Webster Mountain You’d Never Know It Was There

14 Jun
Webster Mountain from below Grant

Webster Mountain from below Grant

Hike with Cheryl and Sunday T. Dog on June 28,2009
Trailhead: 39º28’54”N, 105º41’36”W, 8,905 feet
Left Trail: 39º28’5”N, 105º42’34”W, 9,702 feet
Summit: 39º28’6”N,105º41’54”W, 10,220 feet

Hiking distance: 5.0 milesThe summit of Webster Mountain is difficult to pick out, in spite of the fact that it’s close to U.S. 285. In fact, it’s harder to see because the highway is so close. Probably the best, albeit brief, view is from east of Grant on U.S. 285, a bit west of the changeable road conditions sign, as you travel toward town. The summit is the high point of the tree-covered mountain straight ahead of you.

Our hike took us up Callahan Gulch, on the trail that Steve and I snowshoed up in January. The trail began in the Whiteside Campground, which is 2.4 miles up Guanella Pass Road (Park County Road 62) from Grant, just west of mile marker 211 on U.S. 285. During the summer, the campground and its parking are fee areas. You can pony up the $3 fee or find a wide spot to park in up or down the road.

Once in the campground, cross Geneva Creek on the footbridge, and turn left at the sign that says “Horse Trail.” With the snow cover, Steve and I thought the trail went through campsite number 4, but it goes downstream between the campsite and the creek.
The wet weather this June has left the creek high, the undergrowth lush, and the trail soggy in spots. Cheryl, Sunday and I dodged the hanging tree branches, streams crossing the path, and most of the mud on the quarter mile downstream to Callahan Gulch.

Callahan Gulch trail

“I don’t remember all these rocks!” that were on the first part of the trail up Callahan Gulch. The summer path up is more treacherous than in winter.

The trail went west up the gulch just after we crossed the creek. The path was wide and steep, and full of rocks. “I don’t remember all these rocks!” I said. “Would that have anything to do with the three feet of snow in January?” asked Cheryl. Duh.

I did remember the steep bit, which went on for a while. The warm weather made for a pleasant day, but the rain from the day before made the gulch humid, and the hill up made the hike and us a little sticky for a ways. We soon came to the place where Steve and I left the gulch bottom, going up the hill north of the stream. Now that there was no snow, we found an easier way: Staying on the trail, which moved up the hillside south of the stream. This, too, had been covered by snow in January.

The trail became less steep before we reached the first meadow. Bushes grew thick along the creek, and the grass was green and tall. I got a picture of a small pond overgrown with water plants. Prettiest pond scum I ever saw.

Between the first and next meadows, the trail became steep again, but it didn’t last long. This second meadow is high enough to offer views to the east, to the slopes of Mount Logan. Halfway along it, the stream and meadow take a nearly right-angle turn, changing direction from southwest to northwest. As I read the map, this was the place to leave the trail and head for the top of the mountain. As the trail turned, we did an about-face and headed southeast into the forest.

The bushwhack through the forest started steep, but no steeper than we had gone up Callahan Gulch trail. Most of the undergrowth was small leafy plants, with few evergreen bushes. Sunday hates evergreen bushes. I would, too, if my face were only eight inches or so off the ground. The limber pine and Douglas fir forest didn’t have much down timber in our way, which made for an easier forest climb. The mountain was less steep near the top, and that helped, too.

We got a cool breeze at the first high point, but there were too many trees for much of a view. Disappointed, we walked on. The ground was nearly level for a while, but then climbed again. There was more down timber, and more rocks to dodge. A few lodgepole pines joined in the forest mix. Then … A UFO! A shiny disk hovering motionless in space! No, wait, it’s just a spider web, suspended between trees four or more feet apart. The business part of the web was less than six inches in diameter, and the strands of silk holding it in place were nearly invisible.

spider web

This spider web seemed to be hanging in space

At the summit, we found a rocky cap, but it wasn’t clear of trees. Life for trees is hard in the rocks, and there are often dead among the living. I came up to one such tree, and a woodpecker flew from it. I leaned against it, and it began to sing. It seems I had scared a mother from her nest, and the babies in the tree thought I was mama back with more lunch, so they twittered when I leaned on their tree.

From near the bird tree, we got our first long views. The best was looking west toward Kenosha Pass. We looked down on the road going up Kenosha Creek from the old town site of Webster. When the highway was made, a long cut was made in the valley to accommodate the roadway, and it showed clearly from our vantage point. Nearly parallel to the highway, higher but not as bold, was the cut made eighty or so years earlier, to take the Denver, South Park and Pacific Railroad up the pass. Both led up the hillside and faded into the trees that topped the pass. Webster Mountain’s summit is a few feet higher than the summit of the pass, so we looked over it to see Mount Silverheels, her white winter trim almost gone.

View west

The view southwest from Webster Mountain follows the deep cuts along US 285, and the dimmer cuts along the old railroad grade that head up toward Kenosha Pass. Mount Silverheels is in the distance.

To the north, we found the mountains along the Continental Divide, still sporting lines of snow in deep crevasses. The sides of Blaine Peak and North Twin Cone Peak dominated the view to the south, across upper Platte Canyon. We could see up above timberline, but not to the summits.

In order to get a good view to the east, down river past Grant, we had to move down from the summit and find a break in the trees. From a rocky point we looked down on the tailings pile from the Roberts Tunnel, through the town of Grant, and down the valley, past Split Rock and on to Long Scraggy Mountain near Buffalo Creek, and Devils Head on the Rampart Range. If there was a view to the high plains, they were hidden in the haze.

View east

The view down Platte Canyon went beyond the Rampart Range and into the clouds over the eastern plains.

Sunday reminded us why we had come so far, so we went back to the summit, gave her a drink of water, and had lunch.

The descent from the mountain was quick, as we went with the slope, and the forest floor was fairly clear. We decided we could extend the trip, and followed a trail west from the upper meadow. We went up to the burned area where Steve and I had found lots of young lodgepole pines growing. I was surprised to find lots of young aspen growing among them. Again, I hadn’t noticed them in the winter, but their summer foliage made them obvious.

On our return trip we found the remains of the cabin and outhouses at the edge of the lower meadow. I hadn’t looked for them on the way up, as the lush green expanse had my whole attention. From there we dealt with the steep and rocky trail, then made our way upstream to the campground and the car.

The meadows along Callahan Gulch are beautiful in the summer and winter, and worth the hike up one of the rockier trails around. Webster Mountain offers unique views, being down between high peaks, yet up above the valley floor, and having views up and down roads old and new. A snowshoe to the top of the mountain on a clear day in January would make a great counterpoint to this summer trip.

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