Take 5: The Mosquito-Tenmile Range Traverse with Nikki LaRochelle

August 23, 2016 — 

Nikki LaRochelle is first to admit she occasionally gets lost in the woods.

For several years now, the art-school graduate from Colorado State University has been a beast on the Colorado ski mountaineering circuit, winning Arapahoe Basin’s winter rando series in 2015 and taking second at the Elk Mountain Grand Traverse with partner Eva Hagen in 2016. The A-Basin series is straightforward — skin up, ski down, all on in-bounds territory — while the Grand Traverse is a bit more intense: It’s held at night, in the dark, on a 40-mile course with 7,800 feet of elevation change between Crested Butte and Aspen.

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End summer in style at the A-Basin Summit Challenge trail race

August 17, 2016 — 

It’s a side of Arapahoe Basin most folks rarely see: alpine slopes blanketed in a vibrant sea of wildflowers below the jagged, snow-free faces of the East Wall. It might just be a little slice of heaven on Earth — only there’s no chairlift ride to the top.

Welcome to the annual Summit Challenge, a trail race made for A-Basin faithful. Now in its fifth year, the race on Aug. 21 features two options: a 1.8-mile mid-mountain route and a 4.6-mile summit route. The day boasts elevation gains from 700 vertical feet to a whopping 1,700 vertical feet, all covered by foot, and you know what that means: Even if you’re comfortable skinning up and skiing down every morning in the summer, this brings a whole new level of interest — and stamina — to a few of the highest routes in Summit County.

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Stunning vistas from 14er Mount Yale in the heart of the Collegiate Peaks

August 14, 2016 — 

The Collegiate Peaks Wilderness is comprised of 168,000 acres in the Sawatch Range west of Buena Vista. With the highest average elevation of any wilderness in the United States, the Collegiate Peaks and surrounding mountains in the range include 15 of Colorado’s 14,000-foot summits.

Mount Yale (14,196 feet) is one of my favorites. It’s accessible in any season due to a paved access road to the trailhead and parking area below Cottonwood Pass. Furthermore, the peak is surrounded by magnificent Mount Harvard (14,420 feet) and Mount Columbia (14,073 feet) to the north, and Mount Princeton (14,197 feet) to the south. The 10-mile hike is one of the easiest to gain the summit of a 14er, except when busting through three or more feet of powder in a steep fir forest from about 11,300 to 12,000 feet. High winds over the tundra often blow most of the snow off the mountain and into the forest below.

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Trail-mix performances continue with Breckenridge International Festival of the Arts

August 14, 2016 — 

The sun beamed down on Breckenridge Sunday afternoon, but trees sheltered those who wandered into its wooded canopy perhaps for some exercise, but also to take in the singular chance to experience an artistic marvel.

The Breckenridge International Festival of the Arts (BIFA) continued into day three and those out for either a stroll at altitude or mountain bike ride were treated to diverse musical performances at Moonstone and Illinois Creek trails on the east end of town. The free pop-up-style trail mix attraction happening throughout the 11-day festival provides observers the opportunity to witness the merging of art and music, while outdoors in the tranquility of the mountains.

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Settling Into Stanzas: Ella Wheeler Wilcox and free will at Wheeler Lakes Trail

August 6, 2016 — 

‘Tis the Set of the Sail — Or — One Ship Sails East

By Ella Wheeler Wilcox

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Hiking Mount Harvard 14er from Frenchman Creek

July 30, 2016 — 

Keep hiking: Read on for more 14er ascents from local expert Kim Fenske, including Missouri Mountain in the Collegiate Peaks Wilderness.

The Collegiate Peaks Wilderness stretches across 168,000 acres of central Colorado between Leadville and Buena Vista. This swath of the Sawatch Range has the highest average elevation of any designated wilderness area in the United States. There are 10 14ers in the vicinity, including: Mount Harvard (14,420 feet), Mount Columbia (14,073 feet), Mount Oxford (14,153 feet), Mount Belford (14,197 feet), Missouri Mountain (14,067 feet), Huron Peak (14,005 feet), La Plata Peak (14,336 feet), Mount Yale (14,196 feet), Mount Antero (14,269 feet) and Mount Princeton (14,197 feet).

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Wildflowers are popping off, best places in Summit County to view them

July 22, 2016 — 

wildflowers are all over the mountains right now, but some places in Summit County are better than others if you want to get your flower fix this season. Mid- to late July is usually the best time to see blooms in all of the High Country areas.

