Hiking Colorado: Gore Range
If you really are up for a huge challenge and are prepared for a challenging trek you can gird up your courage and get going.
If you know the Vail Valley well, the Gore Range is imprinted on your psyche the way Mount Evans looms large for Denver-ites. It's the vista you gaze at longingly, wondering when next you'll feel the soft mulch of mud and pine needles beneath your hiking boots.
For the hundreds of thousands of tourists who ski in Vail each year, the Gore Range is that formidable wall of rock and ice to the northeast that forms the backdrop of millions of photos euphorically snapped atop Vail Mountain. That's as close as most of them will come to one of Colorado's most rugged and least heralded mountain ranges.
Going from just northwest of Kremmling southeast to Dillon, the Gore Range boasts 17 peaks higher than 13,000 feet and 33 higher than 12,000, but none more than the magical 14,000-foot mark, which might account for some of the range's obscurity.
The use on the Thirteeners is so much less than the Fourteeners just because they're the neglected Colorado mountains and so they don't get the same volume of traffic, but they have every bit as much, if not more, of the beauty and seclusion.
Mount of the Holy Cross off the backside of Vail Mountain, a Fourteener, readily is identifiable by tourists and locals, but it's the Gore that sticks in everyone's memory - and is emblazoned on so many picturesque postcards.
Still, several Vailites - beyond steep but spectacularly rewarding day hikes into the range on heavily used trails such as Booth Creek, Deluge Lake and Gore Creek - barely have scratched the Gore's surface and would be hard-pressed to name a single peak in the imposing rampart of rock spires and sheer pinnacles.
Bypassed by the mining crush of the 19th century and largely protected by the 133,496 acres of the Eagles Nest Wilderness Area since 1976, the Gore is not crisscrossed by logging and mining roads to the extent that several more popular Colorado ranges are. So while it's only about 60 miles from Denver at its closest point, the Gore Range remains relatively inaccessible.
Hikers beware: Trails are vague, signage is confusing and the going often is steep and demanding.
Weekend warriors should get good U.S. Geological Survey topography maps and brush up on compass skills. Leave a car at Piney River Ranch, which, after a couple of controversial years of charging for parking and trail access, is under new ownership and welcomes anyone, then double back to the Surprise Lake trailhead in Summit County just below Lower Cataract Lake.
Doing the trip from east to west means you can wind up your weekend with a cabin beside Piney Lake. It's one of the 10 most beautiful places in Colorado, and it's definitely for sharing. After grinding your way up and over one of Colorado's most challenging yet least-known mountain ranges, you will certainly welcome the hospitality.