Monday, August 29, 2011

Williams Fork Mountains / Middle Fork loop

I had always wanted to hike this ridge, and read about a good loop in "Complete Guide to Colorado's Wilderness Areas," by Mark Pearson and John Fielder. I decided to tack on the climb from Silverthorne to Ptarmigan Peak as well, and make myself a full loop of the Ptarmigan Peak Wilderness Area.

Photos are here. Here's my favorite.

It was a little too long/rugged for the time I set aside (a day and a half). The ridge is quite beautiful, and I charged along through a quite pretty weather window. However, there's no trail up there and it takes awhile to move along. It's definitely not the place to be during a rainstorm (although there are some pretty little lakes/hunting camps on the east side of the range).

The ridge reminds me just a bit of hiking in the White Mountains of California - a big rolling landscape with a mighty jagged range to the West (in California, the Sierras; in Colorado, the Gores).

Aside: Awhile back, a friend said, "Back when I was younger, I just went up stairs like I was walking on a flat surface - I didn't get what was wrong with older people." Back when I worked in the Whites, I caught a ride to Barcroft Station with my bike, dropped off the bike, and then hiked from Barcroft to Boundary Peak and back in two days. When I got back I was so windblown I looked like a tomato. I jumped on my bike, rode down to Crooked Creek Station, had lunch, and then rode down a road that drops 1,000 feet a mile from 11,000 feet to 4,000 feet. I stopped a few times to fix blown tubes until I just stuffed the tire with grass and sage. Back at OVL, I crashed for the night and went back to work the next morning - I probably went for a run before getting started. Yup, it was good to be young.

End of aside.

I made it down to treeline just as night came on, and - hey, what's that steady droning noise? Why, a tremendous conveyor belt, obviously. Interestingly, the little tourist map in the Pearson/Fielder book directs prospective hikers right into the Henderson / Climax Mine folks' property. My first thought (obviously) was, "Hey, I could jump on the conveyor belt and get back to the trail fast!" However, that would have meant that you would read about me in next years' Darwin Awards. I was back at the trail soon enough after my industrial intermission.

The hike up the Middle Fork of the Williams Fork was pleasant but muggy, and I refrained from telling the elk hunters that all the elk were still up high. The trail back up to Ptarmigan Pass is fading fast, and you then essentially cut cross country back to the Ptarmigan Peak trail.

After a few trips, I'm realizing that the Pearson/Fielder book is just a (good) idea book - everything is positive and wonderful and it's just great to go out to the wilderness. It's up to you to find out that the trails may or may not be there, the route may lead into the largest moly mine in North America, etc.

Which is fine - I'm glad I went. It's an incredible spot, especially considering how close it is to Denver.

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The trip was also a bit of a shakedown for my longer trip to the Arizona Trail this week. It's good to know that your little sunscreen bottle has mysteriously separated/liquefied, etc., before heading out for five days.

One new gear item is my replacement REI "Halo" sleeping bag. The old one was doing fine until it randomly developed a giant tear that dumped a bunch of down. Apparently this is common given the fabric used in the past. As I've written previously, I got a screamin' deal on this bag, so screamin' that REI didn't want to take it back. But after about an hour of them looking me in the eye to see if I was a bad hippie/serial gear exchanger, they gave me a new one.

And lo! The new one has substantially more down/loft than the old one. Was my old one a secret factory second/defect model? In any case I'm happy with the new one.

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