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Fitness and Photography for Fun - A blog on staying fit by hiking and doing photography by David Mendosa

Switzerland Trail North‏

October 15th, 2008 · No Comments

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Just like women, no trail is perfect. Everybody — probably even all men — have their flaws. We need to weight all the pros and cons and not rule out the acceptable because of minor flaws.

I know my deal breakers.

With potential mates it’s cigarettes. My first and only date with a woman I met through an online match-making service had written that she didn’t smoke. But she did on the first date, telling me, “A woman is entitled to a little white lie.” Not.

With trails it’s safety. That’s why I turned back from the summit of rocky “Meadow Mountain” three weeks ago.

But if every flaw were a deal breaker, none of us would ever conceive a child (not that I have knowingly done so) or get any exercise. We have to balance the good points against the bad flaws.

When I sold real estate in Santa Barbara a quarter of a century ago, I learned the most effective closing tool. Salespeople call it the “Ben Franklin Close,” and Dale King explains it beautifully at

I thought that I knew that in my playbook the Switzerland Trail had a serious flaw. Everything I read about it said that it was full of mountain bikes. Worse, four-wheel drive vehicles used it.

But I also knew that this trail has a lot going for it. In the first place, it’s one of very few that is absolutely flat. That’s because it was built for trains, like Fowler Trail in Eldorado Canyon State Park, the only other flat trail in Colorado that I can think of.

The Colorado & Northwestern Railroad railroad built the Switzerland Trail in 1883. At first it carried ore and supplies back and forth from mining camps like Ward to Boulder. In 1898 it started carrying passengers along what they called the “Switzerland Trail of America” because of its magnificant views of the Rockies.

Just 12.5 miles of the route remains. All the track is gone, but I would guess that many log ties lay buried under just a few inches of dirt, because of so many bars of snow across the trail.

In spite of the trail’s virtues and because of the flaw that I perceived I had never hiked there. My friend Barry got me to reconsider when we talked about places to hike a week ago.

Today’s crystal clear weather was too good to pass up a hike. Even so, I was in no hurry to get there this morning. More relaxed about beating the sun than I have been lately, I drove up Sunshine Canyon and through the quaintly historic settlement of Gold Hill and reached the trailhead only at 8 a.m.

The sun got there first, at least otherwise than on north-facing slopes. Still below freezing, ice was everywhere, but wind was nowhere.

Starting at the midway point of the remaining route, I hiked north, climbing all of 77 feet to 8,578 feet at the end where the trail turned into a pile of boulders.

Within the first half mile I came to this pond on the north (right) side of the trail.

Pond with Glimpse of the Rockies

Pond with Glimpse of the Rockies

How much snow and ice covered the north slopes of the trail surprised me. But since I was more than 1,000 feet higher than Mount Galbraith yesterday, I shouldn’t have been.

Snow-Covered Shady Trail

Snow-Covered Shady Trail

But south-facing slopes get a lot more sun, which melted the snow.

Sunny Trail

Sunny Trail

I loved the chance to stretch my legs and hike fast along this easy trail for about three miles. Excellent exercise. Then I reached a fork in the road.

Unlike Robert Frost, I took the one more travelled. The other fork had a sign, “Dead End.”

The fork I chose took me straight up a hill. Obviously, this wasn’t the Switzerland Trail any more. It was Forest Service trail #461, according to the sign but unlisted on any of my maps. I hiked up to the crest, but wasn’t about to hike down the other side.

Instead I took an even steeper spur trail, #461A, straight up to the top of an unnamed bald mountain. I stopped for a snack, sitting on the bare earth because the mountain is so bald that it lacks even a log or boulder to sit on. My topo map says that it’s 8,957 feet high, so I climbed a total of 300 feet. I surprised myself by how much I enjoyed the climb after hiking along on the level for so many miles.

The climb was worth it in scenery too. It offered the day’s best views of the Rockies.

The Rockies from the Switzerland Trail

The Rockies from the Switzerland Trail

So, how crowded was I today by mountain bikes and Jeeps? In fact, up to this point I had seen tire tracks and footprints. But no tires and no feet other than my own.

At this point I doubled back and took the “Dead End.” I figured that it would give out after a few feet. But it went on and on. I went on and on for about two miles until I came to the pile of boulders at the very end. Along the “Dead End” portion of the trail I didn’t even see any tire tracks or footprints, other than the prints of some wild animal or animals. The “Dead End” turned out to be a hiker’s paradise!

Still, I will return in one of my other incarnations. One of the things I was doing today was scouting the trail as a place where I could put my bike in the SUV and ride it. I will indeed do that some day.

The Switzerland Trail will also be great for snowshoeing this winter. That is, of course, assuming that the county plows the road.

After five and one-half hours on the trail I returned to my SUV. In all that time I didn’t see a single Jeep, bicycle, or even a hiker. So much for flaws.


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