The summer of 2011 has seen some interesting weather. The “monsoonal effect” is not an unknown phenomenon in the Colorado Rockies. During weather patterns when moisture pours up from the southwest, it results in fantastic cloud patterns, building thunderheads, and potentially violent storms, usually in the afternoon hours that can culminate in “gully washers,” hail, and scary cloud-to-ground lightning. We had had some wild weather the evening before, but the storms did not arrive until late in the day. We hoped we would be down from the heights before the sky show began once again. None-the-less, we hiked with an eye towards the sky, and could not help but be amazed and awed by the beautiful building clouds on the skyline. Our hike that day was to be mostly above treeline, where lightning can be the most dangerous to mountain hikers, but a beautiful boon to the landscape photographer. Wide-angle lens photography is particularly suited to ridgetop views with incredible thunderhead skyscapes.
We began our hike at Berthoud Pass along U.S. route 40. We parked at the old unused ski area parking lot, and began our hike across the highway on a trail once part of the Berthoud area ski runs. The trail switch-backed towards the ridgeline and met up with the Mt. Nystrom trail that runs through the Vasquez Peak Wilderness. Once above tree line, the views were tremendous. To the west we looked towards Byers Peak. To the north were the Indian Peaks. Eastward we saw the 13,000’ peaks above Berthoud Pass, and to the south was the 14,264’ massif of Mt. Evans. We walked along the old peneplain (flat ground that was raised up during mountain-building ages, showing remains of the older, once lower, flat land). We entered the Vasquez Wilderness, and moved north towards a tundra pond, then hiked up to the top of the slope, turned east, and traveled to the edge of the peneplain above the Current Creek Basin. This was our high point of the trail, where we rested and photographed the peaks around us before our descent to the Current Creek valley.
Our descent involved a scramble along the cliffs of the ridge that marked the boundary of the Current Creek Basin. We found the easiest route downward, and made our way with caution. Once below the cliffs, we were able to walk the tundra slopes down into the trees below the basin. Once in the trees we encountered our exit route: the Berthoud Ditch, a water diversion project owned by the plains city of Thornton. The aqueduct cut a swath across the mountains just below treeline. We were happy to reach this point because any lightning danger is less once hikers are in the forest. Still, the clouds seemed beautifully benign, and the subalpine pond we pointed towards was the perfect place to intersect the aqueduct. From there our hike involved walking out along the ditch to where it came alongside Highway 40, right by Berthoud Pass, the beginning of our circular hike.
Map used: Winter Park, Central City, Rollins Pass Trails Illustrated Colorado map # 103
6.22 miles with an elevation gain of 1638’
Hiked August 4, 2011