Birthday Loop: High Above Ouray

When Katie was visiting earlier in the summer, we’d planned a long run high in the mountains above Ouray. Enjoying the run without running from monsoon thunderstorms meant pushing the run off until fall. Part of me was afraid to try it because it sounded like a ton of elevation gain and I was pretty sure it was going to hurt (spoiler: the uphill at mile 12 did hurt). Yet, Katie didn’t let it go and finally I agreed that it would make for a badass birthday hike-run.

It totally was.

We left Ridgway early and hit the trail in the dark. I love hiking through sunrise in the mountains: seeing the light hit the ridgetops and work its way down into the valley is really a wonderful feeling.

The colors were just starting to pop but fortunately, completely fooled us on how wonderful they’d be in a few weeks:

The uphill hike seemed to go super fast and I was surprised how quickly we found ourselves on the ridge. I’d looked at this ridge a million times but standing on it for the first time, I got to add to my mental map of local geography.

I also added several peaks to my list from up there within just a few minutes.

Then it was time to set off down the ridge. There were lots of ups and downs and we had to decide which peaks to skirt and which to climb (the only non-optional one was the ranked 13er on the ridge)

The ridgetop was pure giddiness. Including Mountain Prancercise…

This photo was taken on the shoulder of an unranked 12er bump on the ridge that didn’t, at first glance, have a clear cut route to the top. As we traversed around it I found a gully that I thought might go to the top. We carefully picked our way up the loose rock and pulled a couple of stout scramble moves and found ourselves on the top.

I think Katie and I would both agree that although the unnamed peak wasn’t our actual highpoint for the day, it was actually the emotional high point.

Just a few minutes after our unoffical climbing objective, we found ourselves on the actual highpoint of the hike.

These mountains, man. From here, if I’d have had binoculars I could have picked out my house to the north and mountains every other direction as far as I could see.

From there, we had a small (500′ climb) that felt like 2000′ and then the huge descent into town. After eighteen miles and 6600′ of gain, we were both worked. Quickly completing the car shuttle we hustled home to our crockpot dinner and devoured all the food.

Thank you so much Katie for going along on this dream adventure of mine! I had a blast!

Colorado 13er: Golden Horn

Back in July, my friend asked me, mid-concert in the park, drinks in hand, if I would like to climb Golden Horn that weekend. I’m never one to turn down mountain adventure so I agreed, although I was slightly concerned about how slow I might be headed up the mountain.

After what felt like an early start (but not to shabby since we live close enough to wake up in our own beds), we found ourselves at the trail head cruising rapidly up towards Upper Ice Lake. Above the lake, I finally got to solve the approach question from Fuller Lake towards the ring of 13ers above the basin (I had a storm come in when I first attempted Vermilion from Ice Lakes).

I’d climbed Fuller Peak (on the left) and Vermilion (center) in 2015 and was very excited to head up Golden Horn (on the right)!

I’d almost forgotten how much I actually enjoy(?) relish(?) feel alive(?) when making my way up loose San Juan rock. The weather was perfect as we worked our way up the gully to the Vermilion-Golden Horn saddle.

Once we were on the summit, we were treated to a fantastic view of the Wilsons:

A gorgeous view of upper Ice Lake and all of the San Juans:

As we headed down, the sky got really moody and we felt an urgency as we headed down the mountain. The rain started just as we started descending the headwall into the lower basin.

I’m always so glad to hike with Nadia because she is totally willing to gush about these mountains with me the whole time.

I’ve seen Golden Horn now from several angles and every time, I think of this fantastic day and smile.

July Visitors!

While my project in Washington somewhat dragged on, I had events starting to pile up in Ridgway that I needed to get back for. My boss started calling to set up some summer meetings but more pressingly, Cindy had purchased plane tickets months ago and Katie was coming out for hanging out with people during the Hardrock100.

Since Cindy was only in town for a couple of days, we went out hiking on Sutton Trail. Although it’s steep, the views of the amphitheater are amazing. Plus, we got mixed up in another group of hikers that were actually a ton of fun. After our hike we drove over Red Mountain to Silverton and then headed back to my place for lunch and some wine and porch sitting.

The next day, we drove up to Telluride to check out the views and ride the gondola. Apparently I only Instagram storied my photos since I don’t have any! Again, we basically meandered back to the house and found ourselves catching up with pretty mountain views as old friends do.  It was so much fun to share my home with you, Cindy! I know I’m in the middle of no where but you win the award for first friend to buy a plane ticket to come!

Katie’s visit out this way for Hardrock events slightly overlapped with Cindy which was actually a lot of fun. After Cindy headed back to the midwest, Katie and I decided to head up Bridge of Heaven. This is one of those hikes I’ve wanted to do but was sort of dissuaded from because of all its elevation gain!

We started from the Dexter Creek side and quickly attained the ridge line and then pushed our way up to Bridge of Heaven proper.

By the run down, my legs were feeling it but it was a good way to start getting in some solid elevation gain again!

Bishop Castle

This is one of the weirdest places I’ve ever been.

I was driving along, Colorado Highway 165 and suddenly the speed limit dropped to 35mph at the crest of a hill. Cars were parked along the wide shoulders. A hand-painted sign along the side of an old old truck announced this to be Bishop Castle.

Jim Bishop bought his land in 1959 for $450. He was 15.

In 1969, he built a small stone cottage to live in his wife, Phoebe. About 1971, people began to suggest that Bishop’s ever growing cottage looked a little bit like a castle and he decided to build just that, a castle.

Almost nothing about this place feels safe and everything is bananas. I’ve been on plenty of mountains and in all sorts of precarious places and I don’t usually get vertigo but on the iron pyramid atop of the highest tower in the castle (on the left in the photo below), I felt… not okay.

Cuckoo bananas is the only way I can describe this place. Nothing is finished, most of the windows lack glass, and along the back bit of the grand ballroom where the floor has been exposed to weather, there are missing… bits.

Bishop and his father had owned Bishop Ornamental Iron Works in Pubelo and while the iron work is pretty, in many places it seems a little bit less than secure.

As crazy as this place is, it’s also really cool to see someone really go after something. The Bishops lost their gift shop to a fire this spring and are currently funding the their building effort through donations. Aside from that, however, the castle is totally free to visit.

Greenhorn Mountain: Pueblo County Highpoint

As my EMT class, drew to a close, I went on a mission to have this weekend free of clinicals or of NREMT studying. Although last weekend was mostly obligation free, I did have the Love Your Valley event on the calendar for Saturday. Last weekend, there was nothing I had to do.  I plotted a trip to the east to hike the high points of Pueblo and Las Animas Counties.

Because this spring has been so dry (so dry that some Arizona National Forests and state lands are going to closures already), I didn’t even bother to check the weather. As I drove over Monarch Pass on Friday night, the skies over the Wet Mountains looked black. I was already fairly committed and the weather around Salida didn’t appear to look much better for the next day so I continued on towards Greenhorn Mountain. I headed up Ophir Creek Road about three miles when the driving rain that had started near Westcliffe turned to slushy snow. I decided the wise course of action was to sleep low in case this turned into an epic spring snow since there were 25 miles of gravel between me and the trailhead.

I woke in the morning to partially clearing skies and decided to make a go of it. The gravel road was in really great shape. Any car could make this drive. There were no ruts or large rocks, just a touch of washboard on some steeper sections. In about forty-five minutes, Sprocket and I reached the end of the road and started our hike towards Greenhorn Mountain.

Greenhorn Mountain’s name came from a Comanche warrior named Tabivo Naritgant, “dangerous man,” who was known by Spanish as Cuerno Verde. Tabivo Naritgant’s Spanish name came from the distinctive green horned headdress that he wore in battle. The warrior was killed by forces lead by Juan Bautista de Anza who had been offered the governorship of New Mexico to deal with the raiding Comanches.

With my recent reading about the history of the west percolating, I ascended the Greenhorn Trail cutting north of Greenhorn Mountain towards North Peak. Initially, I’d planned to just hike Greenhorn slowly cutting across the side of the peak but the trail felt like a much easier way to climb, even if it made the total hike a bit longer.

I know I say this frequently, but Sprocket’s joy on the trail is so sustaining for me. He is such a happy pup with new sniffs and places to explore. Every time I start to think the (old) boy is losing the spring in his step, he surprises me.

We made a quick run from the saddle up to the top of North Peak since it was only 200′ of gain from the saddle. after that, turned to navigating our way south along the ridge to Greenhorn proper. It was a pretty straightforward hike with perfect elevation practice up and downs along the way.

While we were up there, the low clouds broke to show off the southern end of the Sangre de Cristos and the Wet Mountain Valley. The clouds started to form the beginnings of baby thunderheads but nothing seemed to threatening until I was well back down the road toward pavement. Greenhorn Mountain has an elevation of 12,347′ but it’s prominence clocks in at 3,767′ thanks to its status as the high point of the Wet Mountains. (I guess their name actually comes from the amount of snow they receive in the winter not from the fact that I almost got rained out.)

Sprocket lead the final charge up to Greenhorn Mountain like a champ. This dog, man, this dog.

After a quick cuddle on the summit, we headed down to stay in front of the building clouds. We had talus filled hike down the southern face of the mountain to reach the Bartlett trail, an old road, that made for an easy walk back to the car.

On The Page: Juan Rivera’s Colorado, 1765

Last summer when my mom came to visit, she bought me a present: Juan Rivera’s Colorado, 1765. Fresh off my trip to OKC where my Spanish colonial history obsession was kindled by stops in Santa Fe and at the Pecos pueblo I had stopped in at Ouray’s Buckskin Bookseller to find a copy of the journals of the Dominguez-Escalate expedition. The owner pointed out this new release from Western Reflections Publishing (yes, I’m still slowly purchasing their entire catalog).

Steven Baker scrupulously traces Rivera’s expeditions to southwestern Colorado. Apparently there was some controversy about whether Rivera had gone to Moab or to Delta. I loved the detailed tracing of his route. I’m a map and geography nerd and the territory traveled by Rivera is my home ground. He passed by Chimney Rock then, on his fall expedition, up through the Dolores River canyon to what is now the west end of Montrose County and then over the Uncompaghre Plateau to Delta.  I find myself just astounded by what they were able to accomplish with such limited information!

This beautiful hard cover wasn’t cheap (thanks Mom!) but it is filled will gorgeous maps drawn by Gail Sargent of each section of the journey as well as photographs of many locations with notations of trails traversed by the expedition.

I’m so glad that this book has joined my library. I think it’s incredibly important to know the history of the area where you live and I learned so much (and added a few hikes to my list and … bonus! they’ll be spring accessible!).

This post contains affiliate links. All opinions are my own.

Colorado 14er: Mount Of The Holy Cross

Mount of the Holy Cross is barely a 14er, with its summit reaching 14,005′, but it is not Mt. Holy Cross it is “Mount of…” which I find sort of pompous but I digress. I’d heard that Holy Cross was a beautiful mountain and I was kinda skeptical since it’s listed on 14ers.com as part of the Sawatch Range which never quite does it for me. (I have become a mountain snob, I won’t lie to you.) I was wrong. Holy Cross was a great mountain to climb. It is, however, the highpoint of Eagle County, and it was my 49th county highpoint in Colorado, bringing me to just over 78% completion!

Famed western photographer William Henry Jackson, photographed the mountain in 1873 from the flanks of neighboring Notch Mountain (Notch actually obscures Holy Cross from US 24 so it cannot be seen) while traveling with the Hayden Party. Some questions exist as to whether Jackson doctored the photo so that the cross was more distinct.

Photograph. Mountain of the Holy Cross. 2004.0286.16.
The National Museum of American History

In 1874, another famous artist of the American West, painter Thomas Moran climbed to the flanks of Notch Mountain to make some sketches of Mount of The Holy Cross for a painting. Moran’s inspiration by Jackson in turn inspired Henry Wordsworth Longfellow to write a poem “The Cross Of Snow.”

Anyway, in addition to being Mount of the Holy Cross, there’s a lake named Bowl of Tears and another snowfield called the “Supplicating Virgin.” This also finally explains to me the name of “Shrine Pass” leading from Red Cliff to I-70 near Copper Mountain (no joke this always made me think of the Shriners…). In the 1920s there was a large push to develop the area around the mountain, as well as the mountain itself, as a place for “devotion” and worship. The Colorado Mountain Club pushed back, advertising a 1923 outing as an opportunity to “see it BEFORE it is desecrated in the name of religion. It is a glorious mountain, in a splendid and so-far inaccessible setting of ragged ridges and sparkling lakes.” After their trip, they were clear to note in their report that the cross was barely visible as a result of it being late summer.

As a result of all the interest surrounding Holy Cross, President Hoover declared the area a National Monument in 1929 leading to the construction of Tigiwan Road in 1932 and 1933. The Tigiwan Community House, spotted on the drive to the Half Moon Trailhead, was built to house pilgrims and the CCC built the stone house visible on Notch Mountain from the summit of Holy Cross was built to shelter them as they viewed the cross.

Then, as quickly as it had grown, the pilgrimage movement ended in the late 1930s. In addition to economic hardships followed by World War II (and the heavy usage of the Leadville area by the 10th Mountain Division for training), for various possible reasons the cross always seemed to be less impressive than promised. (One suggestion is that rockfall happened in the right arm to make it less apparent.) In 1950, the National Monument was decomissioned by Congress.

Okay, giant historical aside is over but I owe a huge thanks to Kevin Blake’s article “Imagining heaven and earth at Mount of the Holy Cross, Colorado” for allowing me to really geek out on this.

As a hike, Holy Cross is a bit of a bear because the standard route from Half Moon Trailhead climbs about 1000′ to Half Moon Pass before descending 1000′ to East Cross Creek and only then can you make the 3200′ ascent to the summit. This, of course, means that one must also climb 1000′ on the “descent” of the mountain to get out of East Cross Creek’s canyon.

I’d given a half-hearted effort to climbing Holy Cross back in fall 2015 so I knew it’d be nice to get the climb to the Pass out of the way before going for a summit and decided to camp at East Cross Creek. I arrived at the trailhead about 2pm and really hoped that I wouldn’t wind up just getting drenched on my way to camp since the clouds were looking somewhat ominous.

Although a few drops fell on me as I started to pitch my tent, it never actually rained overnight. I had hoped to crawl into the tent and do some reading but I lasted about 30 minutes before I promptly fell asleep… at 5pm.

My headlamp appears to have jumped from my daypack, which I discovered when I woke up about 11pm, so I set my alarm to go off at 5:30 since hiking before that without a light source would be rather silly. I hit the snooze button once and started climbing up the ridge of Holy Cross about 5:45.

Notch Mountain in the background

It never ceases to feel magical to be in the mountains as the sun makes its way over neighboring ridges. This one was no exception. Suddenly, as the sun crested Notch Mountain, Holy Cross started to shine.

There’s a great stairstep-y path leading a good chunk of the way up the talus slopes before you cross a somewhat flat section of the ridge and then tackle the final steep, 500′ easy scramble to the summit.

I’d been worried the last 800′ to the summit that the weather was going to take a turn significantly before the 10am predicted by the National Weather Service but it actually seemed to get better while I was lounging at the top. By this point, I was basically dreading the ascent back to Half Moon Pass with my pack. It wasn’t particularly heavy but it was enough to just not want to do.

It was only after grinding the first 500′ of the climb out of the way that I had a chance to really appreciate that I’d gotten my 49th Colorado County Highpoint (of 64) and my 14th 14er (using the CMC list).

Sources:

Blake, Kevin (2008) ‘Imagining heaven and earth at Mount of the
Holy Cross, Colorado’, Journal of Cultural Geography, 25:1, 1 – 30. DOI:10.1080/08873630701822588.

Longfellow, Henry Wordsworth. “The Cross of Snow.” The Poetry Foundation, https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/44629/the-cross-of-snow.

“Mountain of the Holy Cross.” National Museum of American History, National Museum of American History, americanhistory.si.edu/collections/search/object/nmah_1276028.

McMillan Peak and Ohio Peak

I’ve been complaining about this on Twitter but it’s a real problem: getting an alpine start when you work until 11pm and then you’re wired and can’t sleep is next to impossible. I’d had some ideas about bigger peaks in the Sneffles range and elsewhere along Red Mountain Pass but ultimately settled on a pair of 12ers above Brooklyn Road because I could leave the house at 7:30 and have plenty of time.

Things went according to plan until I wound up behind a herd of sheep being driven up onto a chunk of private land around Red Mountain 3. I sat stopped for a bit while the herders seemed to be taking a mid morning break. Since none of them signaled to me or said anything, I put Ruth in 4-low and just started creeping through the herd. It seemed to work.

Finally, reaching US Basin, I started a pretty direct ascent up the western slopes of McMillan Peak. Sprocket was delighted to find some snow on its flanks and before long we’d reached the 12,804′ peak.

I ran down the slopes of McMillan while Sprocket frolicked his way along.

It wasn’t long before we reached the Ohio Peak-McMillan Saddle where some old mining remains were.

It was sunny and gorgeous and the mountains were making me smile so we took a little break to lay down in the alpine grass.

Or I did, anyway. Sprocket seemed to want to move on. We made out way to the summit of Ohio Peak, 12,673′, where I briefly considered continuing on to another 12er, Anvil Peak but decided against it worrying about the endurance of the SP. We made our way back to US Basin along the ridge and then descended through the most beautiful wildflower bloom I’ve ever seen back to the road.

Jackson County Highpoint: Clark Peak

With all my focus on getting the house built, my Colorado county highpoint quest was temporarily delayed. (Over a year has past since I grabbed Pikes and Devils Playground!)

When I managed to find myself with a three day weekend, I started scanning my list deciding where I should go. I finally settled on Clark as a primary objective and getting something else (perhaps a third try at Pettengel) if my old pup was up for two consecutive days of hiking. Clark Peak is not quite a 13er, measuring in at 12,951′ but it does have the dubious distinction of being the “tallest Colorado peak this far north” aka there are no peaks in Colorado north of Clark that are taller. A much less random assertion is that Clark is also the highpoint of the Medicine Bow Range.

I’d heard rumors that the 4×4 road approaching the trailhead to Jewel Lake was in pretty rough shape so when I entered State Forest State Park in the waning daylight hours I didn’t really know what length of hike we were in for the next day. As it turned out, I was able to make it 2/3 of the way up the 4×4 road and on some more examination on the way down from the peak in the morning, I’m pretty sure the obstacle where I stopped was totally do-able by Ruth (although perhaps a spotter would have made me more apt to take it on) and was also the last piece of any consequence on the drive.

The hike up to Jewel Lake went quickly and I refrained from letting Sprocket swim as I wanted him to save his energy for the stiff climb from the lake to the summit (about 1600′ in less than a mile!).

The weather was glorious so we didn’t hustle ourselves too hard up the grassy slopes, pausing frequently to enjoy the view.

Clark Peak marks my 48th highpoint in Colorado. Of the ones I have left Blanca Peak (and its associated slope point) is the highpoint of three counties and Crestone and East Crestone can be combined leaving me with 13 more outings. I’m going to try and get a couple more in 2017 but summer 2018? It’s on.

Backyard Hikes: Blue Lakes

Working at Mouses I frequently get asked about hikes to do in the area. One of the ones that I am always asked about is Blue Lakes Trail.

To be honest, I’ve basically avoided this trail. If everyone is asking about it, it must be overrun. (I’m not wrong, my friends saw over a hundred cars there a few weeks ago!)

I didn’t get a terribly early start but it was early enough that there wasn’t a ton of traffic on the trail. I could see why it was a big deal; the views are incredible and its steep but not insane.

Sprocket was out of his mind. He had hiked and there was a lake. And then there was another lake.

The thing we learned is that there aren’t any sticks at alpine lakes and that breaks dogs hearts.

I look forward to doing this again… but probably in the fall when we can have it to ourselves again.