Camping in Summit is best when you bring a chef, Boy Scout, gear junkie and jester

July 1, 2015 — 

There are many ways to camp. There’s car camping, which does not necessarily entail camping in a car, as the name suggests. There is backpacking, which can take place over one night or extend for several days. There is close-to-home camping and travel-to-a-destination camping. However, though there are many different types of camping, there is one element that is crucial for a successful trip: your camping companions.

These are the folks who will not only make sure that you eat, but that you also eat really well. It’s the person who not only knows where to hike, but where to find the most beautiful, unpopulated trails or campsites — and, the individual who may have no other discernible talent other than doing silly things and bringing the beverages. To ensure a most successful camping experience, be sure that the following cadre of companions accompany you on your journey: the campfire gourmand, the Boy/Girl Scout, the good-time Charlie, the gear junkie and the llama whisperer.

Learn more »

Summit Hiking: Mohawk Lakes Trail

June 28, 2015 — 

Lower Mohawk Lake is located in the Spruce Creek Trailhead south of Breckenridge. The lake is nestled in a deep amphitheater formed by Pacific Peak, 13,950 feet, and Mount Helen, 13,165 feet, in the Ten Mile Range. The hike is an intermediate ascent of 1,400 vertical feet, with a total distance of 6.6 miles from the Spruce Creek Trailhead. The elevation of Spruce Creek Trailhead is 10,400 feet, a thousand feet below tree line, while Mohawk Lakes are surrounded by rocky tundra and krumholz. The Mohawk Lakes Trail provides access to an area with dramatic waterfalls, rich fields of wildflowers, and relics of the mining era.

Allow at least five hours to explore the area and plan to descend in early afternoon to avoid the frequent thunderstorms that tend to form over the mountains later in the day. Carry two bottles of water to remain hydrated during the hike or pack a water filter to take water from the stream. Be prepared to find a crowd of hikers on this popular trail, accompanied by many free-roaming hunting dogs.

Learn more »

Artist Nathan Downey combines art with his passion for climbing 14ers

October 18, 2013 — 

A native of Evergreen, Nathan Downey grew up climbing mountains. His father got him started, and he’s been at it ever since.

It’s no surprise, then, that he’s caught what he calls “the 14ers achievement syndrome,” a desire that drives him and hundreds of other climbers to seek out the state’s tallest mountains (those with an elevation of at least 14,000 feet) and match his wits and will against their steep summits.

Learn more »

Women's running apparel roundup: multiple outfits for multi-leg races

September 27, 2013 — 
Running 198 miles through the wilderness at high elevation, in unpredictable weather, through the darkness, surviving on little to no sleep ... shockingly sounds rather appealing to some adventurists.

For those seeking a new way to achieve the “runner’s high” these races are just the ticket. Multi-leg relay races are another subset of the running craze. The increased participation in the sport of running has gone past marathons and ultras and into “fun-runs,” mud-runs, obstacle courses and multi-leg or even multi-day races. These races push your comfort zone and challenge you both physically and mentally. Prepping for an intense multi-leg race can be an invigorating and exciting journey. Increasing your mileage, adding hill climbs, training at elevation and adjusting your caloric intake accordingly are all part of the process.

So when it comes to the list of things you need to keep track of on race day, apparel should be the least of your worries. We’ve compiled three complete outfits to take you through your multi-leg race journey. These trail-tested items will carry you through sun, rain, cold and darkness, all while looking stylishly swift.

For a midday leg with the intense mountain sun glaring down, we’ve created an outfit to keep you cool and collected during your race.

Learn more »

Multi-leg relay running: More women's running gear for fall

October 4, 2013 —  Editor’s note: These are the second and third parts to a three-part story about women’s running apparel for the fall. To read the first part, which ran in the Summit Daily on Sept. 28, visit www.summitdaily.com.

Running 198 miles through the wilderness at high elevation, in unpredictable weather, through the darkness, surviving on little to no sleep ... shockingly sounds rather appealing to some adventurists. For those seeking a new way to achieve the “runner’s high,” these races are just the ticket. Multi-leg relay races are another subset of the running craze. These races push your comfort zone and challenge you both physically and mentally.

So when it comes to the list of things you need to keep track of on race day, apparel should be the least of your worries. We’ve compiled three complete outfits to take you through your multi-leg race journey. These trail tested and approved items will carry you through sun, rain, cold and darkness, all while looking stylishly swift.

Learn more »

Summit County trail and leash etiquette for dogs and hikers

August 30, 2013 — 

As the sunny summer weather continues, the more people will be out and about, taking advantage of Summit County’s miles and miles of trails, especially during the long Labor Day weekend. For many, spending time outdoors involves spending time with pets, taking them out of the backyard and out on those same trails.

Dogs are great hiking companions and inarguably part of any Summit County outdoor occasion. Visitors, too, love to bring their pups along and give them a taste of mountain living. While it’s perfectly acceptable to bring a four-legged companion along on an outdoor occasion, it’s also important to remember that there are rules in place to ensure the safety everyone involved — people, pets and wildlife.

Learn more »

Rain means mushroom season is on

August 2, 2013 — 

The rainy season is upon us at last. Skies open on a near daily basis, drenching anyone caught out in a cloudburst, followed by the reward of steamy rainbows fronting the sunlight that inevitably streams through. It’s a happy time of year for mushrooms, which flush into variously colored and shaped fruiting bodies from sometimes miles-long mycelium when the earth is warm and wet. Likewise, it’s a magical time for mushroom hunters, who will range long and far, through storm and mud, in search of so many surprises.

There are the slippery, gelatinous brown-capped Suillus with their soft, yellow, pore-sponge undersides; peach-colored, blue-staining Lactarius deliciosus; Morchella, the elusive black High Country morel; chanterelles of the genus Cantharellus; puffballs of the generas Calvatia and Lycoperdon and, of course, Boletus edulis, or porcini, the king of kings, with its firm, wine-red cap, bulbous legs and white fish-net stockings. All of these mushrooms are edible, each prepared in its own way.

Learn more »

Backcountry sleepover: Hike or bike to a Summit Hut this summer

July 27, 2013 — 

When your hiking or mountain biking destination is a hut, the adventure is definitely not just about the journey. Summer is a great time to experience the more remote areas of the mountains, and the Summit Huts Association — a nonprofit organization based in Breckenridge — can make your backcountry accommodations a little more rustic.

“We would really like to introduce more people to the experience of the huts in the summertime,” said Mike Zobbe, executive director of the Summit Huts Association. “Many of the summer hut guests don’t think of the summer hut experience as a backpacking experience. But it is similar, and you can travel quite a bit lighter.”

Huts are equipped with general amenities, so you don’t have to pack everything in yourself. In the huts you’ll find a wood-burning stove for heat, solar-powered lights, indoor composting toilets, twin beds and pillows and a fully equipped kitchen with propane cook tops. These huts do not have double beds, ovens or refrigerators. Individuals or groups can reserve spaces; the huts are booked to capacity and may be occupied by more than one group.

The Summit Huts Association manages four huts in Summit County, all under special use permits with the Forest Service. However, only two of huts are available for use during the summer. Janet and Francie’s cabins are open from July though September, and each retreat offers its own alpine experience.

Janet’s Cabin

The original Summit Hut was built in 1990. It sits at an elevation of 11,610 feet, in the area between Copper Mountain and Vail Pass. Access the trailhead at Copper Mountain, where it will eventually enter the roadless area of Guller Gulch and gradually climb 5.5 miles to Janet’s Cabin.

“To reach Janet’s Cabin, you have to hike in on the Colorado Trail, which makes it very unique,” Zobbe said. “Janet’s certainly has a very remote feeling, and it’s more of a backpacking experience — it really feels like you are a lot further back there than if you had driven.”

Guests pack in food, clothing layers and a sleeping bag. In the summer, water is available from a nearby source (snow is boiled for water in the winter). The cabin has a wood-burning sauna — a backcountry luxury after a hike in to the hut. Bring friends or hit it solo; Janet’s Cabin sleeps as many as 14 people in the summer with upstairs bunk-style rooms.

Francie’s Cabin

Francie’s was the second hut built by the Summit Huts Association and is located approximately four miles south of Breckenridge, in the Crystal Lakes drainage, at an elevation of 11,264 feet. There are a number of ways to access Francie’s Cabin in the summer — the three different routes range from 1.8 miles to 4.5 miles in length.

“Francie’s is in an amazingly beautiful alpine environment, and it has access to nearby fishing at Crystal Lake, as well as big, beautiful meadows,” Zobbe said. “A lot of people go up and go hiking or ‘peak bagging’ in the area. It’s also more accessible than most because it’s a shorter walk in.”

The Summit Huts Association encourages visitors to access the hut under their own power and to carry their own gear, although some motorized vehicles can make most of the trek — if all the routes are open. Zobbe said a four-wheel-drive road will get hearty vehicles to a gate 200 yards from the house, but vehicles are required to be left a quarter-mile below the hut in designated parking. He said vehicles can also drive on a not-as-rocky way on Spruce Creek road and can arrive within a mile of the hut.

Francie’s sleeps 20 people in the summer, divided among six bedrooms. The cabin also offers a wood-burning sauna for post-peaking, and water is available from a nearby creek (drinkable once boiled or treated).

Summer in Summit

Zobbe said summer hut trips are completely different from winter trips and are generally much more accessible.

“Summer is more friendly as far as temperatures, and you don’t have to think about winter gear,” Zobbe said. “Most people have basic hiking gear, so really anyone can take advantage of the simplified experience.”

Visitors should take note of summer weather conditions, however, and plan for early afternoon arrivals to minimize your chances with encountering lighting, dropping temperatures, rain, hail and snow. Hikers and mountain bikers should always bring extra clothing layers and adequate amounts of food and water.

