Ouray Hiking: Chief Ouray Trail

What do you do when you get to work a couple hours early?

I needed to go up to Ouray to take care of a few things and found myself with time to kill before work. I had two and a half hours before I needed to arrive so I headed up to the Chief Ouray Trail access in the Amphitheater.

The trail is only two miles long but it is steep and I was able to get in almost 2000′ of gain!

It wasn’t too too hot but I definitely worked up a sweat while taking in the awesome view.

I really loved the short shelf portion once the elevation gain was done! (I’m a weirdo who also likes shelf roads and standing on cliffs.)

Eventually, Upper Cascade Falls came into view.

Negotiating the slushy snow bridge right above a falls was interesting!

A little bit further I got to what I believe was the bunkhouse for the mine. Time was starting to feel a bit short so I turned around here and headed back to town.

Not too shabby for two hours on the trail.

Ouray Hiking: Old Horsethief Trail

When we got back from Oklahoma City, it was time to do some hiking! Sprocket and I parked at the Old Horsethief Trail near the Hot Springs Pool and headed up-up-up. Unfortunately the day was really windy so we only got up to the junction of Old Horsethief and Horsethief Trail. Instead we contented ourselves with just being happy in the mountains. It wasn’t hard.

Sorry not sorry for the obnoxious string of selfies.

Colorado 13er: Brown Mountain

Saturday morning, after lesurely enjoying some coffee, I headed up Brown Mountain jeep road once again. (I kinda love that road: it’s not too difficult to drive and gets you up to the high country pretty quickly!) This time, I had my sights set on the highpoint of the long Brown Mountain Ridge. Located at the southern end of the ridge (Mt. Abrams is at the north end), it tops out at 13,339′. Since I was going up the western side of the ridge, I spent most of my drive and then the climb up to the ridge in shadow watching the sun make its way ever so slowly down the eastern slopes across the valley from me.

The steep climb up the gully from the end of the jeep road always kicks my butt. It’s only a half mile but it is steep. I also knew that once I hit the ridge the sun would help warm my chilly bones (I was greeted with ice coating puddles and ponds along the way up… fall is in full swing in the mountains!)

Once I got to the ridge, I started ambling along not worrying much about making good time. Looking north, I could see the route I took back in July to the summit of Mt. Abrams:


Looking south, I realized that the ridge was a lot longer than I was picturing it being. The highpoint is visible on the far right of this photo. I decided to traverse below some of the subpeaks in between to minimize elevation gain and loss–that turned out to be a mistake, going over the summits on the return was a lot easier than traversing the steep and slippery scree on the eastern slopes!

I further realized that ascending this peak from the Alaska Basin spur road off of Hurricane Pass would be way shorter. I didn’t particularly mind the extra length but the Brown Mountain road is not the shortest or least elevation gain route by far!

At the highpoint I found the summit log next to the Duco benchmark and just soaked in the sights for a bit. Somehow, I’d forgotten how absolutely magical fall is in the mountains. #Summtsummer is a beautiful thing but honestly, fall summits are even better. They’re lonelier, the weather is better (until that moment the snow falls and it’s terrible), the colors are beautiful, and the air has a crisp fresh smell that is totally indescribable.

I am so glad that I had a chance to ramble in the high mountain air alone and drink it all in.

Hiking Ouray: Old Horsethief Trail

Last weekend, the weather in the San Juans was too good to not go out and enjoy it. Sprocket and I had never hiked the Old Horsethief trail that climbed steeply from near the hot springs pool so we headed out (and up!). Sprocket took off like a shot; he clearly hadn’t forgotten that up is the right direction to go.

While there was a little bit of snow on the ground it had been packed down enough to make the going easy. Just after we reached this gully, however, there was a really new looking gate constructed over the trail. I’m still not sure what the status here but I’m doing some digging since I found evidence that it was used for last year’s Ouray 100.

The views weren’t too shabby though so no one was disappointed.

On the way down we explored some little tracks off the main trail that lead us to some old mine adits, as is normal in the area.

The water flowing out of this adit reminded me of riding Disneyland’s Pirates of the Caribbean:

Mostly it was glorious to be outside enjoying the early spring sunshine.

Didn’t Corbett Peak look pretty across the valley?

Snowshoeing: West Fork of the Cimarron

From Ridgway, the Cimarrons look like a single ridge but what is visible from town is really the two ridges that surround the West Fork of the Cimarron. This basin is astoundingly beautiful and isn’t that hard to get to, provided that in the winter you have access to a snowmobile. The basin is accessed from Owl Creek Pass which is groomed from the Forest Service boundary on the west side (Ridgway) down to Silver Jack Reservoir and parking on the east side.

When a plan was hatched to go snowshoeing in the basin a small problem was presented: there were three people and one snowmobile. Turns out, that if one person is willing to brave some bruises and an awkward ride (ahem, that person was…me), crazier things have happened.

As silly as the ride to the basin was, just being in the basin was the highlight of the day. Initially, we’d hoped to head up Courthouse Mountain but with an unsettled snowpack, we decided to spend our time in the shadow of Dunsinane, Precipice Peak, Redcliff, Coxcomb, and an unnamed 12er.

Not only were our views of the peaks immediately surrounding us awesome, but so were the views north towards the Elks and Mount Lamborn.

