Spring Equinox on Blue Mountain

04 Apr

The north slope of Blue Mountain rises above Lake George Dam

Hike on March 20, 2007
Trailhead: 38º55’10”N, 105º22’0”W, 8677 feet
Top of northern summit: 38º56’29”N, 105º21’28”W, 9126 feet
Walking distance 4.3 miles

In Lake George, turn southwest from US 24 onto Park County Road 96, at Starkey’s Liquor and Groceries. This road follows
the South Platte around the south end of the lake, and then up Elevenmile Canyon. Go about 1 mile, and turn left onto Park County Road 61. This road leads you south, past Blue Mountain Campground, along the east side of Blue Mountain, and then turns west. Go past the junction of a road to Florissant, and continue west up the hill, and park beside the road at the start of Forest Service Road 244, 5.7 miles from US 24. The road is also marked by a sign that says “Circle C Ranch” and “Horse Motel.” Don’t cross the cattle guard, which is just past FSR244 on PCR61.

Even a quick glance at a recreational or topographic map will help you fi nd somewhere to hike in Park County. I was looking at a topo map in the Lake George area, and noticed low, rolling country in western Teller County, then – boom – a vertical
north-south wall in Park County. Blue Mountain is a long ridge that rises abruptly 600 feet from the gentle slopes to its east. A hike on a notable mountain is just the thing for the spring equinox, a notable day.

The heavy snows earlier in the year followed by unseasonably warm weather has made for circumstances that require some extra planning for a hiking trip. The south-facing slopes are clear in open fields and muddy in the trees; north-facing slopes can hold deep snow drifts, especially in the forest. West-facing slopes tend to be clearer than those to the east, but both will hold snow if forested.

With these things in mind, I started on one of the many forest service roads southwest of Blue Mountain. I could have driven a long way from County Road 61, as there were only small scattered snow piles and mud holes, but the sky was clear, the weather warm, and only a light southwest breeze was blowing. It was no time to be in a car.

Forest Service Road 244 led north, up an easy slope, and into the trees, a mix of ponderosa pine, Douglas fi r, and aspen, typical of Park County’s lower elevations. The road would be no trouble.

At a fork in the road with road 244A, 244 turned more east, and went up a little more steeply, heading straight towards Blue Mountain. Here was the first view of Pike’s Peak, dominating the landscape to the east. All the low, rolling hills of Teller County just make Pike’s all the more impressive.

Soon the forest became denser and the road turned back north. Other Forest Service Roads connect to 244: 244C leading west,
and 244E north down a slope and into the snow from the top of a small ridge. From here 244 turned southeast, got steeper,switched back north, and then ended as a road, although a trail continued on.
At the end of the road sprawl the ruins of a small shack and its outhouse. Both were covered with steel sheeting, but rot in the wooden framework, and probably winter winds, brought them down.
From this point, the top of the ridge of Blue Mountain was only a little more than a hundred feet up, the forest was fairly thin, and there were few rocks and little snow. It was an easy decision to leave the trail and strike straight up.

The ruins of the shack and its outhouse, from the end of Forest Service Road 244, looking south

There is a trail along the top of Blue Mountain, but a number of snow drifts blocked it. Still, the travel was easy, there being a thin forest, easy grades, and not too many rocks to dodge. At the bottom of the first saddle was an unused road, probably built to service a mining claim along the top and west side of the ridge. Several small digs and an old pile of lumber mark someone’s efforts.

The best views were from the northern-most peak. To the east,Pike’s Peak was impressive, and Crystal Peak, north of Florissant, made a good showing of her own.
Thirtynine Mile Mountain showed prominently to the southwest. Of the high peaks in western Park County and Chaffee County, only Mount Princeton and Buffalo Peaks are visible over the local mountains. Closer, Badger Mountain, just north of Wilkerson Pass, blocks any view one could have of South Park. There are four high points on Blue Mountain, the highest being the most southern. I had come up on the third high point from the north. Not knowing what snow fields waited, I decided to forego the southern summit, and just go north. Shortly after starting out, a grouse cock sprang from a nearby log, and flew north along the ridge. I followed him down the to the saddle between high points. He flew again, this time heading west, off the ridge top.

Crystal Peak, the pointed mountain, rises above the low, rolling hills around Florissant

A loop is a more enjoyable trip than going out and back, so from Blue Mountain’s northernmost summit, I headed down to the west. The sides of Blue Mountain are steep in any direction, but, true to my predictions, the north and east sides were covered with trees and snow, while the west side was mostly grassy and dry. There were many yucca scattered in the grass; this was unusual only in that almost all of the plants were small and young, only a few years old. A new trend here, perhaps. Another surprise, it being only March: butterflies! Several fl uttered by, of a variety common in Park County, brown with a yellow stripe on the trailing edges of their wings.

At the bottom of the valley was a road that lead south and up to a ridge leading west from Blue Mountain. I suspected that the road was 244E, and that I would fi nd plenty of snow once I got up into the trees. I was right, on both counts. There were lots of deer signs, both droppings and tracks in the mud and snow. I found the deer and I had similar strategies for getting up the hill: Follow the road, but skirt around the snow when it blocked the road. Near the top, though, a big drift would have made for a long detour, and I followed the deer tracks straight through.

The return trip was a stroll down the road. Sun and wind had melted the few snow drifts on the road, and turned isolated spots of mud, but the spots were easy to avoid.

I love finding new places to hike, and Blue Mountain made for a great half-day trek: Not too long a climb where steep, nice diversity of terrain, wildlife, and, always the icing on the cake, are the views from the top; or in Blue Mountain’s case, from the tops!

The north slopes of Saddle Mountain on the left, and Thirtynine Mile Mountain still carry a signifi cant amount of snow.


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