Gotchas When Estimating Trip Elevation Gain/Loss in Caltopo

The Crux of the Sawatch Continental Divide ridge traverse (in red)

I’ve been planning my future Sawatch adventure and the more I looked at it, the more I realize that the reputation of the Sawatch being full of gentle heaps of talus hills and nothing else is only true if you decide to ignore some nightmare ridges just off to the side from the more popular 14ers. Those ridges of course are one in the same with the where I want to travel on.

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Future Adventures: Traversing the Continental Divide Ridge Across the Sawatch

Mt. Huron

I love drawing lines on maps and dreaming of sufferfests to do. I seem to squeeze out the most enjoyment from long ridge runs. I love being up high, teetering on top of a knife edge between two drainages, without the need of a trail to follow, yet having an obvious route in front of me. I revel in the exposure the position gives me to wind, weather, and of course: gravity.

The Continental Divide makes an obvious target for my doodles, and many of my past fastpacks have used segments of it already – either in whole or in part. Last year, I traversed the CD between Milner Pass and Berthoud Pass – located just outside my back door and earlier in that same year I traveled from Loveland Pass to Guanella Pass with a bike lashed to my back. Previously, I took on the Mosquito/Tenmile Range in total, where the CD makes an appearance for a few peaks (McNamee, Clinton, Wheeler), before bowing out. And of course, I’ve even ridden the Tour Divide Race on a mountain bike, which crosses the Continental Divide some three dozen times or so. All these trips had their unique aspects, and each one I believe is an ultra classic. What to do, next?

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Milner/Berthoud Pass Continental Divide Ridge Traverse – Vanishing Point

Pauite's North Ridge, one of the crux's of the route

Milner Pass, Wednesday August 12th, midnight
Milner Pass, Wednesday August 12th, midnight

The mountains along the Continental Divide provide the backdrop to the city I live in: Boulder, CO. From town, nothing can be seen beyond their sheer, rocky, glacier-choked east faces and the ridgeline itself invites one to come explore their craggy features, beacoup exposure, and long expanses of carpeted-in-tundra plateaus.

From Milner Pass located in Rocky Mountain National Park, and Berthoud Pass closer to I-70, one will find over 50 named points and peaks. These passes are about 45 miles apart as the crow flies. No other paved roads are found between these two passes and no other roads – paved or otherwise, can be crossed via motor vehicles. The rest is mostly National Park and Designated Wilderness. The wandering ridge, if followed exactly at its apex, is around 75-80 miles long.

Continental Divide, between Milner Pass and Berthoud Pass
Continental Divide, between Milner Pass and Berthoud Pass

I was surprised to find in my research that there hasn’t been a recorded report of anyone traversing this section of ridge proper by foot. This seems extremely hard to believe, as the concentration of runners, backpackers, mountaineers, and world-class climbers in the area is very high, and the line itself is obvious. It takes a special blend of ultra-running fitness and technical climbing skill to be able to safely traverse the ridge.

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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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