View north from Hope Pass in Colorado


Runtrails' Home Page




More Photos

Appalachian Trail Journal



CT trail marker


Map from the Colorado Trail Foundation's poster.






Runtrails' Rocky Mountain Journal
Previous          Journal Topics by Date            Next
Today's miles: 33.2                                Cumulative miles: 355.8
         Approx. elevation gain: 4,520 feet        Bonus Miles:  .1               
"If we are facing in the right direction, all we have to do is keep walking."
- Buddhist teaching 

That's an appropriate quote for this lengthy segment, as well as a good metaphor for life.

I've been looking forward to this section of the Colorado Trail with mixed feelings since I first got the guidebook in the spring. Even though I'm an experienced ultra-distance trail runner, I was a bit intimidated by the longest segment on the whole trail. I remember some of those long days on the Appalachian Trail last summer (in distance, time, or both) and I wondered just how long it would take me to do thirty-three miles at a much higher altitude.

Not all that long, as it turned out! It helps to be well-acclimated first.

All I really had to do was keep walking . . .

There was time to do only the first two CT segments out of Denver before we headed to Silverton, where I had a crash course in high-altitude trail running in the San Juan Mountains. Those segments weren't this long, however. So even after running and hiking over three hundred miles of the trail during June, July, and August, I was still a little concerned about this segment.

Turns out the grades were fairly easy and much of the trail was smooth and runnable - especially the new section the last twelve miles. More about that later.

Although this segment is officially 32.9 miles long, it can be broken up into smaller bites. There is access in four other places: two off Jefferson Lake Road and at both the north and south forks of the Swan River. If we'd wanted, we could have combined several miles at one end or the other with Segment 5 or 7, which are both pretty short (13-14 miles each).

I did modify it some - by ADDING three-tenths of a mile! That was because of our new camping location.

I mentioned in the last entry that accessing this segment from Leadville was time-consuming. I really wanted to go north to south (in this area that is actually east to west) because I thought the views toward the Continental Divide would be nicer that way and it's so much easier to follow the guidebook directions going SOBO.

But getting to Kenosha Pass from Leadville is nearly a two-hour drive. It's not so far "as the crow flies," but we'd have to go around two mountain ranges to get there. Starting later in the morning would put me more at risk of an afternoon storm midway through the segment on Georgia Pass, the high point. Jim would need to drive back to the Goldhill trailhead in the Breckenridge/Frisco area (another hour's drive), then we'd have an hour's drive from there back to Leadville.

Four hours of driving and having to kill time all day waiting for me seemed a bit much to ask of Jim after his tiring race weekend.

So we came up with a new plan that would eliminate these problems. Unfortunately, it meant leaving Leadville on Monday instead of Tuesday. But we'd said our good-byes to everyone and decided it was time to leave.

We were on the road again, this time reluctantly; we loved being in Colorado the last two months.

This plan worked well for doing Segment 6, though. We had a leisurely drive over beautiful mountain roads (Hwys. 91, 9, and 285) through Frisco, Breckenridge, and Fairplay to Kenosha Pass and we made a serendipitous discovery - a great camping area we hadn't found back in June when we first passed through the area.

We thought we'd be boon-docking in one of the large parking areas right next to noisy Hwy. 285 at the pass, but we found a "real" National Forest Service campground on the east side of the road, back a third of a mile, that could accommodate our camper. When we scoped out the area in June we found only the NFS campground on the west side, and determined after walking through all of it that it would be too hard to get our camper in there.

When we arrived at the pass yesterday, we decided to walk back the new road we found to see if there were any boon-docking sites in the woods. There was no sign indicating it was a campground until we got all the way back. We found clean toilets, eleven "developed" sites for a nominal fee, and free "dispersed" sites.

And better yet, the Colorado Trail went right next to it, along the little road, and across Hwy. 285 to the official trailhead between Segments 5 and 6!

That's where the extra three-tenths of a mile came in. I walked a short distance from our camper this morning to the trail head on the west side of the road and counted that mileage in today's total. I'll subtract it from tomorrow's total when I do Segment 5.



The two passes I crossed today in Segment 6 were critical in this region's history. There are about a dozen attractive informational boards scattered along the CT and around the forest service land at Kenosha Pass that explain their role in the western expansion. I wandered around yesterday afternoon to read and photograph all the plaques - very interesting reading..

Kenosha Pass was used centuries ago by Ute Indian tribes, then later in the early 19th century by white fur trappers, who all sought the fertile hunting grounds in the wide valley west of the pass called South Park. The grassy plain was home to thousands of bison, deer, elk, and other animals sought for their meat and fur.

Explorer John C. Freemont crossed the pass in the 1840s (there is another pass in Colorado named for him) and it was heavily used in the 1860s by prospectors going west to the Fairplay area to dig for gold.

When gold was discovered farther north in 1860 in the area that is now Breckenridge, miners from the South cut a new trail over a low spot (11,880 feet is low???) on the Continental Divide and named it Georgia Pass. The early mining trail became a toll road and stage line that connected both passes and sped the flow of pioneers and goods to the west, and ore and timber to the east. .

During the region's silver boom in the 1870s the Denver, South Park and Pacific Railroad built a narrow gauge track through Kenosha Pass to further facilitate the flow of passengers and freight. The railroad brought supplies to the remote mining towns near Fairplay, Leadville, and Breckenridge and carried away ore to be smelted for its silver.

Not all the train passengers were headed to mining camps to search for silver, however. There were other opportunities for prosperity, like cattle ranching and farming the rich, open valleys of South Park and San Luis, harvesting timber for lumber and charcoal, and providing various consumer goods and services to the burgeoning population (supplies, banking, etc.). Increasing prosperity in the region lured more people into the area, including tourists by the end of the century.

This is a photo of the train station at Kenosha Pass, copied from one of the NFS signs I read:

However, time marches on. (I think it's called "progress.") After the railroad was built, the wagon road over Georgia Pass fell into disuse. Now it's a 4WD jeep road; I could see faint remnants of it when I crossed the pass today.

Then the railroad also fell into disuse and was dismantled in 1937. Several hundred feet of the track and one of its "wyes" (Y-shaped tracks where engines could be turned around) have been preserved on the east side of Highway 285 for historical purposes:

The highway basically follows the old rail route. It's a beautiful area with marvelous views of the expansive valley (South Park) and mountain ranges from both the highway and the Colorado Trail. There are several large private ranches in the valley and much of the surrounding terrain is in the Pike National Forest.

This view of South Park is looking south from the CT about two miles into Segment 6:

There should also be some good views of the valley from the east tomorrow when I run Segment 5.


Today's run/hike was sad for me because this is the last time I'll be above the timberline until next summer. If you've read only a few of my CT journal entries, you know how much I love being up in the tundra with spectacular views in every direction. I feel like I'm literally and figuratively on top of the world.

For CT thru-hikers going south and west from Denver, Segment 6 offers the first pass above tree line. Kenosha Pass (elev. 10,000 feet) isn't in the tundra. Part of it is open meadows and a wetland area, but there are trees all around. It's Georgia Pass at 11,880 feet where SOBO hikers initially cross the Continental Divide and get their first taste of "being on top of the world." Since I did the segments out of whack, it came near the END of my CT experience.

This section is in my Top Ten for the Colorado Trail. I'd rate it about my eighth or ninth favorite after doing twenty of the twenty-eight segments. It's very runnable and also a popular cycling segment. There are no steep hills up or down, although the entire section is a roller coaster. There isn't much flat trail.

And it's mostly wilderness, to my surprise. When I read in the guidebook that I'd see two ski resorts and end in a residential area, I had visions of visual and audible noise pollution. It wasn't anything like that except in the last mile.

It's easier to do this section southbound because there is a net elevation loss (the gain is about 4,520 feet and loss is 5,320 feet) and the climbs are more gradual that direction.

The longest climb is from a creek at mile 7 to Georgia Pass at mile 12 (from about 9,900 to 11,880 feet). The only other significant climb is from the North Fork of the Swan River around mile 20 (9,915 feet) to the top of the next ridge (11,150) in a little less than three miles. Going this direction, both descents are a little steeper than the ascents to/from those two high points.

Only about two miles of this segment are totally above tree line. The rest is mostly treed, with about four miles through short logged areas and pretty meadows full of colorful wildflowers.

Most of the woods are very attractive and are shaded by mature aspen and fir trees. The photo of pine trees below is on a ridge about 21 miles into the course:

These aspens are closer to the beginning:

The trunks of most aspens are pretty straight, so it was hard to miss this distinctive twisted tree right next to the trail early this morning:

This time of year the forests are more full of interesting mushrooms than flowers. I took enough pictures of unusual fungi to justify another photo essay I'll call "Mushroom Madness." Look for it in a few days.

There were probably a dozen creeks and rivers flowing throughout this segment for Cody to get water. I gave him water from his pack only two or three times. This is one of many sturdy bridges, below, I crossed today - no stream fording required in this section, that I can remember.

We both ran out of water about half an hour before the finish. Cody lucked out when we found a subdivision pond a quarter mile from the end. He was in the water before I could tell him to stay out (it looks like a pretty classy neighborhood). Even though the afternoon was overcast, I was pretty warm and envious that I couldn't jump in, too!

This may be the longest distance Cody has ever run in one day. I believe his previous longest run has been about thirty miles. I checked my longest days on the AT last summer, and he wasn't with me on those sections. Today he still had enough energy left to gallop toward Jim when he saw him at the end - and to bug Tater on the way home! He's a terrific trail companion.

Today's weather was great for hiking and running. It was a pleasant 48 at the start this morning (6 AM) at the campground, sunny and cool most of the morning, and overcast all afternoon. This is the sunrise at Kenosha Pass as I crossed the open meadow between our camper and Hwy. 285:

Considering all my usual reasons to stop along the way (including 111 photos!), I managed to finish in a little over ten hours. I ran a lot of it - but I also stopped a gazillion times. I mean, with views like these, who could blame me?

I took more photos of Mt. Guyot (elev. 13, 378 feet) than anything else today. It is a prominent landscape feature for many miles in every direction. Its distinctive pyramid shape is easy to identify from at least three sides.

This is one of the first views I had of Mt. Guyot this morning (another is at the top of this entry):

Guyot is the pointed gray mountain in the background farthest to the right in the photo above. Georgia Pass is just to the right (north) of it when you're heading west, but I wasn't able to see the pass until I was very close to it. This photo is still about nine trail miles out.

The next photo is much closer, less than two miles via the trail from the pass. Guyot's pointy top is prominent here:

The CT is very smooth through the tundra near the pass, which is still about half a mile away at this point:

Looking south, I could see the whole line of mountains in the same range as Guyot (Bald, Boreas, Red, Iron, Silverheels, Little Baldy, Palmer . . .):

The photo below is right on Georgia Pass, looking toward Guyot's southwest flank:

The trail continued to be very runnable on the western side of the pass, where I caught views of Grays and Torreys Peaks (both are 14ers) to the northeast and the Tenmile Range (below left) to the west:

Remember my admonitions to turn around occasionally when you're on a trail to see what views you are missing behind you? This is especially true when you're on a ridge or bald or in the tundra and there are panoramic views. I took the next two photos of Mt. Guyot looking backwards after I'd crossed Georgia Pass, as I gradually descended westbound into the trees:


Beautiful mountain, beautiful trail, beautiful pass, especially while I still had blue sky. Knowing it was my last day for a long time above timberline, I spent a good while up there.

I saw absolutely no one for the first twenty-one miles today, then had to scurry out of the way of at least a dozen cyclists spread out along the last twelve miles. They flew like kamikaze pilots down those hills! I got a bit paranoid about it after the first few came up very fast behind me. I was truly concerned that one of them would run over Cody or me. I couldn't hear them until they were right behind me; they gave no warning.

That's the only negative experience I've had with cyclists along the Colorado Trail this summer. I wouldn't recommend running or hiking this section on a weekend or holiday, considering their number and behavior on a weekday. I'm guessing they were locals who were familiar with the trails.

The last half of this segment is a relatively new section of trail. Prior to 2003 and the completion of a bridge over the Swan River, the Colorado Trail descended from Georgia Pass on a jeep road to Tiger Road, a dusty, heavily-traveled dirt road, and followed it several miles through the valley to Hwy. 9. You can see part of the road in the photo below, taken from the new trail high above:

Now the CT follows a beautiful trail off the pass and through woods on ridges that are roughly parallel to the road until it gets closer to Hwy. 9. The new trail is longer than the old route, but it is a vast improvement for trail users. Except for the inconsiderate cyclists, I thoroughly enjoyed it.

The view below is two or three miles from the end of the segment as the trail descends through pretty meadows to the valley below. You can see the Tenmile Range in the background. The next section of the CT, Segment 7, crosses that range west of Breckenridge.

I knew from the guidebook that I'd be passing two ski resorts around mile 22. I had to look really hard to see Keystone and Breckenridge ski resort through the trees. I liked that, because I could totally ignore them if I wanted (unlike Copper Mountain). Thank you, trail designers!

It was a bit of a shock to my system to come down off the last mountain into an expensive subdivision, cross busy Hwy. 9 (no light), and follow the paved bike path briefly along the road to the Goldhill Trailhead. It make me appreciate the other fifty kilometers of wilderness solitude in this section all the more.

Next up: Segment 5 of the Colorado Trail, this summer's last hurrah.

Happy trails,

"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil, Cody, and Tater

Previous       Next

Send an e-mail message to Sue & Jim  

2006 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil