Hiking and Bicycling Greeneville & Greene County Tennessee
COLORADO ROCKIES TRIP
In August, 2012, six members of the Greeneville Hiking Club spent nine days in Colorado hiking in Summit County and Rocky Mountain National Park. The members on the trip were Andy Daniels, Peggy Winfree, Pam Shelton and Ned Sanders from Greeneville, Rob Sanders from Knoxville and Katrina Rogers from Hampton, VA.
The Colorado Rocky Mountains are well known for their exceptional hiking due to their lofty peaks, amazing views and picturesque glacial lakes. Colorado contains 53 mountain peaks that exceed 14,000 feet above sea level, known as 14ers.
After flying into Denver, the group rented a van and drove west to Dillon, Colorado and stayed in a townhouse on Lake Dillon, a huge reservoir built at an altitude of nearly 9,000 feet. The house provided a panoramic view of the lake and marina surrounded by enormous mountain peaks.
The next day, the club took a short drive west to Copper Mountain, a beautiful ski resort nestled in the mountains beside Interstate 70, to the trailhead for the Wheeler Lakes Trail. This steep and winding trail began beside the highway for a short distance then made an abrupt turn and climbed for about a six miles roundtrip through aspen and pine forests that culminated at two lakes that provided views of Lake Dillon to the northeast and Uneva Pass to the northwest. The elevation gain was a bit over 1,300 feet to a high point at the lakes at approx. 11,100 feet.
On the third day, the trail to Mohawk Lake was taken. The trailhead was reached by diving south through Breckenridge, a very “cool” resort town reminiscent of Aspen. If there’s one intermediate family hike that encapsulates everything wonderful about the Colorado Rockies, it is the Mohawk Lake trail. From sweeping vistas, historic ruins and ore cars to waterfalls and close-up views of massive, rugged peaks, the Mohawk Lake Trail was a great, seven mile climb that everyone really enjoyed.
The journey started out on the Spruce Creek Trail and continued on a pleasant walk through the woods for about two miles where a Forest Service road was crossed and the trail was picked up to Mayflower Lake and a 19th century mining cabin. Above the lake and providing the water source was Continental Falls, a beautiful 150 foot cascade.
At this point the trail became very steep, ascending beside the waterfall and passing another abandoned mining cabin which had been fully preserved. Beside the cabin was a viewpoint of the falls. Continuing the strenuous climb, the group reached Lower Mohawk lake where a short break was taken, then they continued around the left side of the lake for about another half mile and climbed steeply to Upper Mohawk Lake. The setting of this glacial, snow-fed lake, nestled among steep peaks at nearly two and a half miles above sea level was a perfect place for lunch and photographs. A truly exhilarating climb of over 2,000 feet.
The next day, the club arose at 4 a.m. for the hike that turned out to be the most difficult of the trip, the climbing of Mt. Elbert. At 14,433 feet above sea level, Mt. Elbert is the highest peak in the Rocky Mountains and the second highest peak in the lower United States, exceeded only 72 feet by Mt. Whitney in California.
The group drove 50 miles south through the town of Leadville and on to the trailhead. The trail, which was nearly five miles each way, began in a heavily forested region and was very steep the whole distance with 4500 feet of elevation gain from trailhead to summit. The treeline was reached at approximately 11,000 feet and at this point the ground turned into tundra of hard packed dirt and rock. The trail was comprised of many long, steep switchbacks and false summits until a boulder field of rocks, known as talus was reached at about 13,600 feet. Unfortunately, the group had picked the worst day of the trip, weather wise, and a hard sleet started to fall and the heretofore wonderful views disappeared in a heavy fog bank. After much more climbing and heavy breathing in the thin atmosphere, the summit was finally reached by two members of the group, Andy Daniels and Rob Sanders, while the others had turned back in the now driving rain about 700 feet below the peak. All of the hikers said that the climb of Mt. Elbert was the most brutal and difficult endeavor they had ever attempted.
The following day, the hiking club left their beautiful lakeside home and headed north to the Rocky Mountain National Park. Along the way, two short hikes were taken. On the first, the interpretive, Coyote Valley Trail, a mother moose along with her calf were spotted beside the trail, cooling off beneath a tree.
The second hike was on the Never Summer Ranch Trail to the Holzwarth Historic Site. The colorful history of this amazing little ranch is enough for any hiker to long for the old days. Beside the ranch, other features included the beginnings of the mighty Colorado River (merely a creek at this point) and views of the Never Summer Mountains to the west. After a short tour of the original Holzwarth home place, members of the group posed for photos wearing an original 50 lb. Buffalo Robe.
