to know whether to attempt another pass or give up and camp or take a break. I crossed over the Continental Divide at least 6-8 times each way.

I was feeling vulnerable near the pass with lightning in the distance.

I didn’t make the miles planned my first day and decided to make camp rather than risk another pass. It was the right decision as it rained for a few hours. There are few if any recognizable campsites in this section. I found this somewhat protected area near a stream. Notice my tent off to the middle right. The stream looked like glacier silt as it was running gray with sand after the heavy rain.

Thankfully it was a night without nearby lightning but I got a taste of camping among drenched plants.

The views from the campsite didn’t disappoint.

With lots of condensation and wet from the rain, I took an early break the next morning to dry out my gear. Notice the perfect blue sky, not something to be taken for granted or expected to last for long.

The Cataract Lake area is gorgeous, and once again I took many photos.

By the time I reached this ridge with a view of Carson Peak, I was feeling extremely fatigued. It wasn’t even noon yet and I hadn’t hiked many miles but I didn’t see how I could make it to the Colorado Trail high point and back. I would feeling discouraged but always give myself permission to change plans. My priority is enjoying the journey and keeping my body healthy. I met a gal who said she too was feeling the affects of climbing up the other side and would be camping early at Cataract Lake. I took a long break to contemplate my decision. Would I regret turning back?

The high point would need to wait a future hike. It wasn’t meant to be and I decided to lollygag away my day instead of stressing about miles and destinations.

I camped at Cataract Lake and while I didn’t find the gal I met earlier, I met another gal by the same name going the opposite direction. We had a splendid afternoon and evening getting to know each other and sharing tales of our lives.

Early the next morning I was retracting my steps and feeling so much stronger than the previous day. The light was much nicer for photos.

These deer or elk (on the shadow line) were aware of me even from this distance.

Me and my shadow, plus an illustration of how sometimes the trail is not at a very friendly grade.

The flowers were prolific in some areas. You know I was smiling!

The geology colors were eye candy.

I was surprised to find Elephant Head Orchids at this elevation.

I finally got a good photo of the Kingscrown plants.

Sheep Mountain was even more photogenic on my return trip.

I was so happy to make it over another pass without threatening thunder, lightning or rain.

This is an inviting place for a break. Of course I would love to camp there but it was at 12,818 feet; much too exposed and too high for thunderstorm safety.

Seeing the white paintbrush was a special treat. I don’t think I’ve seen before and definitely not in such mass displays.

I ran into the gal I’d met at my turnaround spot and we camped together my last night. We had awesome 360 views and spent the next morning with shadows and light.

I love cheery sunflowers.

Instead of returning on the Cunningham Gulch Trail, I took the Highland Mary Lakes trail where this waterfall marked the end of my section hike.

I’ve heard so much about the San Juans and have dreamed of experiencing them myself. This hike exceeding expectations. It left me with that WOW per mile feeling but also left me exhausted. It humbled me with those climbs and descents. What’s next? I’m working on that.

Colorado Trail Segments Hiked:

  • 1-5
  • 12-13
  • 11
  • 10
  • 9
  • 8
  • 7
  • 26-27
  • 23-24

As of this post, I’ve hiked 206 miles toward The Colorado Trail plus 134 bonus miles (repeats) with over 56,000 feet of elevation gain/loss.

Tips:

  • The Guthook/Far Out App and Colorado Trail Association Guidebook and Databook are helpful in planning section hikes. The guidebooks details parking and trailhead options along with the elevation profile. Far Out was a great way to plan my turnaround based on mileage and elevation gain/loss. I also used Gaia with the Colorado Trail Nat Geo layer.
  • Silverton was a good resupply and regrouping town. I used WiFi at the Visitor Center and Library, plus at the Coffee Bear cafe. Dispersed camping options were okay but since I was there peak season it was busier than I would like.

Resources:

CO – THE Colorado Trail, Segments 26-27, Celebration Lake to Indian Trail Ridge (07/22)

Most everyone agrees the San Juan Mountains are one of the WOW sections of the trail. With early melt this year, they were ready when Joan had time off and we could coordinate another J&J adventure.

Joan created a route where we could shuttle cars between two trailheads on Highway 145, East Fork and Bear Creek. These trails both connect to THE Colorado Trail, the more northern to Segment 26 at Bolam Pass, and the southern at Indian Trail Ridge in Segment 27 (leaving me a few miles short of completion). These segments are 31.5 miles with 6,013 elevation gain and 5473′ loss. Our route was 50 miles with 4,500′ elevation gain and 6,500′ elevation loss.

It was a day to test our rain gear and systems, which we would ultimately use daily. It reminded us of our time in Washington on the PCT a few years ago.

Hail also became a daily occurrence. Our umbrellas and tree cover made these time-outs more tolerable.

I’ve been trying to capture good photos of these plants for weeks. Still not a great image but I did learn they are Kingscrown (Rhodiola integriflia).

This is a similar but different plant, most likely a clover.

We found lots of Elephant Head Orchids.

I should have taken more photos of this bloom, as this image is a bit blurry. It was fairly common plant.

We saw a ton of these in bud and a few starting to open but none in full bloom.

Near Bolan Pass there was a seriously mucky muddy road to walk. It was like walking in mashed potato snow, nearly as bad as postholing. We were so happy to get back onto a single track hiking trail.

With a 70% chance of daily rain and thunderstorms, the flowers were thriving.

Our first night we camped near Celebration Lakes. We happily stopped early to dry out and get camp set up before more rain.

We didn’t have to go too far the next morning before we found mountain views we crave.

We loved walking next to Hermosa Peak.

The next objective was Blackhawk Pass, but first a look back at Hermosa Peak.

Colorful Blackhawk Mountain.

Just when you think you are getting close . . .

You find more and more and more climbing to be done, and the inevitable building of clouds.

Joan also uses her umbrella for sun protection and heat management.

Near the top of the pass, we could see the use trail to Blackhawk Peak (12,681′). No, we weren’t tempted.

The 360-views of the Rico Mountains were amazing.

It was impossible not to celebrate at the pass.

I enjoyed finding these blooms I first saw at Colorado National Monument a few weeks earlier, now I just have to remember the name.

With thunder rumbling and clouds building we didn’t get to lollygag at the pass near as long as we would have liked. I believe this is Whitecap Mountain (12,376′).

As we headed down we were greeted by a marmot (zoom to sign).

We found a great campsite that offered the best of both worlds, views yet protection during thunderstorms.

I woke up and saw the full moon rising.

This buck seemed to like this area and spent a lot of time roaming back and forth. I couldn’t grab my camera in time to get the best photo but when he came back for a second lap I caught this one.

This day started without much WOW, but we still found reasons to smile. This is part of a long waterless stretch that we’d started the previous day.

I was thrilled to discover we’d arrived at our exit junction much earlier in the day than planned which allowed us to spend a bit of time on the Indian Ridge Trail. This is looking up toward that 5-mile trail section. We really wanted to camp up there if we could find a thunderstorm safe area, but alas without water and only slanted lumpy options we dropped some of our gear before heading out for a jaunt.

With an eye on the clouds and an ear on the thunder, off we went to play in these huge tundra meadows.

Alpine tundra plants showcasing the La Plata Mountains.

This ridge is a pika and marmot playground. This area isn’t flat and in fact we turned around 2.5 miles short of the high point. I’ll have to catch from the other side if I want to complete Segment 27.

After all that frolicking it was time for a rest and no one does it better than Joan, although she still has her shoes on which is a rarity during breaks.

Joan caught me at some point taking shelter from the hail.

Our exit was via the Grindstone to Bear Creek Trails.

We had views back at where we’d been and used our Peak Finder apps to determine the names of others.

Hidden in the grasses we found a large collection of mariposa lilies.

The flies were quite bothersome on this trip, not necessarily biting flies but irritating with tons landing on and buzzing us. Of course there were some mosquitoes as well. Our defense was rainwear and headnets.

I wouldn’t necessarily recommend the Grindstone Trail as it’s low use, overgrown, with recent burn and many log obstacles. Safe campsites were hard to find while water was not.

As we dropped elevation we were provided a few filtered views of the La Plata Mountains.

The upper portion of the Bear Creek Trail was filled with meadows and views of the burned trees.

Where’s the trail? After all the recent rains, our lower half was soaked from the wet plants.

We enjoyed the aspen groves as a break from the tall grasses..

Sadly an invasive thistle has filled many meadows. They were 6-8 feet in height.

We only saw one hiker on our exit trail until near the trailhead, although we did see a few folks fishing along Bear Creek.

I’ve gotten spoiled hiking the wide and well maintained Colorado Trail, and at this point in my fitness much preferred to this side trail.

This J&J adventure ended much too soon, but it won’t be the last. Where and when who knows, but until then I’ll continue to hike more miles on the Colorado Trail.

Poppy the Pack (blog link) is well broken in after many trail miles. Most likely I’ll make a few revisions on my second version I plan to make this winter.

Colorado Trail Segments Hiked:

As of this post I’ve hiked 191 miles toward completion of The Colorado Trail plus 114 bonus miles and over 51,000 feet of elevation gain/loss.

Tips:

  • The Guthook/Far Out App and Colorado Trail Association Guidebook and Databook are helpful in planning section hikes. The guidebooks details parking and trailhead options along with the elevation profile. Far Out was a great way to plan my turnaround based on mileage and elevation gain/loss. I also used Gaia with the Colorado Trail Nat Geo layer.

Resources:

CO – THE Colorado Trail, Segment 7, Tenmile Range (07/22)

Since I was running short of time to complete Segments 6-8, my new strategy was to hike to the high point of each. I completed the objective for Segment 8 by hiking to Kokomo Pass and Elk Ridge (blog link). For this segment I hiked from Copper Mountain Ski Resort (Far East Parking Lot) to the ridge between Peaks 5 and 6. The Tenmile Range is named for the ten numbered peaks of the range, which measure approximately ten miles in length.

This segment is 13.2 miles with 3,674 feet in elevation gain and 3,053 in loss. For me this out-and-back section was 9 miles with 2,700 feet elevation gain/loss.

I watched the evening clouds building above Crystal Peak from the parking area. There aren’t a lot of nearby dispersed options so I chose to risk sleeping in my car. It was a terrible night’s sleep with traffic noise for nearby I-70.

Oh Saturday . . . I figured it would be busy especially as cars started arriving early. Surprisingly I only saw one person on trail for the first hour or so thus most must have chosen the paved bike path.

The “no e-bike” sign is becoming a common sight.

The now familiar sight of Crystal Peak was visible throughout my hike.

Sadly there is a lot of beetle kill trees in the area. This area had been recently cleared with new trail and a bridge built. I met a trail maintainer who was I was happy to personally thank.

Long boardwalks are a great solution for trail sustainability.

Soon enough I was above treeline and happily in tundra land.

Looking back at the Crystal Peak and some of the numbered peaks. I learned the sunflowers are called Old-Man-of-the-Mountain (Tetraneuris grandiflora).

I can’t remember the name of these flowers. Their stems and leaves are similar to the Pasqueflowers.

I met a large group of runners who were off-trail ridge running. I’m sure I would have enjoyed if only I had the energy.

This is Peak 5 and Dillon Lake off to the right. The post is marking the ski boundary line on the Breckenridge side.

Peak 6, at 12,573 feet with a little snow remaining in front of the Crystal Peak and other 14’ers.

Of course I took time to enjoy all the alpine blooms.

The sky pilots were amazing. I’ve never seen such large displays.

At the pass the 360-views were WOWtastic.

Copper Mountain includes the ski area and obvious signs of mining with the colorful holding pond I could see from Kokomo Pass.

I met one of these fliers. He was hiking up with his sail in his pack.

I was surprised to the Holy Cross Peak. You can see the snow line running vertical and just barely horizontal.

Looking down at my car in East Parking Lot and Copper Mountain Village.

I believe these are a type of phacelia.

These were such a dark purple penstemon.

Georgia Pass in Segment 6 is going to have to wait as the universe declared a hike this day was not to happen. At least I got to see it, and as they say plans are made to be changed.

Colorado Trail Segments Hiked:

  • 1-5
  • 12-13
  • 11
  • 10
  • 9
  • 8

Ignoring the outliers, I’ve hiked Segments 1-13 less 6, totaling 160 miles toward The Colorado Trail plus 90 bonus miles (repeats) and over 45,000 feet of elevation gain/loss. I’m jumping south to the San Juans to hike some of those segments.

Tips:

  • The Guthook/Far Out App and Colorado Trail Association Guidebook and Databook are helpful in planning section hikes. The guidebooks details parking and trailhead options along with the elevation profile. Far Out was a great way to plan my turnaround based on mileage and elevation gain/loss. I also used Gaia with the Colorado Trail Nat Geo layer.

Resources:

CO – THE Colorado Trail, Segment 8, Kokoma Pass (07/22)

This segment is 25.4 miles with 4,417′ ascent and 3,810 descent. Highlights include Camp Hale and the 10th Mountain Division, plus copper mining history. But for me the WOW views and flowers defined this section. I hiked the southwestern 13 miles in two sections; the northeastern 12 miles will need to await a future visit.

Highway 24 Crossing

I first hiked south to Tennessee Pass Trailhead and then north to Camp Hale Trailhead. This was a 14-mile 2,400′ elevation gain/loss round trip hike.

There’s a nice spot to park off the highway. The gate is the “trailhead.”

You almost immediately cross the train tracks. I couldn’t help but wonder if this track is still active.

These were the first engraved signs I’ve seen.

I wondered if this would be day I would get drenched. I was prepared!

With the recent rains, the ground and plants were saturated. I was thrilled to see all these blooms and thankfully the mosquitoes must have drown.

I’ve seen several coke ovens aka charcoal kilns over my years of traveling, many in better shape than these. “Coke ovens were used to convert the coal mined in the local area into industrial coke, a relatively clean-burning fuel used in the smelting of iron ore. In a process known as “coking,” coal was shoveled into an insolated beehive-shaped and ignited.” I was disappointed on my way back to find a hiker using it as a clothes line to dry out their gear.

This section also includes views of the Ski Cooper resort near Leadville and Tennessee Pass. Further northeast the trail passes through Copper Mountain resort.

This section provided the most “flat” walking since Waterton Canyon in Segment 1; in fact a portion was on an old railroad bed.

I finally found some monkshood blooming.

The meadow was filled with Three-Flowered Avens.

Asters filled the meadows as well. The mountains in the distance include Mount Massive and Mount Elbert.

10th Mountain Division is a memorial at Tennessee Pass.

Bunkers remain at Camp Hale, a training facility for the 10th Mountain Division. I sat out a rain shower and ate my lunch inside one.

There is plenty of evidence of the area’s history.

I noticed this cabin in the woods on my way to the Camp Hale Trailhead, so on my return to the Highway 24 crossing I couldn’t help but stop to explore. I wondered if this was used by the troops.

A happy sight!

Camp Hale Trailhead

I hiked northeast to the high point, Elk Ridge. This was a 13-mile, 2,900′ elevation gain/loss round trip hike. This was a challenging day for me so I was grateful for the rewards!

This was to be a WOW day with so many blooms and views. It started with these penstemon within a short distance of the trailhead.

Harebells I believe.

The first sunflowers I’ve seen. I bet soon the hillsides will be filled with glorious yellow blooms.

I found a few mariposa lilies hiding among the grasses.

Once I was above treeline I was greeted by this marmot.

Kokomo Pass is directly ahead.

It was super windy and chilly at the pass.

There were unique plants in the alpine tundra.

Sky Pilots
Forget-Me-Nots

Elk Ridge was a bloom fiesta.

Cool purple flowers lead the way to the Elk Ridge high point. I believe these are a type of phacelia.

At this viewpoint another marmot is sitting atop the rock pile. The turquoise colored lake is really a copper mining holding pond.

Mining has changed the landscape.

Back to happier thoughts.

The growling thunder signaled the end of my lollygagging time.

These baby alpine sunflowers were so cute. I later learned they are called Old-Man-Of-The-Mountain.

So many sky pilot blooms.

It was hard to say goodbye to the ridge but knowing I’d hike back up from the other side at some point made it a bit easier.

Soon enough it started hailing, thankfully as I was near treeline and could take shelter under a tree.

I loved the paintbrush color variations.

I couldn’t help admiring the mariposa lily another time on my way day down.

I believe these are a white or yellow paintbrush.

The first significant waterfall of my time on The Colorado Trail, Cataract Creek Falls.

Lovely rock features on the final miles back to Camp Hale Trailhead.

Colorado Trail Segments Hiked:

Tips:

  • The Guthook/Far Out App and Colorado Trail Association Guidebook and Databook are helpful in planning section hikes. The guidebooks details parking and trailhead options along with the elevation profile. Far Out was a great way to plan my turnaround based on mileage and elevation gain/loss. I also used Gaia with the Colorado Trail Nat Geo layer.
  • Leadville is nearby and is an excellent town for resupplying, doing laundry, grabbing a shower and using WiFi.

Resources:

CO – THE Colorado Trail, Segment 9, Holy Cross Wilderness (07/22)

Holy Cross Wilderness is named after Mount of the Holy Cross, which became famous in 1873 when William Henry Jackson first photographed the cross of snow on the northeast face of the mountain. The area became protected as a national monument in the early 1930’s. The United States Congress designated the Holy Cross Wilderness in 1980 and it now has a total of 123,409 acres. The wilderness is characterized by rugged ridgelines and glacier-carved valleys, spruce-fir forests, cascading streams and dozens of lakes; elevations range from 8,500 feet to 14,005 feet.

Segment 9 is 13.6 miles with 2,627′ elevation gain and 3,004′ loss. I hiked this segment as three out-and-back sections.

Timberline Lake Trailhead

I hiked north from the trailhead to the segment high point. It was a 9.6 mile 2,600′ elevation gain/loss round trip hike.

The view as you leave the parking area.

Oh look, I found Mount Massive. If I hiked the trail in the traditional manner, starting with Segment 1 and continuing sequentially, I would have seen this view prior to hiking Segment 10 where I felt cheated.

During the long climb I had many opportunities to enjoy the view of Mount Massive, plus the point to the left is Mount Elbert.

Soon the corn lilies will be blooming.

Lakes, ponds, bodies of water . . . reflective wonderful.

I found these elephant head orchids blooming along the shorelines.

Where there’s water, there are mosquitoes. After the recent rains, the hatch is evident.

I think these are a clover.

Just after I reached the high point, I found alpine tundra heaven.

Colorful blooms and views of Homestake Peak at 13,209 feet.

As you can imagine I sat up on the ridge for at least an hour admiring the views and wondering what I’m missing off to the left.

I used this snow patch as my turnaround spot.

Of course I had to study the alpine beauties first. I believe this might be lewisia.

The worst part of this hike was the rock jumble terrain. It took so much energy.

By the way, I never did see a sign indicating a trail junction to Timberline Lake. If you want to go there, you’ll need to be watching your map.

Wurtz Ditch Road Crossing

I knew I wouldn’t be able to make the miles and elevation gain from Tennessee Pass so I was glad to find this option. I hiked south. This was a 12.5 mile 2,000′ elevation gain/loss round trip hike.

Finding the trail wasn’t a problem. This area gets used for winter sports, and as such you’ll see lots of blue diamonds on the trees marking their routes.

Soon enough I was back in the wilderness looking forward to meeting Galena Mountain.

I was motivated to beat the thunderstorms and was thrilled to find this front row view of Galena Mountain.

I took a detour to Porcupine Lakes for a WOW view. THIS is why I wanted to hike The Colorado Trail! Many hikers are in such a hurry they don’t take time for such detours. I’m grateful that I can prioritize experiences over miles.

The pond lilies were just starting to blooms. Soon the pond will be covered in yellow.

I found my first Mountain Heather blooms.

Then it was onward back to the alpine tundra traverse. But first some trail porn.

As if on cue, the afternoon clouds warned me not to dilly dally too long.

On the way back I stopped at one of the meadows and found these blooms which I believe might be saxifrage.

Just another beautiful day on The Colorado Trail.

Tennessee Pass Trailhead

The next morning I hiked south from the trailhead back to Wurtz Ditch Road to complete this segment. It was a 5.5 mile 460 feet elevation gain/loss round trip hike.

This section was unremarkable. According to my guidebook this swing offers outstanding views of Mount Elbert. Now you must use your imagination as the trees block all evidence of Colorado’s highest peak.

This was an unusual bridge. I’m not sure if it was built with skiers or cyclists in mind.

Of course I had to enjoy a sit and swing on both my way out and back.

I’ve been emptying my inhalers with all this climbing. Thank goodness for this wonder drug!

Colorado Trail Segments Hiked:

  • 1-5
  • 12-13
  • 11
  • 10

Tips:

  • The Guthook/Far Out App and Colorado Trail Association Guidebook and Databook are helpful in planning section hikes. The guidebooks details parking and trailhead options along with the elevation profile. Far Out was a great way to plan my turnaround based on mileage and elevation gain/loss. I also used Gaia with the Colorado Trail Nat Geo layer.
  • Leadville is nearby and is an excellent town for resupplying, doing laundry, grabbing a shower and using WiFi.

Resources:

CO – THE Colorado Trail, Segment 10, Mount Massive Wilderness (06/22)

Mount Massive Wilderness was designated by congress in 1980 and it now has a total of 30,540 acres. Mount Massive (14,421 feet) is Colorado’s second highest peak, another in the Sawatch Range.

Segment 10 is 13.1 miles with 2,690 feet elevation gain and 2,676 feet loss. I hiked out and back from two trailheads.

Mount Massive Trailhead

I hiked this section north to the Highline Trail junction. It was a 10.5 miles, 1600′ elevation gain/loss round trip hike.

My biggest disappointment was not seeing Mount Massive on this hike. Maybe when I hike further north I’ll find this massive mountain.

You get some mostly filtered views of Mount Elbert but I found a few places where you could see the summit trail. It was a perfect day to bag the peak and in fact I met a group of four Continental Divide Trail (CDT) trail hikers who did just that.

I believe these are Parry’s Primrose.

There were several excellent creeks along the way.

I found marsh marigolds again.

And the beginnings of corn lilies.

More blooms lined the trail.

The monkshood is just starting.

The terrain was a mix of rocky rooty and soft duff.

I found a view of Mount Massive from my dispersed campsite.

Timberline Lake Trailhead

I hiked this section south to the Highline Trail junction. It was a 16 miles, 2,400′ elevation gain/loss round trip hike. It as a long-hard day for me, not the steepest but the terrain combined with length tested my limits.

I wondered if this view from the trailhead was all I’d see of Mount Massive.

Puddles offered evidence of recent rains.

I loved the natural water sources, so much nicer than the drier sections of the trail.

I didn’t love the rocky sections of trail. Some areas were quite tedious.

Are you Mount Massive? Nope

Good thing there were flowers to keep me distracted.

I believe this might have been the first meadow I’d seen.

I was finally provided a few filtered views of Mount Massive.

Obviously someone needs to learn to read a map, like duh! Of course the ignorant choose to share.

A lovely section of trail.

And another.

There were occasional views down into the Arkansas River Valley.

You get great views of Mount Massive from Leadville.

Tips:

  • The Guthook/Far Out App and Colorado Trail Association Guidebook and Databook are helpful in planning section hikes. The guidebooks details parking and trailhead options along with the elevation profile. Far Out was a great way to plan my turnaround based on mileage and elevation gain/loss. I also used Gaia with the Colorado Trail Nat Geo layer.
  • Leadville is nearby and is an excellent town for resupplying, doing laundry, grabbing a shower and using WiFi.

Resources:

CO – THE Colorado Trail, Segment 11, Twin Lakes and Mount Elbert (06/22)

Mount Elbert is the highest peak in Colorado at 14,433 feet and the second highest in the lower 48, only 63 feet lower than Mount Whitney. With a trail to the peak, it’s climbed by over 20-25,000 people annually. It was named for a politician, Samuel H Elbert, appointed by President Abraham Lincoln in 1862 as secretary of the new Colorado Territory.

I’m calling this a kinder gentler section. Segments 12 and 13 were HARD (blog link); this segment was far from comfortable for me, yet still plenty challenging. Maybe it was because you stay below 11,000 feet. I enjoyed the calm of walking in the woods. The birds, bees, butterflies and critters kept me company and much of the trail was lined with wildflowers. Creeks were abundant. There were so many good smells with sage and fresh cut trees my favorite.

Segment 11 is 21.5 miles with 2,910′ elevation gain and 4,042′ loss. I hiked this segment as four out-and-back sections.

Clear Creek Road Trailhead

I hiked north to a ridge about halfway to the Interlaken Trailhead. This was a 8.5 mile 1700′ elevation gain/loss round trip.

I took this photo as I exited Segment 12. It shows the first ridge climb.

No cool signage to mark the end of Segment 12 or beginning of Segment 11 at Clear Creek Road.

Although it was only 8:30 am, I was prepared for rain with these threatening clouds.

This was my first time seeing CDT (Continental Divide Trail) signage. The trails overlap for several segments.

Surprisingly I found aspen on the other side of the ridge.

And meadows filled with a floral display.

As anticipated I got rained on and was thankful I’d hiked into those mountains the previous day when I had exceptional views.

This sage hillside will soon be ablaze in yellow cactus blooms.

Looking down at Clear Creek Reservoir.

Interlaken Trailhead

I hiked south to a ridge about halfway to the Clear Creek Trailhead. This was a 10.25 mile 900′ elevation gain/loss round trip.

I was surprised by the lack of a trailhead sign.

On my return I found the sign by missing the CDT/CT trail junction.

The night before it snowed above about 12,000 feet and Mount Elbert wore a new white coat.

The trail initially parallels the west shore of Twin Lakes Reservoir.

This is the big decision point for southbound hikers. I was currently on the eastern route but hope to complete the western also. The west side holds snow later so delaying is a good strategy.

All the plants were dripping from the previous night’s storm, including this columbine.

When I got to my turnaround ridge I could see the mountains I’d been on a couple days previous were now covered in fresh snow. My timing had indeed been perfect!

I’m so in love with these Colorado columbine, no wonder it’s the state flower.

By the time I returned the snow had all melted.

Highway 82 Twin Lakes

I parked where the trail goes under the highway and hiked north to the junction with the North Elbert trail. This was a 13 mile 1900′ elevation gain/loss round trip.

The tunnel.

The hike begins with a new view of Mount Elbert.

As you climb up to the ridge you have many opportunities to look back at Twin Lakes.

You pass several ponds where the beavers have been busy.

I enjoyed the flowered lined trails that seemed to be healthy understory in the aspen forests.

This was the third place along recent segments were I’d seen shooting stars but this was the first time I didn’t blur the photos.

There are southern and northern trails to summit Mount Elbert. I turned around at the north junction.

As I descended on my return I was once again greeted by views of Twin Lakes Reservoir.

I’m always glad to see my car waiting for me, and even happier when it hasn’t been vandalized.

Mount Massive Trailhead

I hiked south to the North Elbert trail junction. This was another section I was dreading given the steep short distance. It wasn’t near as bad as I feared at 2.8 miles and 600 feet elevation gain/loss round trip.

The Colorado Trail intersects with the Mount Elbert Trail after a short distance and can be very busy. I only encountered three people on my way up to the North Elbert Trail junction, but passed at least 20 on my way down.

There are 54 peaks in Colorado that are over 14,000 feet tall. All of these are within a radius of 120 miles, centered in the Sawatch Range, and nearly two thirds are within 20 miles of The Colorado Trail.

I didn’t take any exciting photos on this short section so I’ll leave you with these views from near the trailhead.

Tips:

  • This was a fuel efficient way to section hike these segments as I took advantage of nearby dispersed camping.
  • The Guthook/Far Out App and Colorado Trail Association Guidebook and Databook are helpful. I also used Gaia with the Colorado Trail Nat Geo layer.
  • Just say yes to a stop in Twin Lakes Village.

Resources:

CO – THE Colorado Trail, Segments 12-13, Collegiate Peaks Wilderness (06/22)

You can plan or you can take things as they come. After completing segments 1-5, I landed in Fairplay. When smoke rolled in from the fires in Arizona and New Mexico I moved on to Buena Vista and discovered proximity to segments through the Collegiate Peaks Wilderness.

The sign seems incomplete. What happened to PEAKS?

Collegiate Peaks Wilderness was designated by the United States Congress in 1980 and it now has a total of 167,584 acres. It’s a subset of the Sawatch Range. When the tradition of naming the nearby peaks after universities including Harvard, Columbia, Yale, Princeton and Oxford.

I broke segments 12-13 into several section hikes. Like most long distance trails, the Colorado Trail has best seasons. I used this blog article published by the Colorado Trail Association to guide my planning (link). They also have active facebook groups sharing feet-on-the-ground conditions.

Silver Creek Trailhead

Segment 12 – Silver Creek Trailhead to Waverly Mountain Ridge

I initially hiked north from the trailhead, covering the southern 14 miles of this segment as an out and back for a total of 28 miles with 5,000′ elevation gain/loss. The high point was nearly 12,000′.

This section was all about Harvard; Harvard Lake and Mount Harvard. “Mount Harvard was named in 1869 when Harvard geology professor Josiah Whitney led a surveying expedition into Colorado to investigate rumors of soaring 17,000-foot peaks deep in the Rockies. After crossing Trout Creek Pass, they named the highest summit in sight for the expedition’s sponsor: Harvard University.” Source: Summit Post

You see the big peaks almost immediately. Peak Finder informed me none of these were Mount Harvard.

I found the trail grade and terrain to my liking and was soon at the first Harvard Lake.

The second lake was much nicer with lots of fish jumping and swimming. You can see Mount Harvard off to the right.

I felt like I was in the mountains when I found plentiful natural water, often with bridges for civilized crossings. I never carried more than a liter unless dry camping. What a relief after the first 5 segments.

The bridge was a much better option than the log, after losing confidence several years ago when I got vertigo and fell.

There were a few remaining snow patches, but none that impeded travel.

I was super excited to find these Jacob’s Ladder blooms.

And maybe more so to find one of my all time favorites, Western Pasqueflowers.

Heading toward Dr. Seuss mophead mode
Mopheads glowing in the early morning light

A few other blooms.

Blue eye grass ?
Penstemon

I love above treeline trail.

This was from near my campsite the first night. Little did I know the next day I’d be dropping way down into that canyon.

I was happy to find this campsite that offered both protection from the wind and nearby views.

Sunrise views.

I got an early start the next morning.

I considered a side trip to Rainbow Lake but once I realized it was too much ascending I decided against, but not before I was welcomed by my first Colorado bear.

A friend noticed this bear had been tagged. I was told in Colorado bears have a 3-strikes policy. This bear has one more chance. I’m really glad it was well mannered during my encounter.

I believe this is Mount Harvard at 14,421 feet, the highest summit of the Collegiate Peaks and the fourth highest summit in the contiguous United States.

The guidebook says the side trail to Elk Pass and Missouri Basin along the Pine Creek is a worthwhile detour. I’d hoped to have enough energy but these big passes were keeping my humble.

Tundra wildflower heaven!

The WOW factor was high. I believe this is Mount Oxford.

Much of Segment 12 parallels the Arkansas Valley with the Buffalo Peaks in the background.

I spent my second night at Harvard Lake and caught early morning light.

With a storm brewing the lighting at the smaller Harvard Lake was nice as well.

I met several CDT thru hikers taking the East Collegiate Peaks route, including the Netteburg family of 5 kids, with one being under the age of 1. WOW!

This section ended with me saying thank you to a trail crew headed out for the day, and them gifting me croissants.

Segment 13 – Silver Creek Trailhead to Mount Yale Pass

The next day I hiked south from the trailhead. It was an overcast day with occasional sprinkles and lots of fog. I knew my chance of seeing views was 50/50 but since I’d need to reach the pass from the other side eventually to complete the segment I was willing to take the chance. This was a 7-mile out and back hike gaining/losing 2,600 feet with the high point about 12,000 feet.

The trail crosses Silver Creek on this sturdy bridge before beginning the climb, up, up and more up. It was a mix of reasonable and unreasonable grade.

It had rained hard the previous night. Droplets on the columbine were a treat, so much better than dust.

No wishes to be made from this dandelion seed ball.

I felt like I was hiking in the Pacific Northwest.

This California gal was so confused.

I found an old cabin.

And some very wet Dr. Seuss flowers.

Oh look a sign that includes PEAKS.

My legs were fried by the time I got to the pass but the guidebook said I needed to hike up this hill for best views.

YES it was worth it! I stayed about an hour watching the fog swirl about.

Mount Yale

You can see a bit of a trail up Mount Yale. Much of the mountain is hidden in the fog.

Mount Princeton
Mount Columbia

The flowers tried to steal the show.

Wandering around the tundra I found this bloom. It looks a bit like Forget Me Nots.

Bino Bob for comparison. He’s 1.25″ tall.

On the way back I got a hint of what I missed.

Avalanche Trailhead

Segment 13 – Avalanche Trailhead to South Cottonwood Trailhead

I needed a day with less climbing. This small section was perfect although I could tell my muscles were tired as I struggled even with this minimal elevation gain.

It was a lovely walk along Cottonwood Creek.

The trail was lined with red columbine but I found one pink columbine, although it photographed more purple.

Another special find was coralroot orchids.

This view shows Mount Yale in the background to the right, and a visualization of the climb to the pass.

Segment 13 – Avalanche Trailhead to Mount Yale Pass

I wasn’t looking forward to the climb and would have liked one more rest day, but the weather forecast indicated this was to be the last bluebird day for a while. It was 7 miles round trip with 2,700 feet elevation gain/loss. There were many areas with grade beyond my comfort zone, but if I wanted to complete this segment I needed to buck up and get it done.

You are almost immediately welcomed to the wilderness and provided a view of the pass.

Soon enough I was back up the pass and up the hill to the viewpoint. What a difference from the day I hiked up from the other side and found the mountain surrounded by fog.

Mount Yale

I saw one person headed up this path on Mount Yale.

I couldn’t help exploring all the alpine tundra plants. I read it can take a century for these matted plants to spread a foot in diameter.

South Cottonwood Trailhead

Segment 13 – South Cottonwood Trailhead to Mount Princeton Pass

I hiked south before reversing course on this 9.4 mile 1,200 foot elevation gain/loss round trip jaunt.

I said goodbye to Mount Yale and kept it in my rearview mirror as I made my way south toward 14,197′ Mount Princeton.

I was ecstatic to find several blue columbine blooms, the Colorado State flower, along the early part of the trail where it paralleled the river before climbing up to the pass though a nice forest with occasional views.

A few other blooms caught my eye as well.

And then it was finally time to say hello to Mount Princeton.

Mount Princeton Trailhead

Segment 13 – Mount Princeton Trailhead to Mount Princeton Pass

This 8.25 mile 1,300 feet elevation gain/loss round trip hike was in general a kind and gentle forest walk.

This section began with a one-mile road walk.

Since I wasn’t planning on hiking road sections I considered driving up the road to where the trail connects. In hindsight I was glad I chose to walk as it’s steeper than my car likes and there’s no parking. I didn’t hike the southern 5.5 mile road walk section of this segment.

There wasn’t much remarkable about this hike. You glimpsed views of Mount Princeton.

These lovely pink roses were the most prevalent bloom in Segment 13 so since I hadn’t previously shared, they’ll be showcased on this day.

Tent caterpillars had hatched and were dropping from the trees quickly becoming unwanted hitchhikers. I was glad to be wearing my hat. I don’t know if this is the same type of caterpillar but he wanted a free ride also.

This outhouse might be a cuteness award winner.

Clear Creek Trailhead

Segment 12 – Clear Creek Trailhead to Waverly Mountain Ridge

Was I saving the best for last? I wasn’t looking forward to this climb. I knew it would test my fitness so I first took a day off after 9 straight days of hiking these segments. This was a 10-mile, 2,800 foot round trip. I hiked south before reversing direction after reaching the ridge.

There wasn’t any exciting trailhead signage to mark Segment 12 or 11. It’s also a little odd as you first head for the creek and then veer left through a campground where there’s a bridge to cross the creek.

I really like this penstemon.

Soon it will be berry season.

It would be easy to be fooled about the upcoming climb.

But the views make the climb worth it! It was great to see Mount Harvard again.

Mount Oxford (14,157) is the pointy peak to the right and Emerald Peak is in the middle (13,885′)

Emerald Peak
Mount Harvard 14,420′

Tips:

  • This was a fuel efficient way to section hike these segments as I took advantage of nearby dispersed camping.
  • Buena Vista was a great place to hang out between hikes. I often spent the afternoon using free WiFi available in the park to upload my photos and work on my blog. The markets were sufficient and I found a couple great restaurants. There are showers and laundry available also.
  • These are considered hard segments due to the ascending and descending. Segment 12 is 18.5 miles and going south has 4,866′ of ascending and 4,364 of descending. Segment 13 is 22.8 miles with 4,296′ ascending and 5,343′ descending. That’s 223 feet per mile.
  • Would I recommend as an out and back? Probably not unless (1) you are a glutton for punishment, (2) you want a quick weight loss fitness program, (3) you don’t have access to a two vehicle shuttle, or (4) you don’t want to pay for a shuttle or hitch between trailheads.
  • The Guthook/Far Out App and Colorado Trail Association Guidebook and Databook are helpful. I also used Gaia with the Colorado Trail Nat Geo layer.

Resources:

CO – THE Colorado Trail, Segments 1-5, Waterton Canyon to Kenosha Pass (06/22)

Hiking all or part of THE Colorado Trail has been on my agenda for several years and became a knee rehab goal. This 485-mile trail runs between Denver and Durango, passing through six National Forests, six Wilderness areas, traverses five major river systems and penetrates eight of the states mountain ranges. 

Much like other long trails, if you are thru hiking, you can’t pick best time for each section, but as a self-proclaimed cherry picker and section hiker, I’m happy to jump around when opportunities present. The first five segments (or sections) are lowest elevation and tend to heat up early, and with each passing week after snowmelt, water availability lessens. When the window opened and logistics came together easily, I found myself at this iconic sign.

Was I ready to traverse 70+ miles with significant elevation gain while traveling between 5,000 and 11,000 feet? hadn’t carried more than 2+ days of food since my knee surgery. I wanted to budget food based on 15-mile days but that would certainly set me up for failure. That far exceeded my training and fitness. Begrudgingly I packed 6+ days of food for 10-mile days. With thunderstorms forecast, possible frigid temperatures at higher elevation and exposure through a few burn sections, I added my rain gear and umbrella. I about cried when I saw the scale register 27 pounds. The night before I tossed and turned considering what I should remove. In the end I didn’t remove anything, and kept thinking of the phrase “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” I was super excited to finally turn this concept into reality!

Segment 1 – 16.5 miles (2,380′ gain, 2,239′ loss)

The challenges of this segment include road walking on compacted surface in the heat, limiting miles to 8.7 if you don’t want to carry water for dry camping or if you aren’t able to hike 16.5 miles to the next water source.

The walk through Waterton Canyon was an easy stroll with restrooms, shaded picnic tables, and garbage bins every couple miles, plus nearby river access.

This canyon is known for Bighorn Sheep sightings. I thought it was going to be a bust but at the last rest area these youngsters came down the hill. They were headbutting and humping. It was an entertaining sight.

I was happy to be on single track with shade after the long road walk.

Another benefit of being a section hiker is that I didn’t need to share cramped campsites. I saw 5-25 hikers, runners and bikers daily, most out for the day or a section, as it was still early for the thru hiker crowd. I only shared a camping area one night out of five.

I finally earned some views and even saw some snowy mountains.

In this segment I found a few blooms including prickly poppy, grass widow, skullcaps, penstemon, larkspur, milkweed, columbine, and I believe euphorbia, plus lots of butterflies.

Prickly Poppy
Grass Widow
Penstemon
Big leaf viola
Skullcaps
Penstemon
The Colorado State flower, Blue Columbine
Iris

Segment 2 – 11.7 miles (2,482′ gain, 753′ loss)

Water is again a big challenge as there are only two sources. The first at the beginning and the second 10 miles later. There are two large burn areas devoid of shade.

The South Platte River is a bit of an oasis. I took a nice break in the shade before loading up with 4.5 liters of water for the climb and dry camping.

I used cooling strategies to get me through the exposed burn scar of wetting my shirt, head, hat and buff at the river, then adding my umbrella to keep me shaded.

I was happy to find some shade at the 2.5 mile mark. I couldn’t carry those 10 pounds of water any further in the heat. It made for an early day but better for my wellness and success.

I was left wondering if I needed a helmet but thankfully no UFO’s bonked me upon the head.

It was a relief to reach the fire station and find the spigot on with water available. Such a humanitarian gift and one worthy of a donation (NorthForkFire.org) with no natural water sources in this segment after the South Platte River. The 4.5 liters I carried was just right.

Blooms I found on this segment in additional to those I saw in the previous segment.

Wild geranium I believe
Paintbrush in yellow, orange and red

Segment 3 – 12.5 miles (1,975′ gain, 1,549′ loss)

This segment has far fewer challenges with more plentiful water, shade, views, and gentle terrain. The trade-off is bike activity especially on weekends.

The sculpted rock formations dotted the landscape through this segment.

The highlight for me was finding this Abert’s Squirrel.

“Abert’s squirrel or the tassel-eared squirrel is a tree squirrel in the genus Sciurus native to the southern Rocky Mountains from the United States to the northern Sierra Madre Occidental of Mexico, with concentrations found in Arizona, New Mexico, and southwestern Colorado.”

This chipmunk in camp loved his salad. He ate so many greens.

Buffalo Creek was the best source thus far. I’d been surprised by the minimalist streams called creeks.

I heard some big ammunition fire but thankfully no stray bullets.

Segment 4 – 16.4 miles (3,271′ gain, 1,373′ loss)

The challenge in this segment is elevation as the high point is nearly 11,000 feet. I also found the 5 miles of steep, rocky old logging road at uncomfortable grade. There is also a lack of shade during the long 6-mile meadow section.

I was surprised this old road was considered trail once I entered wilderness. I was happy for shade but not for the unrelenting grade on very rocky surface. My initial impressions didn’t match my previous experience in this wilderness (blog link).

I was super happy to leave the road and find wonderful hiker grade single track trail.

I didn’t even mind when the trail got rocky as I made my way toward the pass. However I was very disappointed to find no view.

I’m guessing this 6-mile meadow is colorful with blooms if your timing is just right.

There were several side creeks sporting marsh marigolds.

Geum triflorum, prairie smoke, three-flowered avens, or old man’s whiskers
Hummingbird Moth

After exiting the meadow and climbing to another saddle, I was once again disappointed to find no views.

Segment 5 – 14.6 miles (1,858′ gain, 2,055 loss)

The altitude challenge is the primary concern; however there are also some long exposed sections without shade, as well as expected bovine companions and poo water.

This segment is considered the first of the best sections. I was thrilled to find views and long traverses.

My timing couldn’t have better as a trail crew cut 49 logs off the trail the previous day. I met them in the morning and shared my many thanks for this gift.

I was super excited to find this solo Fairy Slipper Orchid.

I suspect the meadows will be filled with blue iris soon.

Kenosha Pass marks the end of Segment 5, and for me the end of this 5 segment section. What a great reminder of my first steps back in 2017 (blog link).

This was a fab test of my fitness following my knee surgery and rehab. I’m super proud of myself for hiking this 70+ miles with about 10,000′ elevation gain.

I was thankful I finished a day earlier than planned as smoke blew in from the fires in New Mexico and Arizona. I would not have wanted to hike in those conditions (but would have had to).

Tips:

  • Consider earplugs if you are noise sensitive at night. There is a lot of plane traffic. You might also have noisy neighbors.
  • Have strategies for dealing with the heat, such as salt/electrolyte capsules and drinks, umbrella, and buff to keep wet. Sunscreen especially for lips.
  • Bring a water scoop and prefilter for minimalist streams.
  • The Guthook/Far Out App and Colorado Trail Association Data Book are helpful. I also used Gaia with the Colorado Trail Nat Geo layer.

Resources: