Hike with Joe on December 15, 2006
Trailhead: From US 285 at mile marker 225, turn north at the traffic light onto Park County Road 43A, and follow it onto Park County Road 43. At about 6.8 miles from US 285, take the right fork onto Park County Road 47. At about 8 .0 miles from US 285, you will find yourself on a short, straight section of road headed directly towards Meridian Campground. Keep on CR 47, which curves right, then left. After the left curve at 8.2 miles from US 285, there are two roads on the left of CR 47; take the first, Prospector Way; there are signs that say “Camp Rosalie” and “Meridian Trail 1 Mile”. Prospector Way is rough and poorly maintained, but passable with two wheel drive. The Meridian Trailhead is 9.25 miles from US 285. This is Forest Service Trail 604
GPS, Datum WGS84:
Trailhead: 39º33’19” North 105º32’12” West, 9070 feet
Top of Ridge 39º33’19” North 105º31’28” West, 10755 feet
Our round-trip distance: 5.2 miles
Meridian Hill seems to be prominent but unknown. You can’t help but see it while coming out of Burland Ranchettes on Park County Road 72, after you crest the hill and head down towards US 285. It’s right in front of you, a long, bare crest sticking out of the forest, four prominent outcroppings pointing to the sky. I always thought that it looked like a man’s face in profile, he laying on his back, his head to the east, the outcroppings his chin, mouth, nose and eyebrows.
The Meridian Trail starts in the far upper reaches of Elk Creek, just west of Harris Park. Joe had no problems coaxing his Subaru up the snow covered road from Park County Road 47 until a rough section about a tenth of a mile from the trailhead blocked the way. There is ample space to park off the road, so we walked from there.
At the trailhead is a sign placed by the Forest Service, the likes of which I had not seen before: It states that it is mandatory for hiking parties to register before hiking or camping in the area. We opened the box below the sign, and found all the forms and pencils gone. Someone before us had expressed disdain for the new regulations by firing several bullets through the sign and box.
The trail begins by crossing Elk Creek over a footbridge built with beams and boards. The morning frost was heavy, and the boards were slick. It was a great day for a foray into the forest: The sun shined dimly through high, thin clouds, the temperature was a bit below freezing, the winds were calm. All around were the bright, green needles of the lodgepole pine forest that makes up the skirts of Rosalie Peak and her nearby sisters.
Meridian Trail is a steady climb, not overly steep anywhere, but rarely is there reprieve from going up, up, up. Immediately after the bridge at the trailhead, you climb the ridgeside, moving slowly away from Elk Creek. It’s not long before the rush of the creek is no longer heard, and there’s a long drop to the floor of the narrow valley. Still the trail is in the trees, and there are no sweeping views; for the first mile the only distinguishing geographic feature is the round, wooded hill to the west you slowly pass as you climb.
The sunny days and high winds we’ve had since the heavy snows of weeks past have cleared the lower portions of the trail, so we carried our snowshoes for the first mile. Still we found plenty of crusty snow and ice, and tracks from travelers that passed in the days before us. Two or three people had hiked up the trail, two had crosscountry skied, and one large dog and one or two smaller ones had accompanied one of the parties.
Up the trail we climbed, finally finding enough snow to put on our snowshoes. The snow covered most the trail, excepting a few wind-blown bare spots and watery creek crossings. The sun had put a crusty top on the snow, hiding the loose, wind-blown, powdery snow underneath. “Good conditions for an avalanche,” said Joe, recounting the time he got caught in the tail of one, being buried up to his waist. “It’s like being caught in cement; you can’t move.” Luckily for us the Meridian Trail is in the trees, well below timberline.
The trail continues to climb, moving north, finally crossing over to the next valley. The valley bottom is far below, and the ridge on the far side ends with a rocky cliff. A few limber pine appear in the lodgepole, then the trail abrubtly turns east, goes around a couple of switchbacks, and heads northeast into an aspen forest. On a summer hike, you’d still be deep in the forest, but with the aspen leaves gone, there are views through the branches over your shoulder to the southeast. The round dome of Green Mountain dominates the view, and you can find Pike’s Peak, Windy Peak, and others as you peer through the branches.
We finally left the aspen, going back into the conifers, a nice mix of lodgepole and limber pines, with spruce tall and thin, and occasional Douglas firs, Christmas trees in the forest. The clouds were thinning and the winds coming up as we apporached the top of the ridge. To the west the rocks on Rosedale Peak show through the trees in a few places, but Meridian Hill is hidden from view.
Travel is slow on icy trails, and slower still on snowy trails, even with snowshoes. Add to that the fact that Joe and I were in no hurry, content to enjoy the day and the walk, kept our progress to a leisurely mile an hour, counting water breaks, lunch break, and stops to look at where an elk had gnawed an aspen, or at one three-foot diameter limber pine amongst the six-inch aspen and lodgepole. When we reached the top of the ridge between Rosedale Peak to the west and Meridian Hill and Mud Lakes to the east, it was too late to do anything but head back.
The views through the aspen on the return trip are great. Deer Creek Valley lies before you, and every hill and mountain in the Bailey area plays hide-and-seek through the branches. Snowshoeing requires you pay attention to the trail, lest you step on your own shoes, or trip over obstacles hidden in the snow, so catching a good view for a photo or just a long gaze can be tricky.
The trip down was as quick as the trip up was slow. The metal teeth on the bottoms of our snowshoes made for slip-free travel, and the sun had softened the top crust of the snow on the trail, making for soft footfalls. As we approached the trailhead, the sun was moving towards the ridgetops, and the shadows were lengthening. It was a good time to wrap up our foray into the forest.