I had wanted to do this hike last fall, but when I wanted to try it the roads were fairly bad and it would have made a 3 hour drive into a 5 hour drive so I turned around near the Wyoming/Colorado border. The weather has been very mild recently and the road reports were indicating no problems so I decided to try again.
The hike starts at Berthoud Pass along US 40 near the Winter Park and Mary Jane ski areas (there's also a small ski area at B. Pass). This is a very scenic drive the whole way, especially with snow- capped mountains. Berthoud Pass is on the Continental Divide and one of the attractions of this hike is that it follows the Divide.
I arrived at Berthoud Pass shortly before 10am, rather late but no precipitation was expected. The altitude of the pass depends upon what number you choose. There's a USGS benchmark on the other side of the highway at 11,315 feet. However, the sign at the pass says 11,307 feet. There's also an older plaque there, but I don't remember what it said.
As a summer hike, the climb of Colorado Mines Peak follows a dirt road that switchbacks to the summit. There was quite a bit of snow low on the mountain so after one switchback I decided to bang straight up the hill, paralleling an unmaintained ski run for a while. Snow conditions were pretty crappy down low, with very little in the way of firm crust, and the postholing wasn't pleasant or consistant. A couple times going over drifts I ended up going in to my crotch. The slope wasn't very steep though, just a walk-up. Fortunately, the snow got less deep as I went up. Unfortunately, the reason is because this slope faces west and gets scoured by the wind, which was increasing the higher I got.
Near the top, at the last switchback, the snow pretty much ran out, so I got off the tundra and finished on the road. Up here the wind was howling pretty good out of the northwest at 40mph with a few higher gusts. Even though the snow wasn't very loose, the wind was strong enough to blow some around. The summit is home to a slew of communications equipment, which is a bit of an eyesore, but I was able to hide from the wind (and stay in the Sun) on the east side of one of the buildings.
Here I contemplated the future of the climb. I had wanted to make it above 13,000 ft on this trip if possible and had even considered not only climbing Mt. Flora, but also continuing to Mt. Eva, still on the Divide. Eva was definitely out due to the wind and the strenuous climb to where I was. What I could see of the Divide ridge looked more brown than white so I figured the going would be pretty easy. Based on the map, I wouldn't have a direct head wind either going or coming, but the wind could shift and/or get stronger. The sky looked good with only a few innocuous cumulus clouds over some of the mountains with a broken thin cirrus layer above. The temperature was around freezing so that was OK as well. I decided to give it a shot and after putting on some extra clothing, I headed northeast off the summit.
Once off the fairly large summit area, I had a good view of the Divide ridge. The gentler Pacific side had very little snow, while the steeper dropoffs on the Atlantic side where very white. The route drops down to a saddle at about 12,140ft before climbing up to Mount Flora. After some talus and snow on the descent, the route becomes just a hike over easy terrain, with a few patches of snow. Also, there was some verglas type ice crust on the dirt but this wasn't solid or widespread. The wind was still strong coming from my left and slightly behind me. At about 12,800ft there's a minor ridge point (one closed contour of 12,800ft on the topo at 40ft resolution), and this provided the best look back at Colorado Mines Peak. It was at about this point where there was starting to be much more talus again, but it was still a simple hike.
It was in the saddle just past this ridge point where the wind was it's strongest. I suspect it was sustained near 50mph here, but this is getting beyond the point at which I can reliably estimate the wind, especially without trees. We get several wind events a year with sustained 40-50mph winds in Laramie, but even when we had a gust to 75mph last February, the highest sustained wind reported was "only" 48mph. Anyway, the crosswind was strong enough that I was having difficulty walking in a straight line and there was occasionally a bit of blowing snow (again, the snow was too wet and sticky for much of this).
I continued upward to a false summit (again a single closed contour on the map), where I hunkered down and got the map out to get my bearings. It wasn't obvious while hiking exactly which summit was Mt. Flora and in fact, it's only visible at times on the hike. After a moment I figured it out and started the last push to the summit. At one point I strayed a little below the ridge on the Atlantic side and after hiking 50 meters or so back up to the ridge directly into the wind including a bit of painful blowing snow I was very glad I didn't have a headwind for any long stretch.
The summit of Flora is fairly broad without an obvious highest point. There was a feeble attempt at a circular rock wind shelter near what looked like the high point. The "shelter" was a whopping 12" high and might have been enough to shelter a marmot, but that's about it. The wind wasn't too bad up here (~30mph) so I rested a bit and took the usual photos. The views were terrific, BTW, with a lot of good looking mountains visible the whole day, including a nifty cirque on the north side of Mount Englemann about 5 miles south.
I left Mount Flora at about 12:50pm and was pleased to find that the wind had slacked off a little bit for the return hike. This was pretty uneventful except that my legs were really tired hiking back up to Colorado Mines Peak. I could have skirted it, but I didn't. I was really hoping for some glissading down Colorado Mines Peak to finish off the day, but I couldn't find any snow solid enough to support me and ended up postholing my way back down. But even this wasn't too bad going downhill and at 2:15pm my climb was over.
Although the hike wasn't all that long, I'm glad that I didn't try to continue to Mount Eva. This would have added another 4 miles round trip and a bunch more elevation gain, something I just wasn't up to after the strenous ascent of Colorado Mines Peak. I think an earlier arrival would have given me better snow conditions. [Probably not; this was probably a more general snow condition typical for this time of year.]
To the chronological trip index
To the Colorado Mines Peak page
To the Mount Flora page
File last modified: 20 December 2004