Hike with Mark, Guy, Steve, and Sunday T. Dog on September 21, 2008
Wilkerson Pass Visitors Center: 39º02’16”N, 105º31’30”W, 9,524 feet
Pulver Mountain: 39º0’40”N, 105º31’1”W, 10,528 feet
Stoll Mountain, east summit: 39º59’31”N, 105º30’3”W, 10,873 feet
Hiking distance: 8.1 miles
The aspens had begun changing the week before the fall equinox, and Mark had come up with a great hike. We would start at Wilkerson Pass and walk the ridges to his place near Elevenmile Reservoir. On the way, we’d summit two peaks, Pulver Mountain and Stoll Mountain.
Steve, Sunday and I made the trip down Tarryall Valley and up Wilkerson Pass to the Visitor’s Center on US 24 between mile markers 254 and 255. There are great views from there, a helpful Forest Service staff, and, best of all, public restrooms. Mark and Guy were waiting for us, champing at the bit and ready to go. Our ignoble start took us up the stairs on the south side of the parking lot, and through the picnic area beyond. Sunday slowed us down a bit, as she tried to “read all the calling cards” left by other dogs that had walked near the pass.
Cresting the first small hill, we had a view of our first objective: A valley to cross, and a hill to climb. Evergreens were the most numerous trees on the hillside, but there were ample aspen, and many were beginning to turn to their fall colors. To the northwest, we got another sweeping view of South Park and the mountains beyond. On the plain near Sulphur Mountain, a ridge that rises out of the Park floor, two hot air balloons were getting ready to lift off.
We came to an east-west fence at the edge of a meadow. Our maps told us that there was National Forest on both sides, so we climbed through, and walked across the meadow. The fence turned south near our crossing, and we ended up crossing it again on the far side of the meadow. Into the trees we went, and up our first hill.
The Douglas fir and aspen forest was wet from rain the day before. Ample undergrowth, mosses and lichens told us that we were in a generally wet area. This southern end of the Puma Hills no doubt gets a lot of moisture from the winds that blow their way across South Park. The hill got steep, and pushed us back to the fence, which was continuing south. We followed it a ways, and crossed it a couple of times again, when it looked like there was less downed timber and easier walking on the other side.
Cresting the top of our first summit, we got a view of the path a head of us: Pulver Mountain, with Stoll Mountain behind her. We expected this next leg of the trip to be the toughest: Going down to the saddle and up the side of Pulver Mountain, the longest ascent ahead of us. The south slope we went down was distinct from the north slope that we went up. It was a bit steeper and rockier near the top, which didn’t bother us much as we were headed downhill. There were some open meadows below the steep bit, and lots more aspen. Once on the saddle leading to Pulver, we found the forest changed back to evergreens, this time dominated by limber pines. On the last hill, there were many old stumps, evidence of logging in the past. On Pulver’s lower slopes, there were few stumps. Instead we found two large, tall limber pines as we started to climb.
Going up Pulver Mountain proved to be easier than the climb up the first hill. It was certainly longer, but not overly steep, with little downed timber to dodge. Far to the west, we heard an elk bugle, then another answered, far to the east. Mosses on the forest floor were common, as were lichens growing on the dead trees and live tree bark. Yellow-leafed bushes and pockets of turning aspen added color to the forest. Near the top, the limber pine were big and scraggly, and some bristlecone pines joined in the mix.
Pulver Mountain gave us our first high-up, sweeping views of South Park and the Sawatch and Mosquito Ranges. We also had clear views of the west end of Elevenmile Reservoir with Thirtyninemile Mountain behind, and Pike’s Peak to the southeast. More pertinent to our present situation was the view of Stoll Mountain to the south. We saw Stoll Mountain’s five distinct peaks, one at the center, and one at approximately each of the four compass points. The north peak was the lowest and the east, the highest, but the center was nearly as high. We planned to summit the north peak, skirt the center, and then go to the top of the mountain on the east peak. The climb up Pulver Mountain had been the longest ascent, so we figured that the worst of the hike was behind us, and on we went.
It was quick and easy up and over Stoll North, and a copy of the hills we’d already gone over: Down steep through rocks on the south slope, into aspen and meadows to the saddle, then limber pine on the north slope, and bristlecone pine on top. We plotted our attack of Stoll Central: Two thirds of the way up we’d hit an aspen grove, then traverse to the east to the saddle, and head for Stoll East.
Stoll Central turned out to be the hardest ascent to that point. It wasn’t overly steep, but there were many rocks and downed timber. Sunday had trouble with the ground cover, especially the low evergreen shrubs with the pointy needles. She took her own path around them when she could, and barked until she got a ride over when she couldn’t. The forest debris varied our course, and we never found the aspen grove. We started our traverse when a glimpse through the trees told us we were high enough. We were happy to finally be on the saddle, and hopeful that the worst ascent was behind us.
Going up Stoll East was relatively short with little elevation gain, but turned into another rough ascent. There were more rocks to dodge, more and bigger downed trees, and more bushes. We took a long rest on Stoll’s highest peak, enjoyed the views of Thirtyninemile and Saddle Mountains and Elevenmile Reservoir. From this point, our path was generally down hill, along ridges with only modest ascents. Again we were happy that the worst was behind us.
Ha ha. We weren’t happy for long. Again we began with a steep descent, and headed for the ridge we were going to follow. There are details the topographic maps don’t show you, and details you can’t see through the trees. Our ridge had a spine of jagged rocks, so we had to travel on the side of the hill, skirting the rocks when we could, scrambling over them when we had to, and carrying the dog when the going got really rough. At the end of each ridge or at the top of each small summit, we’d look at each other and say, “Whew! I’m glad that’s over. The worst must be behind us now!” But then we’d go up another ridge, and, well, deja vu all over again.
Finally we got near enough Mark’s stomping grounds that he knew the valleys below us, and we abandoned the ridges, almost tumbled down the hillside, and gratefully walked meadows the last mile. Mrs. Mark met us at her doorstep, beer in hand. She never looked so pretty, and the brew never tasted so good.
I heartily recommend the hike up Pulver and Stoll Mountains. The views are great, although most of them are only from the tops of the peaks. The forest, with its changing tree species and abundant undergrowth, is the lushest and most interesting I’ve found in Park County. A round trip, starting from and returning to Wilkerson Pass from Stoll East, is about 8.2 miles, and not very difficult, except for the last half mile or so to the summit. The journey beyond Stoll Mountain I don’t recommend. It’s steep and rough, and goes through private property at the end. If you’re with Mark, it’s OK, as he knows his neighbors and which valleys to head down, but you don’t, so just turn around at the top of Stoll. Believe me, just because you’re at the top doesn’t mean the worst is behind you.