La Plata Peak in Winter – 14,336

RT Length: 10.93 miles

Elevation Gain: 4620’

Detailed La Plata in Winter Report  

I’ve already done a detailed trip report on this route, so I’m just adding pictures and some notes/a story for today’s hike.  Funny thing:  It’s been almost exactly 2 years since I’ve done this hike. The end of January seems to be a good week for La Plata in winter.

I was really, really tired on the drive in, so when I got to the trailhead I decided to take a 20 minute nap before starting.  I was also hoping someone else would arrive so we wouldn’t be the ones doing all the trenching:  no dice.  We started out at 6:30am, and were the only ones in the parking area, so we had no hopes of anyone trenching before us. 

I put on my snowshoes at the truck, knowing I’d eventually need them and not wanting to take off my gloves to put them on.  It was -2 degrees when we started hiking.  I kept the snowshoes on for the entire hike.  We started out following road 391 to the trailhead.  This was a well packed down road, but not in the beginning.  It looked like someone had tried to drive the snow packed road.  They made it across the bridge, then obviously backed up.  Funny:  that was probably the hardest part of the road.

Here’s the trailhead.  Note, there’s private property all around:  stick to the trail

The trail was trenched!  Woot!  We followed the trail a short ways, and check this out:  An old cabin!  This is my 5th time on this trail and I’d never see the cabin before.  On our way back we spent some time trying to figure out how old it was by looking at the boards, logs, chinking, etc. 

On we went, following the trench as it wound through the trees and across the log bridge/through the willows. From here, it’s all uphill. 

We were following the summer route, and I kept looking for a trench indicating the winter route, but we never came across one.  It’s my goal this year not to let a good trench go to waste, so we decided to follow the summer route to the basin and see if we’d be able to summit this way.  We hiked on some seriously steep slopes below treeline, where a slip off the trenched trail would send you sliding quite a ways into the drainage below.  The trench ended as soon as we made it to the basin, so we decided to make our own trench up the ridge to the headwall.  Here you can see our basic route

Also, I don’t recommend this route in winter:  there’s avy danger.  Today however we didn’t see enough snow to be worried.  I’d wanted to teach SkydiverHiker how to use his ice axe, and there didn’t seem to be enough snow/ice to make it relevant on the way up.  Here’s our route up the headwall.

I should also note it was really, really cold in the morning before the sun reached us.  Several times we considered turning back, but in the end we knew the sun was just over the ridge:  all we needed to do was make it up the headwall and we’d be fine.  This part was slow going and slippery.

Once we made it to the ridge and I felt the sun warm my face I was ecstatic!  Also, I screamed.  Raynaud’s attacks are no fun, and now that the sun was warming my fingers and toes the blood rush felt like I was picking up a hot pan I couldn’t let go of.   Not fun.  Luckily SkydiverHiker is used to this and let me scream as loud as I needed without judgement.

It’s a really long ridge hike to the summit of La Plata Peak.  My route says about 2.3 miles of ridge work.  I don’t have a lot of pictures of the hike in due to my frozen fingers, so all of these pictures are from the hike out.  Here’s a look at the ridge today

We trudged up this ridge, but it was such a nice day we didn’t mind much. 

I kept looking back to see if anyone was poaching our trench, but never saw anyone.  Such a shame!  There were some small cornices forming on the ridge. Nothing too dramatic, but we stayed away from them.

At one point we stopped to get a shadowselfie and a picture of Sayres Benchmark

We summited in bluebird conditions:  no wind, no clouds, just a nice, sunny day. There were some small cornices at the top.

Here’s a summit photo and video of the summit

NE La Plata

We actually stayed for a but at the summit because the weather was so nice.  The views were amazing, and demanded to be appreciated.  I should have put on sunscreen, but didn’t.  I have much better pictures of the route down because:  warmth.  Check out that ridge!  Here’s the overall route.

And some step by step to the headwall

Here’s looking down the headwall

I decided to go first to blaze a trail.  Here’s looking back up at SkydiverHiker, waiting patiently

I spent a long time gingerly making a nice trail for SkydiverHiker to scree surf down

SkydiverHiker decided to glissade down instead (smh).  This was his first real time, as I’ve had him practice before, but never where the run out was so long.  He learned first hand about hitting rocks, keeping his feet up, and how long it takes to stop once you place your ice axe. He may have rolled a few times (on purpose, of course).

