Oh Colorado, It’s a Wrap . . . at least for 2017

Experiencing the change of color in Colorado was on the top of my list for September/October this year. 

The smoke from wildfires in Wyoming chased me into Colorado where I found . . . more smoke. I quickly visited Rocky Mountain National Park, Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, and Colorado National Monument before retreating to Utah. I tried Colorado again in mid September and found winter instead of fall on my traverse around Lizard Head Peak. Not deterred, I turned my “hike more drive less” trip into a “drive more hike less” leaf peeping trip. First stop was Lizard Head Pass on Highway 145, where I found a little color and a lot of people. 

Then I discovered Trout Lake

I might have even found my new summer home. 

And best of all I found the first vestiges of color. 

I drove around Trout Lake and down the road where I found Hope Lake Trailhead. If it hadn’t been 4pm, I would have hiked this trail. Instead I camped nearby where I could enjoy the sunset showcasing the colorful mountains. 

I even got to see Lizard Head Peak from a new angle. One thing I enjoy is observing landmarks from a distance that I’ve seen up close (link to my hike report).

With a limited good weather window, I chose to drive to my next trailhead rather than hiking to Hope Lake. My travel path took me to Ridgway on Highway 62, a very cute town with a great coffee shop, and onto Ouray on Highway 550, a town much too touristy for my taste. I camped with a view of the fall foliage where I’d begin my hike to Ice Lakes the next day (link to blog post). For more info regarding my car camping experiences, here’s the link to Me and My CRV posts.

I spent a day exploring Silverton before finding my way to the Highlands Mary Lakes Trailhead (link to blog post). 

After a return trip on the Million Dollar Highway from Silverton to Ouray (not for those nervous about heights and exposure), I continued on County Road 8 to Owl Creek Pass where I got to enjoy many views of Chimney Rock. 

I was a little early for peak leaf peeping at Cimarron Ridge

Color was popping at Silver Jack Reservoir

I quickly learned September weather in Colorado is variable. 

Living out of your car and backpack makes life challenging and not-so-much fun during extended storms. 

One day rainy, the next snowy, and then the sun reappears albeit under windy cold skies. I spent this day hiking and exploring roads near Crested Butte.

Not a very good photo, but I was pretty excited to come upon this group of moose thinking about testing out those water toys.

Given an overnight temperature of 24 degrees, I was happy to be staying with friends in Crested Butte. Bonus was this colorful sunset. 

I frequently am asked if I get lonely on my travels. Well when I do, I always seem to find new friends.

On Highway 285 I found Kenosha Pass and the Colorado Trail. It was a perfect day for a jaunt by foot (link to blog post).  With more bad weather coming in, I spent a couple days in Dillon with another new friend. Meet Phurba!

Before reuniting with Nancy aka WhyNot?! 

We spent the next few days together at the ALDHA-West gathering in Keystone (link to blog post). October roared in with a bit of winter fury signaling my exit to warmer climates. 

This is my third or fourth visit to Colorado and the most indepth to date. I’ve barely scratched the surface and can’t wait for extended time. My dance card is overflowing. See you in 2018 Colorado, mark your calendar. It’s a date!

Readers: do you have suggestions for my next visit?

Dates of Travel: 9/4/17-10/2/17

Links:

CO – Lizard Head Loop – San Juan NF (Part 2)

My tent was perfectly positioned near Navajo Lake to be warmed by the first rays of light. 

As indicated on my previous post, my intention was to head up to Rock of Ages Pass near Wilson Peak (14,017). The trail was quite rocky but well defined within a smooth trough for much of the ascent.

Looking down at Navajo Lake as I continued my ascent toward Rock of Ages Pass

This is the false summit I’d seen from camp. The ridge providing access to Wilson Peak was in my sights now. 

There was mining relics laying witness to earlier years on this mountain. Nearby is Mount Wilson (14,246). I’d seen a sign pointing in the direction earlier and kept my eyes open for possible routes. Seemed impossible, but I know it’s not.

