We had seen no one on the Colorado Trail all morning from Molas Pass
to Rolling Mountain Pass, a distance of over eleven miles. No hikers, no
equestrians, no cyclists on this very scenic trail on a warm, sunny day.
At Rolling Pass (elev. about 12,400 feet), Jim made an impromptu
decision to go down the steep drainage from the headwaters
of the South Fork of Mineral Creek to Mineral Creek Road and back to our
camper, a distance of about seven miles, instead of returning
eleven-and-a-half miles to the truck at Molas Pass -- they way we'd come. He'd gone down that
trail one day last summer and, although it has a fairly steep pitch (a
drop of at least 2,000 feet in two miles), it was easy to follow and the
creek crossings weren't any problem then.
I took this photo today down into the Mineral Creek drainage (snow
behind me, but not much looking north):
I thought about taking Cody down that way myself, but hadn't
mentioned it to Jim until we got near the trail head below the summit of
Rolling Moutain. We got a relatively late start from Molas Pass this
morning (8:45 AM) and didn't reach Rolling Mountain until a little
after 1 PM
because of all the snow on the plateau below the pass and our general
lack of speed at these altitudes.
We stopped about 300 feet shy of the pass and debated the merits of
climbing to the saddle and which of us was going back in which
Our first decision was not to go all the way up to the saddle because
of the time it would take to ge through the snowfields. I was disappointed I couldn't see over the into the beautiful valley
on the other side, but there just wasn't time. I needed to either turn
around and return to Molas Pass or go down the Mineral Creek trail. One or both of us had to go
back the way we came to get the truck -- we couldn't both take
I made my decision fairly quickly not to go down the Mineral
Creek Trail when I remembered I'd have to run and walk five miles
on rocky, dusty Mineral Creek Road after I got down to the "bottom."
That didn't bother Jim. He saw it as an opportunity to get done faster.
it turned out, it's probably best that I didn't go down that way because
the multiple creek crossings were difficult this year with all the snowmelt
from higher up. Jim had to use his hands on boulders in the water to get across the
creek once, and said he thought I'd have had trouble with that
crossing because of the fast current. It was only mid-calf deep but he
couldn't see the bottom and had to work his way across it very slowly to
avoid falling in.
He saw the couple mentioned above after they had crossed that part of
and before he got to it. He was even more surprised at their tenacity
when he realized the "older woman" had already gotten through it. We're 58. He estimated these folks to be
in their mid-60s. I had to laugh at him for his perspective of what
"old" means -- that's only five or six years older than us! We in NO way consider
ourselves "old!" <grin>
I vividly remember the panoramic view from Rolling Mountain Pass last
year when I did all of Segment 25 on the CT (2006 journal, July 2)
and I want to see it again:
Since I missed all the creek-fording fun and peeking over the saddle today, I
want to hike UP that
drainage from the end of Mineral Creek Road one day next week, go
through the snowfield to peer
over the pass, and run back down.
That's only about five miles if I don't have to deal with any road
mileage. It's the
shortest route to that pass from any of three possible directions (the
other two are on the Colorado Trail). If I wait a few days for more snow
to mile AND go up and back in the morning, the snowmelt from the chilly
night-time hours will be less than in the afternoon after the sun has
melted more snow. Down at our campground, it's obvious that "high tide"
is late afternoon/evening, and the creek is lower in the morning.
BTW, it took Jim only two hours to get back to the camper from
Rolling Mountain Pass going down the drainage. It took me almost four
hours to retrace my steps to Molas Pass to get the truck. I was fried
from the direct sun and couldn't run as much as I thought I could even though it was a net
downhill. There was also the snow, mud, rocks, and marsh to navigate:
Taking as many photos on the way down as on the way up didn't help
either (a total of 138 today). But how could I NOT stop dead in my
tracks every time I saw an awesome view like this??
I also discovered this evening that I have a serious sunburn on my shoulders despite a good tan on them
already -- first sunburn I've had in many years. I put sunscreen on my
lower arms but forgot to put some on my shoulders when I stripped down
to a singlet a few miles into the run. Lesson re-learned: you get
sunburned faster at high altitudes. I'll be blistering and peeling in a few
days. Tonight it just hurts like the dickens.
BACK TO THE BEGINNING . . .
The trail we ran and hiked today is the northeastern half of Colorado
Trail Segment 25. In retrospect, I think this is my second-favorite
segment of the whole CT. (My very favorite is Seg 24 from Stony
Pass to Molas Pass.) There are grand vistas all along the route, a
fascinating marshy area called an alpine "hanging valley," numerous
wildflowers, interesting rock formations, alpine lakes, cold creeks with waterfalls,
lovely trees here and there, nice camping places for backpackers, some good surfaces to run -- Segment 25 has
it all, and it was on my "to do again" list for 2007.
But not ALL of it -- the southwestern trail head at Bolam Pass is one of the
toughest to reach on a very rough 4WD road with the kind of switchbacks you
have to maneuver very carefully (including backing up one or more times
on some hairpin turns)
unless you're in a vehicle with a short turning radius. Jim had to
go there twice last year, and made me promise I'd never ask him to go
there again! So to enjoy the beauty and challenge of this segment again,
we'd have to do an out-and-back from easy-to-reach Molas Pass. I think
that's the prettier half of this section anyway.
Our plan was to get as far in to Rolling Mountain Pass as the snow
would allow, then come back out. We didn't know how MUCH snow was up
there, but we knew the likelihood of snow between 10,900 feet and 12,500 feet was pretty
certain. Could we get through it, or have to turn around earlier? It
didn't really matter. We just wanted a scenic long run at high altitude.
