Runtrails' Rocky Mountain Journal
Previous          Journal Topics by Date            Next



"Go fast enough to get there, but slow enough to see."
- Jimmy Buffet 


I can't even call this a "run" because it was definitely hiking up about 2,500 feet to Rolling Mountain Pass at 12,520 feet (more on our GPS) from the west end of Mineral Creek Road. I even walked most of the way back down. Slacker!

This is the fastest and shortest way to get to the saddle on Rolling Mountain. Jim has come down the Mineral Creek trail twice during Colorado Trail runs (see June 29, 2007 entry) from Molas Pass, but neither of us has gone UP the trail. Since I missed going up to the pass last week by just a few feet because of time reasons, I wanted to return to enjoy the views and the upper basin area that I love so much.

And I got a good early start -- 7:30 AM -- after dropping Jim off in Silverton for his Handies Peak trail work day (see the second July 7 entry for his adventures today).

Since it's only about two-and-a-half miles up to the pass for a round trip of five miles (more today, since I walked around a lot on top), I decided to take Tater along today. She and Cody had a blast in all the water and what remained of the snowfields in the upper basin and saddle. As usual, Tater put in more mileage than Cody and I did. She's everywhere -- pretty good for an 11-year-old Lab with arthritis and hip dysplasia.

The only bad part of this hike is getting to the Mineral Creek trail head. I could hike the rocky, dusty road uphill from our campground (about five miles one way) or the campground at the end of the good part of Mineral Creek Road (about three-and-one-half miles one way) OR I could drive that rocky, dusty road in a high-clearance 4WD vehicle.

I chose to drive. I hate walking or running on either the good or bad end of Mineral Creek Road.

The drive isn't very pleasant, either. It's scenic (as shown above in today's lone "windshield shot," above) but rough. I did it one day last year (2006 journal, July 4 entry) but had forgotten -- selective memory! -- how slow and bumpy it is. The worst pointy rocks were near the KT aid station location. I averaged under 10 MPH on that road, hoping one of the tires didn't go flat.

Fortunately, that early in the morning none of the campers or hikers were coming back OUT the road, so I met no one. Did I mention the road is also one narrow lane with few pull-offs? I was concerned about coming back out later in the morning when more people would be headed for the trail head. I didn't relish the idea of backing up a quarter of a mile to let someone pass coming the other way.

Oh, and near the end of the road, just past the ruins of the Bandora Mine, I had to drive through three or four creeks that were higher than last year because of increased snowmelt. You definitely need high clearance to reach this trail head.

I was prepared for the soggy crossing of the South Fork(s) of Mineral Creek right at the trail head. Jim told me about the three channels he crossed last week. It was a hot, sunny day and he still had those five miles to run on the road, so he rather enjoyed the cold water. It's a different story on a chilly morning (low 40s) right after you get out of your warm truck!

It didn't really matter much, though -- I was in water all morning with all the creek crossings and standing water in the trail and up in the basin. I warmed up quickly on the ascent and enjoyed all the water crossings about as much as the dogs did.

The trail starts out in shady pine and fir forest,

passes through beautiful high meadows filled with a kaleidoscope of flowers,

morphs into "willows" (Charlie Thorn's generic name for the dense sub alpine shrubs around here),

and becomes alpine tundra in quick order:

The forest section is rather steep, then more gradual through the willows, and becomes steep again up through the alpine zone.

Jim thought I would have had problems with his trickiest creek crossing last week, and I can see what he meant. He couldn't see bottom when he crossed here because the water was flowing so fast. Although it was about as high today, it was clear:

Seeing the bottom made it less risky and I had no problem getting across either time (up or back). I was glad to have my trekking pole, though. It really helps with balancing as I gingerly step, step, step on slick stones and make sure one foot is stable before moving the other foot. Even in the early morning when I thought the creek level would be lower, it was still almost to my knees (even though it doesn't look that deep in the photo above).

I just loved the numerous creeks and little waterfalls today. Here are a couple more, one in the cool forest and a dramatic one up high in the colorful rocks:


I've often mentioned "drainage areas" when I talk about going up or down through valleys between mountains. This is a good illustration of a drainage area close to its origin at a high elevation, before the snowmelt and raindrops really form a "creek:"

The early morning sun is glinting off the water, making it easy to see. It is in one of several "basins" or bowls that I passed on the way up to Rolling Mountain Pass. The photo below shows the slope above this basin:

See why I call it a "bowl?" Each successive basin held more snow, although the levels were lower than only a week ago when Jim and I were up here:

There were SO MANY flowers on this trail! I just loved them and often stopped to gaze around me. Probably half of the 102 photos I took today were of flowers --

flowers in the foreground,

flowers in rock niches

and wet areas,

and masses of multi-colored flowers:

It was nearly impossible to find just a single specimen:

I was in flower heaven! I'll show more of them in a separate wildflower entry one of these days. This is just a small sampling for your enjoyment.

On the way up to the pass I saw a post ahead, similar to the ones used for this trail and the Colorado Trail in the upper basin. When I got closer, it looked like just a tree stump. Silly me! When I got up to it, I saw the number 507 carved into it -- the trail number. It really IS used as a post. That's one of the more interesting trail markers I've seen, with its charred top and all!

The views at and from the upper basin and pass were everything I expected and more. It took me only about ninety minutes to reach the top, despite all my photo stops and a nasty fall that left a two-inch long gash in my arm (oddly, it didn't bleed -- must be some sort of puncture wound). I spent over forty-five minutes on top inspecting the basin, where the snowfields were noticeably smaller than a week ago, and the large snow cornice in the saddle that I missed then.



The Mineral Creek Trail dead ends at the Colorado Trail about 300 feet below the pass. I followed the CT to the saddle and was fascinated with the snow cornice I found:



Remember why I came up here? I wanted to see the valley on the other side because I enjoyed the view so much last year when I did this section of the Colorado Trail. I wasn't about to let a snow cornice stop me -- well, not if I could either safely walk on it or around it.

Cody made me more than nervous when he walked right out in the snow and started rolling around in it! I had no idea how big of a drop-off was on the other side, so I made the dogs walk with me in the rocks to the left of the cornice.

Good things, because there was at least a thirty-foot drop down to the trail!

Note that the CT goes right through it. I saw footprints on this side, but don't know how they reached the trail on the other side. One set of footprints sort of traversed the snow at a gradual angle down. It was a big drop down whether you went to either side of the snow in the rocks or right over the top and slid down. It's difficult to show that perspective here. Just trust me.

And here is the view from the saddle that I wanted to see again:

You can compare these photos with the ones I took last year when I did all of CT Segment 25 (2006 journal, July 2). I loved running down the multiple switchbacks to the basin below but not enough to do it again today! I haven't had to climb back up yet. Jim did on a 30-mile out-and-back run (2006 journal, July 10) from Molas Pass to Cascade Creek and back. He said it was a tough climb back up with over 1,000 feet in the mile and a half below the saddle.

After spending a a while enjoying the pass and the upper basin on the north side, I started back down to the truck.

It took less than an hour, even though I walked a lot of it. I took more photos and tried not to fall again on the rocky areas and where the trail was a narrow trench.

This time I appreciated last triple crossing of South Fork Mineral Creek more than three hours earlier. I was warmer and it was a good opportunity to get the dust and mud out of my shoes. I made my way back that bumpy road to the camper. I'd love to do this run/hike again, but I'll have to wait until enough time has elapsed to forget the drive!

After fixing lunch and cleaning the dogs, myself, and my gear, I happily relaxed the rest of the day until Jim called me at 5:30 to come get him in town. I couldn't wait to see his photos and hear stories from his trail work day on Handies Peak.

Next entry: that's it -- Jim's trail work day on Handies Peak.

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

Previous       Next

2007 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil