Loop: 33M, 7000' elevation gain
In June of 2000, a wildfire started in Bobcat Gulch near Drake, before spreading northeast up toward Masonville. Over the course of 5 days, the fire consumed more than 10000 acres in Roosevelt National Forest.
The vast swatch of downed timber, blackened trees, and denuded ridges a full 12 years later serve as a somber reminder of the fire.
Still, there is beautiful country buried within, and Nick and I took a leisurely Saturday to explore it.
Our planned route suggested a 29-30M loop of mostly trails and some dirt roads, with only a bit of bushwhacking to the first 2 summits, all in perfect, windless weather. As usual, these plans gang aft agley, involving extra-credit sub-summit, some missed turns, and ground conditions that weren't evident in armchair orienteering. It's all part of the fun, though.
We began on the trails of Bobcat Ridge, as the sole car parked in the lot: sunrise behind us to the east, and a large herd of elk silhouetted along the valley loop to the west. Glory. We made our way up the Powerline Trail for the first climb of the day, entering the spacious and familiar Mahoney Park, guarded by "Mahoney Knob" up above.
Now it was time to climb straight up the ridge along the old Powerline Trail, for new vantage points where we could mistakenly view the wrong summits we intended to climb. First up was Green Ridge, whose name is no longer befitting since the fire. We climbed the next outcropping past Mahoney Knob, thinking it to be a fine summit, but seeing a more obvious, higher summit beyond. Not a problem on a gorgeous day, but it required another descent and similarly slow re-climb through deadfall. (And thankfully, the rattlesnakes are still asleep).
We reached the top of our first planned summit, which ended up being the most interesting, "bang for the buck" of the day. We already had clear views of Longs to the west, and the western edge of Green Ridge actually had a more impressive, rocky face. Nick found the smallest summit register yet:
The register, in a small pill bottle, was still large enough for several years of names.
We now had a direct line-of-site to Spruce Mountain, which required another quick deadfall descent to a dirt road climb. Eager to be running again, we made great time up the dirt road, only to overshoot the direct line up Spruce. Back to a steady hike, we curved back to the northeast, to the summit plateau of Spruce. The plateau itself contains the same characteristic rock and boulder formations down in Mahoney Park, keeping the mind interested in interpreting meaning from the random shapes. Without a clear summit register or cairn, we explored the summit thoroughly for highpoint candidates: every significant digit counts.
Satisfied with this, we prepared for our final summit of the day: Storm Mountain, which loomed ahead, at just under 10000 feet, which we planned to reach through the ominously-named Bear Gulch. (If anyone has any young sons looking for ideas of badass pictures to draw, I bet a picture of a bear in front of a mountain with lightning striking the top would be pretty awesome. Just sayin'.).
The approach through Bear Gulch was an enjoyable shaded, cool Forest Service road in thick tree cover, which was a nice change on a warm morning. The only drawback was the mud, snow, and ice that slowed progress a bit, but the same probably also is what keeps the place quiet from OHV's at this time of year. I've never heard too much about this area, but I would suggest it would be a prime mountain bike ride in May and June, when it's completely melted out and dry, similar to the Old Flowers Road area.
The climbing was steady and obvious, and definitely slow for me. Occasional road junctions and map double-checks by Nick helped give an excuse for me to catch back up to him when needed. The road opened up a few times into various flat, open parks, with Foggy Park being particularly scenic.
Knowing we were close, it was obvious that this was the final climb up to Storm Mountain. Nick maintained a steady run, and I think he was prepared to run it all the way up in a final, impressive push, which was only thwarted by shin-deep snowcover on the road. I was looking forward to getting to the top and eating something more substantial than gel, as I was getting a little bonky. The road took us to the top, which would likely be more heavily visited by jeeps in the summer, but was entirely quiet today. It was the literal high-point of the day, but had the most obstructed views due to heavier cover. It would still be a recommended mountain bike ride.
Now almost 5000 feet higher than where we started, it was time for the long, gradual descent. The slipping and sliding on the ice and snow downhill wasn't helpful for speed, and beat up my feat a little bit in wet shoes. We took advantage of the last sizeable snowfield to refill water, having been a good bottle or two behind a planned schedule.
Finally we began descending down Storm Mountain Road itself, into the small community of Cedar Park, and it was an absolutely re-energizing, steady downhill. It felt good to be moving steadily, and it was another reminder of how quickly one can go from feeling a bit run-down to feeling great again -- just get over that last hill and a downhill awaits.
We enjoyed the open ranches along rolling terrain and rocky outcroppings that aren't visible from the Big Thompson down below. We made our way generally east through a maze of roads, staying on what was labeled on the map as a Forest Service Rd, before being stopped dead in our tracks by a what appeared to be an abrupt change from the road into several clearly-marked private driveways.
Our options were to backtrack significantly, or try to find a way through the woods, which would have been quite tedious. Or, option 3: talk to one of the cabin owners that was out staining his deck. We didn't want to invade his private space, and didn't know what sort of reception we might get -- this is the sort of place for living off the grid, hunting and subsistance living, not running around in shorts and wicking fabric and eating gel packets -- but we tried our luck anyway.
Our apprehension was completely unfounded, as the property owner, Mark, was completely cordial and in tune with the surroundings he obviously enjoys living in. Among his 40 acres, besides a beautiful cabin, was a greenhouse, compost heap, solar panels, and chicken coop. He didn't blink in explaining suggestions on how to get back to Bobcat Ridge, or why anyone would take such a circuitous route. In fact, he told us some of the names of the surrounding peaks (that don't appear on the map), and suggested and gave us permission to follow a faint trail through his property that would get us to the FS road on Cedar Creek that we sought. And, very kindly and importantly, he refilled our water bottles, saving us from debating the benefits of dehydration vs. the questionable, muddy water sources that would be our only other option.
After that refreshing interlude, we managed a bit of extra-credit climbing and unnecessary exploring along the creek, before heading up the road toward the backside of Bobcat Ridge. Finally, we reached the backside of Bobcat, and the familiar scar of the powerlines. Our last climb of the day was complete, so gravity did the rest.
We managed to see the Goding brothers at the bottom, chatting with them a bit, before wrapping up the day and preparing excuses for the wives, after a good chunk of time on the feet, and a few more Larimer County Peak visitations.