The most we'd get would be about twenty-three miles doing an
out-and-back. Anything less was OK, too.
We got what we wanted, and more. The Colorado Trail is like that!
From Molas Pass, the trail (above) winds around Little Molas Lake (below) and through
a nice, free national forest campground, which is currently closed for
There are scenic views in every direction:
You can see Rolling Mountain and its pass (upper left in photo below) as you climb higher in the
first two or three miles, but I didn't realize it until I was almost
done and kept looking back at it from various places along the
One of the reasons I love this segment so much is the profusion of
wildflowers at the sub-alpine and alpine elevations. Lower down were numerous blue columbines, mountain
bluebells, flax, and penstemon; several varieties of yellow and white
flowers, including very tall cow parsnip; purple clover and asters,
orange and red Indian paintbrush, and a deep pinkish-purple flower,
shone below (a
variety of Penstemon?)
that loves wet areas along creeks and in marshes:
In the higher alpine hanging valley and basin below Rolling Mountain
Pass are numerous marsh marigolds, alpine sunflowers, bright pink Indian
paintbrush, and other sturdy
wildflowers. They weren't as prolific in some areas as last year, however, because a
lot of snow is still on the ground.
When I compare this year's photos of flowers to last year's, it's
readily apparent that the flowers were ahead of schedule last year. This
year is more average in terms of bloom dates. For example, last year
this white flower (I can't find it in my wildflower book) was in bloom,
but none of it was this year.
In fact, some of it was just coming up where the snow had recently
There were still plenty of wildflowers blooming today
and we weren't disappointed with the display. In fact, I've accumulated
so many flower photos in the past week that I'll have to do a separate
entry one of these days to showcase them.
LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION
The "flower" that amazes me the most is the common dandelion. Those
things are as adaptable to extreme environments as cockroaches! They
were blooming almost up to 12,000 feet on this section. In my lawns and
gardens where I've lived around the country -- Ohio, Georgia, Montana, and now Virginia
-- dandelions were and are a nuisance, a weed to be eradicated. In a mountain setting
like this, they are colorful wildflowers that add to the beauty of the
Despite the very dusty trail, everything was fairly green until we
reached the basin below the pass where the snow had just melted.
Here it was more brown:
But just a little ways before that, flowers and green
plants asserted themselves next to this "pond" of snowmelt (which wasn't
there last July 2):
There was a lot of runoff and creeks I don't remember from last year
because of the late spring snows this year. All the water and snow was
perfect for Cody today. He had a blast in the snowdrifts, creeks,
and lakes. So did Jim, but he won't admit that!
The waterfall below is part of a triple-header you can see near one of
the larger creeks you cross about halfway up to the pass:
The upper part of the course today was very wet -- much more runoff
on the trail, mud, and marshy terrain than last year. We started going
by snowdrifts a few miles into the run and could see obviously more snow
above us than before:
The last mile up on the plateau below the pass was very interesting
this year. Instead of two or three snowdrifts to cross, there was
snow this time. It was beautiful, but made navigation more difficult:
Large pools of water covered the trail, too. I saw the trail going
into this one and thought, "No way!"
On the way up, we tried to skirt around several large areas of snow
by going through the rocks on one side, but that took more time and
We discovered that it was easier to just walk over the snowfields:
Most of them were solid enough that we only sank down to our calves
around the edges:
Snow was so deep in places that it partially or fully covered some of
the CT posts and cairns. We remembered the way from being up there twice
last year and we could see other posts in the distance, so there was no
danger of getting "lost."
It was very beautiful with all the snow. I hope some of it is left
(really!) when I go back up the short way in a week or two from Mineral
RUNNING/HIKING THIS TRAIL
This isn't an easy trail to run but it is well worth whatever
time it takes to run or hike it. Some places are quite rocky (below),
especially through the hanging valley:
Other places are quite smooth, as you can see in some of the photos
in this entry.
We saw bicycle tire tracks all the way up to the basin, where a
popular bike trail takes off to the left (the Engineer Creek-Engineer
Mountain Trail) and the CT goes right. Last year I took a photo of bikes
in the snow in the basin itself, but didn't see any this time -- nor
very many footprints. Parts of the trail are also rough from horses'
hooves making holes and then hardening during this dry period.
I finally wore my gaiters today and was glad because of all the dust.
My shoes, gaiters, and ankle supports were filthy when I took them
off, but my socks and feet looked clean!
I mentioned that we didn't see anyone on the trail the whole way up
to Rolling Mountain Pass, and I saw absolutely no one on the way back
either. I don't get it -- beautiful trail, beautiful day, right before a
holiday when lots of people are on vacation. It did get very hot out
there today with the direct sun and few clouds. We've had no rain since
we got here. But that doesn't explain why I saw no one for twenty-three
This single weather-beaten sentinel near the end of my
run pretty well symbolizes the concept of lonely, doesn't it?
I missed Jim not being with me on the return to the truck but was glad for Cody's
company. He listened patiently as I whined about the heat and fatigue. I
wasn't able to run as much back "down" as I thought I could. My knees
were fine, but at this altitude even running downhill is WORK. While I
was out there I thought it was a heart-lung thing, but tonight my legs
are dead tired, too. I was rested before the run and had plenty of gel, energy drink (Perpetuem),
and water to keep me going, so my main excuse for being tired is the altitude, I guess.
Couldn't be my age. I'm only 35, you know . . .
Next entry: Hardrock Hundred course marking from Kamm Traverse
to Mineral Creek.
"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil, Cody, and
© 2007 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil