13er Thursday: A gallery of some great peaks that don’t hit 14,000 feet

On the slopes of Cupid, a Colorado 13er that was remarkably free of people when I was there.

On the slopes of Cupid, a Colorado 13er that was remarkably free of people when I was there.

If you’re into the Colorado hiking and climbing scene, you know all about the  14ers, the peaks that rise to elevations of more than 14,000 feet. Colorado has more of those than any state in the country, 58 high points that hit that magic number.

To say that the 14ers are popular is an understatement. Many of these peaks get crowded in the summer, with packed trails and clogged trailhead parking lots. Looking for a moment of solitude in the mountains? That’s not likely among the 14ers during the peak season of summer hiking. You’ll need to hit ’em up in less friendly conditions that surround winter for that.

But there are plenty of other mountains in Colorado. Believe it or not, most of them don’t top 14,000 feet. And because of that, they’ve become the forgotten mountains of the peak bagger realm.

Fine by me. I like the 13ers. They’re wild, beautiful and largely absent of people. My experience in the 13ers is a little limited, but memorable just the same.

Enough words. Just take a look and you’ll see what I mean.

Grizzly Peal D is in there somewhere...

Grizzly Peak D is in there somewhere…

You can hike this one and many others just up the road from Denver, and chances are, you will see few people.

Iowa Peak (left) and Emerald Peak.

Iowa Peak (right) and Emerald Peak.

Just south of Missouri Mountain are these beauties.

Gilpin Peak. Rugged stuff near Telluride.

Gilpin Peak (left). Rugged stuff near Telluride.

Yankee Boy Basin is home to some seriously amazing 13er scenery.

Kismet and Potosi.

Kismet (right) and Potosi.

See what I mean?

Campsite view of Peak 18.

Campsite view of Peak 18.

The 13ers can be quite dramatic, even if their names are not.

Pigeon and Turret peaks.

Turret and Pigeon peaks.

One word. Wow.

13ers everywhere. In the distance, Vestal and Arrow peaks.

13ers everywhere. In the distance, Vestal and Arrow peaks.

Did I say wow? Yes. Yes I did.

Coxcomb, Redcliff and somewhere over there, Precipice peaks.

Coxcomb, Redcliff and somewhere over there, Precipice.

They look good in snow, too.

Matterhorn Peak.

Matterhorn Peak.

A knockout, right?

Precipice Peak.

Precipice Peak.

Indeed, they are. In all seasons.

So there ya go. It doesn’t have to be 14,000 feet to be awesome. There are more than 600 of these amazing 13,000-foot rockpiles out there. Plenty to explore away from crowds.

Scenic Mount Sniktau's summit ridge.

Scenic Mount Sniktau’s summit ridge.

Bob Doucette

The year that was: Looking back on a challenging, educational and fruitful 2015

I gladly chose to #OptOutside. (Jen Baines photo)

All things considered, 2015 was a challenging but rewarding year.

Sometimes you have one of those years where things don’t quite go as you planned. But in retrospect, you find that some pretty great things happened despite the challenges. Those silver linings always shine though. 2015 was that sort of year.

The past year was marked by setbacks, unmet goals and some disappointments. But in the midst of that, there were quite a few lessons learned — things that propelled me forward toward the end of 2015 and should reap some benefits going forward.

RUNNING

Cue the heroic "Braveheart" music, and imagine me yelling out, "This day, I will choose my destiny! I will choose not to suck!"

Running took a hit, but there was a rally in the fall. Momentum is back on my side!

I’d say it is in this area, and in fitness overall, where I fell flat. After a decent 2014 (which followed an amazing 2013), I backslid significantly. I took a break from races, which in itself is not a bad thing. Sometimes you need to back off.

But without any goals on the horizon, I slacked off on my training, with predictable results. I gained some bad weight, got slower, and lost that “free” feeling I’d earned after a season of marathon training two years ago. It became laborious.

Fortunately, I rallied in the fall, a season in which I declared that I was choosing not to suck. I ended up running three road races over three months, capping it off with a second half marathon at the Route 66 Marathon in Tulsa. By the time I got into the last weeks of training for that race, I got my running groove back.

What I learned: It’s easy to lose your conditioning, and hard to regain it. You don’t have to race, but you do need to keep challenging yourself.

IN THE MOUNTAINS

Me at the Keyhole, which would have to be my summit that day. (Noel Johnson photo)

I didn’t conquer the mountain. It conquered me. At the Keyhole on Longs Peak.

A few things conspired against me when I turned my attention to the high country. By summer, my fitness wasn’t where it should have been, so when I joined some buddies in a climb of Longs Peak, I wasn’t at my best.

But it was the weather that did us in. Despite being an early July attempt, storms created near-winter conditions high on the peak. High winds, wet snow and a slippery rock made it a no-go, turning us back about a mile and a thousand feet below the summit at the Keyhole formation. It was the right decision, but frustrating nonetheless.

In the business, we call this trail porn. Sweet trail, awesome mountains, wildflowers in bloom. Inspiring lust for hikers everywhere.

Silver linings of came in the form of weather windows that gave me views like this. On Cupid, near Loveland Pass.

The entire week was like that. I had plans to do some easier peaks, too, but I only got one decent weather window for a quick hike up Cupid, a minor 13,000-foot peak near Loveland Pass.

But I gained good experiences in all of this, able to spend time with good friends, take some amazing photographs and learn what it’s like when the mountain says no.

Trail magic.

Trail magic on Mount LeConte.

All this was in the back of my mind heading into the fall, and a family gathering in Tennessee put me tantalizingly close to the Appalachians. I was determined to stand on top of a mountain before year’s end, so I took my sister-in-law Jen with me for a hike up Mount LeConte, my first foray into the Smokies and a memorable one at that. I love the Rockies, but I’ve got room in my heart for those wonderful East Coast peaks as well.

ADVOCACY

Turkey Mountain and the Arkansas River in Tulsa. Two natural resources that people are starting to value more.

Turkey Mountain and the Arkansas River in Tulsa. Two natural resources that people are starting to value more.

This was a big high point in 2015. I’ve been working with the Tulsa Urban Wilderness Coalition for more than a year now, and many of our efforts have been focused on protecting the Turkey Mountain Urban Wilderness Area from commercial development. More specifically, from being home to an outlet mall.

I wrote a lot about this, and the coalition made a compelling case to keep Turkey Mountain wild. Tulsans came out in droves to town hall meetings to discuss the plan, with an overwhelming majority taking the side of conservation.

