Sunday, September 16, 2012
This was Lora and My first trip to Colorado. Steve and Kathy invited us to join them on their vacation trip that they take every three years to Colorado. We took a flight out of Nashville to Charlotte. Who knew North Carolina was between Tennessee and Colorado?
I do have to tell you about the guy that sat next to me on one of the flights. You know you always get one. Well as soon as he sat down, he went into a coughing fit. I mean a serous one. I was thinking that I was on vacation and this guy is going down. Anyways he got control of himself for a couple of minutes and then did it again. Now I'm thinking he probably has something contagious and I'm going to die. He gets control again. After we take off he buys a lunch from the airline. You should of heard this guy as he eats; smacking, sucking, slobbering, and chips are going everywhere. Well he finally finishes and gets up to go to the bathroom. He seat is full of chip crumbs. He gets back and pulls out a meal from a fast food joint and it all starts over again. I can feel biscuit crumbs hitting my leg as he makes all the awful noises again. Finally he is done. Yep, the coughing fit again.......AHHHHHH!!!
We flew into Montrose Colorado where Steve and Kathy met us at the airport. I texted them saying that we will just meet them out front. Well we get out of the airplane and walk across the ramp. They open a door and there they stood. It is also the same room the luggage pickup is in. Small airport! We stopped and had dinner at a Mexican restaurant in town. Then we head to Ridgeway State Park where Kathy gave us a thorough tour of the park looking for the trailer. We even got to see the boat ramp. Anyway this is where we set up our base camp. They have a new trailer that they are in the process of building into a camping trailer. We sat around the campfire under the beautiful stars and discuss our plans for the following day.
There are two kinds of trails in Colorado, Steep and Granny gear steep. You go by altitude instead of miles. The mountains are actually falling apart all the time. I give credit to the trail keepers as that has to be one of the toughest groups I know. They have to clear landslides, rebuild cliffs, and I don't know how they hang off the sides of the trails to do all that. Anyone that has climbed the 14ers......you are tough. Mt. Sneffels is one that you don't have to use a rope.....right! Don't buy that one! I asked Steve about the trails that we were backpacking on. He said that the Bear Creek trail did have a cliff that you walk next to for a half mile. I spent the next few days worrying and asking questions about this one.
Our first hike was the Blue Lakes Trail in the Mt. Sneffels wilderness area. This was for us to get used to the altitude. It was amazing how quickly you go into panting mode sucking for oxygen. I did get a mild headache that first day. We worked those leg muscles pretty good. Everywhere that you go in this area you are in a picture. Everywhere you look is just beautiful. All the way! We started at 9200 feet. Lower Blue lake is at 11000 feet which we just had to get in to cool off the feet. As we sat at the Lower lake we heard a land slide up on the mountain face across the lake. Falling apart I tell you. From there we hiked to Upper Blue lake which is at 11760 feet. Lora and I decided to go ahead and climb the Blue Lake pass that is at 13000 and we were about two switch backs from the top when the trail became to dangerous to stay on. There was no more flat trail at all and the sharply slanted trail was covered in loose rock. Not good for the pace maker! We quit and got our hearts stabilized before heading back down. It was 5.7 miles to the pass. We got to see deer, chipmunks, marmots, squirrels, and trout in the lake. That was enough to wear us out. Back to camp and drinks around the campfire. We cooked out some burgers.
On our second day we went into Ouray. It is known as little Switzerland. It sits at 7792 feet in a canyon surrounded by mountains. It is an historic Gold and Silver mining town with a natural hot springs. Very beautiful. We hiked the 2.2 mile Sutton Neosho Mine trail. That gave us great views of Ouray and Bear Creek where we were going to do our backpack trip later in the week. We got to see the Nesosho mine and buildings. It is known for the Antique sign that you can see from the Million Dollar Hwy. We ate lunch there at the mine and then hiked back. We took the Perimeter Trail which heads to the Box Cañon high bridge. Cross the suspended bridge over Cañon Creek's spectacular gorge to Ouray's old water tunnel. (The ceiling is low; watch your head.) Past the tunnel, steep stairs lead down the cliff along the gorge. We ended up in town where we took time out for an ice cream. Afterwards Steve and I hiked back to the truck and met the ladies back in town where they managed to get a little shopping in. We hiked up to see the Cascade falls and watched the impressive deer walk through town. We did manage to stop at the Buen Tiempo for some margaritas before we headed back to camp for a cookout and fire.
On our third day they were calling for rain. We took the Million Dollar Hwy to Silverton. The Million Dollar Hwy goes through the mountains and there is no guard rail. Kathy had a gravity problem with that. She leaned into the corners like we were riding motorcycles. One time I told her to just put a pillow in Steve's lap she got so far over. We stopped along the way for pictures and looking at some old mines.
We dropped off the trailer at South Mineral Campground near the trailhead for Ice Lake. Then we headed into Silverton. We did a tour of the old mining town and did lunch at the Handlebars. After that we headed out to see the abandoned mining town of Animas Forks. It is on one of the four wheel drive tours and really cool to see. Lots of history in this area. On the way up, Kathy spotted some sheep up above us. Well before long we were surrounded by sheep. They were herding 1200 head down the road into town for transporting. It was really cool to watch them work the sheep. After touring the old buildings, we headed back to town for ice cream and then to the campground where we spent the evening visiting in the trailer listening to the rain.
The next morning we got ready and hiked up to Ice Lake. Another beautiful trail through the mountains. We started at 9860 feet and went up to 12257 in six miles. We got to see many waterfalls and glacier lakes along with lots of wildlife. It started raining just as we got to Ice lake so we had to huddle around a large rock to protect ourselves from the wind. We did lunch under ponchos which is always exciting. It stopped raining as we headed down with a little on and off showers. Beautiful area and another great workout. When we got back we took the Million Dollar Hwy back to Ridgeway with a stop at O'Brien's Pub for some dinner in Ouray. We spent the night back at our base camp.
The fifth day was the start of our backpack. We loaded up and went to the Bear Creek trailhead. We left Kathy with the packs, drove back to town and dropped off the truck and trailer. We hiked the Perimeter Trail to Ice Park trail to Old Hardrocker's trail to the Bear Creek trailhead. Then we were ready to start hiking. Bear Creek trail is noted for it's drop offs and is not for the weary or weak of heart! The trail is carved out of the side of a cliff for one portion. You start right out with a 1000 foot gain on switch backs with a total gain of 4200 feet up to Horsethief trail in 4.2 miles. The cliff walk that I so worried about was not as bad as I pictured. It was alot like our hike in the Grand Canyon. You passed people in corners coming the other way and you know who didn't go to the outside. We took a break after the cliff to eat a snack and get our nerves calmed. Did a little exploring at Grizzly Bear mine and then climbed up to the Yellow Jacket mine for the night. After a serious climb like today we didn't stay up long at the campfire. The stars were beautiful and the sky's clear.
The second day we hiked Horsethief trail to Difficulty Creek where we stayed a night. This trail crosses the American Flats and hit's an elevation of 12700. It seems like you can look forever in the wide open area here. There were alot of ups and downs going across the tundra. Lora showed us up taking a side trail to the top of another mountain. I had to drop my pack to chase her down and get her on the right trail. You really got to keep an eye on her!
We stopped for a snack break and a little chipmunk came by just screaming at us. I couldn't understand him, but Kathy came back and told us she about used the bathroom on one. OH!
We searched around a little while on Difficulty Creek, but found an established site in a nice location. There was an Elk head tied to one of the trees. The sun was still hot so we had the chance to wash up in the creek before dinner. We had a nice campfire as the temperature dropped down to freezing that night. Sometime in the night we got barked at. Not really sure what it was, but it sounded like a little dog out here in the middle of nowhere. We scared it off the first time, but it came back two more times to bark that night.
On the third day we climbed up to the Bridge of Heaven where the spectacular panorama of mountains makes the climb worthwhile. Here, for a short distance, the trail follows a ridge with a steep dropoff on each side. The elevation of the Bridge is 12,300 feet. Lora and I were the first up there and when we got there all we could see was a thin trail walking the narrow ridge of the mountain. We were trying to figure out how we were going to manage to be able to walk this trail, when Lora went further and saw that the main trail dropped off to the left. Got some good pictures there before we started the long down hill back to Ouray. I managed to only fall once and it was on this trail on some loose gravel. At least it wasn't over a cliff. We stopped along the cliff side to eat some lunch. Afterwards we found the Old Horsethief trail which led us steeply down to town.
We met an old man that was climbing up to the top. Somehow he managed to make it to the trailhead and then passed us on the way back down. Yea, didn't make us look too good. We definitely didn't look as good as the naked man in sandals that was heading up for a day hike. OK, he wasn't naked but didn't have anything on but a pair of shorts with a small pack slung over his shoulder. He was one of those long haired guys that think highly of themselves. When he asked where we hiked in from he was impressed with of those "OH!"
The Old Horsethief trail was a beautiful, but steep trail. The bottom half was washed out in many places and lots of loose rocks close to very steep edges.
Once in Ouray we stopped at the Buen Tiempo for some margaritas to celebrate the wonderful trip and Lora's birthday. Steve and Kathy dropped us off at our hotel in Montrose where we took the shuttle the next morning to the airport.
We used the Ouray Trail Group for trail information.
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