As we climbed higher into the basin the views just got better and better. The sky was an amazing amazing blue and the temperatures were perfect for ambling around the snow.

Carefully, we made our way through the trees to the western rim of the basin between Courthouse and UN 12725. I always love getting up above Ridgway; while the Sneffels Range and the Cimarrons are very visible it’s really easy to forget that Utah’s La Sal and Abajo Mountains aren’t very far away. Even the Henry Mountains are visible south of Hanksville, Utah.

After enjoying the view, we descended back into the basin and headed back to the snowmobile. It’s been a long time since I’ve done almost five miles on snowshoes and my legs were feeling it! It didn’t help that my snowshoes are designed for snowshoe running and are a bit small for the task of tromping around in powdery stuff but the day was so glorious I didn’t care one bit.

Colorado 13er: Corbett Peak

My first day back in Ridgway, I set out to climb Corbett Peak just south of Ridgway and promptly got my jeep stuck in a creek. Almost a week later, I had another opportunity to make a bid for the peak. I was sort of skeptical about actually being able to summit because the Sneffles range was fairly cloaked in dark purple clouds but I’d passed on an opportunity to climb it a couple of days earlier and the clouds lifted mid-morning so I figured worst case scenario it’d be a chance to get in a good hike below treeline.

The rain didn’t really seem to start until I hit the trees and stopped before I got to about 11,000’—what perfect timing! As I emerged from the trees, the skies had cleared and I realized I was actually going to be able to go for the summit!

I always love hitting treeline; the climb always seems to become easier when I have views of all the mountains around me. This was my view out to the east:

And then to the north:

Corbett’s false summit from the ridge line (about 12,000′ feet):

I noticed some deer (maybe bighorn sheep? I didn’t have binoculars with me…) hanging out in this snowfield to the north of the mountain. They were clearly happy to have a cool place to be:

This is the view from the false summit where I dropped my pack and made a mad dash for the true summit (on the left). It was a way sketchier scramble than I’d expected and while the clouds still looked pretty benign I didn’t want to wait around for them to become more menacing. Whitehouse looked pretty impressive from the summit though, and I really want to make it up there soon!

After the summit, I headed downhill as quickly as was safe and hit tree line about 12:15. I probably should have started an hour earlier but the weather totally held out for me!

Clouds rolling in as I got back to treeline

I’m not a fan of grazing practices on our public lands but these cows looked so happy that I couldn’t help but smile.

Almost back to the car I got a great view of Corbett (including the true summit) and had a chance to smile at my 3,700′ of elevation gain!

Local Exploration: Baldy Peak Summit

A couple of weeks ago, Sprocket and I went for a hike on the slopes of Baldy Peak. We didn’t reach the summit as a result of a late start and insufficient calorie consumption by the biped of the duo…

Baldy Peak from Ridgway:

As is usual for me, not reaching the summit only fueled my desire to get there especially since it is visible from town. Valentine’s Day morning, I asked a friend to drop me off at the end of County Road 14 and started the hike. Looking north, I could see dawn on Horsefly Peak and still twilight shrouded valley south of Ridgway.

A lot of snow had melted between our attempt two weeks earlier and this one. There was no bare ground visible here last time:

Instead of sticking to the snowcovered trail, Sprocket and I forged a path upwards to the ridge through the scrub oak. I kept heading up and to the northeast and ended up with a route that was fairly direct.

We paused for me to take off a layer and to watch the sunrise over the hill across the small drainage:

Once we attained the ridge we began working our way north towards Baldy. The ridge was snow covered in places and bare in others. I did a lot of taking my snowshoes off and putting them back on as we headed for the summit.

It was another beautiful bluebird day. I sat on the top and contemplated the mountains surrounding me and was pretty content.

Sprocket and I headed off Baldy’s west ridge and began traversing north towards an abandoned road. There was a lot of bushwacking through deep snow—Sprocket was one tired puppy when we got done.

The snow was really wet and as I walked down the escarpment towards Highway 550, I was soaked, muddy, and quite pleased with my hike.

Courthouse Mountain

My friend Kristin came to town a couple of weeks ago for a visit (Kristin featured me in a Writer Wednesday post last year and did a guest post here about cross country skiing). I had hoped to drive her over one of our high mountain passes but the snow arrived just three days before she did. Ridgway, however, has a lot to offer so I started her out Friday evening with pizza and a beer at Colorado Boy and later we walked over to Trail Town Still (aka “The Still”) for a drink.

In the morning, we relaxed around the house with coffee looking out at the morning chill (I cannot wait to have my house cozy enough that this isn’t taking place in camp chairs!). Mid-morning, we headed up Owl Creek Pass to hike Courthouse Mountain. Courthouse has been on my list for a long time! It sits right above Ridgway and I look at it everyday. (Yes, it’s going to take me awhile but I do intend to climb all of them that I can see from town.)

I was a little bit concerned with how snowy it might be on the trail but decided to forge ahead with the plan anyway. It was such a lovely day with the snow dusting all of the mountains around us. Sprocket was loving the snowy trail and urged us to keep moving upwards.

The views just kept getting better as we looked out over the West Fork basin.

Sometimes, I think Kristin was less than pleased at what passes for a “trail” in Colorado but she kept with it.

And the views were worth every bit of the mud, snow, and elevation gain. I can see myself coming back to this mountain frequently. I don’t think Sprocket will mind: