Top of the Heap: Telluride’s Imogene Pass ranked as our readers’ favorite run and out pick as Best Epic Event. Photo: Liam Doran
EO’s first annual Best of Colorado awards are here. The editorial staff put our heads together to bring you to the places we go for backyard adventure—and we went online and asked our readers for their votes, too. Here are the winners.
OUR PICK: Mount Wilson At 14,246 feet, graceful Mount Wilson is the 15th highest peak in Colorado and the highest peak in the San Miguel Mountains, a sub range of the San Juans. The first ascent team climbed a difficult, and decidedly unpopular, route on September 13, 1874 and named the summit for the topographer on that climb, A.D. Wilson. Today, the standard route is up the north slope which is mostly a class 2 hike with some class 3 scrambling and optional class 4 moves—if that’s what you’re looking for.
Mount Wilson is one of the more difficult 14ers in Colorado and the views throughout the climb are worth the effort. Summer and fall are the best times to go, but be mindful of the afternoon thunderstorms prevalent in August. An early start is always recommended which means camping somewhere along the way—a great experience on its own. Don’t get Mount Wilson mixed up with nearby Wilson Peak, though, that’s a great climb as well. If Wilson Peak has an odd tinge of familiarity when you look at it, you might be a Coors drinker. The mountain is what’s depicted on the beer’s label.
YOUR PICK: Longs Peak Sure, we love an epic day on Longs, but we can’t cover it in every issue of Elevation Outdoors.
Road Bike Climb
OUR PICK: Mount Evans The closest fourteener to Denver also happens to make for the best road bike climb in the state, and arguably the country. It isn’t just that the 28-mile route climbs 7,000 vertical feet on the highest paved road in the US, where marmots have gnawed holes through the guardrail-less concrete. The big thrill comes from the wide-open panoramic vistas, a visual onslaught of the most incredibly beautiful, undeniably brutal landscape you’ve ever laid your polarized-lens-protected eyes upon.
YOUR PICK: Lefthand Canyon Of course there’s enlightenment on the popular 4,000-vert pull up through Ward to the Peak-to-Peak Highway, and the loop options are endless, with stops at the Jamestown Mercantile and the alpine cirque of Brainard Lake topping the list.
OUR PICK: Molas Pass to Coal Bank Pass The Durango-area is famous for adventurous rides, but the Molas Pass to Coal Bank Pass Trail stands out for getting you up into the high hills, in a quasi-backcountry setting. The route hovers close to 12,000 feet and is one of the most scenic stretches of the Colorado Trail. In addition to the spectacular San Juan vistas, there’s more waterfalls than you can count on one hand. Every turn seems to serve up another Colorado calendar-worthy photo op of ruddy red singletrack cut through deep green grass against a backdrop of coal grey peaks. If you really just can’t get enough, take it all the way into Durango–73 miles of what could very well be the best alpine singletrack on earth. Some people attempt it in one day.
YOUR PICK: The Wheeler Trail, Breckenridge It’s a massive grunt up along the slopes of Breckenridge to 12,460 feet, but well worth it for the rocket ride down to Copper.
OUR PICK: Western Rim Trail, Fruita The Western Rim is exactly the type of singletrack you dream of when you’re stuck in a cubicle all day at work––an infinite stretch of fast, flowy trail, offering not only the best rim riding in the area, but also a jaw dropping wow factor—that Jurassic Park-y, land where time stands still, oh sweet Jesus, I almost want to stop and stare at the dramatic landscape of high bluffs and sandstone cliffs spread before me. Almost. The trail has such a superb flow that you wouldn’t dare stop. However, like most good things, this 20-or-so-mile trail isn’t necessarily easy to find. Start at the Rabbit Valley exit parking lot just north of I-70. Climb the dirt switchbacks up to just after the Utah State Line fence and head right on the moto trail (motorcyclists are rare). You’ll hit the Zion Curtain Trail first, unmistakable by its climb up to the ridge followed by a sweet descent that rides super fast when conditions are right (i.e. hard), before running into the Western Rim. You’ll know you’ve found it when the views open up, revealing the entire expanse of the Rabbit Valley.
YOUR PICK: The Ribbon, Grand Junction Oh, good pick readers. GJ’s desert singletrack is an epic without the tourists of Fruita and Moab.
OUR PICK: Crater Lake No place in Colorado seems more transformed by the beauty of fall colors than the Maroon Bells. The trail to Crater Lake is a mild set of switchbacks rising above Maroon Lake into the thick stands of Aspen which practically glow in the fall. Shortly after the switchbacks, you’ll clear from the thick of the evergreen trees, and follow a gentle dip down to the grassy shore of Crater Lake.
YOUR PICK: Maroon Bells We like you, readers. We are on the same page.
OUR PICK: Moraine Park, Rocky Mtn. NP There are a lot of beautiful campgrounds in Colorado but few with Moraine’s social life: if you have kids, you can enroll them in the Junior Ranger Badge program or catch a variety of ranger programs for kids and adults in the busy seasons. Open year-round, Morane Park fills up fast in the summer months, so reserve a spot way ahead of time.
YOUR PICK: Great Sand Dunes National Park Stay away in the heat of summer, but in shoulder seasons nothing beats exploring the dunes.
Yurt / Hut
OUR PICK: Montgomery Pass Yurts If it was easy, everyone would do it. While the Montgomery Pass Yurts on the west side of Cameron Pass are not particularly difficult to reach, the 2.8 mile winter access and 1.1 mile summer access keep out the riff-raff. For winter visitors, there’s snowshoeing and intermediate and advanced nordic skiing out the door. In the summer, there’s hiking and mountain biking.
YOUR PICK: Margy’s Hut It’s tucked up at 11,300 in the Elks and surrounded by untracked pow… how can you go wrong?
OUR PICK: Trapper’s Lake Nestled in the remote Flattop Mountain Wilderness, Trapper’s Lake shines amidst unique volcanic cliffs and majestic peaks. It’s the ideal spot for a midsummer dip or catching a native cutthroat. No matter how you spend time here, no visit is complete without taking a moment to thank Arthur Carhart; he is the reason we can enjoy it today. In 1919, this gutsy Forest Service employee made unorthodox recommendations that halted plans to build a road and homes here—keeping the lake pristine and spurring the wilderness movement.
YOUR PICK: Blue Lake Perched at 11,300 feet, the Indian Peaks’ Blue Lake offers huge bang for your buck with a relatively easy 2.5-mile hike in to the type of alpine terrain that usually requires a backpacking trip to reach.
OUR PICK: Mohawk Lake Trail Starting at 10,350 feet, where temperatures stay fur coat-friendly even in the dog days of summer, this 7-mile out-and-back near Breckenridge features Upper and Lower Mohawk lakes for a dip or two, a waterfall and even mining ruins from the 1800s to go a sniffin.’ Human escorts claim the trail’s dramatic vistas are some of the best in Summit County.
YOUR PICK: S Mountain, Salida While Front Range towns (Boulder, anyone?) are busy putting restrictions on pups, Salida’s network of trails remain as dog friendly as ever.
OUR PICK: Pear Lake For an immersion into the remote regions of Rocky Mountain National Park, little compares to the 13-mile out-and-back Pear Lake Trail. This road less traveled winds deep into the park’s Wild Basin Area, through dense spruce-fir forests and aspen stands, crossing over small streams and wildflower meadows before climbing to a ridge overlooking the subalpine Pear Lake. Thirteener Mt. Copeland rises dramatically from the water’s edge.
YOUR PICK: Rocky Mountain National Park Simple. Want to get away from dogs? Go to RMNP.
Hike with Kids
OUR PICK: Green Mountain West Ridge Boulder’s Flatiorns are ideal for kid hikes since they are close enough to civilization that you can retreat to a quick ice cream at Glacier, yet they’re still steep, wild and stunning once you are immersed in them. The West Ridge Green Mountain Trail puts you on top of 8,144-foot Green Mountain in just 1.4 miles and 600 verts—so your kids can top out above town without the 6-mile, 2,328-vertical effort of of making the epic climb from Boulder.
YOUR PICK: Mount Sanitas Our readers must have tough kids.
OUR PICK: Pikes Peak, Manitou Springs There’s a lot of pretty trail runs in these parts. So the best of the best needs that special something— like, say, 7,800 feet of vertical. Meet the Incline in Manitou Springs, which is nasty enough on its own, but when combined with the Barr Trail to the summit of Pike’s Peak, equals a 13.3-mile course that’s the most challenging (and the most rewarding) trail run in the state. For an added punch, the last three miles are above treeline (and can slow your pace down to 30-minute miles).
YOUR PICK: Imogne Pass, Ouray to Telluride Yes, our readers like epic. Choosing this 17-mile run (and race, see below) up to 13,000 feet is proof.
OUR PICK: Shelf Road There are scores of famed rock climbing scenes across Colorado, but as Yogi Berra once quipped: No one goes to them anymore, they’re too popular. Shelf Road, outside of Canon City, is one scene that’s not a scene. The sport climbing here is outstanding with easy (5.7) one-pitchers like Crynoid Corner, true classics like No Passion for Fashion (5.11b/c) and toughies like The Example (5.13a) but it’s the people who climb here, who care more about climbing than their egos, that make it.
YOUR PICK: Shelf Road Once more, we are in tune with our people.
OUR PICK: Scenic Cruise While so much of the climbing focus in Colorado is on the state’s soaring peaks, perhaps the best mulit-pitch routes, short of Longs’ Diamond Face, lie in the depths of the Black Canyon of the Gunnison. While the options are endless and include some very manageable routes such as Maiden Voyage (5.9), the true classic is Scenic Cruise (5.10c/d), a 13-pitch epic on absolutely vertiginous, continuous rock that should be a must-do on any Colorado trad climber’s life list—hell, on any climber’s list.