City council members listened, and so did the outlet mall developers. The plan for Turkey Mountain was scrapped, moved to another part of the metro area. And more recently, there is serious discussion about expanding the urban wilderness as part of a sales tax package that should go before voters in the spring. This was a huge win not only for the coalition and Turkey Mountain, but for the entire city. If not for the tireless work of the TUWC, it’s doubtful the mountain would have been protected.

ON THE BLOG AND ONLINE

It was a good year for the blog. The number of readers I had grew, and you all responded kindly to a number of posts I threw your way.

The most popular was written shortly after my attempt on Long Peak: Seven Signs It’s Time to Bail on a Summit. Apparently, thousands of you have experienced the same thing.

Three of my top 10 posts of 2015 had to deal with the ongoing developments concerning Turkey Mountain. A lot of people shared those posts in hope of letting their friends know what was going on and what was at stake. I appreciate that more than you know, especially given how things turned out.

In addition to the blog, I continued to meet more of you in the virtual world via Proactiveoutside’s Facebook page, Instagram account and on Twitter. I definitely appreciate every follow and like I get!

LOOKING AHEAD

Somewhere just under 13,000 feet, I'm taking a break. Ran some, hiked some up here. The Sense Pro is good in the alpine.

See ya on the trails, friends!

I choose not to look at 2015 as a disappointment. There were letdowns, but there were also some incredible moments, good times with good people, and resounding successes, most of which were shared with others.

My hope is that 2016 will see greater accomplishments, more time outdoors, and perhaps a bit of news from yours truly. Stay tuned, my friends! And may your 2016 be a great one.

Bob Doucette

Should dogs be brought into the backcountry?

Our dogs can make the ultimate trail buddies. (Craig Cook photo)

Our dogs can make the ultimate trail buddies. (Craig Cook photo)

They call the domesticated canine “man’s best friend,” and it seems more true these days than most. People love their cats, but America’s love of dogs seems to have flown into the stratosphere, with people taking them to bars, insuring their health and toting them around in purses.

The outdoorsy set is no different. We love our dogs, and to share our adventures with them. Find the right breed and you’ll have a furry friend that’s up for long hikes, backpacking trips or trail runs for life. Given most pups’ eagerness to do whatever their human friend is doing, it’s tough to find a better adventure buddy or training partner.

I recently read an essay in The Adventure Journal (originally posted in the High Country News) that caught my eye. The headline, “Dogs Don’t Belong in National Park Backcountry,” caused a bit of a fuss, I’m sure. Make a suggestion about a dog not being allowed to go somewhere its human goes will get pet owners’ hackles up as much as their pooch’s when the doorbell rings.

The writer made a few points that are worth considering: that some breeds aren’t good for hiking; that the mixing of dogs and wildlife often isn’t good for either; and that it’s unfair to the dog to be put in situations of risk when the animal doesn’t have any real understanding of what risk is.

(As a matter of disclosure on the article, its main point was that some people are abusing “service dog” considerations to get around rules that prohibit dogs in restricted areas, such as NPS backcountry.)

Although I don’t currently own a dog, I’m hugely pro-dog. Most dogs like me, and I can spend a lot of time playing with dogs. I even chose my barber because he keeps a huge Great Dane/Rhodesian Ridgeback with him in his shop. I see people out with their dogs on walks, running/biking trails, and out in the backcountry all the time, and I’ve personally never had any trouble with them. A number of my friends bring Fido along on all their adventures, and indeed, their trips wouldn’t be the same without them. Given the right amount of outdoor space, I’d own a dog for sure.

One appeal to the outdoorsy dog: their energy is contagious. (Ken Childress photo)

One appeal to the outdoorsy dog: their energy is contagious. (Ken Childress photo)

But I’m not going to say the essay in question was just a case of a non-dog person writing a big harrumph at dog owners’ expense.

Let’s take a look at her first point: that a lot of dogs are not good hikers.

About 10 years ago, I was doing some fishing in Colorado’s Black Canyon when something really weird caught my eye: a couple hiking along the other bank of the river, with the woman carrying a toy-breed dog in a dog purse. Obviously, that dog wasn’t going to be good for hiking, but to each his/her own. If she wants to pull a Paris Hilton while hiking along a mountain river, that’s on her.

Another time, while hiking Quandary Peak, I came across another party and their golden lab, which clearly was not ready for a full day’s hiking at altitude. The dog reached its physical limit, plopped down, and refused to move. The owners had two choices: Pick the animal up and carry it out, or simply wait until it was ready to move again. I’m not sure how that went down. My group moved on. Hopefully they were able to coax their dog the rest of the way down the mountain, or find a way to otherwise bring it back to the trailhead.

And on one more occasion, while topping out on Mount Yale, I saw a fella carrying his pet (another lab) the entire way up the mountain’s final, bouldery and rugged stretch to the top. At that point, I wondered if it was more of a pride thing for the owner (“Me and Bruno bagged our 10th 14er!”) than anything else.

Not all hikes are a walk in the park, and certainly not all dogs — even your furry little athlete — are ready for big days in the wild.

Canine camp companions. (Matt Carver photo)

Canine camp companions. (Matt Carver photo)

Let’s move on to the second point — that dogs and wildlife often don’t mix.

Now this is a little trickier, because it’s hard to quantify dogs’ impact on wildlife if the dog is well-behaved. The article mentioned the potential effects of dogs’ droppings, noises and scents on wildlife. I’m not knowledgeable enough to comment on that, but there are other impacts that are much easier to see.

A few years back, I interviewed Jessica Evett, who at the time had been doing a lot of work with the Colorado Fourteeners Initiative, a conservation organization that benefits the Colorado high country. I asked her for advice on how people should conduct themselves on the peak, and one of her points was to mind your pets.

She advised keeping dogs on a leash when on the trail. I’m not going to go that far, but her reasons for saying this are based on sound logic. Dogs like to explore, and when they see wildlife, they often like to give chase. For many of those animals, the months they’ve spent fattening up on the bounty of spring and summer means storing life-saving calories for the harder, colder months to come. Burning those calories escaping your dog could mean the difference between life and death in the winter.

It’s important to remember that the places we love to visit are the homes of wild animals. We get to leave and enjoy the comforts of civilization. They have to deal with the consequences of our encounters.

And all of this says nothing of wildlife encounters that go wrong for the dog. Just imagine a curious or feisty dog getting the wrong end of a moose’s antlers, a mountain goat’s horns, or a bear’s claws. ‘Nuff said.

And now the third point: that the insistence on bringing a dog into the backcountry can lead to grave consequences for the animal.

A few years ago, much of Colorado was abuzz after some hikers and their dog ran into trouble when their dog, an able-bodied German Shepherd we came to know as “Missy,” pooped out in the middle of a rugged ridge traverse between Mount Bierstadt and Mount Evans. Missy’s paws were bleeding (common for dogs on rough terrain like the Rockies), and I’m sure the fatigue of a long day above 12,000 feet put the animal in a no-win situation. With deteriorating weather moving in, Missy’s owner and companions didn’t feel they could carry her out. So they left her on the ridge and hiked back to safety.

Volunteers get ready to transport Missy, a German Shepherd, off the Sawtooth Ridge in Colorado. Missy became stranded there when she could not continue the traverse of the ridge and was left there by her owner. (Huffington Post photo)

Volunteers get ready to transport Missy, a German Shepherd, off the Sawtooth Ridge in Colorado. Missy became stranded there when she could not continue the traverse of the ridge and was left there by her owner. (Huffington Post photo)

The good news is that word got out about Missy, and some determined souls went up the mountain, found the dog, and eventually carried her down safely.

The problem here is that the hikers who brought Missy to the mountain knew beforehand what the terrain had in store, and could make a decision on what to do if the hike and climb proved to be too much. Missy, being a dog, wouldn’t have had a clue. Safe to say, bringing her to that mountain and on the ridge was grossly unfair to the dog, and could have left her dead. How many other dogs are put in similar situations, simply because their owners insist on bringing them? Who knows. Probably more than we’d like to admit. And it points to a concern that maybe most dogs aren’t cut out for the rigors of backcountry adventure. Some are, for sure. But many others aren’t.

Dogs can be capable of a lot of things in the outdoors. As an owner, make sure they're ready for the places you want to take them. (Noel Johnson photo)

Dogs can be capable of a lot of things in the outdoors. As an owner, make sure they’re ready for the places you want to take them. (Noel Johnson photo)

For me, this leads me to two words: personal responsibility. You, the dog owner, know far more about what you’re getting into than your dog ever could. So the animal’s welfare rests almost entirely on you. You should definitely have enough food and water for the dog, and any gear or supplies that might be needed if your pet has problems on the trail. And if you can’t carry the animal out, maybe you should think twice before taking it with you.

It also seems wise to train your dog for your adventures. No one decides to run a marathon, then heads out for 26.2 miles the next day. It’s something you have to train for.

It’s the same thing for a big hike. You’re not going to do a 20-miler in the mountains without testing your legs and body on shorter hikes first, so why would anyone expect their dog to be any different? Training your dog to obey your commands and getting it physically ready for your outings seems like the right thing to do for your pet’s sake.

I’m not going to say dogs shouldn’t be in the backcountry. Some do quite well. But just how well they do is often entirely up to you.

Got some thoughts on this subject? Take the poll below, and leave some comments.

Bob Doucette

Hiking Tennessee’s Mount LeConte

A sweeping view of the Smokies from Mount LeConte.

A sweeping view of the Smokies from Mount LeConte.

There are some things that don’t agree with me. Black Friday is one of them.

The idea of it—getting up ridiculously early, fighting crowds, spending wads of money and feeding the increasingly ravenous commercialism that has become Christmas is a major turnoff for me. I’ve spent the last three Black Fridays getting up early, lining up at the start line and running a 5K. Way more fun than storming the ramparts of Wal-Mart of Best Buy.

This year was going to be different, as a family get-together in Tennessee for Thanksgiving was on deck, so no race this time. I’ve never been to Tennessee before, but I’ve heard some good things about the natural beauty of the Volunteer State, particularly at its eastern edge.

I floated a plan to spend Black Friday in the Smoky Mountains, and to join like-minded people who were joining in REI’s #OptOutside movement is getting outdoors instead of stampeding the malls.

Some context…

It’s been a funny year for me. I got lazy, a little chunky, and paid for it. Dreams of summits and big races got whittled down to meager results: a failed bid at Longs Peak, a half-hearted spring trail race, and hitting just one summit – a minor 13,000-foot peak in Colorado – were all I had to show for my labors. I rallied in the fall by doing a few road races (my season-long decision choosing not to suck), but I still felt the need to try to bag one more peak before the year ended. So why not one of the Smokies’ biggies in Tennessee? It seemed a shame to get that close to a mountain range I’d never seen and not try to get out there. One peak in particular caught my eye: Mount LeConte.

Why Mount LeConte?

When I started wrapping my mind around this idea, I immediately gravitated toward trying to find the state’s highest point. That mountain would be Clingman’s Dome at 6,643 feet. That sounded cool and all, seeing I’ve got a few other state high points under my belt. But after researching the mountain, one thing stuck out – there’s a huge concrete observation tower at the summit, which is not something I want to see when I’m out in the woods going up a mountain.

I took to social media and asked around, and more than once, Mount LeConte came up as the place to go when it comes to a summit hike in the Smokies. In particular, the Alum Cave Trail was noted as being the most scenic of the many routes to LeConte’s 6,593-foot summit.

One couple’s opinion rang particularly true – Dan and Ashley Walsh, who live in Georgia and frequent the Smokies quite often. I’ve seen their Instagram pages, and their many photos of LeConte. When in doubt, trust those who have been there before.

Jen and I at the trailhead, getting ready for the big day.

Jen and I at the trailhead, getting ready for the big day.

A partner in crime…

I don’t mind doing stuff like this solo. The solitude of hitting the trails on your own has its own special aesthetic appeal, but truth be told, I prefer going with people.

I also know that a big day of hiking is not for everyone. So I brought up the idea of bringing people along, if they so chose. I got one taker.

My sister-in-law Jen digs the outdoors. She loves travel. But she’s also a mom of two boys, a wife and a one-woman landscaping show, operating her own business in a few towns north of Tulsa. It’s not like the gal has a bunch of free time on her hands, so when offered the chance to do something different – even if it meant many hours of driving and a big day on the mountain –  she was game.

Never mind that she hadn’t done a hike this long or this high in her life. A willing soul is all it takes. We’ll sort out the blisters and aches/pains later.

So what about that mountain…

As I said before, Mount LeConte is one of the behemoths of Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the third highest in the park and one of the biggest in all of the southern Appalachians. The range itself, stretching about 1,500 miles from northern Alabama into Newfoundland in Canada, is one of the world’s oldest, forming some 480 million years ago. Geologists say that at their peak, the Appalachians may have been as high or higher than the Himalayas.

But all those eons of rain, snow, wind and gravity have eroded them to what they are today, their slopes more gentle and their flanks clothed in forest (though up north, there are treelines on the higher mountains). LeConte stands nearly as tall as any of the peaks in the range, and indeed, despite its age, it’s still a sizable peak. LeConte’s base is low, maybe a bit more than 1,000 feet above sea level, meaning the mountain itself rises more than a mile. A good number of famous Rocky Mountain peaks don’t have that sort of rise.