The road that travelled through Rocky Mountain National Park, U.S. Highway 34, is known as Trail Ridge Road and is the highest continuous paved road in the United States. It traverses Rocky Mountain National Park from Grand Lake, Colorado in the west to Estes Park, Colorado in the east, the group’s final destination. The road crosses the Continental Divide at Milner Pass (elev. 10,758 ft) and reaches a maximum elevation of 12,183 ft, near Fall River Pass. The vistas of the Rocky Mountains on Trail Ridge Road were just overwhelming to the group.
At the end of the day, the club settled in at a townhouse in Estes Park, a resort town similar to Gatlinburg, and prepared for their hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park.
The first hike to be taken in the park was to The Loch, an eight mile walk with about 1200 feet climb, to one of the most beautiful mountain lakes you could ever imagine. The group drove into the park, then were shuttled to the Bear Lake Trailhead. The initial part of the trail is the route to Alberta Falls, a very nice cascade. After leaving the falls, the trail strays away from the creek for a time and climbs a hillside above Glacier Creek. At about 2 miles from the trailhead, the group took a side trail of about a mile to Mills Lake.
The last mile of the trail to The Loch travels alongside and above Icy Brook. After leaving the trail intersection, the ascent steepens. Before the first switchback, there is an overlook which provides a view of the brook as it cascades down the canyon. After a number of switchbacks, the club arrived at the northeast end of The Loch, at over 10,000 feet elevation, offering some of the most magnificent vistas of the lake and surrounding peaks. On the return to the townhouse about 50 elk were found to be grazing in the lot just across the road from the entrance.
A late lunch followed by a “ghost tour” was enjoyed at the famous Stanley Hotel, built in 1909 by F.O. Stanley, the inventor of the Stanley Steamer automobile. The Stanley Hotel was in inspiration for Stephen King’s novel “The Shining”, where the ABC mini-series was written and produced by Steven King and filmed on location at the Stanley. The ballrooms, elevators and hallways have been left intact just as they appeared in the movie.
The following day, the group hiked to Fern Lake, another fantastic glacial lake high in the Rockies. This trail provides a variety of experiences for hikers. The first 1.5 miles follow a wide, relatively flat trail through ferns, Rocky Mountain maples, and aspen, roughly paralleling the Big Thompson River.
The footpath passed Arch Rocks, which consists of several boulders that form an arch overhead. These rock monoliths are believed to have fallen from the cliffs above after the glaciers receded. The trail then headed uphill to The Pool, located downstream from the meeting of the Fern and Spruce creeks with the Big Thompson River. About a mile from The Pool and 480 feet higher, Fern Falls was passed.
Just before reaching Fern Lake, Marguerite Falls with a name similar to Greeneville’s most famous waterfall, was passed but hard to see because of many downed trees. The group had a long, leisurely lunch break at this wonderful scenic lake, then took a side trip to Spruce Lake, via a steep climb through a really creepy field consisting of huge boulders covered with dark lichens and moss. The beginning elevation of the hike was 8,160 feet, and the rise to Fern Lake is 1,375 feet with the side trip to Spruce Lake consisting of around 400 feet more climbing. Returning to their rental house, the group found a huge mother Elk and her calf standing in their parking place.
On their final day of hiking in Rocky Mountain National Park, the group chose to climb to the summit of Estes Cone, an extinct volcano with a summit 11,001 feet above sea level. A short but exceedingly steep climb up this conical formation rewards hikers with panoramic views of Longs Peak, the Continental Divide, and Estes Park area.
The trail climbs steadily in a mixed pine forest to the Chasm Lake - Estes Cone Trail split and turns sharply north. It continues on a moderate grade that levels over a stream to the Eugenia Mine site - a settler era gold mine. The trail dips past the mine to Moore Park Backcountry Campsite and begins a steep push to the summit, covering almost 1,000 vertical feet in the final .7 miles. Rock markers known as cairns helped to identify the trail, but were difficult to spot. A 20 yard scramble up steep scree that led to the bare-rock summit of Estes Cone left all the hikers gasping for breath. The Cone’s pinnacle offered unabated panoramas across the Continental Divide and the surrounding area.
On the next to last day of the trip, the group headed to Denver via the Peak-to-Peak highway on the way to Mt. Evans, their final destination. Mt. Evans is a 14er peak just south of Idaho Springs, Colorado and the road to the summit is the highest paved road in the United States. This road, built in the 30’s was very narrow and had no guardrail, and the 14 mile drive to the top of the peak was both breathtaking and terrifying. Arriving at the trailhead, the group made the final push to the summit on foot and the vistas from the “top of the world” were fantastic. On the return trip, a large group of Bighorn Sheep were spotted grazing in a large meadow and at one point a traffic jam developed while a mountain goat went from car to car looking for a handout.
Leaving Mt. Evans, the group spent the night in Denver and returned to Greeneville the next afternoon.
This trip was one of the most difficult but most rewarding adventures taken by the group in this beautiful, high elevation alpine region of Colorado.