View north from Hope Pass in Colorado


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Map from the Colorado Trail Foundation's poster.






Runtrails' Rocky Mountain Journal
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Today's miles: 21.1                                Cumulative miles: 202.0
         Approx. elevation gain: 1,520 feet          Bonus Miles: 0                
"The previous route over Hope Pass has been replaced by a more direct one.
Those still choosing to climb Hope Pass know why it is so named:
'Hope I never have to go over that again with a full pack.'"
- Gudy Gaskill, The Colorado Trail Guidebook, 7th Edition, p. 118


The lower-elevation CT route that opened in 2000 between the Lake Creek and Clear Creek drainages is indeed easier to run or hike, but not as scenic as the higher route over Hope Pass that is still used on the Continental Divide Trail and the Leadville Trail 100 course. The main advantage I see is that the new route eliminates six dusty road miles at the southern end of this segment along Clear Creek Canyon (Winfield) Road.

Now that we are in the Leadville/Buena Vista area, I'll hit as many of the CT segments north and south of here as time allows. As mentioned in the July 21 entry, our main priority now is for Jim to get the training he needs for the Leadville Trail 100-miler on August 19. Segments 16 to 19 are a "fer piece" from here and I don't know if I'll get to do them this year.

Segment 11 was very different today than the sections I've been running the last three weeks. I learned today that I'm better acclimated now to altitude than to heat! This segment has very little elevation gain and loss and was at lower altitudes compared to the other segments I've done south of here. Total gain today going southbound was about 1,520 feet and total loss was about 2,800 feet. The highest elevation was near the end at 10,850 feet and the lowest was at the east end of the Twin Lakes Reservoir at 9,170 feet.

This is a fairly easy section to run or hike fast. I recommend getting an early start from either end, however. I would have enjoyed my run today much more if I'd started before 7 AM. Previously, I've had to start good and early to avoid thunderstorms above treeline. That wasn't a problem today; I never got above the timberline.

No, the problem was the exposed middle third of the segment around the north, east, and south sides of the reservoir from miles seven to thirteen. Even at 9 AM it seemed very hot to me as Cody and I trudged through the open sage meadows in the bright sunshine with nary a breeze.

The trail is close to the lake in a couple places but not right next to it. I took three detours down to the shore to let Cody get wet.

I much preferred the first and last thirds of the section because they had more shade and creeks and were at a little higher, cooler elevation. 

Since I wasn't up very high and I was in trees half the time, views were mostly  limited to those around the reservoir. They are indeed beautiful, however. Mt. Elbert dominates the view to the northwest:

To the south and west are La Plata, another 14er, and several 13ers: Twin Peaks, Mount Hope, and Quail Mountain: 

This segment begins at the Mt. Massive trail head parking area on Halfmoon Creek and heads south, skirting the eastern base of Mt. Elbert (14,433), Colorado's highest mountain (Massive is second-highest). Both 14ers are popular climbing and hiking destinations, so I wasn't surprised by the number of people I saw on the trail this sunny weekend day. One Elbert route goes up about two miles into this section, the other closer to the town of Twin Lakes.

The first five miles of trail are just beautiful and one of my favorite parts of the LT100 course. Here Cody is looking for p-mail at an abandoned log cabin about a mile into the run:

The trail is fairly smooth and runnable as it undulates between about 10,300 to 10,600 feet through pretty pine and aspen forests.

The trail passes several beaver ponds and marshy areas from which there are views of Mt. Elbert:

After five miles, the CT joins a primitive jeep road at a little campground and the LT100 course veers off to the right through a grassy area. The CT continues downhill for a couple miles through the woods on the dirt road . . .

. . . and through the Lake View campground and sagebrush . . .

. . . to a tunnel under busy Hwy. 82 about a mile east of the town of Twin Lakes.

This big culvert is the only pedestrian underpass on the CT. I appreciated not having to deal with traffic there.

The views of Mt. Elbert are striking from the lower elevations (~ 9,200-9,300 feet) from the road and the reservoir, as shown in this entry's first photo.

Miles seven to thirteen along the reservoir were less enjoyable to me because of the heat. Otherwise, it's quite beautiful there and easy to run or hike. The lakes are inviting and there was a nice, smooth trail between the road and the reservoir as we headed south toward the dam across the eastern end of the lower lake.

I was very surprised to see Continental Divide Trail signs along this same route, since the Continental Divide is about twenty miles farther west of here.

Around the eighth mile we passed the Mt. Elbert Power Plant:

The reservoir and hydroelectric facility are part of the Pan-Ark Project, which diverts water from the Western Slope to the Front Range via tunnels and the Arkansas River. The Mt. Elbert pump station generates electricity by pumping water from Twin Lakes to a higher reservoir during the night when the demand for electricity is low (and therefore cheaper). It produces electricity from the same water in the higher reservoir during the daytime when demand is high (and more costly).

Got that?? I found this "pumped storage" technique pretty interesting to read.

Anyway, back to the Colorado Trail . . .  it used to cross the lower lake on the dam, but since 9/11 that route has been closed for national security reasons. So now trail users have to keep going a bit farther east, get on whiz-zoom Hwy. 82 and cross a very narrow highway bridge to get across now-quite-wide Lake Creek, which is even more of a "river" below the dam than above it where the LT100 course crosses (see photos from July 22).

The next photo shows the dam:

The CT follows another jeep road below the dam for about a mile before finally getting off on a very nice undulating section of trail along the southern shore of the lower lake for a couple miles. I appreciated being back in the trees, and the views of the lake and Mt. Elbert were quite scenic:


This trail continues for about three miles on past historic Interlaken Resort to the trail that goes up and over Hope Pass. I didn't go that far today. The new CT route takes a sharp left turn about a mile before Interlaken. Folks can visit the restored hotel and other buildings in the complex that were built in the 1870s and '80s by either hiking to it or taking a boat tour across the lake. The resort fell into decline in the 20th Century when Twin Lakes were enlarged first for irrigation and then the reservoir was built. Only a few relocated buildings remain. On another trip, I'd like to run/hike in to see Interlaken.

This is the best I could do to get a photo of the once-popular summit retreat from across the lake:

After mile 13.7, the new CT route heads up a ridge from 9,210 to a high point of 9,840 feet in two miles. The seven-mile section travels through mostly pine and aspen forests and the occasional sage meadow.


There are lots of streams and turns as the trail intersects with various foot trails, little-used jeep trails, and a couple dirt roads. There was a sunny half mile under and near this powerline at Cache Creek that is less than attractive, but the rest of the route is pretty enjoyable:

It's a hodge-podge network, but lands trail users down on Clear Creek Canyon Road without having to traipse six miles along that dusty road via the previous route over Hope Pass.

I was happy to crest the last ridge (9,850 feet) and be able to see our campground at the west end of the Clear Creek Reservoir:

There were also nice views south and west toward the huge Clear Creek Ranch, whose property I'll be traversing at the beginning of Segment 12:

The rocky jeep trail shown above that comes down from the ridge had the day's worst footing. Otherwise, the trails and jeep roads in this section are mostly runnable. Although it was only 1.4 miles by road to our camper, I called Jim from the top of the ridge to come get Cody and me because we were fried from the heat.

With a bit of additional mileage each day walking the dogs, this gives me 88 miles for the week. That's a lot for me, and I'm starting to feel it in my knees. Eighty-eight miles a week is tougher on the CT than it was on most of the AT (New England is the exception). Next week I need an easier week to rest up a bit.

Next up: Segment 12, which should be more interesting to me because it gets up to higher altitudes in the Collegiate Range.

Happy trails,

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

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2006 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil