Location: Roosevelt National Forest, North-central Colorado
Maps: USGS 7.5' Quad: Big Narrows; Trails Illustrated 1:40K: Cache La Poudre/Big Thompson #101
Access: From Ted's Place, drive about 17 miles and pulloff near the Narrows Campground.
Trail: None. Open terrain is a cinch to navigate.
Parking Area: NAD83 zone 13 464990e 4503090n Elevation: 6200'
Dog Regulations: Voice control
Weather: Current and recent conditions Local forecast
February 2003 was a much-needed wet month in Colorado, and it brought statewide snowpack up to 88% of normal, which everyone likes to hear. The downside was that it kept me holed up in my living room watching snow fall every weekend for 5 weeks stretching back into January. Thus, when the morning sky was blue and cloudless, and the temperature was in the upper 40ís by 9AM on the second Saturday of March, I hastily threw some gear in my pack and herded the dogs in the car for a trip up the Poudre. I had no idea where I was going, but chose to let the chips fall where they may. Highway 14 had very little traffic on it, and I drove up with windows cracked, dogs frantically sniffing the cool air whistling by outside. After passing several nice-looking opportunities, I finally pulled over into a little dirt patch about ½ mile past the Stevens Gulch picnic ground. The steep southern-facing slopes stretched up high to the north, and with little delay the three of us, Frank, Makenzie and I, were trudging up the grassy, rocky slope in the full sunlight of a warm spring day.
The wind was blowing pretty hard, I was sorry to see, but it was not terribly cold. The sun on my body in fact warmed me up pretty good. I was comfortable in a t-shirt, jeans and a flannel. There was no trail that I could see, so I just switchbacked up the slope, pulling myself up the steep passages by grabbing onto large boulders. There were no trees on the southern face, only sagebrush, prickly pear and dried grasses. The dogs ranged ahead of me in wide sweeping arcs, noses to the ground, busily taking in the wild scents. I crested a ridge that afforded a nice view of the Poudre Hwy to the east, and I could see my former hiking spots at Stevenís Gulch and the spot I parked at near Stove Prairie picnic area (where Andra and I once stopped to grill hot dogs) to hike up the south slope towards Bear Ridge in early January 2003. Just before the highway curved out of view I could see the junction of Stove Prairie Rd, where earlier in the year they found the body of a missing university student in the woods. Grizzly distinction. To the west, the canyon was so narrow and twisted that not much could be seen of the river or the highway before they were blocked by a mountain. To the north, the top of Sheep Mt had come into view, being blocked from the highway by its own steep slopes and ridges.
I followed this ridge up, keeping a nice view to the east open, until the terrain steepened to the point that I had to sidehill around to the north side of a craggy sub-peak. On the northeastern side, the snow was deep, and although the climb up the steep boulders would have been more than manageable in the summer, the snow worried me, so we turned around and backtracked a couple hundred yards and circled around to the southwestern side where there was no snow. I found a chute that allowed a fairly easy assent up to the craggy sub-peak, and soon all three of us were standing in the wind, once again looking east at the river and surrounding bottoms. I followed a saddle leading northwest and began to circle around to the north side of the mountain. I stepped carefully in the anlkle-deep snow to avoid getting my socks wet since I hadnít brought gaiters. Giant hilltop mountain homes came into view to the north, along with the tortuously scarring network of graded roads and driveways. Nothing looks so out of place around this area as that. I tried to keep my eyes pointed a different directionand pretend I was in undisturbed wilderness. Soon I was switching direction and walking south through huge ponderosa pines and Douglas firs with snow up to mid calf. The dogs romped about in the snow in a frenzy, and whether they knew it or not, they spooked a herd of mule deer that went trotting up into the upper areas of the mountain and out of view. The wind was fairly well-blocked in the trees, and it was quiet and cool. Before long, I could see blue sky through the trees, signalling the summit. We came upon the wind-battered peak, which is littered with Volkswagen-sized boudlers. I climbed to the tallest one and stood facing west, bracing myself in a fierce wind. The wind was so strong that my first attempt at jumping up on the rock failed as I was blown backwards and off to the ground below. A single stunted Douglas fir stood bent before the wind on the highest point of the summit. Being as cold as it was, we stayed but a moment, then retreated to the east side where the sun was still shining but the wind was less severe. I sat down in the deep duff on the lee side of a giant ponderosa and watered the dogs and snacked myself. Once again, I had a nice view of the canyon to the east, and the tiny cars that crawled along almost unnoticed along the ribbon strip of blacktop that snaked through the valley. To the southwest, I could see the top of the unnamed peak where the three of us had sat and rested in January just a little bit higher than I was now. I pulled out my book and read, then became drowsy, so I laid down and snoozed in the warm sun. The dogs entertained themselves by chewing on sticks and pine cones. Whatever makes them happy and keeps them close is fine with me. After a half hour or maybe an hour I put my stuff together and we began the steep route down. Instead of backtracking through the snow, we went down the steeper south face. Makenzie found a deer leg bone on the way down, keeping her uncanny streak of locating dead animal parts alive and well. I had to physically pull her away from it. I picked up the route we had taken on the way up near the craggy sub-peak, and followed it from there until the time came to descend the last draw down to the car, where I noted a white pickup had also parked. I looked around but saw nobody else in view. Instead of going straight down, I followed the ridge south until it rose again slightly. At the top of this little peak one can look almost straight down onto the river below. I followed this ridge for about 30 meters before it became too steep, then walked back northwest to the draw and followed it down.
The total trip length was around 2.5 miles with an elevation gain of around 1200 ft. A good, easy walk for a nice, lazy spring day