In forests, look for wild roses, yellow arnica and fairy slipper orchids, and in wet areas find tall chiming bells and elephant heads. Head to meadows for penstemon, sneezeweed, and our state flower, the columbine. In alpine areas, don’t miss the queen’s crown, the gentian and the bright and beautiful bundles of forget-me-nots.

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Find alpine serenity hiking the Oh-Be-Joyful Trail near Crested Butte

July 23, 2016 — 

Don’t stop exploring: Hiking guru Kim Fenske lives the unorthodox life of a bus driver by weekday and solo adventurer by weekend.

The Raggeds Wilderness Area is 65,393-acres of national forest lands located northwest of Crested Butte. Fifty miles of hiking trails penetrate the wild lands surrounding a jagged group of mountains in the Ruby Range west of Slate Creek. Kebler Pass Road runs adjacent to the southern boundary of the wilderness area and divides the Raggeds Wilderness from the West Elk Wilderness, found farther to the south. Kebler Pass Road provides access to the primitive national forest campgrounds at Lake Irwin, Lost Lake and Erickson Springs, as well as the dispersed camping area at Horse Ranch Park.

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Brand-new Outdoor Adventure Quest event brings 'pick your own' format to racing

July 19, 2016 — 

You remember the “choose your own adventure” stories from when you were a kid, the ones with dozens of ways to find glory — or doom — for your ink-and-paper hero?

Welcome to the real thing, circa 2016.

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Take 5: Deaf hiker Bobby Moakley, keynote speaker at No Barriers 'What's Your Everest?' July 22-23

July 19, 2016 — 

Bobby Moakley remembers his first trip to Grand Canyon National Park like it was yesterday. At 17 years old, the Boston native met with a group of about 20 fellow hikers — most of who were born deaf, like he — for a few days of hiking and rafting and simply enjoying the great outdoors.

“I had a community with me that understood my impairment, looked at me and didn’t think of me as someone who is deaf,” Moakley remembers. “That was the first time I’d been viewed not as someone who is deaf, but just someone who happens to be deaf.”

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Find majestic wildflower meadows on the hike to Huron Peak

July 16, 2016 — 

Huron Peak (14,003 feet) has the distinction of being the 14er located farthest from a paved road in Colorado. However, the Clear Creek watershed was once a bustling area filled with more than 1,500 settlers seeking gold, silver and copper during the last decades of the 19th century through World War I. Clear Creek Valley, through which the Continental Divide Trail now passes, is one of the most beautiful places in Colorado.

I decided on the short, easy hike up Huron Peak during early summer because the weather forecast indicated unstable afternoon weather with scattered showers — typical for the Sawatch Range. I was very familiar with the trail up Huron Peak from frequent visits in every season.

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Pikes Peak area home to dining, hiking and Florissant fossil sightings

July 9, 2016 — 

Among the many visitor attractions in the area surrounding Pikes Peak, I enjoy stopping in Woodland Park for dinner after a full day of outdoor adventures. Fourteen miles west of Manitou Springs, Woodland Park has a prolific offering of more than 40 convenient restaurants lining Highway 24. While I am a fan of ethnic restaurants, including Serrano’s Mexican Bar and Grill and Fortune Dragon Chinese Restaurant, visitors can also choose more domestic fare at the Hungry Bear Restaurant, Bierwerks Brewery or Grandmother’s Kitchen.

Passing through Woodland Park, I also like the breathtaking views of Pikes Peak rising into the clouds south of town.

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Settling Into Stanzas: Whitman's "I Hear America Singing" on Mount Royal high above Frisco

July 2, 2016 — 

“I Hear America Singing”

— Walt Whitman, 1819-1892

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Forest Service displaces Montezuma campers, moves toward permanent closure

July 4, 2016 — 

Passing Keystone Resort and heading east on Montezuma Road, motorists, cyclists and even the occasional meandering pedestrian are being met with new digital signage as of Monday, June 27: “Danger! Aggressive Bears. No Camping next 6 miles.”

A stroll up County Road 5, the narrow two-lane byway where vehicles straddle the double-yellow lines to dodge individuals hugging the makeshift rock shoulders to get around, leads to any number of level grounds adjacent to the Snake River. In many of these easily accessible locales — on their surface ideal for car camping not far from the road — the flow of the nearby water drowns out any potential hum of the overhead power lines and lends just enough privacy to avoid disturbance.

