RT Length: 9.5 miles
Elevation Gain: 4600’
After binge watching Stranger Things this week I was a little worried about hiking alone for miles in the dark but decided to go for it anyway. It was snowing at the trailhead but I could see stars in the sky so I figured the snow wouldn’t last long. I arrived at the trailhead at 5:15am and was on the trail by 5:30am. The parking lot was empty when I arrived (two other vehicles were there when I got back.
It was apparent after the first 20 feet or so I wasn’t going to be spooked hiking solo in the dark. I’ve done this hundreds of times before and still felt comfortable. In fact, I was a little upset I hadn’t started earlier. From the parking area I walked west to the Rainbow Trail
At the Rainbow Trail I turned right and headed northwest for 8/10 of a mile
The trail here was covered in fallen trees and snow, but was still manageable
I crossed dry creek (yes, it was dry) and continued to just past a meadow,
before turning left onto an unnamed trail that would lead me to the summit of Horn Peak.
Right about now the sun was starting to rise, and I got my only scare of the day: I heard a strange noise coming from behind me to the left and jumped a bit before realizing it was a turkey gobbling. Must have been because day was breaking. I saw some turkey tracks here too
I followed this new trail southwest to a trail register
Signed the register and was on my way. The trail was easy to follow, but kept going up, up, up for about a mile and a half
The snow here was soft, and I could tell I’d need my snowshoes on my return. I got my first view of Horn Peak and saw it had a light dusting of snow
I was able to wear microspikes until I came to the gully that crosses over from one side of the mountain to the other. Here I donned my snowshoes to traverse the small gully. I’m not sure I could have made it without them
Once past the gully the trail conditions kept changing. The trail could be dry, covered in snow, or a mixture of both. I kept my snowshoes on, even when unnecessary.
I made it to the ridge after hiking 3.3 miles
Here I turned left and followed the ridge to treeline.
I saw 5 or 6 ptarmigans and some ptarmigan tracks. The birds were quick to fly away when I startled them, so no pictures of the actual birds. I was surprised the ptarmigans were already brown, figuring they’d still be in their winter whites
There was an old trench I re-trenched to treeline, which was slow going but it was nice not to need to route find.
At treeline I stopped to take off my snowshoes, as I could see they wouldn’t be needed for the rest of the hike to the summit. Here’s the route I took to point 12665
It’s actually much steeper than it looks
Once at point 12665 I turned left and started hiking the rest of the ridge to the summit
About halfway along this ridge I saw some bighorn sheep. I noticed them before they saw me, so I got to see them startle when they saw me. They jumped a bit, and then walked away. Here’s one of the younger ones
At about this time I started keeping a close eye on the weather. Clouds were forming around 13K. Not big clouds, but it was supposed to snow after 3pm and the clouds seemed to be forming pretty fast. It was neat to be eye level with them
The ridge was full of loose rocks the size of toaster ovens so I was careful with my foot placement
In no time at all I found myself at the summit!
Here I saw the Bighorn Sheep again
The views of the Crestones were absolutely amazing!!!
Here’s my summit photo
I wanted to stay on the summit forever! There was no wind, the weather was perfect, and the views were amazing. It wasn’t lost on me how lucky I was to be here right now. But, watching the clouds forming I realized I should get going, so I turned to head back down the mountain
Here’s the route I took back down the ridge
And the ridge back to treeline
I could see a small grass fire starting in the distance. I think they put it out quickly because I saw a fire engine leaving the site on my way back
Once back below treeline I put on my snowshoes. The snow was indeed soft and progress was slow going as I kept postholing in slush. On the positive side I could follow my previous tracks when there was snow, and the trail when there wasn’t
I kept watching as the sky kept getting darker and darker, and then as little snow flurries began to fall. Hmmmm. It wasn’t yet 1pm and it wasn’t supposed to snow until after 3pm. I was glad I’d left the summit when I did, as it was now covered in snow filled clouds. I made my way back to the trail register and signed myself out. Then headed right (southeast) on the Rainbow Trail
I made it back to my truck at 1:30pm, making this a 9.5 mile hike with 4600’ of elevation gain in 8 hours. Slow going, I know, but that’s a lot of elevation gain for such a short distance!
For those interested, here’s the path I took
Disclaimer: Due to Covid-19 concerns, before attempting this hike I contacted the County Sheriffs department to see if I could hike in the area. In fact, I contacted several different counties, and when they told me their trails/cities were closed I just went on down the line, looking for an open place to hike. I was told by this county the trails and trailheads were open but they weren’t openly endorsing/encouraging people to hike. I was asked to not stop in town for gas/food/etc. and was notified the bathrooms would be locked (as they usually are this time of year) and if I was in need of rescue it would take extra time for SAR to be deployed. I was ok with all of these stipulations and decided to hike. I didn’t see another person all day and was glad I’d made the decision to head to the high country.