YOUR PICK: The Diamond Face It’s hard to ignore the Lower 48’s best alpine face outside Yosemite. But we can’t cover Longs again.
OUR PICK: The Ineditable A first-class Boulder problem is like a perfect meal—it requires atmosphere and aesthetics alongside a deep sense of satisfaction of completing it. Ok, enough of the overwrought description: The Ineditable is a tasty 40-foot, V6-7 line on a perfect hunking boulder in Independence Pass’ Grotto Wall. You’ll find worthy trad climbing here, too, including the classic Scene of the Crime (5.12c/d).
YOUR PICK: Monkey Traverse Everyone likes this one on Boulder’s Flagstaff road.
OUR PICK: The Gauntlet The steepest, most technical and longest stretch of the Arkansas River, the Gauntlet is a name you’ll want to drop for instant cred among your paddling cronies. The run starts in class III Granite Gorge then shoots into a mile of class V rapids. Here, the river gets squeezed to half its width (if this means nothing to you, Google the Venturi Effect) and drops over 200 feet. The fun starts when it slams right into class V Triple Drop. Then, The Numbers is up. Determined to be unnavigable waters by 1880’s miners, it’s a series of of gaping holes, huge boulders and lots of rabid water.
YOUR PICK: Brown’s Canyon Our readers stayed on the Arkansas but kept a bit more mellow on this 12-mile class III-IV section.
OUR PICK: Imogene Pass Run Getting into this race is the most competitive part— it filled up in 10 hours 10 minutes this year. Then there’s the race. From town, you quickly begin the incessant climb away from civilization, traveling 10 miles and 5,310 feet up valley, across creeks and over rock until you leave the last trees far behind. Despite the pain, don’t miss the spectacular scenery: a rainbow colored landscape littered with impressive geologic features. After the last push to the top (with grades reaching 21.9 percent!), catch your breath and enjoy the overwhelming view. Then comes the harrowing 7.1-mile descent. If you’ve managed to stay upright, cruise into Telluride, enjoy a beer and chow a few pieces of pizza.
YOUR PICK: Leadville 100 Still the reigning champ.
OUR PICK: Heart lake Well, what could be more romantic than sleeping under the stars on the shores of a heart shaped lake? Load up your pack with the essentials including a box of wine, dark chocolate, candles and a fly rod and head to the James Peak Wilderness. You’ll climb over 2,000 feet in 4.2 miles to reach this dreamy, emerald-green alpine lake.
YOUR PICK: Conundrum Hot Springs Sure, um, but only if you don’t mind sharing that romantic spot with some random naked hippy dude.
OUR PICK: Jonathan Waterman
Waterman is an inspiration plain and simple. He has climbed Denali in the dead of winter, written 11 books and countless articles and created a number of documentary films. He has completed long river descents, difficult wilderness treks and unprecedented mountaineering ascents and has won too many awards to name. Despite all of these accolades, he comes off as someone who is ego-less, authentic—he puts both friends and strangers at ease when he talks about his travels and conservation. He’s smart, yet never condescending; grim when he tells the truths about the environment but still hopeful. Most of all, he’s tireless in wanting to teach what we can do to save the planet and has never been afraid to take a stand.
Waterman grew up in the suburbs of Boston where, as he says, there’s “not much to see in terms of nature unbound.” This, combined with the back to the land movement of the 70s, tuned him on to environmentalism and the reality that “we have a lot of work to do.” Always an explorer, he headed to Alaska at age 19 and has ventured through the outer reaches of the Arctic and the West ever since. Using words and imagery from countless journeys, he has captivated audiences with tales of high adrenaline mountain adventure and has illuminated pressing global cultural and conservation issues with sensitivity, grace and grit.
His pioneering work to shed light on environmental concerns continues. Right now he is tackling an issue close to home: beginning in 2007, Waterman traveled from the source of the Colorado River to the sea, first by boat and then on foot (once the river ran dry) with photographer Peter McBride. Using stories, imagery and film, the pair are drawing attention to the crisis facing the river and hoping to turn awareness into action. This year, Waterman launched a photographic investigation of 16 drying rivers that connect to the Colorado. “The rivers in the Southwest are so compromised. They just aren’t what they used to be … but we can still save these rivers,” he says.
Waterman’s motivation goes beyond his innate passion for the natural world and writing. “What I’m most proud of is raising my two sons. It’s a huge responsibility. I think about what they are going to inherit—that’s my inspiration.”
YOUR PICK: Renan Ozturk
Renan Ozturk is a sponsored The North Face athlete and an artist, both in his Rock Monkey Art (renanozturk.sites.livebooks.com) and pioneering expedition film work such as the short movie “As It Happens,” which he edited and transmitted live from the mountain during a thrilling climb of Nepal’s 21,320-foot Tawoche.