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Summit County, forest officials ask hikers, bikers to keep to trail

June 30, 2016 — 

Living in the High Country and waiting on the close of our extended winter season is an experience that can test even the most resolute, with many of us dreaming only of kicking the dust off our beloved hikers or biking shoes.

Some simply sit tight just a bit longer, while others test our area’s notable trail system early in the spring. A great number playing guess-and-check end up stomping or riding through tracts of sludge, post-holing for significant stretches or dodging these occasional obstacles altogether by sidestepping established trail networks for makeshift routes.

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Hike Summit: A snowy June trip on Wheeler Trail in Breckenridge

June 25, 2016 — 

Four times.

I am slogging through four-foot drifts of saturated snow and realize that I will need to start out on the first leg of the Wheeler Trail a fourth time in order to ascend the Tenmile Range, and then drop down into Miners Creek to complete the link with the Peaks Trail that leads to Gold Hill Trail en route to Breckenridge and the Blue River Valley.

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Settling Into Stanzas: Wilder Gulch and Chapman's "Out Where the West Begins"

June 18, 2016 — 

“Out Where the West Begins” by Arthur Chapman

Out where the handclasp’s a little stronger,

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Love and Light 10K in honor of Lauren Hoover comes to Breck, June 18

June 14, 2016 — 

This full moon is for Lauren.

As soon as the moon begins to shine on June 18 — not quite the full moon, but close — Vertical Runner plays host to the first-annual Love and Light 10K, a benefit run on the Breckenridge recpath in honor of Lauren Hoover. The 26-year-old local died on March 23, just three weeks after a head-on collision at Swan Mountain Road left her in a coma at a Denver-area hospital. She was an avid runner and yogi, the sort who regularly woke at dawn to snowboard, finish a run before heading to class at Meta Yoga Studios in Breckenridge or her job as a budtender at Breckenridge Cannabis Company, then High Country Healing.

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Barr Trail to the luxurious heights of Pikes Peak

June 11, 2016 — 

Pikes Peak is a popular destination for travelers exploring the Colorado Springs area. At 14,110 feet, Pikes Peak rises dramatically over the eastern plains of Colorado. Pikes Peak shares the distinction of being one of more than 50 14ers in Colorado. With a cog railroad, toll road and hiking trail access to the summit, Pikes Peak also offers diverse ways to enjoy reaching the mountain’s heights.

On Highway 24, Manitou Springs is about seven miles west of Colorado Springs. The Visitor Bureau on Manitou Avenue provides helpful orientation to food and recreation opportunities in the surrounding area. A few blocks west of the bureau is a roundabout that leads to Ruxton Avenue, where both the cog railroad and Barr Trail begin a half-mile up Ruxton Creek near an old hydroelectric power plant.

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Settling Into Stanzas: Dog days of June on Gold Hill Trail No. 79 in Breckenridge

June 4, 2016 — 

Rupert Brooke’s “The Little Dog’s Day”

All in the town were still asleep,

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Good Hiking Places near Summit County: Dark Canyon of the Raggeds Wilderness

May 28, 2016 — 

The Dark Canyon is one of the many hiking trails Colorado has to offer at an intermediate level

On my return from the Lizardhead Wilderness Area in the San Juans a while ago, I stopped near the summit of McClure Pass (8,755 feet) and made camp at the base of a few massive evergreens in McClure National Forest Campground.

In the morning, a Forest Protection Officer visited. When she heard that I had passed through without exploring the Raggeds Wilderness Area, she was upset and thrust a packet into my hand describing the Dark Canyon on Anthracite Creek, one of the best hikes in Colorado. Before I left camp, I promised to return and explore this good hiking place located in the forest north of the West Elk Wilderness Area for myself.

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Settling into Stanzas: Angler Mountain Trail No. 29 and Walt Whitman's "Song of Myself"

May 21, 2016 — 

Part 15

The pure contralto sings in the organ loft,

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Summit County Hiking Places: Ptarmigan Peak near Silverthorne

May 14, 2016 — 

The Ptarmigan Trail is a great local hiking trail located east of Silverthorne, across the Blue River Valley from the Eagles Nest Wilderness Area.

SUMMIT COUNTY — The Ptarmigan Peak Wilderness Area is 12,594 acres of forest, meadow and tundra, making it an ideal hiking place. The Ptarmigan Trail begins at 9,100 feet and ascends 5.4 miles to the summit of Ptarmigan Peak (12,504 feet), with a gain of 3,400 vertical feet. Thanks to a deceptively level grade during the first three miles as the trail proceeds north above the town, the trail profile is actually longer and has greater elevation gain than the route to Quandary Peak (14,265 feet), one of the “easy” 14ers found six miles south of Breckenridge.

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Hike Summit County: Colorado hiking trails at Colorado National Monument and Rattlesnake Canyon

April 30, 2016 — 

Colorado National Monument provides hiking essentials to those looking for an adventure

The lowlands can offer a variety of Colorado hiking trails that are the perfect escape during the spring and fall seasons. Desert temperatures are warmer than the snow-capped tundra on mountain summits, but not too hot for a refreshing hike. To the west of Summit County, Colorado National Monument is a favorite destination. The area offers several good hiking places, many which make great day hikes among the eroded red rock plateaus, with views of exposed spires and natural bridges in the surrounding canyons.

Colorado National Monument’s main access, Rim Rock Road, winds its way to the top of a plateau about 600 feet above the valley below. From the top of the plateau, many of the great rock formations in the Monument are within view. The Civilian Conservation Corps is responsible for the development of the drainage, road and trail improvements inside the Monument. There are a dozen day-hike trails to enjoy, with trailheads marked at pullouts along Rim Rock Road.

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Pedal Power Winter Race Series celebrates 20 years with kick-off on Dec. 12

November 18, 2015 — 

Dust off your snowshoes and tune up your fat bike. It’s winter race season.

For the 20th year, Pedal Power bike shop in Avon is hosting a winter race series for snowshoers and fat bikers. The Pedal Power Winter Race Series is a perfect outlet for high-energy endurance racers who just can’t get enough of singletrack in the summer — or just can’t stomach the thought of ski mountaineering.

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Hike Summit County: Hiking Upward at Red Buffalo Pass

July 4, 2015 — 

Red Buffalo Pass is a fantastic intermediate hiking trail Colorado has located in Summit County.

Red Buffalo Pass is located west of Silverthorne and east of Vail. The pass is named for the surrounding mountains of Red Peak (13,189 feet) and Buffalo Mountain (12,777 feet) and involves hiking upwards towards the summit. The pass itself is part of a ridge over the amphitheater bowl that lies west of Buffalo Mountain. Buffalo Pass (11,770 feet) is the ridge of the Gore Range that forms South Willow Creek watershed to the east and Gore Creek to the west.

This local hiking trail is intermediate in grade and strenuous due to the 5-mile trek from the Buffalo Cabin Trailhead to Red Buffalo Pass, with 2,000 feet of vertical gain. Expect to be hiking upwards for a lot on this trail! The dense evergreen forest near the trailhead provides opportunities to view wildflowers, including arnica, paintbrush, mountain chimes and columbine. The upper tundra meadows fill with avalanche lilies as soon as the snowfields melt in early summer. In the wetlands, globeflower and marsh marigolds line alpine brooks. The most outstanding scenery is found viewing the back slopes of Buffalo Mountain and sharp ridge of Eccles Pass to the south.

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Colorado Hiking Trails with Waterfalls: South Willow Falls

July 11, 2015 — 

South Willow Falls is one of the great hiking places in Summit County that is intermediate in difficulty and offers a waterfall

If you are searching for hiking trails with waterfalls, the South Willow Falls is the perfect trail for you. The falls is located in the valley between the steep, rocky slopes of Red Peak (13,189 feet) and Buffalo Mountain (12,777 feet). The pass itself is part of a ridge over the amphitheater bowl that lies west of Buffalo Mountain. South Willow Creek forms from the tributary brooks pouring out of the great bowl of dense evergreen forest west of Buffalo Mountain.

This local hiking trail is intermediate in grade, rising and descending a few hundred feet as it follows the base of Buffalo Mountain for 1.5 miles. South Willow Falls is two miles from the Buffalo Cabin Trailhead, with about 500 feet of elevation for a profile ¬—an easy day hike by mountain standards.

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Hiking Colorado: Argentine Pass Trail near Keystone

September 11, 2015 — 

Argentine Pass Trail is one of several local hiking trails that follows an old mining route

Anyone hiking Colorado trails often will appreciate the scenic views the Argentine Pass Trail offers. Dating back to 1869 as a transportation corridor, the Argentine Pass Trail is actually the remnant trace of a wagon toll road from Georgetown to mining camps on the western slope of the Continental Divide. The trail is a great option for anyone searching for hiking near Breckenridge.

In 1864, five years before the road was developed, silver deposits were found on the slopes of McClellan Mountain (13,587 feet), found 2 miles north of an area later named Argentine mining district. Argentine Peak (13,738 feet) was named after the Latin word argentum, meaning silver, and the ruins of area mines are plentiful throughout the Peru Creek watershed.

The Argentine Central Railway was constructed on the gentler eastern face of Mount McClellan, running from Silver Plume to Waldorf and up to the summit of Mount McClellan. Rail construction did not begin until 1905, when it was spearheaded by Edward J. Wilcox, owner of 65 mining properties in the Argentine mining district.

The rail was extended from Waldorf, a mining town destroyed by an avalanche, to the top of Mount McClellan with the intended destination of Grays Peak (14,270 feet) as a tourist attraction. The Panic of 1907 brought the collapse of the silver market and ruined Wilcox’s fortune. The railroad was sold at a loss of $256,000 in 1908, and the narrow-gauge railway subsequently went bankrupt by 1911. The tracks were removed in 1920.

Argentine Pass Trail is an intermediate trail for Summit County. The distance to the ridge above Horseshoe Basin from the parking area near the Shoe Basin Mine ruins is about 2.6 miles. When hiking upwards on this part of the trail, expect the elevation to rise from 11,300 feet to 13,200 feet, nearly 2,000 vertical feet. The trail is host to several challenging sections, including small scrambles over areas damaged by sliding boulders on the extremely steep slopes of Argentine Peak.

Give yourself a few hours to ascend the trail to Argentine Pass. When hiking Colorado it's important to be prepared. Carry at least a liter of water on a cool day, and even more if the day is hot. Pack a windbreaker and fleece to prepare for high winds and chilly breezes near the ridge.

The path through the Peru Creek Valley is lush with fields of wildflowers. In mid-summer, blue columbine, paintbrush, groundsel, arrowleaf balsamroot, mouse ear, figwort and penstemon are abundant. In the high-alpine stretch of the trail, pale blue sky pilot, pink moss campion and yellow Old-Man-of-the-Mountain cover the gravel beside the trail.

From the top of the pass, you'll rewarded for your full day of hiking; Colorado mountain Mount Edwards (13,850) rises north along the ridge. West of the pass, Grays Peak (14,270 feet) forms the west face of Horseshoe Basin, with Ruby Mountain (13,277 feet) and Cooper Mountain (12,792) lining the path of the lower Peru Creek Valley to the base of Peru Creek Road. East of Argentine Pass, a high-clearance, four-wheel-drive road continues down through the Leavenworth Creek watershed.

How to get there

The Argentine Pass Trailhead is about 16 miles from Silverthorne and east of Keystone. From the Interstate 70 interchange in Silverthorne, drive east on U.S. Highway 6 to Keystone and exit to Montezuma Road. Drive 4 miles, crossing a bridge, and take a left turn on Peru Creek Road (U.S. Forest Service Road 260). Although the road is rough with erosion and water diversion berms, low-clearance vehicles can reach the junction with Cinnamon Gulch Road, 4 miles up Peru Creek watershed. Park here for a look at the Pennsylvania Mine Ruins, another hiking place, or continue another half-mile to the parking area for Argentine Pass. Hike a bit farther on the road above the ruins of the Shoe Basin Mine to find the Argentine Pass trailhead. The trail drops to Peru Creek from the road and continues up Argentine Peak to the Continental Divide.

Map: “Trails Illustrated,” Idaho Springs, Georgetown, Loveland Pass, 104. Latitude 40°, Summit County Colorado Trails.

Author Kim Fenske has written extensively on hiking trails throughout Colorado. His writing includes, “Greatest Hikes in Central Colorado: Summit and Eagle Counties” and “Hiking Colorado: Holy Cross Wilderness,” available from Amazon Kindle Books.

Originally published in the September 11, 2015 issue of the Summit Daily News and regularly vetted for accuracy.

Colorado Hiking Trips: A Classic Summit County Trail to Upper Cataract Lake

July 19, 2015 — 

Upper Cataract Lake is a classic Summit County Colorado hike that affords outdoor enthusiasts camping areas and a more challenging trail

Upper Cataract Lake is located south of Mount Powell (13,534 feet), below the Eagles Nest for which Eaglesnest Wilderness Area is named and is the perfect trail for a Colorado hiking trip. It forms a tributary for the stream of Cataract Creek that flows down a series of steep, rocky cliffs to Lower Cataract Lake. The hike requires about six hours of hiking over 10.5 miles of trail, with an elevation gain of 2,000 vertical feet, from 8,600 feet to 10,740 feet.

While the ascent is fairly typical of the steep climbs throughout Summit County, the trail is rough, rocky and eroded across a couple of miles above the softer trail among the aspen meadows at lower elevations. The distance and elevation gain make this a rigorous day hike. Backcountry camping is available at several lakes in the vicinity, including Surprise Lake, Cat Lake, Tipperary Lake and Upper Cataract Lake, as well as Mirror Lake, located a couple of miles west of Upper Cataract Lake.

Due to heavy use in the wilderness area, no campfires are allowed near the lakes. Dogs are required to be on leash under wilderness recreation regulations throughout Summit County. Mosquitoes are fairly persistent in the boggy areas near the trail, and they’re especially annoying during the hot, wet days of early summer.

I froze 2 liter bottles of water to begin the hike to Upper Cataract Lake, the ice melting along the way to keep me refreshed with cold water throughout the challenging ascent. At Cataract Lake, I used a water filter for refills and easily drank a gallon during the hike.

With typical variations in the weather, from hot and sunny to cool rain with hail and lightning, I used layering to remain comfortable during the long day and early evening. I was very thankful to be caught in a brief rainstorm that knocked the mosquitoes out of the air.

As usual, I was prepared with the right hiking essentials including a couple of headlamps in the event that my arrival back at the trailhead was delayed. Actually, I arrived at the end of my afternoon hike with a few minutes of alpenglow remaining making this the perfect Colorado hiking trip for the day.

From the Surprise Lake Trailhead, I crossed Cataract Creek and followed the trail that winds south through beautiful wildflower meadows among aspen and spruce trees. My hiking pace dropped as I photographed scarlet gilia, one-sided penstemon, monument plants, blue Columbine, wild geranium, purple pea vine, creamy paintbrush, mertensia chiming bells, cow parsnip and wild iris.

After the first mile and a couple of stream crossings, the forest transforms into standing lodgepole and fallen beetle-killed trees on a steep climb through a hardened clay and rock-strewn gutter up a ridge. The trail levels off and meets the Gore Range Trail at 2.7 miles and 9,900 feet, about two hours into the hike. Hiking upwards for the next 1,000 feet is much more gradual.

Turn right and follow the Gore Range Trail past Surprise Lake to the next junction at the start of Upper Cataract Trail. Ten years ago, I cut a large dead and down tree that blocked the trail and rolled it down to the junction. This section of tree makes a great resting spot for a snack and water break.

Follow the Upper Cataract Trail west through some boggy sections with drainage gutters on the south side of the trail. Cut sections of logs that formed corrugated bog crossings are now rotted and displaced, so the trail is muddy during the wet season.

Beyond the bogs, the trail breaks into an open-rock slide that allows the first views of Cat Lake below and Elliott Ridge a few miles to the west. Descending the switchbacks, the trail arrives at Upper Cataract Lake, 5.4 miles and four hours from the trailhead.

Upper Cataract Lake lies directly north of the steep cliffs and rockslide chutes of Mount Powell. The south end of the lake is surrounded by a small table of rock that makes for the perfect Colorado hiking trip, offering several sites for dispersed camping, along with gorgeous views of Mount Powell.

How to get there

The Cataract Lake Trail is great for anyone hunting for hiking near Breckenridge. From the interchange of I-70 and Highway 9 in Silverthorne, drive north for 17 miles to mile marker 118 and turn northwest onto Heeney Road. After passing mile marker 5, 22.5 miles from Silverthorne and 5.6 miles from the junction with Highway 9, turn west onto Cataract Creek Road. Travel up a gravel road for 2.4 miles. When you reach a junction past Cataract Creek Campground, proceed straight to reach the Surprise Lake Trailhead parking area on the left side of the road. If you reach the gate at Lower Cataract Lake, you have gone too far.

Kim Fenske has written extensively on hiking trails throughout Colorado. His writing includes “Greatest Hikes in Central Colorado: Summit and Eagle Counties” and “Hiking Colorado: Holy Cross Wilderness,” available from Amazon Kindle Books.

Originally published in the July 19, 2015 issue of the Summit Daily News and regularly vetted for accuracy.

Summit County hiker: Surprise Lake is one hiking place with Aspens and wildflowers

July 25, 2015 — 

Explore this intermediate hike near Denver that offers a diverse number of wildflowers

Surprise Lake is one of many local hiking places located north of Dora Mountain (12,119 feet) on a tributary to Otter Creek that flows into Green Mountain Reservoir. A day hike to the lake and back to the trailhead is 6 miles and takes only three to four hours. The elevation profile goes from 8,600 feet at the Cataract Creek crossing near the Surprise Lake Trailhead to 10,040 feet at the lake (1,400 vertical feet) for a typical intermediate hike in Summit County and of a Colorado hiking trail.

An alternative loop hike to Tipperary Lake on the Gore Range Trail, crossing the upper portion of Cataract Creek and descending on the Eaglesmere Trail, involves 9 miles and six hours of hiking. Despite the good quality of the trail and a nearly level plateau once Surprise Lake is gained, only high-endurance hikers should attempt the full loop.

Since the hike to Surprise Lake passes into the Eagles Nest Wilderness Area, dogs must be on leash. Campfires are not allowed at the lake because of heavy use. Mosquito repellent is useful at this hiking place due to the stagnant wetlands near the trail. Hikers should carry at least one liter of water and a water filter, snacks (fruits and nuts), a headlamp and layers of clothing to respond to changes in the weather.

In the lower meadows near the Surprise Lake Trailhead, hikers can expect to find the blooms of diverse wildflowers — as many as 100 species of wildflowers have been found among the aspen trees near the valley making this one of the best hikes in Colorado for wildflower enthusiasts. Look for cornhusk lily, cow parsnip, lovage, green gentian (or monument plant) and wild geranium. Lupines, blue Columbine, penstemon, groundsel, common flax, yellow arnica, paintbrush and Aspen aster are also common in the area. In late summer, fireweed, false Forget-Me-Not and Northern bedstraw are frequently found among the aspens of this local hiking trail.

The trail winds through fertile meadows and aspen groves, crossing a couple of brooks. After the first mile, the forest transforms into lodgepole pine forest, with a steep climb on a rock-strewn trail of hardened clay. The trail levels off and meets the Gore Range Trail at 2.7 miles and 9,900 feet, about two hours into the hike.

This is a good junction to rest and take a water and snack break on the fallen logs lining the trail. Continuing west on the Gore Range Trail (a right turn at the junction), watch for trails to the shore of Surprise Lake about a tenth-mile farther up the trail at 10,040 feet. The western side of the lake has a large backcountry campsite.

In order to complete the longer loop of 9 miles at this hiking place, continue west on the Gore Range Trail for about a mile to the junction with the Upper Cataract Lake Trail. Proceed north on the Gore Range Trail for 45 minutes to Tipperary Lake, crossing Cataract Creek 1 mile later. Then, continue on the Gore Range Trail to the junction with Eaglesmere Trail. Descend east on the soft trail through dense fir and spruce, which leads to open aspen meadows and the Eaglesmere Trailhead. From the trailhead, follow the road out to the junction leading west back to the Surprise Lake Trailhead.

How to get there

From the interchange of Interstate 70 and Highway 9 in Silverthorne, drive north for 17 miles to mile marker 118 and turn northwest onto Heeney Road. After passing mile marker 5 (22.5 miles from Silverthorne and 5.6 miles from the junction with Highway 9), turn west onto Cataract Creek Road. Travel up a gravel road for 2.4 miles. When you reach a junction past the Cataract Creek Campground, proceed straight to the Surprise Lake Trailhead parking area, found on the left side of the road. If you reach the gate at Lower Cataract Lake, you have gone too far.

Map: Trails Illustrated, Green Mountain Reservoir, Ute Pass, 107. Latitude 40°, Summit County Colorado Trails.

Kim Fenske has written extensively on hiking trails throughout Colorado. His writing includes “Greatest Hikes in Central Colorado: Summit and Eagle Counties” and “Hiking Colorado: Holy Cross Wilderness,” available from Amazon Kindle Books.

Originally published in the July 25, 2015 issue of the Summit Daily and is regularly vetted for accuracy.

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