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Runtrails' Rocky Mountain Journal
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Today's miles: 25.4                                Cumulative miles: 309.8
         Approx. elevation gain: 4,700 feet       Bonus Miles: 2.5               
"From vantage points on Segment 8 of the CT, hikers have excellent views to the west of the photogenic 14er, Mount of the Holy Cross. Nearly a century ago, this was perhaps the most famous and revered mountain in America. For decades in the early 1800s, explorers had brought back rumors of a great mountain in the west that displayed a giant cross on its side, yet the exact location was shrouded in mystery. The search for the peak became one of the most intriguing in the history of the west."
- The Colorado Trail Guidebook, Seventh Edition, p. 98
It was F. V. Hayden's team of topographic surveyors that determined the exact location of Mount of the Holy Cross and reached the summit on August 22, 1873. Well-known western photographer W. H. Jackson took the most famous photo of the huge snowy cross from nearby Notch Mountain, and soon hordes of people were flocking to see the image themselves. The mountain was even designated a national monument from 1929 until Congress rescinded the status after World War II.

Holy Cross continues to be one of Colorado's most popular mountains because of its spectacular beauty, even when the snow has melted in the couloir and you can't see the cross design as clearly. It is the most rugged of the fifteen 14ers in the Sawatch Range, with several Class 2 and 3 approaches for climbing - tougher than most of the routes up nearby Mts. Massive and Elbert.

I was able to catch a glimpse or two of Holy Cross coming down from Kokomo Pass today, and could see the deep crevices on the eastern flank of the mountain where the snowy cross would have been very prominent earlier in the season.

The mighty mountain peaks I saw today in ALL directions from about five miles of trail above the timberline make this my new "fourth favorite" section of the eighteen CT segments I've completed so far. First, second, and third are near Silverton in the San Juan Range. The views between Searle and Kokomo passes are almost as good as those in my opinion. I'd love to do this section again, especially if I could start several miles in and stop at Camp Hale. I'm just not as fond of the miles at lower elevations where I can't see as far.

The CT guidebook says this section is 24.5 miles long. Our GPS always indicates at least a mile longer for CT segments of twenty miles and more, plus I did some back-tracking today for a total of 27.9 miles. In the "cumulative miles" section at the top of these pages I list only the official CT guidebook mileage, however.

Total elevation gain for the segment is estimated at 4,020 feet going southbound and total loss is about 3,420 feet. With the extra mileage I did, I figure another 1,000 feet or more of vertical that I did today. The lowest point is at the Copper Mountain trailhead (9,800 feet). The highest point is on Elk Ridge at 12,280 feet. The end point at Tennessee Pass is 10,424 feet. (There are always additional ups and downs.)

The elevation profile north to south is basically uphill for twelve-plus miles, downhill for six miles, then uphill again the last six miles.

The grades are more moderate going southbound than northbound, although there is a net elevation gain going that direction. The biggest climb is from miles 2 to 12.4, a total vertical of about 2,600 feet. Most of it is gradual to moderate. There is a drop from 12,280 feet to 9,330 feet between miles 12.4 and 17. There are a few moderately steep sections in that descent that would make it tougher going uphill in the northbound direction.

I also think the views are nicer going southbound. No matter which direction you're going, it's always a good idea to turn around occasionally to see what's behind you (view-wise, I mean!). In this segment, there are virtually no lousy views.


The northern trailhead for Segment 8 is at the edge of the huge Copper Mountain ski resort property on Hwy. 91. There is plenty of room to pull off on either side of the road. Although no "parking" is allowed on the busy highway, there's nothing wrong with dropping someone off or picking them up. There are a couple of places within the resort where you can park a vehicle overnight or longer. We didn't use them because of the extra distance I'd have to walk to get to the trail itself. In our case, the Hwy. 91 trailhead was best because I was immediately on the CT.

Going southbound as I did, the first 4.4 miles of this segment are through woods and across several ski runs on resort property.

Even though you can see the golf course, ski runs and lifts, condos, other resort buildings, and I-70, enough of the trail is in trees that it's not too bad. Just don't expect a wilderness experience through here! Part of the route is on dirt roads, but most of it is on fairly smooth trails.

Unfortunately, there are several intersections through the property and not all of them are marked. Even using the GPS and keeping the directions in my hand, I missed a white rock (below) used as a marker and got in some bonus mileage going up a road instead of hitting the correct trail. There are several roads and other bike and horse trails through the resort; staying on the CT can be a challenge.

Once through Copper Mountain property, the trail was much easier to follow. The next four miles (from 4.4 to 8.4) climb gradually through the Guller Creek drainage to the tundra between Jacque Ridge and Sugarloaf Peak (not the same Sugarloaf as near Turquoise Lake).

At the lower end, the trail passes through beautiful meadows near the creek for a couple of miles. The area reminded me of the Cochetopa Valley near Eddiesville a few weeks ago. It's perfect wildlife habitat, and I did see birds and deer (ironically, I saw more deer in Copper Mountain Resort than the rest of the segment in the wilderness!).

Beavers have dammed up the creek in many places, forming pretty little ponds that reflect like mirrors in the sunlight as you look back down the valley:

There are nice campsites through this valley. I saw tents in two places, and surprised these fellas when I passed them near the site of an abandoned cabin:

Farther up the valley, the trail winds through the edge of the forest, then switchbacks up to the treeline:




I absolutely LOVED the five miles above timberline and near the Continental Divide in this section! The views were amazing in all directions. There were numerous flowers, just like down in the San Juans. I haven't seen nearly as many flowers since beginning the segments north and south of Leadville. I'm not sure if that's because it's later in the season and not as many species are blooming now, or if it's a regional thing.

These are some of the views from the trail as Cody and I passed by a popular ski hut called Janet's Cabin (blue roof below) and climbed toward Searle Pass (elev. 12,040 feet):




The grade was gentle the next three miles to Elk Ridge, the high point in today's segment at 12,280 feet. It would have been easy to run the mostly-smooth trail through the tundra, but there was simply too much for me to see! There were mountains in all directions, a huge valley, snowfields a bit higher, several little streams, a pretty pond, and all those glorious flowers!




As I deliberately, and slowly, walked through the tundra I formed the following very subjective opinion. I've known it for years, but never so clearly as today:

I don't care if you have 20-20 panoramic vision, you cannot possibly see as much when you are running as when you are walking with deliberation and the intent to see as much as there is to see!

Of course, that's anathema to many runners, and especially to those who are trying to set speed records on long trails. Their primary goal is different. They want to get from Point A to Point B as fast as they can, or faster than anyone else ever has.

That's fine for some folks, but the goals for many others are different. In fact, my  own goals this year are different than they were last year on the Appalachian Trail.

Hikers have said it for years: you miss a lot if you speed-hike or run.

Last summer on the AT I pretty much pooh-poohed that notion. After all, I don't miss much when I'm running. I'm averaging over 100 photos per segment on the Colorado Trail, and sometimes over 200 in one day (today's count was 211). I even spot interesting views and bits of nature when I'm running downhill, and I often come to a screeching halt to take a picture.

But I know I see more when I'm walking, and I freely admit it now. So when I'm in an area as gorgeous as the ridges in this section today, with spectacular views in every direction, I walk. And I often stop to see what's behind me, inspect a flower, let Cody splash around in a creek, or get down on the ground to take a photo:

It's a wonder I do these segments as fast as I do, considering all the photos and other stops I make. I'm deliberately going slower on the Colorado Trail than I did on the Appalachian Trail. I have more time to do these segments, and there are many fewer of them. I estimate about a 20-minute-per-mile pace on each section so Jim will have a ball-park figure when to pick me up, and I usually take a little longer regardless of how many miles I run.

There is so much to see!

My main purpose of trail running this summer is to enjoy Mother Nature, not amass mileage. I'm not out here for the exercise, either. I could run anywhere, even on roads, and get the same physical benefits. No, I'm out here for the mental and psychological benefits this time.

That's why I chose this beautiful trail. I'm feeding my mind and soul.



After heading mostly south on the eastern edge of Elk Ridge, the trail suddenly takes a hard right and makes a gentle descent west to Kokomo Pass. I realized as I came to this juncture that the colorful mountains and large valley I'd been viewing to the south was actually the huge mining area surrounding Hwy. 91 north of Leadville. There are large lakes and tailing ponds and hillsides cut away years ago at the Climax, Connors, Colonel Sellers, Queen-of-the-West, and Tenmile mines:

I was dismayed at first when I realized that what looked so beautiful from a distance was actually the remnants of mines that aren't so attractive up close. Another metaphor for life? But I could see some beauty in the colorful exposed rocks and I again tried to make lemonade from lemons: many people derived their living from those mines, and many more benefited from the ores extracted from the earth.

The CT could have been re-routed slightly to eliminate this view, but in retrospect, I'm sort of glad it wasn't. It's a part of both local history and modern life. I don't like running or hiking under powerlines or near cell towers either, but I sure do like the conveniences electricity and cell phones provide me!