Its height is also reflected in its size. LeConte dominates the eastern skyline in the tourist towns of Sevierville, Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg. No route to the top is less than 11 miles round trip.

That 11-miler is also the steepest, and just so happens to be the route we picked – the Alum Cave Trail.

Alum Cave Creek, low on the trail.

Alum Cave Creek, low on the trail.

The hike…

It should be noted that Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the nation’s most popular, getting more visitors than even Yosemite or Yellowstone. Being so close to those tourist towns and on a day where a lot of people were off work, I knew it was going to be a busy day on the trails. I was right on that count. I’m not sure the two of us went 10 minutes without seeing other people.

This was especially true lower on the mountain. Most people who hike the trail go up to Alum Cave Bluff, then turn around there.

It starts flat, winding through a mix of broadleaf and evergreen woods while following Alum Cave Creek. It’s a pretty stretch, still very green despite being in late autumn. Moss covered rocks and tree trunks all around. Unlike the mountains I’m used to hiking, this range is quite humid and gets plenty of rain. I imagine summer hiking around here gets pretty sticky.

The trail steepened as we approached a feature called Arch Rock, which has a cleverly placed stone staircase that goes through the arch and begins the first steep pitch of the hike.

Looking back at the stairs at Arch Rock. (Jen Baines photo)

Looking back at the stairs at Arch Rock. (Jen Baines photo)

Given the trailhead sits just short of 4,000 feet above sea level, I think most people might underestimate the difficulty of the hike – right up until they begin that stair climb through Arch Rock. Four-thousand feet will feel fine to any flatlander who is standing or sitting still, but add a good uphill pitch and it becomes noticeable. If you’re not used to higher elevations, keep in mind that when you hike here, thinner air will make the going a bit tougher. It won’t make you sick (a common problem in the Rockies and other higher ranges), but it will add to the effort you expend.

Past Arch Rock, the grade maintained a steeper pitch than what we saw in the first couple of miles, gaining a higher angle as we approached the trail’s namesake, Alum Cave Bluff.

Jen takes in the view from Alum Cave Bluff. (Jen Baines photo)

Jen takes in the view from Alum Cave Bluff. (Jen Baines photo)

First off, Alum Cave is not really a cave. Instead, it’s a prominent chunk of overhanging rock that builds a sort of shelter at the base. It’s dramatic, and the views from the bluff are worth the effort to get there. I can see why this hike is so popular, with the sweeping scenery and accessibility from the trailhead. I can also see why a lot of day hikers choose to turn around here instead of continuing to the summit. A sign tells you that the summit is still 2.7 miles away, and there is a lot of elevation gain between the bluff and the top.

We decided to take a breather here. One of the things I wanted to do was make sure that our pace was even and sustainable. No sense blowing ourselves out getting to the summit. I broke up the ascent into one-hour segments where we’d take a break, eat a little something, drink and maybe stretch out. So part of my job was to be a good timekeeper, letting Jen know, “Hey, let’s go another 15 minutes and then take a break,” and keep it steady. Jen was a little beat when we got to Alum Cave, but the one thing I’ve discovered about her is she has a second gear when it comes to toughness. Outside observers might have thought she was ready to cash it in, but more than once, she told me that there was no way she was going to stop before we topped out. Her spirit was willing, the weather was good, and a lot of great hiking awaited.

As we went higher, the views opened up.

As we went higher, the views opened up.

As is often the case on trips like this, we talked a lot. She asked me if I thought her boys would be able to do a hike like this. I said yes, but it would be a case of if they wanted it badly enough. Hard work and short attention spans can cut off willpower when it comes to the younger set, but there are plenty of little rippers out there who can and do hike and climb some pretty big peaks.

We also noticed accents and nationalities. Jen heard lots of voices that sounded like they heralded from the Middle East, India and the Far East.

I noticed those too, but more than that, I was taken aback by the variety of Southern accents. Some sounded Deep South, others more Cajun. I can definitely tell the difference between the sugary-sweet Tennessee or Georgia southern accents from what I normally encounter in Oklahoma and Texas. Call me weird, but I thought it was fascinating. Maybe that’s why my Colorado friends keep inviting me on their trips – to hear that funny Okie accent I picked up as a teenager.

Steeper hiking and changing flora on the upper slopes.

Steeper hiking and changing flora on the upper slopes.

The higher we went, the more things changed. There is no treeline on LeConte or any of the other Smokies, but the rapidly changing elevations meant there would be subtle differences in what you saw around you. What was just wet lower down turned into thick patches of ice higher up. The more lush broadleaf plants and trees below were supplanted by thickening groves of spruces and firs, and as the summit neared, the forest gained that familiar scent of the evergreen woods from Rocky Mountain hikes past, sort of like the sweet, fresh smell of a live Christmas tree in your house right after it’s been cut. That never gets old, and it was nice to smell it again on LeConte’s upper slopes.

Views for days.

Views for days.

Nearing the top, the trail leveled out and before we knew it a confluence of other trails split off into different directions, pointing toward other routes down and to the Cliff Tops overlook nearby. And in front of us, a collection of rustic cabins, collectively known as the LeConte Lodge. It was closed this time of year, but you can reserve a cabin when it’s open. The catch – very few utilities, and you have to hike to get there. I like the concept – you earn your stay with a little sweat equity on the trail.

Me at the summit, with the cairn behind me. And lots of trees.

Me at the summit, with the cairn behind me. And lots of trees.

LeConte’s summit was still a half-mile away, so we kept trucking. Jen was thinking we might have reached it already, but I kept telling her you’ll know you’re there when there’s nowhere else you can go to get higher. Before long, we were there, greeted not by some sweeping summit view, but a giant cairn tucked away in the trees. I’m used to cairns, but it was a little strange to top out and see nothing but woods around me. Fortunately, there were breaks in the trees down the trail that featured expansive overviews of the Smokies all around. For as far as I could see, miles and miles of long, high wooded ridges below us, giving us some of the choicest panoramas in all of the South.

A view a little down from the summit.

A view a little down from the summit.

With the summit it in the bag, we headed back down to the lodge, found a picnic table and chowed down. A married couple was wandering around, looking for water, so Jen obliged and gave them some of hers. It’s hard to believe anyone would do a hike as long as this one without more than a single 16-ounce bottle on hand, but I suppose it happens. With mild temps that day, I suppose you could get away with it, but seriously, take more than you need. You never know what might happen, and the sun sets early out there in late fall. Anyway, the dude returned the favor by handing us a Butterfinger bar, which I happily accepted. No sense turning down free food, right?

