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Rocky Mountain Walkabout

When I was photographing Arches NP I met a wonderful couple, L & J, from Australia and touring the U.S. for 6 months in a van. We ended up spending a lot of time together hiking and photographing the area – I learned a number of Aussie phrases – i.e. – hiking, in fact, was “going on a walkabout”.

So, whether you call it hiking, going on a walkabout, or some other phrase that suits you – the mountains in this region provide a great hiking experience. Like I have done so much over the last few months, I just had to explore deeper into the canyons and up into the mountains. I particularly enjoyed the hikes above timberline – the grandeur of the rugged mountains peaks is awe-inspiring!

I had read that the Ouray Trails Group, working with the U.S. Forest Service, had developed over 76 spectacular hiking trails in the Ouray area alone. Many more hiking trails were available outside of Ridgway and around Telluride. Most served up postcard picture views and took you to incredible locations.

Some of the trails are a legacy of Native Americans moving through this region. Others in the trail systems are a result of all the mining activity of the late 1800’s and they often follow old narrow gauge railroad grades or mining trails, pass by ghost towns and abandoned mining structures, before arriving at some jaw-dropping vista.

I hiked a number of the trails around Ouray and used the new 2012 publication of “Southwest Colorado – High Country Day Hikes” for guidance and details about the trails:

Chief Ouray Mine and Upper Cascade Falls – a 5 mile round trip hike – “…views of surrounding peaks are frequent…”

Weehawken Trail – a 6 mile round trip hike – “…climbing steeply past the Alpine Mine to a magnificent overlook of the town of Ouray…”

Blue Lakes Trail – a 7 mile R/T to above 11,000 feet – “…hike through dense forests, with a wonderful understudy of many different wildflowers to a classic basin at Lower Blue Lakes…”

The Blue Lakes trail really was a stunning hike and it’s the one hike I did with S while she was here. Some say the lakes are some of Colorado’s finest – the waters of Blue Lakes were a remarkable turquoise color –

But my favorite hikes was Bear Creek Trail – a National Recreation Trail – one of only a few designated in the USA as an especially scenic trail. This amazing climb starts just outside of Ouray

and first goes up over shale and a series of switchbacks carved out of the cliff face, and then continues along ledges high above Bear Creek –

Bear Creek – a creek and canyon too rugged to follow – so I had to marvel at the fact that the very trail I was on was constructed by miners to get them into the upper portions of the creek drainage. Imagine, as you look at the images, that man, mule and machine had to go over these ledges to the mines like Grizzly Bear Mine – my destination.

From my guide book:

“…not recommended for hikers who do not like narrow trails on cliff edges…the trail is an old mining route that is carved into the sheer cliffs above Bear Creek…the trail is a fascinating engineering accomplishment and offer a unique hiking experience…spectacular views…”

Now consider this too – this same trail is part of the Hardrock 100 – and is done at night – yup – AT NIGHT – participants navigate this portion of the 100 mile endurance test with headlamps and flashlights!

Some of the folks in the images were participants of the race – that took place this year on Friday the 13th no less – they were doing some trail maintenance work and posting trail markers and I had a chance to talk to them – one was the founder of the race.

Turns out The Hardrock 100 is a salute to the toughness and perseverance of the hardrock miners who lived and worked in the area.

It is an “…endurance run…an ultramarathon…100.5 miles in length, plus 33,992 feet of climb and 33,992 feet of descent for a total elevation change of 67,984 feet, at an average elevation of over 11,000 feet. The race is held on a loop course on 4WD roads, dirt trails, and cross country… a mountain run that passes through some of the most beautiful and rugged mountains in the world… course offers a graduate level challenge for endurance runs. The course is designed to provide extreme challenges in altitude, steepness, and remoteness … mountaineering, wilderness survival and wilderness navigation skills are as important in this event as your endurance…”

Absolutely amazing – or – insane – depending on your point of view!

The run starts in Silverton and travels through the towns of Telluride, Ouray, and the ghost town of Sherman and crosses 13 passes between 12,000 and 13,000 feet and even over a 14er – Handies Peak.


Since I myself was climbing my first 14er on Friday the 13th I couldn’t participate this year 🙂 maybe next year…

Take care…See you down the road…

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