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Baker Pass, Never Summer Wilderness,CO July 31, 2010

October 30, 2011


There’s a place, an area, a gem of a trail I found last summer (summer of 2010; sorry I’m a little slow : ).  I kinda hate to write about it, because I just want to keep it for myself.  But, that’s selfish (which doesn’t bother me too much : ).  And, it’s an unnecessary worry because from what I can see the number of people going hiking continues to decline.  So, if you’re interested in a cool kind of out of the way, but not too far of a drive, hike, then check this out.

Before I go any further in the trip’s description, here is my standard comment. Please check my photo galleries here for all the larger and higher quality photos for this trip. The photos in the gallery are a quantum leap in size and quality compared to the little teaser photos I put in this site’s trip narrative (and there are more of them). In addition, I have two other links that will help locate the area if you are interested in making the hike yourself. A Google Earth map can be found here. You will need to use the scale bar on the left side of the Google map to help zoom in or out to help locate the area based on where you live. (If you want to see all my trips, this link will direct you to a Google map that shows ALL my trips.) In order to help you with the actual trail itself, you can use this link to view a map that shows the trail I took . Please note that all links open a new browser window.

The Never Summer range of mountains is a section of country I haven’t spent much time in (but have done so since this particular hike).  The range of mountains forms a big chunk of Rocky Mountain National Park’s western boundary.  I’d looked at the Never Summer’s (such as when I come down off of Trailridge road) over the years, and even did some hiking on a little of it with Will.  But, I’d “never” been on it’s western slopes.  So, last summer figured it was about time.  Summer of 2010.


In addition to the Google map link above, please see a Microsoft Live map below. The red tack shows the general location of the trail from my home in Fort Collins, CO. You can click on the map to bring it up in a “live” mode and zoom in or out (and move the map around) to get more detail. Just make sure you don’t close the Microsoft “My Places” editor that pops up with map. If you close the editor (it is small and you can use/scroll/zoom the map without the editor getting too much in the way) without first saving the new location, the location button will disappear. If that happens, just close the map and click on it again on my web page.

Map picture

If you head up over Cameron Pass, going west, you drop down into the Michigan river valley.  You soon enter the rather, um, dainty little town of Gould.  Yes, I’ve zoomed through it many a times headed for Walden and the Zirkels.  But this time, I turned off onto Forest Access road 740 in Gould, crossed the Michigan River, and headed up the road into the unknown.  And boy, was I in for a shock.  Because when you cross the river you enter the REAL town of Gould.  It can’t be seen from the highway.  But, there’s a town back in there.  As in lots of houses.  Lots of families.  Very interesting.  Very pretty.  Very secluded.

(photo below is from up the trail a ways, not of Gould)


Anyway, I passed on through Gould going past the Pines campground and on up road 760 (dirt/gravel) until I came to the South Fork of the Michigan River trailhead.  Sorta.  As I found out, this is kinda a back country area and they don’t keep the roads up past a certain point.  So, about 3 miles from the trailhead, on a dirt road, I saw a sign that said something about parking for the trail.  But, hey, the road kept going.  So, I kept driving.  But, I drove VERY slowly in my small car.  Why?  Because I had to weave in and around mud holes that were large enough to swallow my car.  I swear I saw fenders partially sticking up out of some of the bigger ones.  Hope the drivers got out in time.  I would, much later, almost regret that little section of drive because while tricky to navigate with daylight, it was not something that you’d want to have to deal with in the dark.


After about an mile and a half of slow driving I saw another sign that said 4WD only from that point on.  And the trailhead was another one point five miles ahead.  Sigh.  Okay, better safe than sorry.  I parked my car and began a walk up the 1.5 miles of 4WD road to the actual trailhead.  Very pleasant scenery to look at, so no big deal.  No one else was parked there, or earlier.  I saw no one on the road, and I saw no one on the trail.


Turned out that was a very smart thing to do.  It’s hard to tell from just looking at the photo below, but it shows a section of the road that was definitely 4WD.  And, you’d better know how to really use it.  And, it got worse.  So, unless you try this in a very good 4WD vehicle, and you are experienced, I’d really recommend you park back where I did (or sooner, depending on the vehicle you are in).


That said, the “road” eventually got me to the the trailhead.  Ahhhh, I love trail heads.


Checked out the various signs including how far it was to Baker Pass.  Gee.  Only 4 miles?  Piece of cake.  Mind you, that would mean an 11 mile round trip counting the road section I had to walk.  But still, noooooooooooooo problem.  I’m also a trifle suspicious about the “4” mile listing on the sign.  According to my National Geographics map tool (which is usually pretty conservative), the trail is actually a good 5 miles one way.   My feet at the end of the hike agreed.


So, off I went.  And almost immediately discovered that, yeah, while the 4WD road had lots of recent use, the trail I was going to be following (ha ha, little joke there, you’ll get it : ) looked very, say, untraveled.  Now, all the trail didn’t look like this, but, no, this wasn’t going to be like Bear Lake trail.  Or even the Michigan Lakes trail.  Oh well.  Looked nice to me.


For a good mile or so the trail wound through a somewhat closed in valley.  Some very small meadows occasionally, but mostly forested and with some moderate uphill sections (nothing extreme or long).  The river was generally within sight, or at least close by.  Nice trail.  But then………


…………. it opened up.  Wow.  And, still, no people.


I was checking out the vistas, looking back down the valley, or maybe across, anyway, when I spotted a coyote looking for something to eat in the tall grass.


He really isn’t that far away, but my lens doesn’t “reach out” that far.  Much better looking (larger, etc) on my smugmug website.  This link might work


A trail Frodo would like.


Close-up of a mushroom


Yes, the area opened up.  And, at the same time, the trail sorta had a tendency to disappear.  Sigh, I spent quite a bit of time hunting around for the trail.  For various reasons, I like to know where the trail is and follow the trail.  Because the trail probably knows the right direction, whereas, I didn’t have a clue where Baker Pass was.  Also, trails are usually the easiest traveling (they skip big marshes and cliffs).  Plus, it’s kinda fun trail hunting.

So, what I’d do is when the trail disappeared into the grass, I’d look around.  Sometimes I’d see some rocks piled up in the distance as below.


Zoom.  Quite helpful.


If you were lucky, you’d find a series of such rock cairns.


Sometimes the “sign” would be a post sticking up in the distance.  As below.


Sometimes you’d just have to hunt around.  Maybe go the general direction and check any sections of woods that bordered the grass.  You could usually pick up the trail where it entered the forest because in the forest it would not be overgrown.   Slash marks on the trees are also good signs.

Field of columbines.




So, here’s a perfect example of trail hunting.
Found a post.  Look around for any faint hints of a trail.  Ah yes.  In the far distance, against the trees on the other side of this large open section, you can barely see another post sticking up.


Zoom a little.  I wander through the meadow to it.


Get to that post and look around.  Hmmm.  Gee, that opening over there in the trees looks kinda “trailish”.  I head over and check it out.  (NOTE! – Always remember where the last point you saw the trail.  Like this post.  If necessary, come back to this post and then head off in a different direction.  Normally you find something within 5 or 10 minutes.  Use your judgment.  No need to rush.  Of course, no way to get lost on this “trail”.  Just head downstream and you’re bound to end up back at the car.)


Yep, I find that opening was the trail.  Notice that in some areas you can find a lot of “game trails” that may look sorta like this.  Although, I was pretty darn sure this was the real trail (as you can see, not highly traveled at all), due to seeing the big slash mark on the tree to the right of the trail.  That was the positive identification of the trial.  Not all trails will be slash marked, but most of the older trails that have been around for decades will have those types of marks.  And then, not many elk put posts in the ground or pile rocks on each other : )


Small note on this trail.  I did run into a couple of sections of the trail that went through some marshy/old forest sections.  On parts of those the “trail” was pretty difficult to locate.  So, I’d end up going through what I figured was the correct direction.  Then once I’d gotten through the marshy/old forest section, I’d look around a little to pick up the actual trail again.  These sections were normally no more than 50-100 yards of length, but I probably spent up to an hour slowly making my way through them.  On the way back down I didn’t have to figure out where to “pick up” the trail each time, so it went a lot faster.

Taking a break.  Wasn’t sure I was going to go any further.  It was taking a long time finding the trail, and I really didn’t know where the end of the trail was.  However, after I’d had a rest, ate a protein bar, and chugged some G2, and reminded myself that I was doing this for the good of all man(and woman)kind, I was ready to carry on.  Glad I did.


The area kept opening up to great views and large meadows. Of course, the large meadows meant taking time to figure out which way the trail went.  Also, hmmm.  Uh, where’s this pass I’m supposed to be going to?


Some nice wildflowers.


Shortly after this, headed pretty much straight ahead through the flowers (yeah, another section where the trail disappeared), I got to a point where I could look around the curve in the valley and see, supposedly, Baker’s Pass in the distance.  This is a bit of a zoom, so it’s much further away than it looks like in the photo, but  I had to assume that was the pass.
It looked…………………interesting.


Once I turned and headed up the valley towards the pass, the trail started to change.  Here I am after crossing the river looking back at the last meadow I had just hiked over.


Different perspective.  Lovely trail.  Even prettier than the photo shows.


Now, turning back towards the direction of the pass, you can see the valley start to narrow up a bit and head uphill.  Luckily there were some cairns to follow.


Zoom.  Like this one ………


Why lucky?  Because a lot of the trail followed the streambed.  Actually, “in” the streambed.


And then after a while the trail would pop up into the forest and again be very visible.


I did go by an incredible meadow full of columbines.



Once you got closer to timberline, and the lushness wiped out any ability for finding a trail, or cairns, the posts started to show up again.  That said, they were somewhat few and far between.  But, I figured, heck, the pass has gotta just be straight up the valley.  So, no big deal.


With that kind of thinking, I almost missed the trail heading off to the side.  I just happened to glance around (well, actually, I couldn’t see the trail and hadn’t seen a post for a while so I was looking around rather intensely) and spot a couple of rocks piled on each other up in the woods to one side.




So, I headed over to take a look.  When I got to those rocks I then was able to spot a sign alongside a trail.


The sign indicated the way to Baker Pass and, yes, I could see there was a trail headed that way.  So, good deal.  The other direction looked like it headed towards Silver Creek which was a stream a couple of drainages to the north. Sort of towards the Craigs.  Neat looking trail.


The lower sign pointed back towards the directions I had just came from, which made sense.  I was on the South Fork trail according to the sign at the trailhead I’d started at.  I believe the “Never Summer Trail” is a series of trails that follows the Never Summer Range.  So, the Baker Pass to Silver Creek trail was a subsection of that series.  I guess.


Anyway, I’d “found” my trail again and headed up.  I was very close to timberline and so, I supposed, close to the pass.  Well, sorta close.


Zoom.  Well, at least I could see another post to hike towards : )


The views were stunning.  Which was good.  I found myself having to stop quite often and try to get some air into my lungs.  It was nice to have pretty views to look at while gasping for air.

Reminder.  I saw absolutely no one the entire day.  Nor, no recent sign of anyone.  Amazing.


Looks like the top of the pass just up ahead.  Nice to see.  In more ways than one : )


Beyond the sign.  Here is what I saw after walking up past the sign on the pass.  Nice stuff.


Turned around and took a photo of the valley I had just hiked up.  Uh, yeah.  A ways back to the car : )


Looking back towards the western part of the continent again (Actually, it seems a little confusing that I’m looking down into the Colorado River drainage that heads towards the Pacific.  I mean, I had to come over Cameron Pass to get to this trailhead, but Cameron Pass is not on the Continental Divide.).  I hiked up to within a mile of this pass from the other direction this year (2011).  Great hike. You come up from the Colorado River from a trailhead that you reach about 10 miles after dropping down off of Trailridge Road (RMNP).  So, you start in the National Park and after only a mile or so of hiking you enter the Never Summer Wilderness area.   The park boundary from here is approached by looking straight down that valley in front of me and then following the valley as it curves around to the left.  So the trailhead in RMNP is at least 6-7 miles away and far out of sight.  Everything in sight in this photo is (to the best of my knowledge) in the Never Summer Wilderness.


Howsoever, it was time to get moving back towards the car.  So, I turned back and headed downhill and noticed several things really quickly.  One, it was a lot easier to breathe going down than it was coming up.  Two, it was a lot harder on the knees going down.  Oh well, it turns out the flowers were really nice to look at, so I ignored my knees.




I think it is safe to say that I hit the peak of the wild flower season for this area : )


On the way back down, I tried to follow the trail through a section that I had missed on the way up.  Cause I kinda missed the trail the first time when I had to cross the creek.  If you are coming up the valley, headed towards the pass, you will eventually get to this point in the photo below.  What I did on the way up was continue going straight up the meadow (cause I didn’t see any other way to go).  And then eventually having to cross the stream way up ahead in the far meadow because I never could locate the trail again on this side of the stream and stopped to do some eye balling of my surroundings.  I finally happened to look across the stream, and said to myself ….”Self, ya know, that sure looks like a trail over on the other side of the stream…”  or, something to that effect.

So what you want to do, assuming you are hiking up this trail and you get to where I am standing in the photo below,  is know that the trail (using the term loosely) cuts to the right at this point and crosses the stream.  It then follows the tree line on the right side of the far valley.  If you peer to the far right edge of the photo below, looking over just inside the shade, you can barely make out a post that I missed seeing coming up the valley on my way to the pass.


Here is a photo I took by shifting the camera to the right and zooming at the post in the shade.  Yeah, I know, not much of a trail going down through all that grass is there?  But, when you get down to that post you can see the stream right behind it and the trail cutting up the bank on the other side.


By now I had a pretty good idea of where the trail was since I’d spent so much time finding it on the way up.  Which meant I could move along okay speed wise when I couldn’t see the trail (cause I mostly remembered the route coming up), and set quite a good clip when I could actually see the trail.  I was in a bit of a hurry because the day was winding down.  And I really didn’t want to have to drive back through that one section of rough road (that had portions of cars sticking up from the muddy pools of water) in the dark.


I pretty much put the camera away for a couple of hours and just concentrated on getting down the trail.  Which was a shame cause this part of the day is the best as far as “magic.”  But some times you just have to enjoy it as much as possible while moving fast.
That said, I cut it pretty close.


The little shiny thing on the other side of the pool of water is a reflection off of my car’s window.  After I put my pack in the car, put my tennis shoes on my tender feet, and got the car started, I “just” made it past the water holes before it got full dark.


The following photo is at the same time/place, but I changed the exposure so that the sky could be clearly seen.  Makes everything else look darker than it probably was (but, it was dark enough for me : ), but makes for a nice effect.


For some reason, there were very few insects (mosquitoes or flies) on the trail.  Which was very surprising since there were a lot of lush meadows.  Of course, there were no cows or horse sign.  That helps reduce the fly issue.  Not sure why the mosquitoes weren’t a problem.  At least, I don’t remember them being a problem.  That said, always carry some repellent with you.  Just in case.

Anyway, absolutely awesome hike.

– Geoff Weatherford


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