Jen at the LeConte Lodge, posing for a potential gig as a brand ambassador for Capri Sun. (Jen Baines photo)

Jen at the LeConte Lodge, posing for a potential gig as a brand ambassador for Capri Sun. (Jen Baines photo)

Eventually it was time head back down. Our late start (traffic through Sevierville/Pigeon Forge/Gatlinburg is a bit slow) meant getting down before dark would be a push. After a bit, Jen said, “Going back down feels kinda sad.”

“Why is that?” I asked, my mind drifting toward what might be up for dinner once we got down.

“Because it’s almost over,” she answered.

I reassured her that there were plenty of good times in front of us on the way back to the trailhead. After all, the trail always looks different going the other way, and with the sun heading down the fading brightness of daylight bathed the hills and the woods with a warm glow that belied the growing chill in the air. Sensory overload, to be sure, and I mean that in the best way.

Heading back down. Many parts of the trail hug cliffsides, which offer dramatic views of the mountains.

Heading back down. Many parts of the trail hug cliffsides, which offer dramatic views of the mountains.

Late afternoon light, and plenty to see to fire the imagination.

Late afternoon light, and plenty to see to fire the imagination.

But what she said resonated with me. I understand exactly what she meant, that heading back to the trailhead was a step closer to leaving the adventure behind and going back to “real life” and all of its obligations, stresses and tedium. Also, the fact that the end of the trip brought about a little sadness meant that the hard work, the sweat, the soreness – all that “second-level fun” most people don’t enjoy, but a few of us relish – was worth something to her. I suspect she expected that before the hike started, but having that confirmed when it was ending was particularly gratifying. I go out there because I enjoy it, but there is a special satisfaction in taking someone on a big hike like this and turning them on to the things that the outdoors has to offer. Adventure ain’t for everyone because it’s hard. But for those who get a taste and then a fire lights in their eyes, well, getting the adventure bug can be a little like magic. Life-changing, wonderful magic.

Trail magic.

Trail magic.

So another Black Friday has come and gone, without me spending a single second shopping for anything. By opting outside, I’m sure Jen would agree with me on this: Better and more lasting memories were made on that trail then could ever have been made in line.

trailmapleconte

ABOUT THE ROUTE: From the trailhead, follow the well-marked and obvious trail from the parking lot through low-lying woodlands. The trail follows Alum Cave Creek until it ascends toward Arch Rock. Climb the stairs that pass through the rock and get ready for steeper inclines the rest of the way. About a mile past that you’ll reach Alum Cave Bluff. The approach to the bluff is one of the steepest parts of the route, and under the bluff that path is very sandy. From here, it’s 2.7 miles to LeConte’s summit.

The trail continues at a steady uphill grade for another 2 miles. Parts of the trail will be on solid rock, which is often wet, so watch your footing. During late fall and into winter, some of those surfaces will be icy. The park service has installed cables to steady yourself through most of those rocky areas. In addition, the trail often hugs cliffsides, but the exposure on these sections is easily avoided and the risk of falls is minimal.

As you near the LeConte Lodge cabins, the trail levels out. It steepens slightly again past the cabins toward the top. A 6-foot high cairn marks LeConte’s summit. The trail is Class 1 and easy to follow, so the risk of getting off-route is low. The route is 11 miles round-trip; park officials recommend giving yourself 7 hours to complete the hike (including breaks, we did it in about 6.5 hours).

The Smokies are home to a wide variety of wildlife, and black bears are common in the area. Most wildlife will avoid contact with humans, but be sure to properly stow your food and do not approach or try to feed any wildlife, especially bears.

I gladly chose to #OptOutside. (Jen Baines photo)

I gladly chose to #OptOutside. (Jen Baines photo)

EXTRA CREDIT: If you have the time, explore the many other trails on LeConte, including the Boulevard Trail (16 miles, 1,080-foot gain), the Bullhead Trail (14.4 miles, 3,820-foot gain), the Rainbow Falls Trail (13 miles, 3,820-foot gain) and the Trillium Gap Trail (13 miles 3,820-foot gain). Closer to the Alum Cave Bluff Trail take the short detour from the lodge to the Cliff Tops, which are famous for their sunset views.

GETTING THERE: From Interstate 40, take Tennessee Highway 66 south (near Kodak). The road will merge with U.S. 441 as you continue south through Sevierville, Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg. Continuing past Gatlinburg, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park visitor center will appear to your right. The Alum Cave Bluffs trailhead will be 8.6 miles down the road from the visitor center. There is a paved parking lot, but it fills up fast, so don’t be surprised if you have to park on the side of the road. As a side note, give yourself plenty of time to get through Sevierville, Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg, especially on weekends and holidays. The towns are often choked with tourist traffic.

Bob Doucette

Outdoors in Arkansas: Hiking Devil’s Den State Park

Devil's Den State Park has a great historical legacy of public lands.  Decades later, the park is an excellent example of how to establish and preserve public lands for the long term.

Devil’s Den State Park has a great historical legacy of public lands. Decades later, the park is an excellent example of how to establish and preserve public lands for the long term.

Note: The following is a guest post from a friend and colleague, Cary Aspinwall, who also happens to be a big fan of spending time outdoors. Check out her bio at the end of the post.

Last year, my friend Courtney and I decided to start an annual tradition of a destination hike.

Though I was born in the mountains, I’ve always been a bit of a chicken about hikes, preferring to stick to easier trails closer to home.

Then in 2014, I read “Grandma Gatewood’s Walk,” by one of my favorite writers, Ben Montgomery (who happens to be an Okie and all-around nice guy).

Frankly, Grandma Gatewood made me feel like a wimp.

She hiked the Appalachian Trail alone, in Keds. In the 1950s.

I should be braver, I realized.

I made Courtney read the book, too, and we picked out a fun and challenging hike that we could do in a day with a short drive.

Last year, we chose Robber’s Cave State Park near Wilburton — I liked the story about the outlaw hideout in the San Bois mountains.

I looked at the trails on maps ahead of time, and saw several reviews that said detailed trail maps were available for purchase at the Robber’s Cave visitors’ center.

When we got there, however, the woman running the shop said they were out of official trail maps they usually sold. There was a crappy, free black-and-white copy of something barely legible, and a hot pink bandana with a not-to-scale map available for purchase. (It was made by a Skiatook company called Trail Hankie, and I’m now obsessed with collecting these from places I hike).

