Lakes and passes over the Continental Divide are my specialty. I bagged both yesterday.
It was a beautiful but long day and hike. I broke my rules yesterday by hiking on the weekend, because the weather prediction for the mountains was warm and dry and the prediction for here in the high plains was hot, 98 degrees (in fact it was a modest 92 in Boulder, according to today’s paper). Storms are predicted for today.
I went to the James Peak Wilderness for the first time. This wilderness area is an hour from here and just south of the Indian Peaks Wilderness, where I usually hike.
By 8:30 a.m. I got to the trailhead, the east portal of the Moffat Tunnel at 9,211 feet. This was one trailhead that I really wanted to see, because this is a famous and historic railroad and water tunnel under the Continental Divide.
This 6.2 mile long tunnel shortened the distance between Denver and the Pacific coast by 176 miles and finally providing Denver a western link through the Divide. The Union Pacific Raodroad still uses it. I photographed it yesterday morning, although no train was going through until I started out on the trail.
Until last September I didn’t know it existed. I was hiking on the rocky Rattlesnake Gulch trail in Eldorado State Park when I was amazed to hear and see a train far above me.
It was coming from the Moffat Tunnel and had to go through at least 14 other shorter tunnels to get to where I was and on down to Denver. This is the highest mainline rail line in the United States.
Another hiker had recommended the James Peak Wilderness to me. There are so many exciting trails that I wasn’t able to decide where to go until I got to one of the trailheads. Since I was new to the area, I decided to start on what I thought might be the easiest trail.
If the trail I picked – Forest Service Trail #900 along the headwaters of South Boulder Creek – is in fact the easiest, the others must be awfully hard indeed. The trail was never too rocky, and it started well with moderate elevation gain. But it got steeper and steeper as I hiked up it.
Since I thought the trail I took yesterday was relatively easy, I went relatively long. This lovely forested trail stays close to South Boulder Creek. Much of this area is marshy and muddy, which means many wildflowers.
But I climbed about 2,700 feet in 5.5 miles each way. At about treeline I reached Rogers Pass Lake at 11,060 feet and appropriately named Heart Lake at 11,300 as well as many apparently unnamed smaller lakes or ponds.
A lot of people stop at the lakes, and if I were always prudent I would have too. But my goal was the Continental Divide.
I have what is perhaps an irrational fix about it. I think that it comes from being a Westerner and my illogical assumption that the West begins at the Divide. In my heart I know that it doesn’t and in fact I think the drier, eastern side of the Divide looks more like the West than over the hill. But I still can’t avoid climbing to the passes!
However, the last couple of hours of the climb as I approached Rogers Pass over the Continental Divide got steeper than any hike I can ever remember attempting. I remember looking up from Heart Lake and thinking, “That’s a trail?” But I am a determined young man at heart and I set off anyway.
At the pass I was 11,900 feet high and well rewarded with views down to the sky resort of Winter Park in the “real West.” But even better were the views back to Heart Lake and the other places I had come from.
t was windy at the pass, as passes always are. But otherwise it was a perfect day for a long hike, never too hot or too cold. At 2:30 I reluctantly started my return, knowing that I would have to leave then in order to get back to the trailhead before dark.
At 7:30 I was back to my SUV, awfully glad to sit down on anything other than a rock or a log. I had hiked 11 miles and 22,000 steps in 11 hours.
On the way back for the last couple of miles I was beyond tired. I was so weak or had such low blood glucose that I could hardly walk straight. I was not quite up for such a long and gruelling hike.
But it was because the hike turned out to be so difficult that I count it as a great success. My shoulder wasn’t in pain all day. This is in spite of not only the long hike but also because I was carrying my full day pack from my shoulders that had always ached before after a half hour or so.
Shortening my trekking poles as my massage therapist had recommended and doing some exercises for my shoulder really did the trick. So not only did I climb to the Continental Divide and see some beautiful lakes I did it yesterday without pain.