Roadtrip to the Rockies: A Weekend in Breckenridge!

November 24-25, 2017

After a lovely Thanksgiving, I “opted outside” for the weekend.  Ross and I carpooled up to the ski town early Friday morning and got two hikes in before heading back Sunday morning.  We took advantage of my membership at the Schussbaumer Ski Club, so we got to stay at its large chalet just two blocks from town.

After settling in, we geared up for our first hike around 10:30am.  The trailhead began at Carter Park, just on the outskirts of town, so we walked over just in time for it to start snowing.  It wasn’t the pretty, big flaky type, but small pellet balls that sometimes come with thunder as it did today!

Despite the snow and intermittent breeze, it wasn’t too cold.  I was surprised to see that the trail began with a bunch of stair climbing!  I was hoping for something easy for our first day in the mountains as I was acclimating to the altitude.  Perhaps I should read the trail description before I pick what we are going to hike!  I mostly just look at the mileage, the highest elevation, the directions to the trailhead, and if there is anything interesting to see on the hike.

This trail, Barney Ford, began with a climb of rock stairs!  There was an easier route as far as steepness was concerned by following a path of switchbacks, but given the zig-zags were covered in ice, we opted to climb.  Soon we came upon a plethora of trails.  The signage was decent, but for a first-timer on the hill it required a lot of stopping and consulting google maps to determine which path to follow.

After the initial climb, the trail leveled off and led us through an evergreen forest with a trace of snow covering the path.  We ended up following Moonstone Trail into a meadow which afforded lovely views of the ski slopes across the way.  Soon we connected to Juniata and climbed to the highest point where we connected to Barney Ford Trail, creating a loop.  This way, we saved the best for last.

We descended through much more snow than the original trace we climbed through as we passed the remains of an old mining cabin.  The overall five mile hike was nice and didn’t take very long to complete.  The most interesting part of the trail, however, I think is the history.  It is named for a slave who came to Colorado in search of riches and successfully became a prominent citizen of Colorado.

We had extensive free time after the hike to wander the town, to get lunch, to do a VERY hard 500 piece jigsaw puzzle, to grab dinner, to play a few games of ping pong, and to review the hike I had planned for the morning.

Our morning hike was to Wheeler Lakes.  To reach the trailhead, we drove to the Copper Mountain parking lot where there will soon be a fee to pay in the winter, but was currently free.  We walked a quarter mile to the trailhead which was strangely located by the exit ramp on I-70.  This coupled with the fact there was no snow on the side of the mountain made me wonder about the trail I had selected.

We followed the trail which paralleled the noisy highway as we took in the view of the Copper Mountain Ski Resort beneath the morning sun.  I can’t say much nice about the first half mile or so.  Slowly, it switched back and forth up the mountain until finally we reached the solitude of the forest along with some welcome snow.

We felt the warmth of the sun on our faces as we passed through mostly coniferous forest and one stand of dormant aspen trees.  Soon we reached an alpine meadow where the wind whipped across our bodies only donned in a long sleeved shirt.  Fortunately, it was the only time the temperature was chilly.  The rest of our hike, we enjoyed bluebird skies.

About this time also, however, the snow deepened.  Only one person had broken trail ahead of us.  I tried following in this hiker’s footsteps, though the person boasted a very long stride.  As such, I finally succumbed to making my own footsteps as I broke trail through the shin deep snow.  I’m not sure if it would have been easier to strap on cumbersome snow shoes or to trounce through eight inches of stiff powder.

But I suppose we didn’t have a choice in the matter given we left our snowshoes in the car based on the snowless trailhead!  As we neared the lake, we were afforded magnificent views of the surrounding snow capped mountains.  Upon reaching the sign pointing to the lake, the only tracks left in the snow were those of moose!  How exciting…I wish I could have seen one from afar.

Anyway, the lake was frozen and close to blanketed in snow.  We reached it just in time to enjoy it as a frozen lake rather than a field of white.  With the lovely weather, we could spend a little time wandering around without freezing before we returned on the out-and-back trail.  While the first portion of the trail stunk, the rest of the six mile hike was worth the effort!  I highly recommend it.

We finished this hike quite early as well, so we got spend some more time lunching and lounging before we met some more friends for a nice dinner.  It was a nice Thanksgiving weekend!  ETB

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Mohawk Lakes is a Must See!

August 18, 2016

Mohawk Lakes
Fees: Free
Website: http://www.protrails.com/trail/368/summit-county-eagle-county-clear-creek-county-mohawk-lake-and-lower-mohawk-lake
Elevation: 10,390-12,073
Distance: 6.7 miles roundtrip

The trail to Mohawk Lakes is a must see! We had the best hike today. We started out on Spruce Creek Trail which I can’t say is too pretty. In fact, I felt slightly disappointed. Many trees had fallen to the beetle kill, thus the forest wasn’t the best. But after about 1.5 to 2 miles, things changed in a hurry. We reached another parking area which I recommend driving to if your car allows and starting the hike at this point. That way most of the ugly part of the trail can be skipped.

We checked out the diversion mechanism at the creek before we crossed it just after leaving the parking area. Over the 3.35 miles to reach Upper Mohawk Lake at 12,073 feet, we had to gain just under 1,700 feet from the trailhead mostly over a gradual incline. We quickly reached the junction for Wheeler Trail, where we stopped to look for a moose in the pond. While we didn’t find any wildlife, we certainly enjoyed the magnificent reflection on the still water.

From the pond we carried on until we detoured to Mayflower Lake, another lovely stop. We were only just beginning with these side trips. In this area there were remnants of old cabins which we explored. After returning to the trail intersection, we faced our first steep climb. It wasn’t too bad and at the top we were rewarded with an awesome view of Lower Continental Falls and another cabin relatively in tact with a roof and make shift stove.

From here, we started another steep climb near the waterfall. There were two ways up the mountain at this point, straight up via an old mining cable or along some switchbacks. We opted for the cable route because it was so unique and not very hard. I highly recommend this way. It was so much fun to pull ourselves up the cable to the cog.

From the cog, we gradually ascended out of the forest and followed the switchbacks just above treeline to Lower Mohawk Lake. This lake was truly gorgeous. It had to be the shallowest alpine lake I have ever seen. Rocks popped through the water’s surface and the water was so clear we could see the rocky bottom. The surrounding landscape with another cabin and greenery as opposed to just rocks at most alpine lakes was breathtaking as well. Unfortunately, the sky appeared ominous, so we only stopped briefly to admire the lower lake before heading to the upper lake where black clouds loomed overhead. The storms were coming early today…it was only 11:00.

We sort of wondered if we wasted too much time exploring all the side trails and cabins given it took us at least two hours to go 3.3 miles and now we found ourselves racing over the final 0.4 miles to the upper lake in a light sprinkle. The upper lake, despite being lined by rocky peaks, was hardly protected from the wind, so our stop here was short at best. We decided it would be better to enjoy our snack at the lower lake which we thought was more picturesque and protected from the wind. We rested on the rocky shore until larger raindrops began falling which encouraged a quick departure.

For the next mile or so, zipped up in our rain jackets, we carefully maneuvered over the slick rocks at a quick pace. We wanted to get to tree cover for relief from the steady drizzle. While many storms blow over in twenty minutes in Colorado, this one seemed like it would last. Fortunately, we ended our hike during a dry pocket. While it took us three hours to ascend, it only took us one to make it back to the car! Before heading all the way back to Denver, we treated ourselves to a decadent cookie at Mary’s Mountain Cookies in Breckenridge.

It was such a fun hike and what made our outing even better was heading up to Breckenridge the night before and staying at the Schussbaumer Ski Club. We got to enjoy a nice dinner and relax for the evening before our hike in the morning which made it feel like a mini vacation! The only thing I would have changed about the day, is I would have driven up the rocky road to skip the first part of the trail to add additional mileage after Upper Mohawk Lake, as I read the are several other lakes beyond. With the rain threatening, we had to skip exploring them. I might have to repeat this hike though to give myself more time to enjoy it…this would be a rarity for me as there are so many trails in Colorado to hike. ETB

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Labor Day Weekend on The Colorado Trail – Segment 6

September 4-7, 2015

We waited until the end of school Friday to tackle segment 6 of the Colorado Trail over Labor Day weekend. Our first stop was Gold Hill to drop off the pick up car. Then we shuttled to Kenosha Pass. It was 6:45 pm before we were able to start our hike. We planned on getting 3 miles under our belts so that we only had to average 10 miles a day the rest of the weekend.

We started hiking through large aspen groves. We were about a week or two too early for the magnificent colors, but the leaves were beginning to turn yellow. After emerging from the aspen grove, we enjoyed a nice view of South Park at dusk before we clipped on our headlamps. We passed two small creeks, and likely the ideal campground in the dark. A car camping group with bright lights and music were situated near the suggested camping spots, 3.1 miles into the segment, so we continued on into the valley and set up camp just as sprinkles fell.

Fortunately, we had already eaten dinner, so we really didn’t need any water from the creek that we passed up to avoid unruly campers. We’d just have to backtrack a quarter-mile in the morning to load up. The night was rather lively. We could hear the music from the campers around the way. Later, David jolted awake and whispered tensely, “Did you hear that?” We laid quietly until I heard the swishing noise by our tent too. We jumped up, David grabbed his headlamp as I reached for the Illuminaid, a product featured on Shark Tank, that is a fantastic light weight light with a solar charger. We didn’t spot anything, but if I had to guess, a bobcat or the like walked by. My guess only comes from knowing what a leopard sounds like in the grass when it walked by my tent on a safari, and in the morning we heard an animal calling. Shortly after the noise woke us up, we heard a gunshot from the other camp, so needless to say, our first night wasn’t too restful.

Our view from the tent this morning was fantastic, though we found we set up camp in a field of dried cow patties! Regardless, the golden grass meadow with mountains in the background offered a nice way to wake up. After an oatmeal breakfast, we headed toward Georgia Pass, a 2,000 foot elevation gain (with a few other ups and downs) over nine miles. The well-maintained and well-marked trail led us through intermittent aspen groves, pine forests, and meadows along with several dirt road crossings. Jefferson Creek at mile 6 was a quite lovely creek.

We stopped for lunch beneath the trees around mile 8, but had we hiked just a little further we could have enjoyed sausage, cheese, and peanut butter on a nice rock outcropping. For the next three to four miles we gradually climbed to treeline as we stepped aside for several mountain bikers. This section from Kenosha Pass to Georgia Pass seemed to be very popular for cyclists, and once we got into the tundra, the narrow trail turned into a V-shape that isn’t the easiest on the ankles as it was tracked out from the bikes. Soon, we reached Jefferson Creek Trail at mile 11.7. Our only chance to fill up for water in the next 6 miles was 0.3 miles north of the Colorado Trail, so we opted to camp here, just below Georgia Pass with the protection of a small group of trees.

This was an excellent campsite with two or three flat spots, two fire rings, and magnificent views. We hoped for decent weather in the open, breezy space. After dumping our gear, the girls grabbed a nap as David and I followed Jefferson Creek trail to water. At first, we only spotted a dried out pond with animal tracks which gave us pause, but next to it was a small, yet active spring. The clear, cold water trickled over a narrow rock bed. As David dipped the water bag at the spring’s head, sparkling minerals swirled around in the pool. Generally, I would say it was mica or sand, but it seriously looked like gold flakes (which I never found when I went gold panning with my mom once)!

Just after we arrived back to camp loaded with water and set up our tents, the skies unleashed with rain and hail. Fortunately, it didn’t last long and after taking cover briefly, we got to enjoy dinner, s’mores, stories, and games around the campfire as the sun set. As the evening fell upon us, we seemed to be below a flight path. In addition, the wind whipped through the night, so it wasn’t terribly quiet, but the stars were amazing!

When morning arrived, we climbed to the top of Georgia Pass beneath looming dark, clouds which quickly blew by allowing us to hike under sunny skies all day! Over the next seven miles, we descended 2,000 feet beneath a lodge pole pine forest. Many of the pines, though alive were suffering from pine beetles infestation. At mile 19.7 which included campgrounds and several motor bikers, we reached a wonderful creek and debated whether we should fill up with water, as the next location to possibly find water according to our data book was mile 26.1 which was marked “seasonal”. While Colorado has had a wet year, rain has been more sparse over the last month, and we were at the end of the summer.

Preferring to be safe, rather than sorry, we loaded up enough water for dinner and hiking for the rest of today and tomorrow. Given a gallon of water weighs eight pounds, and we filtered roughly three gallons at lunch, we (though mostly David) carried a lot of extra weight up 1,300 feet over the next 2.4 miles. By the time we reached the top of the ridge and finished ten miles, we were somewhat pooped. We decided to look for a campground among many fallen trees. Lucky for us, we found a perfect spot right around mile 23 that the Colorado Trail Book doesn’t mention (the next morning we found another spot around mile 24 too, assuming hikers carry water). This was the quietest campsite of the three nights…no wind, no planes, and no loud campers. What a peaceful night!

The following morning, we left camp around 8am to hike out the final ten miles. We prepared to leave during a light sprinkle and a one second snow flurry! Fortunately for us, we were able to decipher several unmarked intersections on the ridge, to descend through devastated forest which did offer a nice view of ski resorts, and to make it all the way to the car (even with a short lunch), before the rain fell (we had awesome weather karma)! Along the way, the girls spotted three bucks that trotted across the trail in front of them, and we noted that we could not find the “seasonal water” at mile 26.1. The only other water was at mile 28.8, so we were thankful we lugged water up to the ridge, and ate a protein bar for breakfast instead of making oatmeal.

At the end of our trip, we treated ourselves to a great, real meal at Empire Burger in Breckenridge before braving the traffic back to Denver. What a nice Labor Day Weekend! By next week, I will have completed the first ten segments of the Colorado Trail. ETB

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