photo essay: hiking up chief mountain…

The start of the trail just off the road...
The start of the trail just off the road…

This week’s hike was fairly close to home: Chief Mountain on Squaw Pass Road (CO Hwy. 103) between Evergreen and Echo Lake. It’s a good short hike, 2 miles out and back, 4 miles total, through Subalpine forest that takes you to a summit at timberline with fantastic 360-degree views of the surrounding area. As it is fall now and the aspen leaves are turning their vibrant yellows and the Squaw Pass Road is the route we usually take on the fall leaf tour, it seemed like an ideal way to get some hiking in, combining it with the drive through the high country.

Early morning light on the trail...
Early morning light on the trail…
Looking east to Squaw Mountain...
Looking east to Squaw Mountain…
Getting a little higher up on the trail, first full view of the Continental Divide from Colorado Mines Peak/Mt. Flora over to James Peak. Not much snow left after summer but that will change soon. Winter is coming.
Getting a little higher up on the trail, first full view of the Continental Divide. From left to right:  Colorado Mines Peak, Mt. Flora, Mt. Eva, Parry Peak, Mt. Bancroft to James Peak, the tall flat one at right center. Not much snow left after summer but that will change soon. Winter is coming.
Facing west... patches of fall color on the mountainsides...
Facing west… patches of fall color on the mountainsides…

Well first off it’s a perfect day for hiking. It’s a little hazy back toward Denver but not too bad – otherwise a beautiful blue, cloudless sky. The Chief Mountain trail starts off at an elevation of 10,700 feet and you’re hiking to the summit at 11,709 feet. Erin and I are on the trail a little after 7:30; it’s a nice brisk 37 degrees and by the time we’re back down it’ll be about 50.

Further up the trail, looking back down the valley to the town of Idaho Springs on I-70...
Further up the trail, looking back down the valley to the town of Idaho Springs on I-70…
Gettin' there... the view to the east...
Gettin’ there… the trail and the view to the east…
And our first view of the summit. We're at about 11,200 ft. here...
And our first view of the summit. We’re at about 11,200 ft. here…
Hiking into the sun...
Hiking into the sun…
About 300 yards from the top...
About 300 yards from the top…
Erin, before the last bit of bouldering to reach the summit with Mt. Evans in the background...
Erin, before the last bit of bouldering to reach the summit with Mt. Evans in the background…
Looking to the southeast, back toward Evergreen and the plains beyond...
Looking to the southeast, back toward Evergreen and the plains beyond…

Although the trail is uphill all the way – after all, you are hiking up a mountain – it’s a gentle uphill, and if you’ve hiked at all you know what I mean. 1,000 feet of elevation gain in 2 miles which can be easily done in an hour to an hour-and-a-half with a little bit of bouldering at the very end.

And we're there... Sittin' on top of our own little world. Looking south, the tall peak is Pikes Peak, just west of Colorado Springs.
And we’re there… Sittin’ on top of our own little world. Looking south, the tall peak off in the distance is Pikes Peak, just west of Colorado Springs.
Yours truly on the summit... Lookin' a little scruffy on a Saturday morning, but hey, it's the weekend!
Yours truly on the summit… Lookin’ a little scruffy on a Saturday morning, but hey, it’s the weekend and we’re hiking…
Looking west, Mt. Evans is on the left and the two taller peaks to the right are Grays Peak and Torreys. Squaw Pass Road snakes through the forest and eventually reaches Echo Lake.
Looking west, Mt. Evans is on the left and the two taller peaks to the right are Grays Peak and Torreys. Squaw Pass Road snakes through the forest and eventually reaches Echo Lake.

So we spend about half-an-hour on the summit, eat some snacks and just soak it all in. A few people join us on the summit – it’s still early in the day and there are not a whole lot of hikers on this trail which is heavily used during the summer months. It’s just good to be up here and enjoy the quiet and peace… and of course, the views. No mountain goats today – they’re elsewhere.

To the immediate west, Mt. Evans, a 14er, with the highest auto road in North America...
To the immediate west, Mt. Evans, a 14er, with the highest auto road in North America…
And looking to the north... The tall mountain on the right is Longs Peak in Rocky Mountain National Park...
And looking to the north… The tall mountain on the right is Longs Peak in Rocky Mountain National Park…
Heading back down...
Heading back down…
Though not as many as at the Mt. Goliath area on the Mt. Evans road,there are some Bristlecone pines along the way. Ancient trees that have been shaped by the wind. This one caught my eye. Bend... but don't break...
Though not as numerous as at the Mt. Goliath area on the way up the Mt. Evans road,there are some Bristlecone pines along the way on this hike. Ancient trees that have been shaped by the wind. This one caught my eye. Bend… but don’t break…
Bristlecone pine, up close and personal...
Bristlecone pine, up close and personal…

To reach the Chief Mountain trail, take I-70 west out of Denver and exit on Evergreen Parkway (Exit 252). Go approximately 3 miles to CO Hwy. 103 and take a right. This is the Squaw Pass Road. Go approximately 9 miles up Hwy. 103 and when you reach the Echo Mountain Ski Area you’ll see a long shoulder on the right side of the road. The trailhead begins a little to the east of where the ski lift and the parking area on the shoulder is.

Coming from Idaho Springs, take CO Hwy. 103 to the south, go past Echo Lake approximately 4.5 miles and you’ll see the shoulder above the Echo Mountain ski lift on the left side of the road.

As always in the high country, get there early, take plenty of water, and dress in layers. And now, a little fall color…

Aspens in full color, heading toward Echo Lake...
Aspens in full color, heading toward Echo Lake…
And some more... This next week should be peak color.
And some more… This next week should be peak color.
Cyclists on the Squaw Pass Rd. near Echo Lake with fall color...
Cyclists on the Squaw Pass Rd. near Echo Lake with fall color…

We drive into Idaho Springs after our morning hike and have beer and lunch (in that order) at Tommyknockers on Miner Street. Get there early too – the place is packed by 12:30 even now that tourist season is over. The Pumpkin Ale is available, now that it’s fall and in the season, and their Imperial Nut Brown Ale is excellent as are all their offerings.

Work progresses on the next Nights on Venus EP/album Unearthly. Until then…

The new 4-song EP, “Santos“, was released in July and is available now on CD Baby,  Bandcamp,  iTunes/AppleMusic, eMusic and Amazon MP3.

Nights on Venus, "Santos"... to be released July 8, 2015...
Nights on Venus, “Santos”… released on July 8, 2015…
"Perspective," the 4th Nights on Venus album, MP3 album cover. Available on iTunes, CD Baby, Amazon, eMusic, Bandcamp, and the NoV website.
“Perspective,” the 4th Nights on Venus album, MP3 album cover. Available on iTunes, CD Baby, Amazon, eMusic, Bandcamp, and the NoV website.

Perspective” and all previous albums  from Nights on Venus are available as MP3 digital downloads on CD Baby, iTunes, Amazon MP3, eMusic, and the NoV website.

Follow Craig and Nights on Venus on Twitter (@xlntsky), Facebook, and Instagram.

 

 

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Author: nightsonvenus

Musician and producer with the band Nights on Venus.

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