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Baker Gulch, RMNP, Sept 18, 2011

December 31, 2011


Last fall, Sept 18, 2011, I decided to go up into a range of mountains that, up to now, I hadn’t done much hiking in.  I’m referring to the Never Summer range on the west side of RMNP (Rocky Mountain National Park).  I was hoping to see a little bit of fall color, but miss the snow.  Well, as it turned out, we had some snow a few days earlier, but it all melted off at the lower elevations.  One reason I picked the Baker Gulch trail is because it goes up to Baker Pass that I had hiked up to last summer (see this link for a description of that hike, or look at my blog entry directly below this one).  Only, I came up from the other side of the continental divide.  The idea being that it’d be neat to reach the same place from the opposite direction.  Didn’t quite make it, but it was a great hike (and still a great idea : ).

(Just to break up my wall of text extended intro to the hike : )


Before I go any further in the trip’s description, here is my standard, rather longish, comment. Please check my photo galleries here for all the larger and higher quality photos for this trip. The photos in that gallery are a quantum leap in size and quality compared to the little teaser photos I put in this site’s trip narrative (plus 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 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.  Please note that some of the links for the hikes are located somewhere in the hike itself, while other links on the map are the trailhead for the hike located on a road.  The issue being, even if the link looks like it’s pointing to a road, that’s actually just the trailhead.) In order to help you with the actual trail itself, you can use this link to view a portion of a topo map that shows the trail I took . Please note that all links open a new browser window.

(Again, just to break up my wall of text extended intro to the hike : )


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.

Finally, on to the hike itself.

The trail starts off in a small parking lot that you reach soon after coming down off west end of Trailridge road in RMNP.  Took me a couple of hours to get there from Fort Collins.  But no problem.  I’d stopped and gotten my normal “lets go hiking” breakfast of an americano and cranberry scone, so I was raring to hit the trail. It was just a little cool and not much activity.  But, from what I could see in the distance, the hike going up the far valley was looking to be quite nice.


The trail, or rather, the road (more on that) crosses the Colorado River as it heads to the west and the Never Summers.  The fishermen in the distance are encountering just a small bit of turgidity to the normally, at this time of year, crystal clear water.  This is due to a little runoff from a recent snow storm that hit the high country a day before.  Of course, the water is still crystal clear compared to how this river looks further downstream.  Say, around Moab, UT : )


Some great meadows along this section of the Colorado River valley.  Hmmm.  Yeah, well, the road thingie. The thing is that just past where those trees start up ahead, the national park ends and the national forest/Never Summer Wilderness starts.  So, this is an “access road” to the National Forest.  I’m not really sure why they couldn’t just walk like everyone else, but whatever.  The other thing is that this was bow hunting season.  So, in the trees line there is another parking lot where bow hunters had parked and then walked up into the national forest to hunt.  Saw a few.  Nice people.  More on that later.


View up the Colorado River valley.  You can see the Grand Ditch snaking it’s way across the mountain slopes up the valley and on the left (west).  Will and I hiked that section during a snowstorm some years back (read about that here).  Was actually pretty fun.


That’s where I’m heading.  Right up that valley.  Some of the results from that early snow storm are still visible.


First part of the “trail” follows an old road.  This is after you go past the parking area for hunters and others looking for access into the wilderness area.


Wilderness boundary.


Saw a fair amount of ‘rooms on the trail.  Been wet and cool, so just the right combination.


Zoom.  You can see where hobbits or elves were nibbling on the edges.  I must have scared them off.


The trail ends up staying fairly high above the stream coming down the valley.  So, you can hear it and see it from a distance most of the time, but you don’t do any hiking next to it.


It’s not a heavily used trail.  Definitely gets more use than the trail that comes up from the other side of the range.  But still, not heavily hiked like Bear Lake : )


We had a very heavy spring runoff in 2011. Pretty much wiped out a section of the trail here : )


Here’s looking up the “ravine” where it all came down (all at once it looks like).




Nice little pond along the way.  Did I mention no insects?  Yeah, pretty perfect day.


Interesting trail.  You basically saw every single type of “trail”.  Steep, switchbacks, rocky, good views, closed in, and, like here, a lovely little stroll through the woods.


Trying to peek through some aspens at the far mountains.




Nice little lush interlude.




Yep, finally hit the point where I could see the “high country”.  Always nice.


Still a few flowery things around.  Even though the high country was flaunting a bit of early snow.


Here the trail runs through a fairly large boulder field.  Pikas, raspberry bushes, and lots of big rocks.


Zoom.  Luckily, there were a few cairns to mark the “trail”.
Yeah, some of that powdery white stuff on the mountain is fresh.  But, there is also a fair amount of snow left over from the prior winter up on the ridges.


Then I happened to turn around and look back down the valley.


Zoom.  Interesting.  The light would be different on the way back.


Late Indian Paint Brush.



Aspens juuusssst starting to speckle the path with pieces of gold.


Some upper meadows.  Did I mention I didn’t see many people?  I saw seven people the entire hike.  Three of which were trail runners (rather young looking man and two women, all very very very fit looking) who had RUN up to Baker Pass and were on their way down (running and having a conversation at the same time).  Sigh.  I told myself that they weren’t carrying a pack like me.  So there : )


Pretty much past the point of steep switchbacks.


The trail intersects with the Grand Ditch.  Looking “downstream.”


Looking upstream.


Zoom.  Pretty sure this is the end of the ditch.  I walked past that bridge up ahead where the trail crosses and continues up towards Parika Lake and Baker Pass.  Looked like the ditch ended shortly after that point.  That also what it shows on my maps.   I crossed the little log bridge and continued up the trail.


Great area.  Just great.  Did I want to go hike up that mountain?  Why yes, yes I did.  Maybe next summer.  Oh, and the photo?  I hate to say this, but the actual view was about 10 times as nice.  Really really really neat place.


Sorta looking back towards the area that I’d come from.  Basically, that’s part of the ridge that encircles a big bowl.  The trail (that I came up on) is down towards that ridge and then cuts down the valley to the left.


And this is the same place, but looking upstream.  That’s also the direction the trail to Baker Pass heads in.  Probably follows this stream drainage all the way up.


Decided to take a break here (how could anyone resist) and think about my next move.


Think about my next move?  The issue was, this was a trail junction.  One trail, to the left of this photo, goes to Parika Lake and Mountain.  The other trail, the one snaking off towards the distant trees, goes to Baker Pass.  Anyway, because of the junction, I could easily locate myself on the map I had.  It looked like I had 1-2 miles (it wasn’t a great map) of hiking left to get to Baker Pass.  So, 2-4 miles of additional hiking all total.  Figure 1-2 hours in addition to what I had to hike back down the trail I’d just come up.  Normally, not that big of a deal.  Always hard to tell, but if I continued to Baker Pass, I might end up hiking back in the dusk/dark.  But, hell, easy trail, and easy road back to the Fort.  Well, Geoff, what’s the problem?  Ah yes, the “issue” is that it is bow hunting season and I’m in prime bow hunting country.  And, even more to the point (little joke there : ) prime hunting time is dawn and/or dusk.  So, I wasn’t really sure I wanted to be hiking down a trail at dusk-to-dark when there were people out shooting sharp pointed things.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m perfectly fine with “sharing the road”, and bow hunters are great people and generally, due to the weapon being used, take great care in making sure of their target.  But, still………………yeah, sometimes my imagination ability gets a little out of control.  There really is pretty much zero chance of getting hurt from a bow hunter in this type of a situation.  Of course, the other way to look at it, from the bow hunter’s perspective, is that they would just as soon NOT have a hiker stumbling down the trail during the prime hunting time of the day.  They are spending vacation time and money in order to do what they are doing.  I’m kinda the intruder during this time of the year.  Bow hunters, and hunters in general, do provide a service in helping keep the game populations at a healthy level.


Anyway, long story short, I decided to keep going up the trail.  I mean, I was just getting to the best part of the trail, ya know?  And, maybe my map was a little off and Baker Pass was closer than I thought?  I figured I’d just go up a ways and check it out.  The trail became much less traveled. Probably because most people head the other direction toParika Lake and camp.


But, the forest (open and high as it was) did not end and turn into tundra with the pass in close view.  I had hiked another half a mile or so and it looked like it could be a little bit of a hike left before reaching the pass.  Bummer.  And, it was looking soooooooo good.

However, the day had been great, I’d seen some awesome country, and it’d still be here next summer (and beyond).  Besides, I wanted to come back anyway and check out Parika Lake.  Hmmmm, could the fact that I was getting a little tired have anything to do with my decision?  Not really, but, it’d been a full day of hiking so good enough.  And head back I did after reaching this place where the trail crossed the stream.  Yeah, little fresh snow up there.


The nice thing about heading back with a buffer of time to get to the car before dusk was that I didn’t feel pressured to hurry.  I could just relax and enjoy the hike back.  Which I did enjoy due to all the new great scenes I saw on the way back down.
Hmmm, don’t remember this view on the way up.  What’s that sticking up in the distance?


Why, I think I’ve seen that mountain a few times.


Ah yes, quite the view.


Zoom.  I think that’s the parking lot down in the valley.


But, it was the mountain in the background that I was really interested in looking at.
Zoom more. Winter is not that far off.  We got some early snows this year.


Slightly different view after dropping some in elevation.  Plus the peaks and ridges were in sunshine.  It’s all about the light or lack there of that makes a photo.  Or, just looks good to stand and gaze at.  Putting the tree on the right side of the photo makes it a little different.  I’m always trying new ways to present the views in the photos I take.  See, I could have made this photo much different by climbing up from the trail to my right.  It would have still have had the tree along the right side, put it would have swung Longs Peak over into the center of the photo.  But, due to the size of Longs, and the light glinting off of the snowy ridges, and some other issues, this was probably the best angle.  Of course, it looks waaaaaay better if you go to my gallery on smugmug and look at it (like here).  IMHO, of course : )


End of the trail.  Just after 5 pm.  Good timing.


Summary?  Just awesome.  Got to go back and see more of it some day(s).  Highly recommended.  If you do it, after the hike is finished, consider running into Grand Lake (about 30 minutes or less down the road) and catch a meal before heading back over Trailridge Road.  Kind of an interesting little town.

– Geoff Weatherford

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Al Butler permalink
    April 4, 2012 8:46 pm

    Hi Geoff:
    Got a recent mind to check into your hiking adventures and of course, your great pictures. Makes me wish I was still back in Colorado! Thanks again for all your hiking suggestions during my time in the Fort/CSU. I’ve got great memories/pic’s from them. Glad to see you are still hiking and exploring new trails.

    Best wishes!
    Al B.

    • April 5, 2012 7:30 pm

      WoW! Hey, appreciate the visit, Al.

      Yeah, planning on doing a lot more hiking this coming summer than I did in 2011. So far, it’s looking like the season will be starting early.

      Anyway, hope everything is going well in your part of the woods. If you are ever in town, or cruising through, let me know and we can meet and say hello to each other. I bet I can find some others that would like to visit with you also.



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