Blodgett Peak (9,423) via USAFA

This was a challenging hike, but I made this hike a lot more
difficult than it needed to be, but not really on purpose.  You see, I’d originally planned to hike
Eagles Peak this morning, but after talking with a friend at the gym decided to
try Blodgett Peak instead.  I’m trying to
do as many USAFA hikes as possible before Thomas graduates, leaves ROTC, and I
no longer get a base pass.  My friend has
hiked the ‘normal’ route and said it had only taken him about an hour.  I’d already calculated this route for later
this week, so I just quickly changed my plans.

I was interested in this hike because while studying the
Pikes Peak Atlas I noticed there was a walking trail through the USAFA to the
peak, and because there was supposed to be wreckage from a WWII plane on the
trail.  The aircraft was a C-49J
twin-engine transport, en route from Pueblo to Denver on 23rd Feb. 1943 in
overcast weather. It crashed at 1205 MT, instantly killing the pilot and
crewmen.

This trail isn’t a popular one.  In fact, it isn’t even listed as a trail on
the USAFA map (but the peak is)

However, my Pikes Peak Atlas shows there’s a walking trail
to the wreckage site.  

So as soon as I was done with my 10 miles at the gym I
hopped in my truck and set out to find the trailhead.  There wasn’t any parking there (no room) and
I didn’t want to just park on the side of a USAFA road and leave my truck so I
did my best to fit where I could at the bottom of the dirt road hill and
crossed my fingers I was hidden enough not to get towed.  It was a trailhead after all (if not a
popular one).

The trail is labeled as ‘713’, and very well marked so it’s
easy to follow.  First you cross a gate

And then you come to a creek crossing.  I startled a few ducks upon my arrival.

While you aren’t supposed to cross when water is present I
was able to find a few boards placed just for this purpose.

The beginning of the hike was gradual and went through a
grassy meadow.  I could pick out Blodgett
Peak and indeed the crash site from the beginning of the trail. But I wondered
how many people would even notice if they didn’t know what to look for?

I passed a scary/lonely looking Tesla Plant (owned by CS
Utilities) and continued the trail behind building.  Here the trial was very well marked and
followed a paved road for about 1/8 of a mile.

I’m pretty good at following topo maps, so I was sure I’d be
able to navigate this trail easily.  So
far everything was working just as planned.

While the trail was well marked with ‘713’ signs before the
Tesla Plant.  Once I passed the Tesla Plant
the land stopped being owned by the USAFA and began being US forest service
land.  This is also where the great signage
stopped. I wouldn’t see one more sign indicating which trail/road I was on for
the rest of the hike, and this was a serious safety hazard.

I was about halfway into the hike, just expecting to make it
to a forest service road when the trail stopped abruptly.  I was confused and looked around for a bit to
try and find the trail.  I went back and
forth, and realized there had been a rock slide, and the trail had been taken
out.  No big deal, except I wasn’t
exactly sure how much of the trial had been taken out, since I couldn’t see a
corresponding trial anywhere ahead.

I’d been following the service road for a little bit of
time, and I knew I was supposed to be on it eventually, so I made my way down
the 75 feet or so on the slope towards the road (it was going to be ‘fun’
getting back up).

OK, so I was ON the service road, but I wasn’t sure where I
was on it.  I looked back to my map and
decided to hike east to the end to see if I could find a trail.  I followed it to the end and I couldn’t.  So I hiked back west, pretty sure in my assumption
I’d eventually see either the walking trail to the left of the original 713
trail intersecting with the trail I was on.
Either way I’d eventually know where I was.

Except that didn’t happen.

I hiked and hiked and hiked, and eventually came to the
Northfield Storage Tank, which wasn’t on either of my maps.  I was fairly sure I was on the right road,
but there were no signs indicating which road I was on or where I was on that
road. I looked at my map several times, but it just wasn’t there anywhere on
the trail.  

I thought about spending some time admiring the storage
area, but wanted to get on with my hike, so I continued.  

The road alternated between a gravel trail and being
seriously poorly paved.  I wondered how
vehicles made it on this path:  It’s one
direction was up, and I continued to climb.
I never did see where the trail intersected the road, or a path to the
left that would take me up Blodgett Peak.
Eventually I realized just by looking around I was way too far east, but
I knew I’d been diligent about looking for the correct trail.  I was sure I hadn’t missed it.  So I decided to just ‘give up’ looking for
the USAFA trail to Blodgett Peak and just try again some other time from the
way I was supposed to use.  

However, never one to give up a good chance to get some
exercise, I continued the path for about 2 miles, then hiked back down the way
I’d came.  This was quite a workout for
my calves!    It was a beautiful day and I’d enjoyed the
hike even though I hadn’t found what I was looking for.  It was getting hot, so I decided to take a
walk around the storage tank just to get some shade for a bit before heading
back.

That’s when I saw it.
A cairn.  “Oh! Are you serious?” I
said to myself.

Yep, serious.  This
was obviously the trail I’d been looking for.

I was a bit upset none of this was listed on my detailed
map, but decided at this point is wasn’t very important.  I did some mental calculations.  I’d been hiking for 2.5 hours (probably 5-6
miles or so, as it was directly uphill) and I’d already done 10 miles that
morning at the gym before hitting the trail.
I hadn’t had any breakfast (or coffee).
I had plenty of water, but only a package of fruit snacks and a ‘fun
size’ Twix in my pack (besides my survival stuff, of course).  By looking at my map I had another mile or
two to the summit, and it was ALL UPHILL.

But this was what I’d hiked for, so I decided to go for it
and reserved the right to turn back at any time if I felt the need.

The hike was indeed straight up, and besides the rock arrow
I’d seen at the beginning of the trail, there was no trail to follow.  Or, if there was, this is what the trail
looked like (yes, I was supposed to proceed, where this usually means ‘wrong
way’).

This was probably why it wasn’t on the USAFA map.  You really had to know where you were
going.  I kept my eyes on the peak and
just headed towards it.   You can see a lot of visible damage from the Waldo
Canyon Fire in these pictures.

I was so excited when I came upon the plane wreck!  Not because of the wreck itself (which was
tragic), but because it meant I was exactly where I needed to be on the
trail.  There was no trail down to the
wreckage, so I hiked down about 25 feet from the top to get there.  

Nothing about the site looked stable (once again, probably
why it wasn’t listed on the USAFA map) so I didn’t stay long.  The plane was in at least 4 large pieces.  Due to the drastic angle of the slope I
couldn’t get any good pictures. 

There was a sign of dedication and an American Flag.

I didn’t know if I should be smiling or not, but here’s a
selfie anyway for proof of life.

I didn’t stay long at the crash site (it didn’t feel
safe).  I continued onward and saw a lot
of strawberry and raspberry plants.
Those raspberry stems were a bugger!
They kept breaking off and getting into my shoes.  I’d have to stop to get the stickers
out.  Hmph!

About halfway up this ridge I began to see Pikes Peak over
the burn scar and got really excited for the summit.  

The last ¼ of a mile or so was exhausting.  I’m not sure if it was because I’d just
driven in from a lower elevation in New Mexico last night, because I hadn’t hit
the gym for 3 days prior and just climbed thousands of stair cases instead (my
calves were screaming at this point), because there was no trail and I had to
climb over boulders, or because I was hungry, but it was very difficult.   I
considered it good training for future 14er hikes.

It was tough but I made it!
I sat on a rock, enjoyed my fun sized Twix (which seriously helped btw)
and looked around.  Check out some summit
photos!

OK, you may think the hard part was over, but it was really
just beginning.  If I thought no trail
and climbing up was difficult, imagine climbing down without a trail, on
terrain it was difficult to find my footing climbing up.  I was sliding down scree and small chunks of
gravel the entire time.  At one point I
slipped a bit and broke the lens of my camera (no worries though, it was just
the lens cover, and it’s why I have one and plenty of extras back at home).  

Just after taking the above picture I stopped to look around
and freaked out.  While I was extremely careful
while scrambling back down the rocks at the top of the peak to watch where I
was going and to make sure I was heading towards the right ridge, as I looked
around now I began to second guess myself.  There were now several ridges, none of which
looked familiar, but of course I was heading down and not up.  I took a minute to really study where I was
and concluded I needed to head further west.
This ended up being a great idea.
I was beyond ecstatic to see this burnt tree with two pine cones
together, as I remembered it from the hike up.

Then I saw this ladybug and a few butterflies and all was
well.

I’d thought I’d paid quite a bit of attention while hiking,
but this proved you really need to top every few minutes or so and just look
around.  It helps for the way back
down.  Also, the wind rushing through the
trees sounds remarkably like a loud stream/waterfall, and when you know there’s
water below you it can be deceiving.  I
had to make sure I was on the correct path a few times, but in the end I made
it out (with a few minor scratches… I had to get by a few difficult trees).

I made it back to the storage tank safely and was pleased
with my success.  Not only had I made it
to see the plane wreckage, I’d successfully summited difficult rocky terrain and
made it back down a difficult ‘trail’ using only my intuition and a poorly
defined topo map. This was progress!

Just before the meadow I saw a bunch of exposed wires
jutting out of the hillside.  Hmmm.

I saw a few more wildflowers on the hike down, made it to my
truck (woohoo! Still there!), and looked at the time.  It was almost 12:30pm! My 2 hour hike had
turned into a 5 hour hike, and I didn’t mind in the least.  Now to head home and enjoy some lunch!

Oh, here’s the view from the top: 

Author: Laura M Clark

Mom, Solo Colorado 14er Finisher, Outdoor Enthusiast, Traveler, and Girl Scout Leader with an MBA in International Business and Marketing. I value adventure, growth, courage, wisdom, integrity, accountability, and family. I enjoy yoga, wine, whiskey, traveling, reading, and the outdoors. I strive to be the person who inspires and motivates myself and others to succeed.

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