Hiking Colorado: Vasquez Peak & Stanley Mountain
What To Bring
Things can get pretty hot up against a rock in the Colorado sunshine, and climbing requires some acrobatic moves. To make sure you're prepared, bring these items:
- Brimmed hat
- Nonrestrictive pants (tights or shorts)
- Light clothing
- Bug spray
- Light raincoat
- Energy bars
- Climbing shoes
It's also a good idea to eat a good breakfast at least an hour before climbing, in order to keep energy levels up.
Vasquez Peak & Stanley Mountain
Where's Stanley Mountain? It's that peak you see at the head of the Clear Creek Valley just a few miles out of Empire as you drive towards Berthoud Pass. No, not the red mountain you see as you close in on Berthoud Falls. That's - you guessed it - Red Mountain. Stanley Mountain sits across the valley to the north. Its claim to fame is the winter time cornice that builds and let's loose the Stanley slide avalanche every few years. Indeed, from its summit you can look down the ravine between your boots and see Berthoud Falls and Highway 40. It's easy to see how gravity can easily have its way with snow from there.
Walking from Berthoud Pass to Stanley Mountain you get major bang for your walking buck. Start at Berthoud Pass, first surveyed in 1861 by Captain E.L. Berthoud, and once promoted by territorial governor William Gilpin as a possible railroad route. Pick up the Continental Divide Trail across Highway 40 from the ski area. With each switch back you hear fewer and fewer trucks downshifting on the highway, and soon you're at the top of the disused ski lift.
Catch your breath here and look around to the west and you'll see a pair of cairns -- rock piles -- acting as a gate to the trail proper. Pass through and soon you're walking up the switch backs of an unnamed mountain on the divide. Once at its peak, about an hour from your car, you get to spend the rest of the afternoon walking in the sky along the Continental Divide as far as you want in any direction. You should reach Stanley Mountain along the ridge to the west in about another hour, but you could stop anywhere along the divide for photos or a picnic.
You'll know when you've reached Stanley Mountain because you suddenly look down on the great gray gash of the AMAX Corp. Henderson Mine base operations. It's a breathtaking sight, both for ugliness but also for the sheer scale of the thing. Red Mountain sits above, and beyond Red Mountain you can see where AMAX has slowly but surely removed an entire Rocky Mountain in an effort to extract molybdenum. Save your curses at the sight, though. We all need molybdenum, a metal used to toughen steel alloys and soften tungsten.
You can hike all over these peaks and valleys adjoining the Vasquez Peak Wilderness Area in winter. Current Creek, Second Creek, First Creek and the Nystrom Ridge Trail over towards Parsen's Bowl at Winter Park. With snow all over the sensation is one of cruising around in the scalloped hollows and piles left over by an oversized ice cream scoop in a bucket of French Vanilla. It's fun to see it all in summer, walking from Berthoud Pass over to Stanley Mountain, with each little hanging valley a harbor to crystal clear tarns and rollicking little streams and waterfalls.
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