2010 RUNNING & TRAVEL ADVENTURES

 

   
 
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  COLORADO TRAIL SEGMENT 6:
JEFFERSON CREEK ROAD → GEORGIA PASS

FRIDAY, JULY 16

 
"The CT wanders through two historic mountain passes in Segment 6.
Kenosha Pass isn't especially high by Colorado standards, never reaching treeline,
but it's been an important crossing of the Front Range for centuries . . .
During the gold rush, prospectors heavily used the pass to reach placer diggings
around Fairplay. With the discovery of gold near present-day Breckenridge in 1860,
southern miners poured over the Continental Divide at a low point,
christening it Georgia Pass. A toll road was built to the new diggings . . ."
 
~ Colorado Trail Guidebook, 7th edition, p. 83
 
 
That wagon road over Georgia Pass became mostly obsolete when the Denver, South Park, & Pacific Railroad was built through Kenosha Pass, but 4-wheelers and mountain bikers still enjoy using the jeep tracks that remain.

The Colorado Trail crosses a couple of dirt roads on Georgia Pass; I'm not sure which one is the original toll road. Several ATV riders were enjoying the jeep tracks today when I was up on the pass this morning.


The CT crosses two jeep roads on Georgia Pass.  Mt. Guyot (13,370 feet) is in the background.

There were several hikers, runners, and cyclists on this section of the Colorado Trail today, too. Two days ago on Segment 5 I saw only one person besides Jim and one of our friends. The trail certainly wasn't crowded today, however, and I had fun talking with some of the folks I saw.

Two of them were a young couple who are thru-cycling the CT from Denver to Durango. They've cycled several parts of the trail previously but haven't done the entire ~ 485 miles until now. I saw them on the approach to Georgia Pass while they were stopped to work on their bikes (below) and get something to eat. That's when we had a brief conversation.


Young couple thru-cycling the CT this month

I continued over the pass and turned around a mile below it. While I was ascending back up to the pass on that side, the couple zipped by me on their way down toward Breckenridge. Fortunately, we saw each other at the same time and they slowed down so I could get off the trail. So did three other cyclists I saw on my way back down to the Jefferson Lake trailhead.

Warning to hikers, runners, and equestrians:

This is a very popular segment with mountain bikers! I was hoping I wouldn't "run into" very many of them on a weekday but it's summer and they're out there in droves. When I ran this whole segment in 2006 there were lots of kamikaze riders in the last long downhill miles into Breckenridge. I won't ever forget how recklessly some of them were riding.

MORE VIEWS, LESS DISTANCE

At thirty-three miles in length, Segment 6 is the longest of the twenty-eight CT segments.

I was faster and had better knees when I ran and hiked the whole thing from Kenosha Pass to Breckenridge in 2006. Now that I'm not supposed to be running any more, it's impossible for me to hike that many miles in one day (I'm not a backpacker and never will be). 


Three back-packers and their dog heading westbound toward the pass today;
they are taking four days to hike this 33-mile section.

I knew I'd have to do an out-and-back hike today on only part of Segment 6 to break it down into a manageable size. I really wanted to climb up to Georgia Pass. It's above treeline at 11,880 feet elevation and has scenic views of the nearby peaks, including 13,370-foot Mt. Guyot, along the Continental Divide, as well as distant views of the Tenmile Range, Mt. Evans Wilderness, and South Park.

Reviewing the trail maps, I saw that it's a little over 12 miles from our campsite on the southeast side of US 285 to the pass. That would be over 25 miles total in an out-and-back, still too much for me to hike during daylight in one day.

< sigh >  I sure miss being able to cover more ground by running!


View west of Georgia Pass toward Breckenridge and the Tenmile Range

Fortunately, there are three or four other access points in Segment 6 between Kenosha Pass and Breckenridge so it's relatively easy to break this long section into smaller ones. Two trailheads are within a reasonable distance of our campground on the east side of the pass. If Jim could drive me to the Jefferson Lake Road access point (a 2WD road), I'd have only six miles one way on the CT to reach Georgia Pass.

Twelve miles total -- that's better! I'd have enough time to drop down the western side of the pass a little ways if I wanted and still have time to kill, enjoying the views from the high point.

JEFFERSON LAKE TRAILHEAD

Yesterday we took an exploratory drive down US 285 to Jefferson Lake Road. We knew from reading the CT guidebook that there is a Pike National Forest fee collection point along this road but we naively thought the kind rangers might let us drive in to see where the trailhead is and drive right back out:

Nope! This is a popular playground and they had no way of knowing if we'd ever come back out or if we'd stay and enjoy their forests and lake all day, so we would have to pay the day use fee of $5 even if all we wanted was the privilege of seeing that trailhead.

OK, never mind. We asked enough questions to determine that the road was fairly good to the trailhead, then turned around at the pay station. We waited until this morning to pay our $5. Jim made sure to get a dated receipt so he didn't have to pay again when he came back to retrieve me in the afternoon.

I got on the trail about 7:30 AM. The elevation at the trailhead is 10,130 feet:


CT trailhead on Jefferson Lake Rd.

I didn't take Cody with me because of the high temperatures predicted and the relative lack of water in this six-mile section. The only good creek is close to the trailhead. I didn't know about two little ponds off the side of the trail at approximately one mile and 5 miles where he could have gotten water.

The temperature at our campground at Kenosha Pass (10,000 feet) was already in the mid-50s when we got up this morning and would reach 80 F. by the afternoon. It felt pretty warm in the sun on the trail all day, even at my high point of 11,907 feet (per my GPS) on Georgia Pass.


Tranquil little pond about a mile up the trail

That's better than the 100-degree temps in mile-high Denver, however. I bet our campground fills up this weekend with folks trying to find some relief in the mountains! Jim's very concerned about how hot it's going to be for his race near Pine, CO tomorrow. It's not as low as Denver but it's lower than Kenosha Pass.

Just beyond the trailhead I dropped down to Jefferson Lake Creek, my lowest elevation today (9,980 feet). There is a long, narrow wooden bridge over the water or you can easily ford it when it's this low:

Then I began a steady climb through pine forests. Although there are many aspens at 10,000 +/- feet farther east in this segment, there aren't any in these six miles.

     

The first couple of miles are fairly rocky, then become significantly smoother up to and beyond the pass.

There are some neat boulders about two miles up the trail, with scenic views of the Divide, Jefferson Lake, and mountains to the northeast:


Approaching the boulder area from the east

Above and below:  looking toward the Divide and Jefferson Lake (see red arrow)

 

Although I'd forgotten some of the terrain in this segment, that's one part of the trail I remembered clearly from four years ago.

After a rocky ascent in the first couple miles of the section I hiked today, the next two miles are flatter and smoother west of the boulder area. The trail undulates up and down gradually through pine forests as it traverses the shoulder of a mountain:

Just before entering the more sparse sub-alpine forest the view to the southwest offers glimpses of the Continental Divide. Some of these 12,000-13,000-foot peaks still have snow on top:

 

I enjoyed the forested areas, but now I was getting to the best part!

THE TUNDRA

After about 4 miles I had increasingly magnificent views of the mountains forming the Continental Divide as I climbed higher and higher into the alpine zone:

Pointy Mt. Guyot serves as a beacon in the distance for trail users who know the CT crosses Georgia Pass to the right of the peak:

 

I could see down into the valley to the east of the Divide as I gradually ascended the CT. When I saw remnants of snow near the trail I was even more sorry Cody wasn't with me. He sure would have enjoyed those snow banks!

The trail is fairly smooth in the tundra area. Runners and cyclists who aren't as interested in the scenic views as I am can move quite fast on either side of Georgia Pass. I'm glad I was taking my time and could savor the beauty surrounding me.

I had total solitude until I reached the young couple on their bikes. They were stopped at the intersection with the Jefferson Creek Trail:

Someday I'd like to do the 11-mile loop that does up the CT like I did, heads north to the lake, and then back down to Jefferson Creek Road. I walked a little ways north on that trail to get this picture:

I wasn't able to see Jefferson Lake from that vantage point. It's beyond those ridges.

I returned to the CT and continued heading west toward Mt. Guyot and Georgia Pass. Except for some deep ruts that have been bypassed by a new renegade trail to the left, the footing is still fairly smooth through the tundra. The ground was very pretty covered in flowers:

 

 

Cairns and tall poles mark the trail as it approaches and crosses the pass. At the top, westbound trail users start to see the Tenmile Range and other mountains surrounding Breckenridge at the end of this segment:

From the pass, it's another 20.6 miles to Breckenridge on the CT. There is a net elevation loss from the high point on the pass (11,880 feet per the CT guide, 11,907 feet per our GPS) to 9,200 feet at the trailhead in Breckenridge. It's not all downhill, though; there is another 11,150-foot ridge to cross after Georgia Pass.

These photos are going down the other (west and north) side of the pass for about a mile:

 

 

 

 

I took the next three photos after I turned around and went back up to the pass. I love the views of the north side of Mt. Guyot from this direction, too:

 

Going eastbound, the last few yards up to the pass is a guessing game if you haven't been here before. Kinda looks like you're going to go off the edge into oblivion:

Upon reaching the high point on the pass, however, you start to see all the mountain ranges to the east:

In the mile on either side of the pass I saw several cyclists, hikers, ATVers, and one runner, then no one again the last five miles back down to Jefferson Creek Road. That was kind of odd but I enjoyed having the trail all to myself for ten miles today.

I love being above treeline so I can have panoramic views of the mountains and valleys. I took my time up there, savoring the expansive views, the colorful mountains, the bright green grasses, the wildflowers, the interesting rocks and cairns, the clear blue sky and warm breezes . . .

And yeah, I took many more photos than these! It was a gorgeous day and I was in my element.

The higher I walked, the happier I got. I climbed steadily and felt strong. Despite all the photos I took, I hiked faster than I would have with Cody -- but I missed his company. I should have just loaded up his pack with enough water and taken him with me.

THE RETURN TRIP

The hike back down from the pass was faster with a tailwind, net elevation loss, and fewer pictures.

The scenery on a trail usually looks different going the opposite way. If someone is doing this whole section point-to-point I think the views are a little better going westbound from Kenosha Pass to Breckenridge. That seems to be the more popular direction with other trail users, too.


A small pond in the tundra reflects the beautiful blue sky.

Above and below:  dropping back down through the sub-alpine zone

On the way back down I took some time to add rocks to cairns -- just can't resist doing that when I have some spare time!

I reached the trailhead forty-five minutes before the time I told Jim I'd aim to get back. I killed some time by walking down to a nearby parking area to use the bathroom and watch folks fish in a little lake:

I'm sorry I didn't spend more time up on the pass but I didn't know how long it'd take me to get down and I didn't want Jim to have to wait for me in the hot sun. Goodness knows, he's wasted enough time at trailheads the last ten years when I've underestimated how much time it would take me to complete a section of trail! I rarely have the luxury of hiking right back to our campsite like I did two days ago on Segment 5.


Interesting rock that looks like it has teeth!

I ended up drinking only about half of the water in my 100-oz. Camelbak bladder, rationing it to make sure I had enough for the entire trek. It's impossible to tell how much is left without taking my pack off and extracting the bladder, which I rarely do.

Have I mentioned how much I regret not taking Cody with me?? (Only about three times already.) Although he hasn't worn his pack much lately, he could have managed today's hike with a couple liters of water in it to supplement the water in the two ponds I didn't know about. I also had enough water left over that he could have had some of mine and then gotten water in Jefferson Lake Creek while we waited for Jim near the end.

Cody will definitely be with me on most of my hikes the rest of this trip.

LAST TIME TO GEORGIA PASS?

Every time I get "high" on a hike like this (high in elevation and high in spirits) I have a little nagging worry that I may never get to that particular location again because of my deteriorating knees. They did fine today but I there's always the thought that it might be my last time up there ever. Will we be back before I have to get knee replacements? Will I be able to climb up there after getting knee replacements? Folks like my friend Heidi give me hope that I can continue to climb mountain trails after knee surgery but there aren't any guarantees.


One last look today at Mt. Guyot and Georgia Pass . . .

Will this be the last time I hike to Georgia Pass? I hope not, but the thought that it might be is why I wanted to remain above treeline for a while -- just in case. I thoroughly enjoyed today's little adventure.

Next entryrunning and working the North Fork 50-miler in Pine, CO, a fine inaugural event

Happy trails,

Sue
"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil, and Cody the Ultra Lab

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2010 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil

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