On to Kokomo Pass (elev. 12,022 feet) at 12.9 miles into this segment . . .

Every time I reach a saddle or pass, new vistas open up in front of me, literally. This time it was a beautiful view to the west as I descended quickly from the pass and down to the treeline again. I could see the range of mountains that includes Mount of the Holy Cross, which I'd been looking for since reading up on this segment:

The trail roughly follows Cataract Creek the next three miles as it makes a moderately steep descent to the valley containing the remnants of Camp Hale in the area known as Eagle Park. Most of the descent is on smooth trail and an old jeep road through pines, spruce, fir, and aspens, with some open areas affording views to the west:

The Continental Divide Trail and Colorado Trail coincide much of the way again in this segment. The CDT marker is shown below the CT marker on the post in the photo above.

After passing a waterfall and bench, the trail soon levels out to sagebrush meadows as it travels through Eagle Park. Before reaching Camp Hale, I encountered this sign and worried about it for the next couple miles:

I put Cody on his leash through Camp Hale to make sure he didn't step on some unexploded ordinance!

You see, Camp Hale was home to thousands of troops in the famed 10th Mountain Division during World War II. Only a few remnants of buildings and signs now remain, but people apparently keep finding live ammunition that could be dangerous to visitors in this very public area. Fortunately, no one stopped me as I mostly ran through the relatively flat park. I was concerned about being "late" and Jim worrying about me.

I will do a separate entry just on Camp Hale, so I won't show those photos here.


There was another reason I was concerned about being delayed through Camp Hale: I was running out of calories and energy twenty miles into this run. You see, once again I forgot to take my bottle of concentrated Perpetuem with me when I got out of the truck this morning. All I had to sustain me for an estimated nine hours on the trail, at high altitude, was water (100 oz.), Hammergel (10 oz.), and a Harvest Bar.

Clearly not enough calories!

I realized my dilemma about five minutes into the run at Copper Mountain Resort. I had a strong cell signal, so I called Jim, who couldn't be that far down the road to Leadville yet. Unfortunately, he didn't get my message until he got back to the camper half an hour later.

My first plan was to return to the trailhead until he could drive back and bring me the Perp. But I didn't know how long it would take to reach him. Then I decided to go on. I had a lot of miles to do, and I didn't want to delay my start by another hour. That was part of my bonus mileage today.

When we connected, I asked him if he could meet me when I crossed Hwy. 24 north of Tennessee Pass, three miles from the end. At the time, neither of us was aware of any other road crossings.

Jim consulted the DeLorme atlas and topo software and found two roads in and near Camp Hale/Eagle Park where he could intercept me a little sooner (at ~18 or 21 miles). After I talked to him, I no longer had a cell signal and didn't get his message that he'd meet me at Camp Hale.

I was going slower than he reckoned, too, what with the back-tracking and then getting lost at Copper Mountain. He sat for two hours waiting for me where the trail first enters Eagle Park, then moved farther up the trail. We finally did connect around 22 miles. I hadn't started bonking yet, but it was imminent. The Perpetuem really did help and I was very grateful to Jim for his efforts to get it to me. It wasted several hours of his time and energy.

When I saw Jim I got more water (it was sunny and hot down at this lower elevation) and put Cody in the truck. There had been plenty of water for him so far, but the last five or six miles were pretty dry.

They were also UP. I was tired by then and had to walk most of the remaining miles through the woods paralleling Hwy. 24 (i.e., fairly noisy) to the east, then the west. The last three miles were more quiet because a hill and more trees separate the trail from the road. I passed through a wet area, a peaceful valley,

and then nice woods on a smooth old railroad bed. It was a gentle uphill that I could run off and on.

A mile from the trailhead at Tennessee Pass I went by this old coke oven:

Up till then, the weather had been perfect all day with nary a drop of rain. About two minutes from the truck, the skies opened up. Fortunately, I was able to run the last bit and avoid getting totally soaked. Even though I did bonus miles, I ended up finishing in about nine hours, my original estimate.

Despite the CRS with my energy drink and despite the snafu going through the ski resort, I thoroughly enjoyed most of this segment and highly recommend it for your hiking, running, cycling, or horseback-riding pleasure. The middle section in the tundra and creek drainages is so beautiful that it makes up for the hotter, noisier, less interesting, beginning and ending.

Next up: a tribute to the 10th Mountain Division at Camp Hale.

Happy trails, whatever your speed or goals,

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

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2006 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil