Archive for the ‘James Peak’ Category


“Look, there’s the Amtrak Train!  It just came out of the tunnel.”

My daughter’s eyes widen as she strains to see out the car window to the train which is exiting the Moffat Tunnel heading east.  She likes trains.  We were here last year about this time and were lucky enough to see a freight train head into the tunnel westbound.  I held my daughter in my arms 30 feet from the tracks as the engine approached.  We waved at the engineer, and like any good train engineer, he waived back with a smile.

East portal of the 6-mile long Moffat train tunnel under the Great Divide

East portal of the 6-mile long Moffat train tunnel under the Great Divide

A year later, my daughter is now four, and we are back at the Moffat Tunnel Trailhead, portal to the James Peak Wilderness Area near Nederland, Colorado.

As we hit the trail there is a deafening sound coming from the tunnel.  It’s a bit like a continuous barge horn and seems to shake the leaves of the nearby aspen trees.  My daughter tries to cover her ears.  I think it’s not really a horn but some kind of huge exhaust fan.  Something like that.  The noise persists for about 20 minutes as we round the east tunnel portal and into the wilderness behind it, and then it abruptly goes silent and only the sweet music of the wilderness remains–bees and flies buzzing, birds chirping, South Boulder Creek rushing by.

In addition to trains my daughter also likes wooden bridges, and this trail does not disappoint in that category as bridge after wooden bridge crosses small streams, dry washes, and marshes.

Bridge walking in James Peak Wilderness

Bridge walking in James Peak Wilderness

The trail follows South Boulder Creek upstream and after about a mile we start to look for a good place to camp.  We reach a nice meadow at the first trail junction.  The Forrest Lakes trail heads off steeply to the right while the main trail continues through the meadow up valley.  We dive into the tall grass to our left which my daughter loves.  The grass is taller than she is, and to her this must seem like walking through a mysterious jungle.  Just as we approach a promising campsite I notice a tent.  It’s an LL Bean catalog type family with two young boys.  I briefly consider asking them if they would be willing to share their spot (and let the kids play together), but they don’t seem too inviting.  So, we move on.

It’s not always easy to find a decent campsite in the wilderness and it’s much more challenging with the snail pace of a four year old hiking companion.  The sun is sinking below the ridge to the west and I have to weigh our options.  I want to keep walking deeper into the wilderness until we find something.  But, I need to be careful here.  My daughter can’t yet hike very far, and I can’t afford to take the risk of pushing daylight to the brink with her.  My daughter is a trooper and does not complain, but I can tell she’s getting tired.

So, as the trail steepens above the creek just beyond the meadow, we turn around.  We get back to the west end of the meadow and make another attempt to scout towards the stream.  From a different angle than before, I spot a small flat clearing just inside the forest that I didn’t see before.  It’s a good forest campsite not far from the stream, about 75 yards above the other family and out of their sight.  This will work.

I leave off the rain fly of the tent knowing there is little chance of rain tonight.  With no breeze at all the pines are as still as statues.  The moon is a lantern glowing on the side of the tent.  It takes my daughter a while to settle down and then I finally drift off to sleep.

I awake in the night.  The moon is gone, below the western mountains, and there is an odd humming sound in the distance.  What is that?  Oh, yeah, that Moffat Tunnel exhaust.  The humming stops and then there is a distant train horn descending east towards the plains.  I find it fascinating and a bit bizarre that that train just passed almost directly below us.  For 90 years monstrous man-made machines have rumbled under these mountains, under the streams and lakes, under the trees and meadows, and under sleeping backpackers.  Under our tent tonight these machines pass silently through the earth below us, with their freight, passengers, train conductors and hobos along for the ride.  What a strange world?

We sleep until sun shafts reach the tent through the tight spaces between dense forest.  It is a dark campsite, where the day ends an hour earlier and begins an hour later than in the open meadows just a few feet away.  It’s a cold morning and we bundle up for a breakfast of hot oatmeal before packing up.  My daughter is a great camp helper.

Before long, we emerge from our dark forest into bright sunshine in the meadow, and suddenly there is a crowd.  People are everywhere!  I knew this was a popular trail, but I didn’t expect this many people, even on a late July Sunday morning.  I instruct my daughter to say “hello” and wave to the other hikers we pass and she takes this very literally.  In the just over one mile back to the trailhead we pass over 150 people, and she says hello to every last one of them.  It’s amazing, the instant joy and beaming smiles that a four year old can bring to hardened adults.  I watched as this amazing little girl instantly melted the hearts of burly tough men, women in deep concentration, college kids, and retired couples.

If only we all approached others with the innocence of a four-year old… I learn from her every single day.




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  • Points Earned:  1
  • Trip Date:  June 24, 2010
  • Wilderness Area:  James Peak
  • Wilderness Size:  14,000 acres
  • Location:  Front Range Colorado
  • Destination:  Lower Crater Lake
  • Total Miles:  5.5
  • Elevation Differential:  1,325 feet
  • Duration:  Day Hike

Lower Crater Lake

This was my first true “high country” hike of 2010, and on June 24th, there was still a substantial amount of snow on the ground above about 10,000 feet.

This was also my first hike in the James Peak Wilderness area, giving me a full point towards my goal of 150.

Geographically, the James Peak Wilderness Area is just the southern extension of the Indian Peaks Wilderness with only the four-wheel-drive Rollins Pass Road to break up the two areas.  James Peak is a fairly new wilderness area (designated in 2002) vs. the Indian Peaks (designated in 1978).  There are several lake systems within James Peak and it receives far fewer visitors than the overcrowded east side of the Indian Peaks.  Hopefully, the James Peak Wilderness will help to thin out the crowds in the over-used Indian Peaks.

This hike begins at the Moffet Train Tunnel.  The tunnel, constructed in the 1920’s, goes under the Continental Divide, and is still in use today.  It’s not the most attractive trailhead in terms of natural scenery, but once past the entrance of the tunnel, the hiker is taken straight into the designated wilderness and the view of the tunnel entrance is quickly replaced with scenes of clear streams, forest, and mountains.

This is the South Boulder Creek Trail, which serves as an access trail to several lake systems in the James Peak Wilderness.  At least two or three foot-bridges in the first half mile of the trail take you back and forth over the clear streams flowing out of the high mountains:

Footbridge across South Boulder Creek

After a nice two miles up the beautiful valley, the Crater Lakes Spur Trail breaks off to the north and begins a steep climb.  Soon, some views of the higher peaks and ridges to the south come into view:

View of a high ridge near James Peak. James Peak itself is just a little off the right side of this photo

As the trail climbed steeply towards the lakes, at around 10,000 feet, patches of snow began appearing along the trail:

Snow on trail at 10,000 feet on June 24th

Before long, the trail was completely covered in mounds of snow.  This required some creative route-finding and common sense directioning to where I knew the lake would be:

Still lots of snow at around 10,400 feet on June 24th

It wasn’t long before I stumbled straight to the Lower Crater Lake which, despite the snow in the forest, was free of ice and beautiful:

Lower Crater Lake

Because of the snow, I decided not to attempt to reach Upper Crater lake, which is several hundred feet higher than the lower lake.

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