Editor's Note: This is a blog about segment hiking The Colorado Trail. I am planning to hike the 485.8-mile trail over the next 10 years (that's 50 miles a year!) Because I prefer not to backpack, I am attempting to split the longer segments into shorter segments.
After hiking Segments 1-3 of The Colorado Trail, since they melted early, we decided to tackle a high elevation segment. Segment 10 is about 13.6 miles.
Looking at the elevation chart, the hike has about 2,600 feet of elevation gain in both directions. Both directions also have about 1,000 feet of gain at the beginning of the hike, a big drop, another 1,000 feet of elevation gain in the middle, and another drop. We decided to hike the trail northbound starting at the Mt. Massive Trailhead (directions below).
Because Mount Massive is a 14er, a peak over 14,000 feet, the main parking lot was full when we arrived at 8 a.m. That meant we had to park 0.2 miles down the road at the overflow parking lot. We parked, packed up and heading for the trailhead. The trailhead is very basic -- just parking spaces and some signs -- no bathrooms or trash cans. Take a few steps up the trail and you'll come to a trail register. Please fill out the form so the Forest Service can track how many people are visiting this area.
Now it's time to head up. The single-person wide, dirt trail starts in the forest. And it starts with an uphill. We quickly gained about 200 feet in elevation in the first 0.4 miles. That doesn't seem like much, but the trail starts at 10,000 feet so we were huffing and puffing right away.
The trail mellowed out for a few steps, but because we had to gain nearly 1,300 feet in the first four miles, there were some steep sections. If you're struggling to breathe, that's because the trail climbs to 11,300 feet.
With all the heavy rain and snow this spring and early summer, we had two interesting creek crossings at South Willow Creek and Willow Creek. If you search upstream just a bit, you should find places to cross over and keep your feet dry.
About three miles from the trailhead, we came to a trail split where the Mount Massive Trail turns off. Hikers climbing the peak have a big challenge ahead of them -- there's another four miles from this spot and about 3,300 feet of elevation gain. We stayed on the Colorado Trail.
After the Mt. Massive turnoff, it's about another 0.8 miles and 225 feet of elevation gain to the high spot for this segment of the Colorado Trail. At 4 miles in, at 11,310 elevation, we came to a clearing where it appears people have camped in the past. This is a good spot for a break and a snack.
Now it's time for the first downhill of the trail. The trail loses about 1,000 feet over the next three miles.
As we headed downhill, about 0.4 miles from the high point, there was another creek crossing. This one has a sign that says North Willow Creek. It's a nice cascade worthy of a photo or two.
As we continued (mostly) downhill, we passed the turnoff for the Highland Trail, then a couple swampy ponds. They may be seasonal, since they weren't mentioned in the Colorado Trail book.
After hiking about 7 miles, we came to a bridge, then a turnoff for the fish hatchery. The hatchery's website says its building is open 7:30 - 3:30 daily and the hatchery grounds are open during daylight hours. However, I couldn't find any information about how far the hike is to the hatchery, so we stayed on the main trail. By the way, if you're backpacking this trail, there's a nice meadow here in the trees that would make for a good place to camp.
After a break at fish hatchery road, we began the next steep climb. The trail gains about 700 feet in the next three miles. That may not seem like much, but as the temperature went up and we went up -- it got hot and the hike got hard.
After the first mile of climbing, we came to the Swamp Lakes Trail turnoff and a swampy lake. As the Colorado Trail passes the lake, it flattens out, which was a nice break. We also passed another sign for the fish hatchery, so you may actually be able to take the first trail over and this one back, making a nice loop.
For now, we continued on. It was another two miles to the next high point and the trail started to drop, but only for a short distance. We ended up on a series of short ups and downs for awhile passing a couple nice cascades and a meadow with power lines. The power lines were a surprise after being in a place that felt so remote.
A short distance away, we crossed a dirt road and started heading downhill. At about 11.5 miles, we crossed Hagerman Pass Road and continued working out way through the forest and over another large bridge to our trailhead.
Note: When you pass the signed turnoff for Timberline Lake, near the end of the hike, stay on The Colorado Trail. That trail, now an old Jeep Road, will take you to the parking lot a short distance away.
Details: The hike from the overflow lot at Mount Massive to the Timberline Lake Trailhead was 13.6 miles with 2,400 feet of elevation gain. The high point was 11,326 feet.
Directions from the Forest Service: From Leadville, travel 3 miles west on US Highway 24. Take Colorado 300 west 3/4 of a mile to Lake County 11. Follow signs to Elbert Creek Campground. The trailhead is just east of this campground.