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: 11.5          Cumulative miles: 28.3
Approx. elevation gain: 2,200 feet        Bonus miles: 0
"On May 18, 1996, a human-induced wildfire burned through nearly 12,000 acres of the Pike National Forest, including most of the western half of this segment and, subsequently, nearly destroyed the small mountain community of Buffalo Creek . . . (and) dramatically changing the character of the surrounding landscape . . . nearly ten years later, grasses and small plants are well established, but few trees survived the inferno and it will be centuries before the area recovers to a mature forest."
- The Colorado Trail, Seventh Edition (2006), p. 57


Worse yet, several torrential rainstorms in the area following the Buffalo Creek fire caused severe flash flooding that killed two people and caused millions of dollars in property damage. It's little consolation to victims of such natural disasters that wildfires can be good thing for the forest.

Or so they say.

I was prepared mentally for the devastation in today's fairly short section, and was captivated by its stark beauty and wide-open vistas. I thought the first burn area from approximately one to four miles was more interesting than the second one from seven to ten miles, but that could be because I was getting more dehydrated and tired after two hours of running in the hot sun when I got to the second section.


It was a typical sunny morning in Denver when we got up at 6 AM. As I walked the dogs around the campground to "go potty," I noticed these hot air balloons flying over the nearby reservoir in Chatfield State Park:

We have very nice views of the Front Range foothills from our camper.

After driving back out CO 285 and a couple dirt roads to the trail head, Jim let Cody and me out of the truck and headed for the other end of the segment so he could run in several miles to meet me. Since I had a net uphill climb in the first six miles, and his end was more rolling, I expected to see him about five miles from the end. He surprised me and came in about SIX miles, getting in a good 12-mile run to my 11.5-mile run.

It took me 3:43 hours to do the section with Cody, even though I ran quite a bit of it. The sun was relentless in the burn areas, and there was no water for Cody. He carried all he needed, and I had more for him if he ran out. I stopped every 30 minutes to give him water, and took two longer breaks for him to rest. This isn't a good section for a black-coated dog on a hot day, but he fared well and was still bouncing around afterwards. He's a tough little guy!

We started at the Gudy Gaskill bridge. Cody got to drink and play in the river on both sides of the bridge so he'd be well-hydrated ascending the first 4 miles from 6,128 feet to 7,560 feet.


This was our last view of the bridge before heading up Raleigh Peak:

Curious Cody checking out something along the side of the trail heading uphill on another smooth path which was gentle enough to run some:

Today's section was full of views, including this early one of the South Platte River canyon as we ascended Raleigh Peak:

We soon came to the first burn area:


I loved the trail surface through here, all sand and finely ground stones. It reminded me of the Leona Divide 50-mile race course in southern California. Grit like that sometimes causes blisters in long races, but my shoes and socks had hardly any sand in them at the end of today's run.

Although it doesn't look like much is growing, there were some bright spots amid the devastation from ten years ago:


Then for a little over a mile, Cody and I enjoyed a bit of a respite from the blaring sun as we rolled through the woods between 4.5 and 5.8 miles and enjoyed this view from to top of a ridge:

As we descended the ridge on another smooth, switchbacking trail, I saw Jim up ahead. He tried to hide from Cody, but the little guy caught his scent. Jim and I hugged and kissed like we always do when we see each other on the trail (ah, how sweet!) and walked on up to where the trail crosses the dirt Top of the World Campground Road at 5.8 miles. The campground was destroyed in the Buffalo Creek fire and has not been rebuilt.

We took a little break here to let Cody drink and cool down. It was obvious that Jim had more energy left than me, so he went on ahead and beat me back to the truck by about half an hour. I was running more slowly (didn't drink enough water) and needed to stop three more times to give Cody water.

We hit the second three-mile long burn area at 7.1 miles and it seemed interminable in the afternoon heat.

Jim had told me he passed Maddy and Clint, the young thru-hikers from Gunnison, on the way in to meet me, so I expected to see them as I progressed toward the end:

I stopped to talk to them for a few minutes. Again, they were the only hikers I'd see on the trail all day except for Jim.

Cody and I rested in a teensy bit of shade at the top of a hill around mile 9 and I took this shot looking back the way we'd come:

As we got up to leave, a cyclist rode by, the only one of those we'd see today. Despite the open burn areas, the trail surface is superb on this section and great for either running or cycling. Jim was again impressed that he could actually RUN all of it today (if he'd had the energy to run up all the hills!).

The trail through the second half of the section appeared to have been cut more recently than the first half. I thought it was rougher, but Jim was completely happy with it.

At ten miles we came to a highway that we paralleled for half a mile before turning onto a dirt forest service road that led us to our high point of the day at the Little Scraggy trailhead, elevation 7,842 feet:

I used the same hydration/electrolyte program yesterday and today: every 15 minutes I took an Endurolyte capsule, drank Perpetuem or a slug of Hammergel, then washed it all down with water. I didn't get any leg cramping either day, despite the heat and running more than walking, but I had too much water left over in my Camelbak bladder today.

On our way back to Chatfield State Park, we detoured around some forest service roads to check out future campsites for our return in August to do Segments 3 through 6. This was an interesting rock about 100 feet tall that looked like smaller rocks had been piled carefully to build it up, but I think it just formed that way over the years:

We also drove to Golden to visit the Colorado Trail Foundation's office. I talked with a nice man there while Jim sat on a shady spot of grass outside with Cody. I was surprised how small the office is. All their books, shirts, and other items for sale are stored in a large closet. Since we've already got their excellent guide book, data book, and GPS software package, all I got was a $2.00 trail marker and $2.50 logo pin as keepsakes. When I finish the trail, I'll get the completion certificate.

The sky is always interesting in the Rockies, whether it's filled with puffy white fair-weather clouds or dark, stormy rain clouds. I took this picture from our campsite as the sun was setting, its rays spreading through the various layers of clouds above the mountains:

Next up: Colorful Colorado, including our drive to Silverton and the great place we'll be camping at least the next two weeks.


"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