High Lonesome Trail trip report


I needed a break from peak bagging, and decided to try an "ultrahike", in the same sense of "ultrarunning"; going longer than 26.2 miles, marathon distance. The ultrahike didn't quite work out, but ended up being my second longest hike distance-wise, and my longest hike in hiking boots.

I also wanted to get away from the crowds, so I chose the west side of the Indian Peaks, which requires a decent drive from the Front Range communities. I left home late and the drive across Rocky Mountain National Park from Boulder to Lake Granby took a lot longer than I expected and that was a factor in not making marathon distance.

I wanted something not too steep, but still wanted a decent amount of elevation gain, because I have an idea for an extremely long hike next year sometime. I ended up choosing the High Lonesome Trail. This starts at Monarch Lake, just above Lake Granby. If I hiked all the way up to the Continental Divide on this trail, it would be about 13 miles up to Devils Thumb Pass, and if I was feeling strong I could make a short, quick ascent of Skyscraper Peak for a 14-15 mile one-way distance. One nice feature of the High Lonesome Trail is that it is a part of the Continental Divide National Scenic Trail (CDNST).

Unfortunately, the hike didn't get started until 5:25am, about an hour after I planned. Although there were plenty of cars here, it would be a long time before I saw anyone else.

The very beginning of the hike is flat, followed by a fairly steep switchbacked section. After a few miles, you are up near 10000ft and you stay within a few hundred feet of that value for the rest of the outbound hike. This section is within the Indian Peaks Wilderness area and then you are hiking in the National Forest. Based on my map measurements, I wasn't hiking quite as fast as I expected, but otherwise I was having a good hike.

The Trails Illustrated maps is not complete with regards to old roads (some of which may be closed but would be driveable with a normal car). I hit one section of the CDNST that is on one of these roads, and unfortunately I missed a right turn for the trail. I ended up staying on the road as it curved around clockwise. I eventually hit a junction, and I knew here that I needed to stay right. Finally, along the road I hit the point where the CDNST crosses the road; obviously I had missed the cut-off trail. Oh well, I was glad to know where I was again and I could relax a bit.

After about 6 miles, you hit the Junco Lake Trailhead and this was the first time I saw people. However, this is a pretty remote trailhead, and I would only see a few mountain bikers and a couple hikers on the segment past this trailhead.

Fortunately, despite encountering a few people, this was to start an incredibly scenic part of the trail. The keyword being "meadows". Shortly after you leave this trailhead, you hike on the west edge of a gorgeous, large meadow that is almost a half-mile long. Then, you keep encountering small meadows every so often, and beyond and above the meadows the Continental Divide rears up.

The only negative was by this point some clouds were starting to build up. I still wanted to make it to Devils Thumb Park (that's "Park" in the sense of a valley). The last couple miles to this point were downhill, so I did a bit of trail running, wanting to gain a little time. And, I'm a runner anyway, so that was fine.

I reached a trail junction at the edge of Devils Thumb Park at about 10:30, and hiked a bit past to check out another large meadow. With the iffy weather, and knowing that I was as much as 5 hours from my car, I decided to turn around here. I did some occasional running on the way back through the meadows, etc. (I put down 6 km in my running log.)

I actually heard thunder a couple times, but nothing near nor anything widespread. I still made every effort to keep up a decent pace. My provisions were holding out well; I'm finding that Pepperidge Farm goldfish crackers fuel me very well on long hikes. That and Gatorade.

Past the Junco Lake Trailhead, I didn't see anyone again until Monarch Lake. I managed to follow the trail all the way this time; however, I didn't feel so bad because you need to look sharp to catch the turnoff on that road. By this time the weather had went sunny for good, and I allowed my pace to slow quite a bit; all that running in boots with a pack after all that hiking had pretty well trashed my legs. When I reached the Forest Service cabin at the trailhead, I chatted with the volunteer manning the station for a while as I finished that last of my water and Gatorade. My round-trip time was about 9.5 hours. I probably saved 30-45 minutes with my running.

Unfortunately, when I moseyed over to my car, I had a flat. But, since my blowout on I-25 several weeks earlier, I started carrying a real spare, so I put that on and headed home. I feel like it was pretty bad luck to have to change a tire twice in about a month; before that I hadn't changed a tire since my Driver's Education class almost 15 years ago! I hadn't made my "ultrahike", but I enjoyed some great scenery in solitude, and found a nice spot for trail running should I get the urge.

[Based on a guidebook on the CDNST in Colorado, which is in a box somewhere now that I'm not living in Colorado, this hike/run may have actually been very close to marathon length. This actually makes sense based on later measurements of how fast I can walk and the fact that this hike was pretty flat, relatively speaking.]

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