So Courtney and I set out with our pink bandana for what ended up being a nearly 7-hour unplanned adventure (we had water and popcorn balls for food. It was the day before Halloween, and we were planning on a simple three-hour hike).

We had a cell phone, but you can imagine how great reception in the rural San Bois mountains is. The trails were poorly marked with faded paint splotches on trees that were hard to distinguish. (Lest you think we’re just terrible at hiking, Courtney recently heard from some trail running friends who said they also got lost at Robber’s Cave.)

Lucky for us, I have a really good internal compass, so we finally made it to the Robber’s Cave feature and then our car in a parking lot several miles away. But the hike took way longer than planned and was a little stressful.

I don’t recommend navigating from a souvenir bandana unless you have to.

A sweet waterfall along the trail.

A sweet waterfall along the trail.

We didn’t care to relive that experience this year, and chose to head to Arkansas to explore Devil’s Den State Park. It’s south of Fayetteville and is a testament to the beautiful legacy of the Civilian Conservation Corps programs from 1933-1942 as part of the New Deal.

We printed several maps in advance, but to our delight, there were plenty of free, detailed maps at the visitor’s center and friendly park rangers to go over them with you (we bought another Trail Hankie for fun, however).

We had originally toyed with the idea of hiking part of the Butterfield Hiking Trail, which is named after the old Butterfield Overland stagecoach route. The entire thing is 15 miles and stretches far outside the state park’s boundaries. It begins and ends at Devil’s Den, but much of the trail is actually in the Ozark National Forest.

After talking to the park staff, we decided to start out with the beautiful Devil’s Den trail right by the visitor’s center (it’s a 1.5 mile loop, but it has some steep elevation changes). The caves are currently closed to protect the bats living in them, but you get an idea of their depth from the crevices and views on this trail. There are also several waterfalls that are likely spectacular during rainier seasons (we went on a dry, sunny November day).

I can’t recommend this trail enough. It’s truly a CCC masterpiece and even with the elevation changes, suitable for most levels of fitness and hiking ability. It’s well-marked, easy to follow and there were lots of families hiking together while we were out there.

Bright skies and an inviting river along the trail.

Bright skies and an inviting river along the route.

Instead of heading out to tackle a piece of the Butterfield after that, a park ranger instead steered us toward the Fossil Flats Trail, which is inside the park and just under 6 miles, if you take the full loop. There are trails that cross over and allow you to shorten it to a 3- or 4-mile hike).

Fossil Flats is a multi-use trail designed for mountain bikers as well, but it loops around beautiful Lee Creek and we only saw hikers and campers.

The entire trail is well-marked with color-coded pieces of plastic fixed along trees and posts, we never once got lost.

The view of Lee Creek is the best thing about this trail — we were able to stop and eat a snack on a bench overlooking the water. Farther up the trail, we explored a dry creek bed for fossils and interesting rocks (the hazards of hiking with your geologist friend).

The Racer’s Hill portion (this is the loop that extends it to the full 5.6 miles or so) was the least interesting in terms of scenery, but added a nice fitness challenge. It’s more geared toward mountain bikers (even the trail markers are placed closer to where bikers would see them) and so I might skip that portion on any return trips.

If you start Fossil Flats from the campground like we did, you’ll have a small water crossing at the end, which was really fun (you might want to plan on keeping a dry pair of shoes in your car, though).

The Devil’s Den and Fossil Flats trails were so lovely and fun that now we’re really wanting to come back and try the full Butterfield trail next time, with the proper supplies.

I can’t say enough about the Arkansas State Parks system. From the website to the park rangers and free maps, everything was functional and helpful.

A big day of hiking isn't complete without a victory meal, and AQ Chicken House fits the bill. It's a favorite place among Arkansans, including a certain two-term president from Hope.

A big day of hiking isn’t complete without a victory meal, and AQ Chicken House fits the bill. It’s a favorite place among Arkansans, including a certain two-term president from Hope.

Part of our plan in traveling to Arkansas for this hike involved stopping at AQ Chicken House on the way back to Tulsa, which worked out well. We were starving by this time and devoured an embarrassing amount of fresh rolls and fried chicken, but je ne regrette rien.

Getting there: From Interstate 540, take the Arkansas Highway 74 exit (West Devil’s Den Road) and go west. The road will meander southwest and lead you to the park.

 

Cary Aspinwall is the creative director and a writer for The Frontier in Tulsa. She enjoys walking her dogs and hiking, and has reluctantly run a couple of races and half marathons in between all the reading, writing and wine drinking. You can follow her misadventures on Twitter or Instagram  or on her blog for the Frontier.

The peak bagger’s muse: Wrangling the almighty list

This peak represents two things. First, a beautiful sight. Second, it's a name on a list to check off.

This peak represents two things. First, a beautiful sight. Second, it’s a name on a list to check off.

If you were to believe all the articles written, blog posts shared, Instagram photos produced and just about anything else that conveys why we do stuff, you’d come to the conclusion that people climb mountains because of the intrinsic inspiration of high places.

More specifically, people would spin some sort of narrative about “being out in nature” or “living life to the fullest” or “taking on a challenge.” All those sayings found on motivational wall-hangings in every other office building  in the country, well, sometimes outdoorsy folks sound a lot like those. We are the lords of flowery memes.

Before I go on, let’s be clear that I’m not saying these things are untrue. People hike and climb peaks to get away from the rat race, be in the wild and live in the moment, on the edge and whatnot. But once you get into it a little, I’ve found something else pushes people back out there, flinging them headlong from the comfortable into the decidedly uncomfortable.

What is this great motivator? The list, of course.

A bunch of you will look at that sentence with all the confusion of a puppy hearing a high-pitched whine, head cocked, eyes wide open, ears tuned in. But those of you who are slaves to the list, well, you know. The urge is strong, a tractor beam pulling you from your bed at 2 a.m. to drive for four hours, hike for eight more, ascending the equivalent of a few big skyscrapers and enduring loose scree, steep trails, sketchy rock and rotten weather, all so you can go home, get online, and put a checkmark by the name of the peak you just survived. You may as well be driving the Millennium Falcon to the trailhead, ready to climb Mount Death Star. The pull is that strong, Young Skywalker.

So what lists are we talking about? There are so many. In Colorado, it’s the 58 14ers, the peaks that rise to 14,000 feet or more. Mountain hounds with the time, energy and chutzpah make a big push to complete this list. The bragging rights are huge. If that challenge isn’t big enough, you can always go for the Centennials, the highest 100 in the state. And there are 600-plus 13,000-foot peaks that comprise their own ridiculous list to fill.

Outside Colorado, there are more. So many more. You can tackle to Adirondack 46ers, a list of 46 peaks in the Adirondack Mountains of upstate New York that are 4,000 feet or higher. If you want to see the country, try hitting all the high points of each state — 50 peaks and high spots on that one. More of a world traveler, with some time, money and mountaineering chops? Fill out the Seven Summits list — the highest point on each continent. And for the elite mountaineers, there is a list of 14 8,000-meter peaks in Nepal and Tibet just waiting for you. You might not live through that list, but the bragging rights are pretty impressive if you do.

Closer to home, you can hit the high points of every county in your state. That might not be a lot of fun in a state like Kansas, but one blogger in Colorado is having a ball with it.

We love the lists so much that there is a mountaineering list of lists. It’s call the Lists of John, and it’s exhaustive (188,546 peaks!). Lists of John even has its own Facebook page.

Looking for an obscure list of peaks? How about Malaysia's highest? (malaysia-travvler.com photo)

Looking for an obscure list of peaks? How about Malaysia’s 30 highest? (malaysia-traveller.com photo)

I went on social media (Facebook and Twitter in this case) to ask people about the allure of the list. The responses I got had a nice mix, with most saying the lists quantified their goals.

From Noel: “I have gone through stages with my hiking of the 14ers. First it was…Wow! I hiked a 14er! Then…Cool! I hiked a few more! Then…Hmm, I wonder if I could do some of the tougher ones. Then…Whoa! Maybe I could actually work toward finishing these peaks! Then…These are getting tough, but ‘the list’ is nearing completion!”

From Bill: “Certainly helped me organize and plan. Helps one another measure up; discuss plans. I couldn’t imagine having as much inspiration to just climb a random number of random peaks.”

From Mike: “Important. They give me structure and keep me focused.”

And from Sean: “They are very important because the take you to places you wouldn’t consider going before.”

For others, it was more nuanced.

From Annalise: “I have very mixed feelings about lists. They really frustrate me in the sense of allowing the dangerous possibility of overly inflated ego and self-limitation. The concept of ‘conquering’ mountains deeply bothers me, because I don’t believe in that and I feel like peak bagging lists are commonly associated with that idea. Though it’s wonderful to see other mountain lovers empowered by ‘bagging peaks,’ it’s deeply worrisome to see some that get cocky and overconfident and attribute their achievements entirely to their own greatness, belittling these sacred places. Personally, I’m a big fan of being silly and joking around on summits, but when I am moving, I do my best to give reverence to the peaks. Geology is so much bigger than we are.

“That said… it is a very helpful organization tool. It is really nice to be able to think ‘I want to go explore another inspiring place outside of everyday human infrastructure’ and be able to look up names on a list (and progress to planning from there) much as once upon a time we looked up names and numbers of people in a phone book. It’s soothing.

“Anyway, I can’t really resolve my two conflicting ideas about lists. They both exist in my head, and so far they’ve pretty much stayed in balance. The former makes me hate the latter, but the latter makes me attempt to be a little more open-minded (to little avail). And around it goes.”

From Zach: “It’s really just a list, but for me it gives me objectives to plan. Half of the excitement is studying the route and quantifying it in my head. I put all of the logistics together and then it’s game day. My awareness of the day is higher because I’m driven to make it unfold successfully. As I get close to finishing the 14ers, I wonder if I’ll find that drive without a menu of objectives to choose from. Welcome to my neurosis!”

But the list didn’t hold attraction for everyone.

From David: “At first I was interested in the lists, then I was trying to figure out who I was doing the list for. Me? Or what I wanted people to think of me? I lost the fun. Now, I go out to have fun. Fun with people, different experience on the same mountain. The list doesn’t matter. I understand why people chase them and I am glad they do. I just don’t feel the need to chase a list.”

And from Kay: “I could care less about lists when it comes to mountains. Which is ironic because I like checking things off lists in every other aspect of my life. Mountains are the one place I feel total freedom and that includes freedom from the constraints of lists. Lists remind me of going to the grocery store or the amount of school work I have to do. Climbing mountains is my freedom and I love them all equally.”

As for me? I’m somewhere in between. Living where I live, and working full-time, the free time to chase summits and knock off big lists doesn’t exist. I don’t have the money for things like the Seven Summits, and certainly not the cash, experience and skills for the 8,000-ers.

And yet I still keep track. The 14ers.com website has features where you can check off 14ers you’ve climbed, and 13ers as well. I like Dave’s take – that I head to the mountains to have fun and enjoy the moment. But by the time I get back to civilization and anywhere close to a computer, I log on. I find the list. And I check ‘em off, one peak at a time. I guess the list owns me, too, even if I never complete it.

Bob Doucette

Quick adventures: Hiking Cupid and the Loveland Pass peaks

Some of the scenery of Loveland Pass. Cupid is on the left, and many more amazing mountains are close by.

Some of the scenery of Loveland Pass. Cupid is on the left, and many more amazing mountains are close by.

Something I’ve learned lately is you don’t have to trek to the middle of nowhere to have a good outdoor experience. I’ve learned that in my hometown of Tulsa, where I can go from a downtown apartment to a network of wild, wooded trails in 15 minutes.  Don’t get me wrong, my best outdoor memories have been made deep in the backcountry. But there is something to be said for more local escapes.

Last year, in an attempt to get ready for some time at altitude, I did some research on peaks near Denver that had quick access. It led me to Loveland Pass and Mount Sniktau. It’s an easy drive from the Mile High City, and a short hike that might not be the wildest or most radical outdoor experience I’ve ever had, and the route was pretty short. But it was big on scenery and training value (the trailhead is just short of 12,000 feet, and starts out steep). Sniktau made for a nice morning alpine hike.

As it turns out, there are a lot of peaks accessible from Loveland Pass. An ambitious and stout hiker could link up three 13ers and two 14ers in a day, should the weather cooperate. And even then, you’d still have plenty of summits left to bag.

Back in July, I was faced with similar needs to acclimatize and get some altitude quickly. The weather had been wonky all week, and finding paydirt was going to be tough unless I could find a place I could get to quickly and get out.  Loveland Pass proved to be just the ticket. Just past Idaho Springs, I could check out the conditions and not be forced to lose an entire day if Mother Nature rained me out.

My plan was to hike to Cupid, and if things looked good, continue on to Grizzly Peak D. The route had plenty of up-and-down, so despite the limited miles, you’ll get a workout.

Like I said before, I had fits with the weather all week – I’d been chased off Mount Morrison, had to scuttle plans for the Kite Lake peaks, and wondered if Longs Peak later in the week would pan out (it didn’t). My morning at Loveland Pass would be no different.

One might think this view says "go home." Start of the trail toward Sniktau and Cupid.

One might think this view says “go home.” Start of the trail toward Sniktau and Cupid.

Rains hit the Front Range and Denver much of the morning, and clouds swirled around the mountains when it was dry. It would be touch-and-go.

As previously mentioned, the route starts steep. You walk up a staircase, plod along a wide trail for a couple hundred feet, then start the steep ascent toward the top of hump that is just short of 13,000 feet. The gain is almost 1,000 feet in less than a mile.

There's a ski resort over there somewhere. And a lot of other cool stuff.

There’s a ski resort over there somewhere. And a lot of other cool stuff.

For Cupid, however, you can take a bypass. A fork in the trail gives you the option of continuing up, or by turning right, you can follow below a ridgeline connecting the main route to Cupid. I took the latter.

I crossed a couple of snowfields on mellow hiking, then climbed up to the ridge. From there, it was a steady uphill pitch straight to Cupid’s summit at 13,117 feet. Simple enough, right?

More moody weather, but it looked like it was getting ready to clear up.

More moody weather, but it looked like it was getting ready to clear up.

Looking toward U.S. 6 as it goes through the pass. Clouding up again.

Looking toward U.S. 6 as it goes through the pass. Clouding up again.

But what made an impression on me were a couple other things.

First, I saw a dude running the trails. He passed me a couple of times, first early on the route, churning up the hill while I was trudging upward. Then later, going the other way off the top of Cupid, he was headed down. We chatted a bit on that second meeting before he took off again, apparently pressed to meet his wife at the trailhead. He was dressed like he was running a 5K, despite cool temps (in the 40s) and plenty of wind. I guess the body heat from, oh, RUNNING at 13,000 feet made his wardrobe choice OK. Inspired by his pluck, I’d later attempt to run some of the mellower pitches as well, but got light-headed. I reverted to hiking in short order. That’s what being a flatlander gets ya.

The good trail at the half-mile junction. Cupid is straight ahead.

The good trail at the half-mile junction. Cupid is straight ahead.

A little snow was on the route. Just one crossing here, but considerably more looking toward Mount Sniktau, which is obscured by thickening clouds.

A little snow was on the route. Just one crossing here, but considerably more looking toward Mount Sniktau, which is obscured by thickening clouds.

The next thing that hit me was the weather, The atmospherics of the day – a delightfully moody mix of colors from the snow, grasses, wildflowers, the rock and the cloudcover – made this one of the most scenic jaunts I’ve had in some time. None of these peaks have the wildness of, say, the San Juans, but when you combine all of the visual elements present that day, it made for quite a visual payoff.

After runner dude left me in the dust, there was maybe a quarter-mile left to Cupid’s summit and some decision-making in the offing. There were times when the cloudcover would appear to thin, then immediately get thicker and darker. Just when it looked like rains were imminent, a break would appear in the form of a sliver of blue sky. Reading the skies is an acquired skill. Not every cloud bank is the same. You balance what you see with the time it takes to accomplish the next task, then weigh the risks. Cold rain would be one thing, but a real storm is quite another. All I had to go by was what had occurred earlier in the day (steady rains), what I was seeing now (lots of moisture in the air, but a lack of anything electrical) and what the forecasts said (a high probability of more rain and possible storms as temperatures rose).

Getting closer to the top.

Getting closer to the top.

In the business, we call this trail porn. Sweet trail, awesome mountains, wildflowers in bloom. Inspiring lust for hikers everywhere.

In the business, we call this trail porn. Sweet trail, awesome mountains, wildflowers in bloom. Inspiring lust for hikers everywhere.

When I got to Cupid’s broad, rocky summit, I decided that Grizzly would have to wait. It would be another couple of miles round-trip, and slow going at that, with plenty of rocky, steep up-and-down hiking ahead. Who knows if the weather would have turned. So I paused at the summit, took a few pics and drank in the scenery. Not getting Grizzly would give me a reason to come back and explore more.

On the summit. Grizzly D and Torreys Peak are around there somewhere.

On the summit. Grizzly D and Torreys Peak are around there somewhere.

Looking toward Sniktau,still hiding in the clouds.

Looking toward Sniktau,still hiding in the clouds.

Dark, ominous and maybe a tad inviting? I say yes, but I'm weird like that.

Dark, ominous and maybe a tad inviting? I say yes, but I’m weird like that.

Heading back down, I had one of those moments where the virtual world met the real one. You might remember last year when, at the Durango train station, I met Kay, a gal I knew as halfpint22 on Instagram. It turned out she was on the same Chicago Basin trip I was, and it was cool getting to know her a little. This time, I saw a gal I knew through the 14ers.com Facebook page named Elissa, working her way up Cupid as I was heading down. Elissa was working nights as a nurse, and this morning solo jaunt for her was an after-work escape. It’s always good to see people take advantage of having great hiking right by your doorstep and not mailing it in after work.

And that brings me back to why I like Loveland Pass so much. If you’re looking for a summit, a good hike at high altitude, or some time in nature alone, this is the perfect fit. You can find a little adventure an hour from home and be back in the city in time for lunch.

I can’t wait to go back.

Kicking back. Fatigues by the U.S. Air Force via my brother Steve; shoes courtesy Salomon. And yes, I did some running here. "Some" running.

Kicking back. Fatigues by the U.S. Air Force via my brother Steve; shoes courtesy Salomon. And yes, I did some running here. “Some” running.

GETTING THERE: From Denver, take I-70 west past Idaho Springs, then exit south on U.S. 6 (the Loveland Pass exit) Drive to the top of the pass and park at the trailhead parking lot. The trailhead will be on your left as you park.

ABOUT THE ROUTE: From the parking lot, hike a sandy, steep trail on the route toward Mount Sniktau. About a half mile up, the trail has a fork. Continue straight to the top of a point that stands around 12,800 feet; the trail will split there to take you to either Cupid or Sniktau. Go right for Cupid. Your second option at the half-mile trail junction is to turn right and follow the ridgeline straight toward Cupid. This is the easier and shorter option.

Following this trail, it will hit a steeper portion to gain the ridge proper. The trail then follows the ridge to Cupid’s summit. Round-trip, it’s about three miles. Most of the route is Class 1 hiking, with some of the steeper and rockier portions rated Class 2.

EXTRA CREDIT: Continue from Cupid’s summit to Grizzly Peak D. And if you hit that point, Grizzly D connects to 14er Torreys Peak, and ultimately, Grays Peak, the highest point in the Front Range and on the Continental Divide.

Bob Doucette