He said the wildlife and wildflower viewing opportunities are plentiful this time of year and that the Summit Huts Association encourages everyone to make their backcountry experience as “off-the-grid” as possible.

“In the summer, people do like to use vehicle support, so they will bring more stuff and more food with them,” Zobbe said. “So even though we try to encourage people to treat it as more of a backpacking experience, a lot of people do use vehicles.”

Note that there is no motorized access to Janet’s Cabin (hiking or biking only), and vehicles approaching Francie’s Cabin must park a substantial distance away from the building in designated parking areas. Roads can become inaccessible from rain erosion; so do not count on a vehicle to execute your chosen itinerary.

Re-vamped, expanded and in full color

November 15, 2013 — 

When Mary Ellen Gilliland arrived in Summit County 43 years ago, it was quite a different place than it is today. It was “before there was I-70 or a stoplight or a grocery store or anything,” she said. “It was wonderful, so much open space and so much untouched beauty.”

While a lot may have changed since then, the beauty of the area has not, and it continues to draw visitors from all over the world. It’s no wonder, then, that Gilliland’s “The Summit Hiker,” a guidebook for trails and fishing spots, consistently ranks as the best-selling book in the county.

Gilliland published the first edition of the book in 1980. Since then, she has done various revisions and extensions. This year, it has improved even more.

“This book is more than a revision — it’s a complete re-vamping,” Gilliland said.

In addition to adding some new trails and removing some that were no longer relevant, the book has been completely re-done with new photos and maps, all of which appear in full color. She also spent her winter interviewing local fishermen, learning tips and favorite fishing spots, and included all that information in a new section for anglers.

Changing and updating her book is important, Gilliland said.

“Guidebooks need to be updated. … Even into the backcountry, it’s amazing,” she said. “Trailheads have moved, trails have been rerouted, a landmark that you might mention, say a cabin, maybe it got struck by lightning and burned, … so you have to do that.”

Gilliland strives to provide the most accurate and up-to-date information for her readers. She has hiked every single trail in the book multiple times, a fact which can be verified by the detailed and familiar tone of each description.

“I’m very familiar with the trails,” she said. “If I close my eyes, I can kind of follow along.”

Hiking runs in the blood for Gilliland, a native of Minnesota. She remembers trips to her family’s lake cabin and time spent exploring the wilderness.

“Tromping through the woods was something that I grew up with and being on the lake and all of that, the outdoors, from when I was tiny,” she said. “The outdoors was huge with our family. I have been a hiker since I was a little girl.”

Gilliland met her husband Larry, a Colorado native, while living in New York City. She followed him back to the mountains and fell in love with the scenery. After discovering the trails and opportunities for hiking all around, she decided to share her knowledge with others by writing a book.

“When I first wrote ‘The Summit Hiker,’ people couldn’t find the trails,” she said. “People in neighborhoods knew where the local trails were, but people didn’t know where the trails were and spent half a day looking for a trailhead. The basic idea was to help people find the trail and find their way.”

In addition to detailed descriptions about the hiking trails, Gilliland’s book also offers an insight into the history of the area. Stories of mining camps, gold rushes and local characters accompany each chapter. As the author of 16 books, many of which delve deeply into the history of Summit County, Gilliland knows what she’s talking about.

“I’ve been researching the history for years and, before they all died, I talked to the old-timers and interviewed them, not just for an hour but days with them,” she said. “Over the years, I have absorbed and researched almost continuously.”

Knowing the history of the places they’re hiking through helps people form an understanding of what they see. When stumbling across a gathering of abandoned cabins, for example, hikers might wonder, “Where did they come from? Who lived here? What happened here? You see these cabins, and it’s just puzzlement,” Gilliland said.

If hikers have her book, they can then answer those questions.

Gilliland said she’s looking forward to her book signing, which allows her the opportunity to connect with her readers and other hikers.

“I get to know my readers and their take on certain things,” she said, which includes both compliment and criticism. “They’ll say, ‘You know, I dispute this mileage,’ or something like that. I write that all down and take it into consideration.”

Later, she’ll take those notes with her along the trail to re-evaluate. Most often, she said, she receives compliments and stories of great experiences within the mountains.

“They’ve used ‘The Summit Hiker’ as a way to discover the splendid beauty of the area, and they focus that gratitude on me,” she said. “It’s not me — I didn’t make what’s out there — but they share the joy that they’ve had and I just feed off of that. People just love getting out and discovering these trails, and they need something to guide them and are so full of happiness from having had these wonderful experiences.”

Gilliland added that she’s been amazed at the success of “The Summit Hiker” and also “The Vail Hiker,” her guidebook on trails in the Vail area. She’s enjoyed combining her love of hiking with her love of history.

“The reason that I write hiking guidebooks and the reason I’m outside in Summit County all the time is because this is such a rare and special place of unusual beauty, and to be able to discover that myself and to help other people discover it has been a source of great satisfaction for me.”

Back to Top