The snow was getting dangerously soft:  we were booking it out of there, but I got a final shot of our paths down (lots of rollerballs).

We made it back to the trench and started our hike out

This part was pleasant, but my feet were thawing out, so every once in a while I’d get a sharp pain in my toes (note:  two days later, I’m still having pain.  Raynaud’s sucks).  We saw our first people of the day; snowshoers who were just following the trench as long as it went.  We let them know they had another 20 yards or so to go, and continued on our way.

We took some pictures of Lake Creek as we crossed

And made it back to my truck at 3:15pm, making this a 10.93 mile hike with 4620’ of elevation gain in 8 hours, 45 minutes.

Some final thoughts:  It was a shame we were the only ones on the summit today, as it was a beautiful day. Also, if possible, take the standard winter rout that goes up the ridge sooner:  our route had more avy danger than is recommended. 

Manitou Springs Incline

RT Length: 4.72 miles

Elevation Gain: 2331’

Date: 12-13-2020

Partner:  SkyDiverHiker

I haven’t been to the Manitou Springs Incline since they’ve implemented the reservation system, but since there was high avalanche danger all across the state, I figured today was a good day to go.  The reservations were free, and easy to obtain.  There are 25 slots open every half hour for reservation, and I secured the last two.  However, when we arrived we only passed/say about 8 other people all day, and no one was enforcing the permit system.  Maybe they took a snow day?

We paid to park while it was still dark and headed up the trail.  It was 12 degrees outside, and SkyDiverHiker had on his new gloves.  We weren’t sure if we were going to hike the incline once or twice today, so we decided to take it slow.  We also wanted to see the sunrise, and we knew at our normal speed we’d get there half an hour before it happened, so if we went a little slower we’d stay warm longer.  Check out our view of Manitou Springs

We kept the pace slow and steady.  About halfway up SkyDiverHiker’s calves started cramping up, so we decided to make this a one and done day.

It took us about 40 minutes to reach the top, so we had a bit of waiting to do.

We took a selfie at the top:  notice how cold it is?  My hair is frozen! 

While we waited I got out my new photography sphere.  I took a bunch of photos, trying to figure out how it worked.  Unfortunately, it was still really cold outside, and my phone froze.  The stylus didn’t work and my fingers were numb, so I didn’t get as many pictures as I’d of liked.  I need some more practice. 

It seemed to take forever for the sun to rise!

Jill and her husband met us at the top, and she took a few sphere photos too.  Then we were off, back down the trail

Halfway down we had someone ask us if we’d seen a dog.  No, we hadn’t, but a few minutes later a medium sized black mutt raced past us.  We ended seeing the dog again and were able to coax it to us.  We retraced our steps back up the trail to the owners, who were grateful, but I had to ask them if they had a leash?  They looked confused, said “Oh yeah”, and got it out and put it on the dog.   When we got back to the truck it was still 12 degrees outside!  Brrrr!

Highpointing – GA-KY-SC-AL-FL

We’ve had this trip for months, and in October had to re-scheduled it due to COVID concerns.  I was a bit worried we were attempting some of these peaks too late in the year, and, unfortunately, ended up being right about that.  Many roads we encountered were closed, even though their status showed as ‘open’.  No matter though, we still had a great, whirlwind weekend where we were able to get in 5 Highpoints.  Originally, we’d planned on 8 (and called them the ‘bowtie 8’ because our drive would go in a bowtie pattern).  The weather had other plans. 

We flew into ATL, arriving around 11am.  The flight had been uneventful, the airport was crowded, and it seemed to take forever to make it to ground transportation (several trains were involved).  When we arrived there was an hour wait at the Enterprise counter to get our vehicle (they wouldn’t let me use the kiosk because I was paying with a debit card instead of a credit card).  On a positive note, we received an upgrade on our vehicle, and we were able to choose any vehicle in the row.  We ended up picking a Nissan SUV so we could sleep in the back, which ended up being much more comfortable than our last trip, where we slept in the front seats.

We were on our way around 1pm.   First stop: Brasstown Bald, Georgia’s Highpoint.  It rained the entire way there, and when we arrived, the parking area was shrouded in clouds. 

I wasn’t even sure we were in the right place, but after getting out my directions I realized it was a half mile walk up a closed (but paved) road.  We paid the $3 per person entry fee and parked.

The weather was miserable, so I put on my hat, jacket, and heavy-duty gloves and we were on our way, walking up the road.

The walk up this road was easy, but in today’s conditions, miserable.  It wasn’t quite snowing yet, so we were getting soaked from the rain.  It was bitterly cold. Water was running down my gloves and I had to pull my jacket hood so tight I could only see a few feet in front of me. I much prefer snow to rain. 

At the top of the hill was a plaque and a sitting area

And beyond that, the visitor’s center (closed)

It was no surprise we were the only ones here today, as the weather was brutal.  The wind picked up as we took a look around, searching for the summit marker (side note, there isn’t one.  The rangers keep it locked up inside so no one steals it).  We found the Highpointers bench, and then climbed the stairs to the tower.  Unfortunately, the tower was closed due to COVID. 

The wind picked up and it started snowing, so we decided to head back down.  We rushed to the car and headed towards our second highpoint of the day:  Clingman’s Dome, TN.  Unfortunately, the road was closed 6.5 miles from the summit, and it was still raining, so we decided to skip this Highpoint too and instead headed to Kentucky. 

We got lost driving (this happens a lot when we highpoint, the intense 4WD road should have tipped us off) and arrived late at night, walking the short distance to the summit in snow. This highpoint is on private property, so we kept our waivers on us as we looked walked around the summit.

This summit had a tower as well, but we didn’t climb it (too clod)

We made a mental note next time to add GPS coordinates to highpoints for our next trip, so we wouldn’t have such difficulties finding them, headed back to the car and drove to the summit we hoped to hike in the morning:  Mt Rogers, VA.  Passing through Gaitlinburg we noticed they were having some sort of parade/celebration, as the city was all done up in lights and there were tons of people milling about.  This looked like a fun town.  Maybe next time we’ll stay here when we come back for the highpoints we weren’t able to get this trip.  We stopped at a grocery store for some cheese, crackers, and meat (side note:  garlic ritz are the bomb) and were on our way, listening to a Harry Potter book on tape.

We arrived at 4am to the trailhead.  The snow, which was supposed to stop around midnight, showed no signs of stopping.  We decided to get a few hours rest and start out at first light.  The wind howled and blew snow around us as we slept, or rather, tried to sleep, as we were slightly afraid the car would tip over in the wind.  We were comfortable sleeping in the back with our sleeping bags and heated blanket, but the noise from the wind kept us awake.  At 6am we turned on the heater, and at 7am we called it.  The wind and snow were just too much for an attempt today. 

On to the next highpoint! 

We crossed into North Carolina, and attempted to take the Blue Ridge Parkway to the summit of Mt Mitchell, but it waws closed.  We then tried to take a back route, and got pretty close.  The weather was nice and there wasn’t any snow on the ground, but we encountered a winter closure gate.  Hmmmm.  They should really publicize things.  There are a lot of great dispersed camping spots here.

No worries though:  on to the next highpoint! 

We were on our way to South Carolina.  Sassafras Mountain was my favorite highpoint of the trip.  Not only does it have a cool name, but the road was open to the top and it was a beautiful day!  There’s a short hike to the summit area just beyond the closed gate.

We walked up the gravel road to a very nicely done highpoint.

The summit marker, bench, and plaques were easy to find

We walked up the stairs to the observation area, and realized we were on the NC/SC state line!  So cool!  So, of course we took photos.

Check out the view from the observation area

Sassafras Mountain: 

It was still early in the day, so we decided to drive over to visit the Alabama State Highpoint as well (Cheaha Mountain).  We ended up starting out the wrong way and heading back into South Carolina

But we quickly noticed our mistake and turned around.  After arriving at the State Park (which had people camping but no open bathrooms) we paid the entrance fee (the girl who took our money wasn’t wearing a COVID mask, and was a little rude) and drove to the observation area.  This was another nice observation area.

We were the only ones there, so we went inside and climbed the stairs

The stairs looked pretty cool on the way back down.

After doing some calculations we realized we had time to drive all the way to the beach and visit Florida’s highpoint tomorrow. We stopped to get gas and noticed Alabama doesn’t have a COVID mask mandate in place.  The town we drove through was sketchy, and I got some very negative looks from the locals when I wore a mask while getting gas.  The people giving me the looks looked to be members of street gangs, so we didn’t stay long.  We drove all the way to Chocktaw Beach and parked on the side of the road, backing the SUV in.  We were right next to the water, and I was excited to wake up to the sunrise the next morning.  We ate our dinner (drive thru taco-bell) and I jotted some notes down in my journal.  How cool was it we were sleeping on the beach tonight?  Sorry, no pictures of this, as it was dark.  In the end the sunrise wasn’t that spectacular and we forgot to take pictures, but it’s a memory I’ll never forget.

It was an hour from the beach to Britton Hill, Florida’s highest point.  At 345’ it’s not much of a highpoint.  In fact, it’s not even a valid peak.  The park was nice though (not the bathrooms, as they were quite filthy, but the park itself, Lakewood Park, was nice).

And now for the 5 hour drive back to ATL.  There was considerably less traffic as we made it back to Georgia

Some notes:

  • There was a lot of Christmas cheer in the form of holiday light displays
  • We passed no less than 500 Baptist churches
  • We saw a lot of deer
  • They close Blue Ridge Parkway in winter, even though they say they don’t
  • The cops in Alabama only have blue lights on their patrol cars
  • We didn’t see any wildlife except for deer (I was kind of expecting to see armadillos in FL)

Colorado Trail – Segment 2

South Platte River à Little Scraggy à South Platte River

November 21, 2020

RT Length: 22.15miles

Elevation Gain: 3069’

High Point:  7762’ Low Point: 6099’

Time:  8 hours

Partner:  SkydiverHiker

I had so much fun last week hiking Segment 1  I decided to hike Segment 2 this week!  Actually, the weather was nice below treeline and yes, now I’ve caught the Colorado Trail bug, so this was an easy hike to choose for today.  We arrived at the South Platte River Trailhead just before sunrise, and were on the trail at 6am, bundled in our warm weather gear.

The trail starts at the east end of the parking area, and then circles under the bridge before heading southeast. 

The trail is well marked and easy to follow

Shortly after crossing the bridge the trail starts switchbacking up the west side of the mountain. 

We hiked past an area we assumed was the abandoned Quartz Quarry (it wasn’t).  Also, here I realized SkydiverHiker had thought we were going to a crystal quartz quarry (nope, a rock quarry).  We met a hunter here wearing a bright yellow vest.  He told us to be on the lookout:  there were hunters up further along the trail, and let us know we’d missed the junction and were headed the wrong way. We thanked him, turned around, and wondered what they were hunting this time of year?

Unbeknownst to us, we passed the quarry in the dark (orange route, quarry circled in red. More on this on the way back, as we stopped here for a while.  The quartz quarry is located 1.3 miles from the trailhead.

As dawn approached we came to a large burn area.  This burn lasted over half of the hike.  I hear this area is quite pretty in the spring and early summer, but today it looked desolate. 

We started seeing tons of deer, and wondered if it were deer hunting season?  We saw three sets, totaling of about 10-12 deer, but never heard a gunshot.  Neither did we ever see the hunters (and they should have been visible due to the lack of foliage).   The deer were no more than 10 yards away from us, and would have been easy to shoot if we’d been prepared.

As we hiked, I noted how different the mountains look with the trees gone.  There were large, exposed boulders and drainages which would otherwise have been disguised by trees.  It’s amazing how little has come back since the 1996 Buffalo Creek Fire.

We continued following the well-defined trail west

After hiking for 2 miles we were back in the trees.  Side note:  there were far fewer trail markers on this segment of the trail than on segment 1.  I realize there’s been a fire and not many trees to post markers on, but in the treed area there were far fewer markers as well.  And many of them diamond shape (instead of the triangle I’ve been so used to).

Shortly after making it back to the trees we crossed 4WD road 539, which looked like a forest service road. 

This would make sense, because next we came upon an area that’s experiencing logging operations. I’m assuming the area’s being mitigated due to the fire.  Still, the signs were pretty cool. Since it was a Saturday, I figured the forest service had the day off and we wouldn’t be experiencing any ‘flying debris’ today.

The trail continued through the trees, and past a really neat rock outcropping/camping area

After hiking for 6.25 miles we crossed another 4WD road (this one said it led to Raleigh Peak, and was a more well-defined road)

As we topped out at the highest elevation for this hike we came to a slight junction, keeping straight (west)

Then we came upon more tree mitigation. This was intense mitigation!  There were dozens of piles, each no less than 20 feet high and 50 feet across, all of dead trees.  It seems what the fire hadn’t decimated the forest service was now trying to cull in order to prevent another fire.

We soon exited the trees, and were in for another 3.5 miles of hiking through the Buffalo Creek Fire area.  Here we encountered crows and ravens that seemed quite interested in us. They’d sit in a tree and watch us until we got close, then they’d fly off to a tree further in the distance and watch us as we hiked, flying off again when we got too close.

The final stretch of this segment took place again under the trees.   At this point we could hear the road in the distance (126).  Also, if you need emergency water, the fire station is circled in red.   The only water we encountered on this trail was at the South Platte River Trailhead.  After that, there was no water.

There is fencing all along the left side (east) of this trail, with many signs saying ‘no trespassing’.  It seems they mean that here.  The trail takes you to a road

There seems to be a trailhead at this road.  Indeed, you can park here.  However, the segment was not yet over.  We passed a few parked vehicles and continued along the Colorado Trail

We passed a private community (Spring Creek Ranch)

Before making it to what we thought was the trailhead (our gpx file ended here).  It looks like there’s a few spaces to park here, and the trail picks up on the other side of the road.

There is parking here as well, and you can also see the other parking area along the road (circled in red). This is where you want to park in winter, as the ‘true’ Little Scraggy Trailhead is located beyond the locked gate, about a mile away.  This is where I parked when I started Segment 3.

In any event, this is where I’ll park when I start segment 3, just so I can claim I’ve hiked the entire trail. 

It was here I took off some outer layers, and tried to put my phone in my pants pocket, only to find I’d worn my pants inside-out this entire hike1  I looked both ways, sat down, and fixed the problem (much to SkydiverHiker’s embarrassment). 

SkydiverHiker and I took a picture at this point of the trail. We made it here at 10am, after 10.79 miles of hiking (roughly 4 hours).

We didn’t stay long, because we were only halfway done with our hike.  If parking here, this is the way we took back to South Platte River Trailhead, first starting with the entry point off road 126

This led us back past Spring Creek Ranch.  Here we wet a man on horseback, riding a very fine looking paint.  This might be a horse community.

Then back past the first parking area we’d encountered

I’m going to note this here just because it’s one of the many places we saw bones while on this hike. There were several bone fragments of animals we found along the trail (some of the bones were not there on the way in, but were there on our way out).  They seemed to be from multiple animals, but all deer and elk.

OK, back to the trail description.  We passed the parked cars and continued on the trail.  Note the sign for the fire station ahead, should you need assistance/water.

Then it was back into fire territory

Here’s an overview of the hike back to the trees

There were some especially pretty mountain mahogany plants along the way, their feathered seeds backlit by the sunlight.

Once back in the trees we passed the burn piles, or piles of trees.  I’m not sure what they intend to do with these large piles, but it seems a waste to leave them there/burn them.

More evidence of ‘flying debris’/ tree trimming (this area is different than the one pictured on the way in)

At the highpoint, once again stay east (right this time) to stay on the Colorado Trail 177

Crossing the well-maintained dirt road

I came to an area where the trail was littered with clumps of pine needles.  Looks like the squirrels have been busy!

We continued following the trail.  Suddenly, I started seeing snow.  Or were those spots?  I get a bit scared when this happens (when I see spots it means my blood pressure is low).  It was sunny out, so I wasn’t sure how I could be seeing snow.  I mentioned this to SkydiverHiker and we stopped for a bit.  I had indeed seen snow, as it was lightly falling all around us (despite the lack of clouds and abundance of sun).  It didn’t last long though, and the flakes were few and far between.

There are a lot of campsites all along this route.

We crossed the service road again (this road doesn’t look like it gets much use)

And followed the trail through scrub oak and mountain mahogany.

Along the way we got in a good view of the route down (or up) from section 1 at South Platte River.

And now back to the burn area. Here is where we started seeing people.  We passed a few groups of people here, and a couple of really cute puppies! It was also very windy and cold these last few miles.

On the way back we had a clear view of what was actually the quartz quarry.  There are rocks in this entire area. 

We first went to what looked to be an old parking area (or maybe there was a structure here, but there was no foundation to suggest so).  It kind of looked like it had caved in.  There were old vehicles and pieces of equipment here.

To the west was the actual quarry.  We hiked over to inspect, and it was a little underwhelming.

Basically, just a hole in the ground with rocks.  No rails or carts or wires, cables, etc. Just rocks.

But they were cool rocks!  I was surprised at how white the quartz rocks were. 

Here’s how we exited the quarry and made it back to the trail. This was a quick and fun side attraction. 

SkydiverHiker fixing the trail.  We accidentally hiked the wrong way here for a bit because the junction isn’t obvious (especially in the dark).  There isn’t a sign here, but I think going to the south takes you to Eagle Rock. 

Then it was switchbacks down to the river.  We took this part slow, as we may have had extra baggage at this point. 

Back down at the river there were no camping signs.  This is a bummer, since I’m sure a lot of hikers want to hike here after filtering water.  No worries though, if you’re headed NOBO there are great camping spots just after the trail starts to section 1. 

We also saw a memorial sign on the bridge (a dead fish in the water), and some graffiti. 

I hiked under the bridge, circled around and took the bridge back to the parking lot.  SkydiverHiker took a shortcut, but to be fair, his pack weighed about 100lbs. 

Here’s a view of the South Platte River from the bridge

They’re really serious about no motorized vehicles (etc.) on the bridge.  I’m not sure you could get a horse through this either.  In any event, I’m glad they’re keeping motorized vehicles off the trails.

We made it back to the trailhead at 2pm, making this a 22.15 mile hike with 3069’ of elevation gain in 8 hours.  (Side note:  feel free to contact me if you’d like a copy of the GPX file for this route).

Final thoughts:  this was a long hike to hike with someone.  I usually hike alone, and have no problem filling that time with the thoughts in my head.  It’s different when you have a partner.  You need to work out things like pacing (I was actually slower today, but I blame that on the hike I did the day before), when to take breaks (I never do, but I realize that’s unusual.  I don’t see them as necessary), and conversation becomes difficult (I learned to turn my head around and speak directly to him when I had something to say, otherwise I’d get a “what?” and need to repeat myself). 

Mt Muscoco – 8020 and Mt Cutler – 7220


RT Length: 5 miles
Elevation Gain: 2436’

Miraculously as we were coming down from Helen Hunt Falls we pulled up just as someone was pulling out and got the last spot at the Mt Muscoco trailhead. Woot!


We didn’t have a map, but there was one provided, so I took a picture and we were on our way


This is another class 1 route that’s easy to follow, so I won’t provide a lot of details, but just some pictures from along the way. You start by crossing a bridge


And continuing up the well defined trail. Steffen found a hole he wanted to check out….


Nothing was in it, so we continued on.


The trail has great signs



You actually work your way around the mountain to summit


Here’s the summit


And summit views



We headed back to the saddle, and decided to hike Mt Cutler too. The trail is once again easy to follow, class 1


And provided some great views of Mt Muscoco


We were surprised with how many people we were seeing along the trail, since there were only 15 parking spots. We must have passed 100 people. When we made it back to the trailhead we discovered why: people were parked illegally for miles along the side of the road, making it difficult to back out of your parking space (I was so glad I’d backed in) and making the road a one way road. People were playing chicken the entire way down. We need to open up our state or people are going to go nuts! Also, at this point I’m done staying close to home, I think I’m safer, and everyone else is safer Coronavirus wise if I head to trailheads and summits that are remote and NOT close to home.
Here’s my topo of the route

Mt Muscoco and Cutler topo

Helen Hunt Falls


RT Length: 1 mile
Elevation Gain: 492’

We’d intended on hiking Mays Peak after hiking 8130 but the parking lot was full at 9am. We circled the lot 4 times before heading down the hill and getting the last spot at the Helen Hunt Falls Trailhead. I backed in, and used my driver side mirror to park, not realizing there was a several foot difference between the drivers side and passenger side before a large drop off. Let’s just say I caught it just in time and floored it before falling over the side…


Helen Hunt Falls is a really easy hike off North Cheyenne Canyon and I’ve done this hike several times. No route description is necessary, as the trail is class 1 and easy to follow. Because of that, I’m just going to post some pictures from along the trail…






And my topo


Now, on to the next trailhead (I hope we get a spot… this Coronavirus thing is causing North Cheyenne Canyon to be full of vehicles before 9am every morning, and it’s a Saturday…). Everyone’s been great at social distancing, but it’s more crowded than I’ve ever seen it, even on a weekend in the summer.



RT Length: 4.5 miles
Elevation Gain: 1742’

It was COLD when we woke up this morning, but thankfully, the heater did it’s job.


However, unlike yesterday when I woke up and got up with my alarm, today I decided I needed another hour of sleep. So we didn’t make it to the trailhead until much later than we’d wanted (we got the last spot in the parking lot).



The trail was well marked and easy to follow. Every time there was an option (junction) we turned left, following the mountain and heading up.



We even encountered some nuns. At first I thought they were hikers dressed as the grim reaper (hey, it’s been going on with this whole Coronavirus thing). They told us to have a blessed day.




You hit a kind of saddle after 1.6 miles. Here’s a basic overview of the rest of the route


The tricky part is knowing when to veer off trail. After hiking for 2.1 miles along this trail you turn right and bushwhack northeast up the mountain, or use one of the several of available game trails. All are equally steep. We took a different one up and back so we’d have a couple of good gpx routes.


At the top you’ll come to a boulder, and yes, this boulder is the highpoint.


There’s a class 4 chimney you need to climb to get to the top (towards the left… the boulder on the right isn’t the summit).


Some people might consider this class 3, but to anyone under 6 feet I can assure you, it’s class 4 and requires commitment.



There was a summit register at the top with tons of cool stuff inside.



We headed back down a slightly different way to the main trail


And easily followed it back to the section 16 trailhead


Note: the elevation gain was constant and more difficult than anticipated, especially for such a short hike. Here’s my topo of the route:


Now, on to the next trailhead!

Rhyolite Mountain – 10,780’


RT Length: .75 miles
Elevation Gain: 473’

I’ll apologize in advance for the fuzzy and cloudy pictures: I’ve had my mirrorless camera since October, and it still confuses me. I’m not sure why these photos aren’t clear, but I think they’re good enough to get the point across. Also, don’t buy a mirrorless camera.

After our failed attempt on Bull Mountain this afternoon and not even being able to attempt to summit Cow Mountain and friends this morning, we were keen on a summit. But it seemed luck was against us! The roads that were present on CalTopo were not where they were supposed to be, and the road we found had private property signs. (Notice the road on the topo map below that goes on the west side of Rhyolite looks doable, but that road doesn’t exist, or at least, the connecting roads don’t line up). We stopped at the sign that said “Keep Out” and parked on the side of the road and looked at our map. We were less than a mile from the summit and decided to skirt the private property as best we could and head up. We noticed there was a “for sale” sign and decided to head up through the property that was for sale instead of hiking through the private property signs.


This hike is quick, and only required us to keep heading west, first through some grass and juniper



And then we came across the road we’d been on previously (but stopped due to the no trespassing signs). We crossed the road, careful not to take it through another set of no trespassing signs.



We kept heading west, this time through trees, being careful to straddle markers indicating boarder lines



After .35 miles we came to a rocky area and climbed straight up


The boulders/rocks here were loose and we were careful not to upset any of them. At the top of this rocky area there was a new microwave tower. So new we could still see the shavings from when they placed it there.


This wasn’t the summit however. We continued west over a boulder filled ridge towards the highpoint.


We found a benchmark along the way


And some printing on rocks we couldn’t read


We left a summit register at the summit


We had great views of Bull Hill (the mountain we’d just attempted) and tried to visually see a way to hike it without traversing on mining property. I think I figured a way out, but will need to do more research. We had a cool view of the back side of Pikes Peak


We headed back down the way we’d came, being careful not to trespass on private property



Here’s a topo map of our route


Since the road had been narrow and I didn’t want to drive through private property I backed my truck all the way down the road and turned around at the bottom. On our drive in we noticed the trails we’d intended to take tomorrow were blocked off by private property/ no trespassing signs and locked gates, so we were going to need another alternate plan. It’s clear Teller County highpoints are going to be frustrating!!! Everything’s on private land!

We drove to where we could find cell service (Victor) to look up alternate routes, and also to see if there was any way we could find routes for the peaks we’d attempted today but couldn’t summit due to blocked gates. We were unable to find alternate routes at this time, and in the end decided to head back to the campsite we’d occupied last night, hoping it would still be available, and instead hike closer to home.
We saw a Teller County Sheriff patrolling the road as we drove through. We headed back through the tunnel


And all the way back to our campsite. Check it out: No one was there! We reclaimed our site and started a fire. Steffen was upset to see the large rock he’d dug out last night was gone (he’d wanted it to put in his garden). I relaxed while we made dinner and set up for tomorrow. I planned on setting out all necessary items tonight and adding another sleeping bag to the bed (I had another one in my truck). I noticed my truck topper was loose (the road had been rough) so we re-tightened it.


I also put together some trip notes from the day: it had been a log day full of disappointments and summits and highs and lows.


We ate Ramen and Elk Sausage and cheese and bacon and went to bed early. Before going to bed we lit the heater for about 5 minutes, until it burned one of the lights and I was worried the fiberglass would start to melt. That made it warm enough to last the whole night however.

We were woken up twice during the night: once at 10:30pm to a couple of kids shining lights into our windows. Of course they couldn’t see inside because I had blackout curtains, but I thought it was dumb of them to try. Both of use were prepared to scare them off if they tried to open any doors/throw any rocks. Stupid kids: we camp with guns. Luckily self defense wasn’t necessary.

The second time was around 2am when someone drove in blaring their music. I guess this is a popular spot? Well, two cars on a Friday night actually isn’t all that bad… and the view is incredible, so I totally understand!

Bull Hill – 10,808’ (Attempt)

RT Length: 1.6 miles
Elevation Gain: 558’

Turns out this one’s illegal. We knew once we arrived at the trailhead and saw what was before us our chances of summiting were slim, but we decided to try it anyway.


The gate was unlocked so we passed through and started our way up the road. It was supposed to be a quick, 1 mile hike on a road and then a short distance to the summit. We walked about a third of a mile and turned right


And headed up a wide, rocky road



We had a great view of Big Bull, the mountain we’d just climbed a few minutes ago


As we were walking along the road we heard a loud rumbling and saw a dump truck the size of a house drive past us, full of rocks. We were on an active mine, and immediately began to worry we were going to get in trouble for being here. We saw a water truck drive by, and then after hiking along the road for eight tenths of a mile we saw a white pickup truck with lights coming towards us. We asked the man in the truck for directions to the summit, to which he very politely told us we weren’t allowed to hike here and asked us to turn around. He said we could try to summit another way, on the other side of the fence (but we knew that wasn’t possible because the fence went all around). He actually offered to drive us back to the gate, but we declined. He sat in his truck and watched us hike the entire way back. I’d wanted to take more pictures, but figured he wouldn’t appreciate my doing so.


We had a gpx file for this route, and that person either a) made the file on CalTopo and never actually hiked it, b) hiked it illegally, or c) somehow got permission. There are no trip reports on this hike with more information. I’m thinking b is the most likely option, but I’m not going to name names.

We made it back to my truck and pondered how we were ever going to hike this ranked summit? Legally that is. I’m sure this mine is operating 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. There was a phone number listed on the gate. I’m going to try to call that number and get special permission to hike. I don’t have high hopes that will work, but I’m going to give it a shot anyway.

Here’s a copy of our topo.  We were so close!

Oh well, on to the next peak!

Big Bull Mountain – 10,832’


RT Length: 2 miles
Elevation Gain: 828’
The start of this hike was a little fuzzy. I parked my truck at the dead end of Independence Avenue, near an old, boarded up house.



We started out by going through an unlocked gate and just heading up the mountain, hiking southeast. In fact, the entire hike to the summit you just need to continue heading southeast and you’ll make it there at about a mile’s distance.



There’s actually a drainage here that makes the path easy to follow


We headed up the mountainside through grass and into some aspens. Here we found a mule deer antler!



As we entered the pine trees the snow became thick and we needed to put on our snowshoes. I was glad we’d brought them, as from the truck the hike looked clear of snow.


The pine trees ended up becoming very thick with young growth. So thick it became difficult to find a hiking route.


Eventually the pine trees gave way to a flat ridge less dense with vegetation


We wanted to remember our exit point, so I brought out some of the surveying tape I’d pre-cut for just this purpose and we marked a tree


We followed the ridge east now until we came to a wide cairn.




It was difficult on this flat mesa to figure out where the true summit was, but we figured the cairn was a likely indication. There was no summit register, and we’d forgotten to bring one, so we just took a picture


And headed back the way we came


It was surprisingly easy to find our yellow marking tape, and from there we just followed our tracks in the snow back down (we removed the tape, as we didn’t think it would be useful to anyone else and were practicing leave no trace)


We made it out of the trees and back into the grass. From here we could see my truck, so it was an easy exit


I kept looking for another deer antler, but unfortunately didn’t come across one. This is the first deer antler I’ve ever found on a hike, and I do a lot of hikes!
This was a quick, 2 mile hike through some soft snow and densely wooded areas. Our third summit of the day, now we were off to attempt our fourth! Here’s a topo of the route:

*If you plan to do this hike, please get the appropriate permissions before potentially roaming onto private property.