How to Access every 14er off the Colorado Trail (CalTopo map included!)

The Colorado Trail is an awesome thru-hike route! But I noticed while hiking the CT, that much of the time that the best parts of an area you hike through just aren’t really showcased. The trail just weaves itself along a contour line below treeline, and you miss out on seeing most of the high country just outside your grasp.

Are you an advanced hiker?

If so, spice up your thru-hike by summiting a 14er or two (or all of them!) you can find right off the main trail! Below, I’ll describe all the 14er routes I’ve taken off the Colorado Trail, and some high 13er peaks that are also easily accessible. Most of the routes of the CT are in the Sawatch Range, between Leadville and just outside Salida. One is located in the San Juans outside of Creede, CO (San Luis).

For most of these routes, I would suggest dropping your main packs, and taking only what you realistically need from the out-and-back summit bid (hang your food, etc – of course). I describe the route mileage as one way, rather than RT, unless otherwise noted.

For some of these peaks, I do suggest an alternative loop which will ascend one route, and descend another, if you don’t mind missing a small portion of the Colorado Trail. For those options, bring everything, but realize that this makes the hike to the summit much harder. Make sure to time your hikes to miss the seasonal monsoon/thunderstorm weather (start early), and be mindful you’ve brought enough food for these CT alts. – they’ll take longer than the main trail.

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Chaffee County 390 Ramble: The Three Apostles, Huron, Missouri, Iowa, Emerald,

My time in Salida on tour soon came to an end, after a little time at the hostel with an honest to goodness shower. Time for me to travel north! Out of Salida, there’s some pretty awful highway riding to get directly to the next town, Buena Vista, and the day I set off saw me face a stiff headwind, that only got worse as I got closer and as a storm cell was moving from west to east. Frustrating!

I made it to Buena Vista, which I was going to only use as a top-off spot for food, etc – but my Brother was in town for Paddlefest, so I decided to linger a bit. After another partial day of rest, the weather turned much nicer, and I continued my ride to Chaffee County 390. The road out of BV North is dirt, and  follows an old railroad line complete with tunneled out sections of the hillside, making things quite fun. TONS of people were out for Paddlefest – or just the good weather – I’ve honestly never seen it so packed.

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Ouray and Chipeta

I took a ride out from Salida to Poncha Springs then onto Chaffee County 210 to the rarely visited (by 14er standards) Little Cochetopa Trailhead, which gives you access to Mt. Ouray, a Centennial peak @ 13,971′. The last few miles of the well-maintained road turned into a legitimate 4WD track, and it was a nice challenge trying to get my over-burdened Surly ECR up this steep track. Eventually, I got ‘er done, and after a little wandering around looking for a flat place to set up the Ultimate Direction FK Tarp while it slowly began to rain, (then snow), I was able to get some sleep.

The next morning (after sleeping in a bit), I set out from the trailhead following the actual trail for a little while, until I turned south and started gaining a saddle of the ridegline. That went smoothly, even though the trees were choked with snowdrifts. Once on the ridgeline, I was greeted by bristle cone pines – quickly turning into my favorite tree, and started the hike to the top of Ouray. The ridgeline proved a little spicy – with a few Class 3 moves if you didn’t want to drop too far off the ridge itself.

Soon the summit was gained, but weather seemed to want to move in, in the form of some angry looking clouds. The wind picked up, but I decided to keep moving along the perimeter of the basin on then same ridge to see if I couldn’t also summit the neighboring peak, Chipeta. There’s a bailout point between Ouray and Chipeta, so I kept an eye on the quickly degrading weather, as I made my way down the ridge.

The weather did hit, but came only in the form of some hail – no thunder or lightning, and I took just a few minutes for the worse of it to pass over me, before continuing my hike to Chipeta. The rest of the day was fine, and Chipeta was summited with not additional difficulty.

Descending back into the basin was a bit spicy – I had no beta on this, so I just chose a saddle on this side of the ridgeline, and pointed ‘er down. I glissaded a bit to a talus field and rock-hopped a bit, until getting suckered into a steep ravine, with a small creek running swiftly down it. Deciding it would go with a bit of care, I quickly descended into a huge field of thickets, with whip-like branches. Slow going, but not impossible, and lucky for me, a social trail (animal or otherwise) suddenly appeared to take me out of that and back into more manageable bushwhacking, where I then re-found the main trail. Good route!

Really fun day. I’ll almost surely approach Ouray on the Highest Hundred by Marshal Pass, as I can ride from the west side of the pass, leave the bike at the top of the pass, take the quick hike to summit Ouray, then ride down the east side of the pass and onward to either the town of Salida, or directly to Shavano/Tabeguache. I wasn’t sure if Marshall Pass is open all the way open to the top, and I wanted to explore a different trailhead, so Little Cochetopa worked perfectly.

I also know Marshall Pass somewhat intimately; it’s part of the Tour Divide route, the Colorado Trail Race route, the Vapor Trail race route, and with all the racing and recon of all those rides, I’ve visited Marshall Pass almost more times than I can count. I’ve never managed to summit Ouray though – having tried once from Marshall Pass, but failing due to the threat of lightning, so it was nice to finally tick it off. I look forward to visiting its summit again in a few months.


Shavano/Tabeguache, Antero/Cronin Recon

I’m presently in the Salida area, enjoying the incredible weather, tough training, and reconning potential routes. Salida and its people are incredibly friendly, bike shops and bike people are everywhere, and the mountains are crazy-accessible.

I rode here from Colorado Springs, having taken the bus from Boulder -> Denver -> Colorado Springs to save some time. It snowed about 3 feet last week, so some of the more interesting routes out of Boulder are currently under water.

Some photos from the bike ride,

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A Nolans Descent

The summit of La Plata, my third fourteen thousand foot mountain for the day, still seemed impossibly far away. The storm system that had surprisingly reappeared just over my shoulder was now again not so quietly building up force. Thunder boomed. On any other day I would have called it.

 

I crawled upward, rather than descend downward. What I needed desperately to do was to text the only person I knew who was in the area: my girlfriend. The only way to do that was to top the summit and chance getting cell coverage. Finally there, I typed furiously with cold fingers, wind and snow burning my cheeks:
HELP. I AM NOT OK. Too weak to keep going and stuck in another storm. Going to walk back to the La Plata Trailhead. I should be able to make it.

 

Are you there?

 

If my SPOT Tracker stops moving, I may have just passed out for a bit. If you get this, please meet me... meet me wherever I'm found.

If the text got out, and if she herself had service (who knows where she was camped?) she may then be there to help me with my extraction. A gamble, but it was my best idea to avoid calling Search and Rescue. It was going to be a cold night waiting out whatever was about to come down without her help. I just had an ultralight bivvy – a plastic bag essentially, to nestle in. I brought no sleeping bag.

Sending the message, I turned around, and immediately felt lost on the descent. My Unsupported Nolans 14 attempt was over, but my night was only beginning.

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Star Crossed

toppingout.jpg

 

Took a little spin on the Colorado Trail – admittedly, the first “mountain” bike ride I’ve taken since around April – not that I haven’t been riding bikes, or riding bikes in mountains, but somehow it’s all completely different to some that it’s bikes on dirt, rather than pavement. To me: not so much. That happens when your primary mode of transportation is your bike.

 

Plan was to start from Downtown Denver, to Waterton Canyon (the start of the CO trail, proper), all the way to Camp Hale, then N. onto HW 24, left on Tigwon Road, all the way to the trailhead for Mount of the Holy Cross, where I’d meet up with H., who would have gear to do the snowclimb right up the Cross Couloir. In two days. Well, less.

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Le Tour de Dirty Double Fondo

on_loveland.jpg Step, step, PULL, Step, step, PULL. Step, step –

I’m not saying I’m always on the verge of feeling sick, but today – Monday, I’m there.

And I’m not ready, anyways. This surprisingly happens quite a bit: underestimating the time it takes to get gear together to make a trip happen. Even with my style of cobbling things together that, if you would talk to someone with bike know-how would raise an eyebrow, and let out an audible, “eeeehh…?”, I think I got things straight:

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Mt. Elbert by Bicycle from Denver and Back!

Summer totally flew by for me, but I was able to take a few little trips out and about to check out the, “backyard”. I’m moving soon, so it seemed like a good idea to see what’s out there. Here’s a small 4-day trip to Leadville and back, with a little side-step hiking.

Kenosha Pass

First, here’s where we’re going:

Route

Starting in Denver, we’re going South East on 285 to Leadville, CO, where we’re gonna climb Mt. Elbert, the highest point in Colorado. I’ve been scheming to do this for a while and finally found time to do it.

Let’s go:

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