Horsethief Falls & Horsethief Park

Location: Pike National Forest, west of Pikes Peak, Colorado
Access: From Divide, CO, take Highway 67 south for 9 miles to a parking area on the east side of the road just beyond a railroad tunnel. 
Maps: USGS 7.5í Quads: Cripple Creek North & Pikes Peak
Trailhead: NAD83 zone 13 488088e 4298394n  Elev: 9690'
Trail: Falls: 3-mile round-trip with 700í elevation gain to the falls along a well-marked trail through lodgepole pine/spruce forest. Falls are typically not very impressive, but make a nice destination. Trail to the falls is a straight shot uphill. Halfway to the falls, a left turn across the creek will take you on Trail 704, which treks up Horsethief Park, past beaver dams and old cabins in the shadow of Sentinel Point, then into the forest towards the Crags campground. Trail gets pretty faint once it starts to go steeply uphill. Mileage depends on preference. Iíve never taken the Horsethief Park trail to the end, but you can do at least a 6 mile round trip without getting to the end. 
Dogs: Voice control
Fees: None
Weather: National Weather Service Point Forecast 
             NOAA Snow Conditions

May 25, 2008

Andra and I leash up Frank and Makenzie at the car in the morning shade of pines in the parking area. The railroad tunnel is unmistakable and I had forgotten until we arrived that I hiked here before in June of 2006 (I had to look it up). That year, Andra, Bob, Noah and two little shi tzus and I hiked up to Horsethief Falls. Between the little dogs and eight-year old Noah, the hike moved along pretty slowly, but it was an enjoyable sunny day with the smell of warm pinesap filling the air. 

So, time to see it again. Off we all go up the trail, Makenzie charging ahead choking herself and panting hoarsely; Frank, the Zen Master, serenely clipping along with a slack leash at my side, sniffing the air carefully and watching intently for signs of small game. Once weíre up the trail a short ways, and away from the zipping cars on Hwy 67, we unleash the dogs. Makenzie charges up the hill like a bull; Frank characteristically trots smoothly and quietly, almost cat-like, up the gravel trail. This is an old logging road, narrow but smooth, yet it runs steeply uphill and we work up a bit of a sweat, despite the cool temperature outside. It is a beautiful, sunny day in an historically cool spring that has seen snow in places where it normally has long been melted. 

We walk along, enjoying the greenery along the trail and the cool moss growing in the shade of the north-facing slope. We cross beyond a fence and the trail gets rougher, narrower. No cars have been up here for quite some time. The humming thrum of splashing water comes up from below where the creek has cut a narrow defile in the rock. A wonderful day. The trail is pretty busy, and we encounter small groups of hikers frequently. To keep Makenzie distracted so she doesnít jump up on anyone or emit one of her odd yips when surprised by someone on the trail, I get her interested in a stick (waving it around for 2 seconds does the trick) and throw it. It becomes her toy, and she carries it for most of the rest of the hike, and in the process becomes oblivious to all other living things. 

We pass the fork for trail 704, and later for Pancake Rocks, but continue straight ahead to the falls. Oddly, there is nobody there when we arrived, and we clamor up the rocks to a point alongside the thin, splashing sluice. Not much water here. A shell of ice still covers most of the channel, and water slides noisily below it. Near a vertical drop, mist has frozen onto a tree branch that sparkles in the sunlight. It will melt quickly now that the sun has hit it. Frank and Makenzie drink water, and Makenzie dives for rocks that we throw in the water. She is a constant source of entertainment. We sit and watch the water slide down the rocks for 20 minutes.

We walk along the trail back to the fork with Tr 704, and attempt to take it. A the trail leads straightaway into a 20-foot wide pond, we walk through the willows downstream a bit, and cross the creek just below the beaver dam, wetting our boots only a little. The trail heads up the west side of Horsethief Park, a nice mountain valley with multiple beaver dams along the creek, plenty of willow and aspen, and wide, open meadows that Iím sure will be teeming with flowers and butterflies in a month or so. It is very breezy out in the open, and we both have to put on our flannels to stay warm. The winds have whipped up beautiful cirrus clouds overhead, and I canít help but stop and admire the dramatic contrast of the whispy white clouds against the deep blue high-altitude sky. We pass by a few frozen ponds which Makenzie hops into, shattering the ice. She seems oblivious to the cold. The winds whips at our hair and flannels, creating a dull roar, but the sun keeps it comfortably warm. Old derelict cabins appear on the left, and Sentinel Point to the east overlooks the entire route. 

In a mile or two, we reach the spring that feeds the creek, and follow a faint route uphill into the trees towards the northeast. It gets steep, and we remove our overshirts as we start to sweat. The trail becomes faint at times so that we wonder if it really is a trail anymore, but further on it always reappears. After about 30 minutes of walking and not knowing where we were heading, we decided to call it in and head back down. A nice hike in the trees, but it has gotten a little monotonous (and tiring). We head back down, and make it back to the meadows pretty quickly. The clouds have continued to build and are coalescing into stratus clouds to the south. 

On the way to the car, we pass many, many groups of people. You can always tell the dog lovers who stop to say hello to you and your dog, patting the dogís head and scratching their ears, from the dog haters who pretend you and your dogs arenít even there, and glance at you quickly and quietly as they speedily pass by. Hiking without dogs is like pizza without pepperoni. We arrive back at the car and hop in. I immediately feel the sleep-deprived week behind me catch up, and am falling asleep at the wheel in minutes. We pull over, Andra takes the wheel, and I fall asleep within seconds, waking only when we arrive back at her apartment in Woodland Park.

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