From the ridge looking down toward the Silver Pick basin

You can see the trail in the middle which was my ascent trail. The rangers who recommended this loop didn’t tell me about this very rocky sketch with plenty of exposure. Definitely not my favorite. 

I call this extreme exposure. 

Once I got past the ridge, I had to get down this mess on the mostly non-existent Silver Pick Trail.

Looking back at what I’d descended thus far. There is no real trail just lots of rocks and slip sliding marks from previous hikers. Once again this was way outside my comfort zone. I happened upon more mining history.

I was so happy to be out of the rubble headed toward Lizard Head Trail #505 with it’s namesake mountain, Lizard Head (13,113) clearly evident in the distant. It took me 6 hours to reach the trail junction after leaving the ridge.

Notice the trail on the high left side of scree field. 

The weather had been threatening all day and my wishes to have thunderstorms hold off until I’d descended the sketchy rock thankfully came true. By late afternoon however the hail, rain and thunder became intermittent. 

As I hid out under a bush with my umbrella and poncho, a little surprise was waiting. 

Between breaks in the storm I decided to get over Lizard Head Pass

My luck ran out and as I neared the top, the storm came on with ferocity leaving behind hail highlights. The lighting after the storm was phenomenal.

After crossing over the pass, I quickly ducked into the first thunderstorm-safe campsite I could find. The temperature dropped quickly, the thunder grumbled, lightning flashed, it started hailing, then sleeting . . . then snowing. 

This was my view as I unzipped my tent in the morning. 

In my rush to find a campsite and get out of the cold, I’d missed my trail junction. I call this a happy accident as I would have camped at a much lower elevation and missed these amazing views. 

You can compare this image to one a few photos above to see what happened during the night. 

Ah, the missed junction. I needed to take Cross Mountain Trail #637.

Then I was on my way, down down down. 

With many opportunities to look back at Lizard Head Mountain

It was a frigid 31 degrees in my tent. I hiked for a few hours in all my clothes including my long underwear, down jacket, rain jacket, 3 hats and 3 pairs of socks. 

Getting to experience first snow and see this beautiful landscape highlighted white was a real treat. 

To complete my loop, I transitioned from the Cross Mountain Trail to the Groundhog Stock Driveway Trail

The Groundhog Stock Trail was surprisingly beautiful. I really enjoyed the open meadows, interspersed groves of trees and views of where I’d been including the ever present Lizard Head Peak

I hiked the road between Groundhog Stock Trail and the Kilpacker Trailhead, where my car was parked. My how this view changed. 

The view from three days earlier. 

Related Post:

Hike Details:

  • Date(s) Hiked: September 14-15, 2017
  • Mileage: about 18 miles (per View Ranger)
  • Elevation Gain/Loss: about  4,500′ gain, 5,600′ loss, ranging in elevation between 10,086 and 13,310 (per View Ranger)
  • Trail Conditions:
    • Tree obstacles: minimal
    • Overgrowth: moderate, some bushes and plenty of decaying summer plants, made worse by rain and snow.
    • Signage: moderate
    • Terrain: combination of rocky exposed to smooth well groomed
  • Navigation Skills: experienced for the section between Rock of Ages Pass to Lizard Head Trail
  • Water availability: moderate (review map in advance)
  • Camping availability: moderate
  • Solitude: I only saw two people from the time I left Navajo Lake until I was part way down the Cross Mountain Trail where I started meeting a few hunters and hikers.
  • Bugs: nearly non existent
  • Wildlife: lots of pika!
  • Precip: be prepared, yep I got wet, cold, and snowed up.
  • Temp: 31 overnight low in my tent
  • LNT: Although this is a high use area I saw very little abuse of LNT.
  • Jan’s Cherry Picker Delight Scale: 4 cherries (out of 5) Views were outstanding, rocky section of trail was challenging.

Tips:

  • Check in with the ranger station in Dolores
  • Plan on a long drive to the trailhead
  • Plentiful dispersed camping near the trailhead

Links:

Resources: