Ben Tyler Trail, October 2, 2012
I packed up my gear and headed out to my car this morning to find frost on the windshield and side windows…it was going to be a cold morning for a hike on the Ben Tyler Trail, #606 in Pike National Forest. The locals seem to have an affinity for this hike. The tiny parking area is always full and meetup groups tend to pick this hiking trail often.
Having driven by it countless times, I never could figure out why it was so popular. The trailhead abuts 285, a relatively busy highway and then the trail proceeds straight up the mountain via multiple switchbacks through trees with no water or views in sight. This type of trail tends to be my least favorite type. But since I was simply judging it from a car as I drove by, I thought it would be best to see it for myself.
The first part of the trail was just as I had seen from the car. The first 0.4 miles climbed steeply in a series of eleven switchbacks. The trail, named for Ben Tyler who operated a lumber mill during the gold rush days, begins to level for a bit and offers views of the farmland across the highway before it drops down to a creek where the golden aspen were plentiful. This part, I loved.
The trail gradient then becomes quite steep again, rising 1,800 feet in three miles. I felt as though I was climbing up a waterfall as I high-stepped over dark stones the jutted up through the layers of chocolate-brown, aspen leaves. At the higher elevation, the wind whipped through the bare aspen branches.
I can only imagine what the mountainside looked like just a few weeks prior and now understand why the locals love this hike, at least for the fall colors. Not only does the path led the hiker beneath an aspen grove, the entire western and northern view is of a continuous aspen grove. I’m sick I missed the glorious color this year, but I will be sure to see the sea of yellow next year!
I continued on to the Craig Park Trail Junction via another mile of long switchbacks…this is the five-mile mark. I was expecting the junction to be at the saddle, but I believe I was going to have to travel another mile, so I decided to turn around, as Petey was patiently waiting for me back at the cabin (and at a 2 mph pace, that was already going to be a five-hour hike).
On my way up, I basically had the trail to myself and in the first half mile found myself stripping down to shorts and a T-shirt despite the cool temperatures as my heart rate spiked while making the climb. But on my way down, I found myself zipping back into my wind breaker as I ran across several people. One girl, walked ten feet off the trail to go around me. I’ve never had that happen. Did I smell that bad or did she have tuberculosis or something? Odd.
Then, which I have found to be pretty common in Colorado, I got greeted by off-leash dogs. While I love dogs, I find this to be frustrating at times, because not all people love dogs, and when I have mine with me, he isn’t dog friendly which makes things rather challenging. These dogs, first growled at me! And then, they were wet and they shook by me and jumped up and hit my camera!!! They weren’t trained well enough to be off-leash!!! UGH!
Anyway, at the end of the hike I picked up two geocaches and called it a day. It was a great hike and I can’t wait the try the Ben Tyler Trail next fall and perhaps go a bit further on some of the connecting trails.