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
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
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
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
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
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
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 LEGACY OF KENOSHA AND
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
HITTIN' THE TRAIL
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
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
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
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
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,
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
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.