Find majestic wildflower meadows on the hike to Huron Peak
Special to the Daily
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.
The trail from the mining ghost town of Winfield involves about 12 miles round-trip and 4,000 feet of ascent. With an average pace of 1.8 miles per hour, the climb and return consumes about 8 hours. For anyone not inclined to hike up a 14er, the trailhead leads to plenty of surrounding lakes, streams and historic sites to explore.
To Huron Peak
When the dirt road south of Winfield became suitable only for four-wheel-drive vehicles at about 10,000 feet, I parked my low-clearance, plug-in hybrid vehicle and hiked two miles to the Huron Peak trailhead at 10,570 feet. Along the way, I was impressed by Granite Mountain (12,848 feet) prominently rising above South Clear Creek and the valley containing Silver Basin in the distance.
The Huron Peak trail begins on gradual switchbacks, heading south and east away from South Clear Creek. Along the way, the forest breaks to provide expansive views of the dramatic, ragged form of North Apostle (13,860), Ice Mountain (13,951 feet) and West Apostle (13,568 feet). Within two hours I reached tree line, four miles from my start.
Halfway to the summit at 12,000 feet, I discovered several of my favorite alpine wildflowers and animals. I am always amazed at the endurance and resiliency of the creatures that are capable of surviving in a climate zone with fewer than three months of frost-free nights.
I found a swallowtail butterfly lapping at the pollen of a cluster of sky pilot. I remember being stunned one year in late June, when I saw the blue blossoms of this phlox emerging in the shadow of a snowdrift as I was post-holing up to my knees over Fancy Pass in the Holy Cross Wilderness.
A carpet of wildflowers
Farther up the trail, I found the brilliant yellow blooms of Old Man of the Mountain, the sunflower that fills the tundra with good cheer, surrounded by the purple and white blossoms of Parry’s clover carpeting damp soil in the talus field. Paintbrush pointed petals of pale green, white and red toward the sky. In the wetlands, marsh marigold highlighted tumbling brooks in a white border, blended with the dark maroon buds of Kings Crown.
I hiked past a scattered village of marmots sunning on rocks, foraging through the tundra turf, scurrying across the last remaining patches of snow and poking noses out of their burrows with cautious curiosity. The sky darkened and the distant rumble of thunder warned me to hurry along.
I reached the smoothly tapered ridge of the great pyramid rising above me after five miles at 12,800 feet. With a snowfield and cornice on my left, I slowly rose on the weaving trail through the shattered rocks. I gained the final curve of the summit beside a rooster tail of snow along the north face of Mount Huron, six miles from the beginning of my hike after five hours of climbing.
I absorbed the beauty of the Three Apostles across the valley to the south. I soaked-up the rugged ridge of Browns Peak (13,523 feet), Middle Mountain (13,060 feet) and Cross Mountain (12,911 feet) to the north. I studied the dark sky over Virginia Peak (13,088 feet) and Winfield Peak (13,077) to the west. Then, I hurried down off the summit, only feeling a light mist in the air before reaching my car.
How to get there
The low-clearance vehicle parking area north of Huron Peak is 56 miles south of Copper Mountain. Take Highway 91 south through the Climax Mine area and over Freemont Pass to Leadville. Continue south on Highway 24 to Mile Marker 195 and turn right on Chaffee County 390, found 42 miles from Copper Mountain.
Proceed up the graded gravel road to the ghost town of Vicksburg and the Missouri Gulch trailhead, found eight miles from the highway. The mining settlement of Rockdale and the trailhead for the west face of Missouri Peak is two miles farther. The abandoned mining town of Winfield is 12 miles from the highway. Across Clear Creek, a meadow campground is available for overnight base camps. Beyond that, Forest Service Road 390 continues about a mile for low-clearance vehicles. The Huron Peak Trail begins two miles farther south.
Map: Trails Illustrated, Buena Vista, Collegiate Peaks, 129.
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