Friday, December 30, 2016

Obscure Local Hikes: Longfellow Gulch, Cotopaxi Peak, and Lookout Mountain

The past month or so I've been checking out several obscure hikes that aren't on many people's radar.  I'm sure a lot of people never heard my destinations outside of the local area, if at all.  I enjoy visiting these off the beaten path places.  Often these places are lower in elevation and good to explore in the off season.

Longfellow Gulch

My first trip was a few days after Thanksgiving.  I had some errands to run in Salida with a gap of time to get in a hike between errands.  I originally planned on going into the higher mountains just west of Salida for a snowshoe outing.  Clouds obscured most of the higher mountains, with heavy snow falling and high winds making them less desirable.  I decided on checking out Longfellow Gulch.

Longfellow Gulch is an obscure destination.  Access to the area is just on the edge of Salida, but I think even most of the locals don't know about it.  I first heard about it from a coworker, Russell Morgan.  He was told of an old mining settlement located in the gulch with several old buildings in good shape.  I tried to research the area but found very little.  There was a brief snippet of an article in a local magazine over ten years ago and one website with a few pictures but little details.  Russell tried to visit the area but wound up in the wrong gulch.

I had little information to go on.  I had Russell's directions to the start of the hike and my memory from several months prior when I glanced at a map of the area.

My hike started at the edge of Salida along the Arkansas River just off of County Road 102.  A dirt road ends along the river and becomes a trail that follows it downstream along the railroad tracks.  I followed this trail until it ended at turnaround after 15 minutes of walking.  While walking along this stretch I saw three separate herds of bighorn sheep, 14 sheep total.  This is the start of Bighorn Sheep Canyon, so this seemed appropriate to see the sheep there.
The main herd of sheep
Sheep determining if I'm a threat
Nice ram
A good look at his horns
Above this turnaround is Longfellow Gulch, a prominent gulch leading into the Arkansas Hills.  A tiny railroad bridge is a good landmark to know it's the right gulch.  I headed up the gulch through fairly high walls.  I was surprised to see a trail much of the route through the gulch.  Where there was no trail, the route is straightforward, following the belly of the gulch on generally sandy tread.  In the few spots the gulch became obscured, a trail usually navigated around any obstacles.  There was one spot that heading up the gulch reaching steep cliffs.  A trail exits the gulch and switchbacks up and around the tough section.

Traveling up Longfellow Gulch
Further up the gulch
Not too long after the section of cliffs, I started to see various remnant of past civilization that seemed out of place in the narrow, wooded gulch.  I saw debris from old structures, some old metal, and an old wooden fence structure that looked like it may have been a corral or pen at one time.

After the initial debris, I soon reached the first old cabin immediately along the trail.  While time has definitely taken its toll on the structure, it was in better shape than a lot of the similar structures I have stumbled upon.  Often these old structures are just a few old logs and maybe a wall but this still had remnants of the roof.  Based on the small amount of information I could find on this area, I think this may have been an old school building for the settlement.

The old school building
Not long after the old school building, I reached another small cabin that was a little more rundown.  Both structures had old metal debris in and around the buildings including old cans, springs from an old mattress, and wood stove pipes and pieces.

The second cabin
Near the structures were several old mine openings.  The first one was right along the gulch.  It was now covered in a steel grate, but I could see into it.  It was large enough to walk into it.  Another large pit was just up the gulch.  It was deep enough that I couldn't see the bottom and was covered with a grate.

The gated mine entrance
The view inside the mine
Hoping to find more of the settlement, I followed the gulch up the mountain.  I followed one branch of the gulch until it became no longer navigable.  I followed the other branch until it ended on a ridge.  I followed the ridge to a high point but found nothing.

Clouds over the Sangres from the ridge
On the way back down, I headed up a short spur and found another open pit, this one not covered.  Just after the first cabin was another mine opening that was tall enough to walk into, but not covered.  I saw a few other signs of wooden debris but nothing that I could identify before returning back down toward the river.

An open mine pit
I don't think the entire trip took much more than two hours and that included climbing the ridge.  While not spectacular, the trip up Longfellow Gulch was somewhat interesting.  If nothing else, spotting the bighorn sheep made the outing worthwhile  The remains in better shape than most of the old mining structures I've seen in my travels.  I was just happy to get in a quick hike close to town between errands.

Some sort of observation deck on a nearby ridge
Descending the gulch
Cotopaxi Peak

A few weeks back, Puma and I  traveled County Road 1A to Hillside, Colorado, just south of the tiny town of Cotopaxi.  This is a road I have driven many times.  Along the east side of the road is a small but rugged, rocky mountain with numerous cliffs.  Although I've passed this area numerous times, I didn't know much about it and decided to check it out on a map.  I found out that the 7873' mountain was informally called Cotopaxi Peak (Not too be confused with the 19,000' volcano in Ecuador).  It rises more than 1500' above the town of Cotopaxi, and more than 1000' above 1A at its closest point.  Naturally I wanted to hike the peak. Since Puma was working, I had the day after Christmas to myself and this was a good time to check out the mountain.

Given its lowly elevation by Colorado standards, this peak is pretty obscure and there isn't much information about it. Although it is direct, there is no access off of 1A due to private property.  Most of the mountain however is on BLM land and there is access on the east side via County Road 37.  CR 37 appeared to be driveable by most vehicles, however, it was extremely icy and somewhat steep.  I parked along the road after 3/4 of a mile or so.

The view toward the summit from the start of my hike
On my map, there are several old jeep trails and mining roads that veer off of CR 37 and gain elevation.  I figured I would traverse the ridge.  I followed the first road until it quickly ended and began my bushwhack.  Immediately I could tell this would be a rough route.  I was faced with scrambly terrain of  jumbled rock from the start.  Where the terrain was more mellow, I faced a nearly endless fight with scrub oak. Sometimes I battled both the vegetation and rock.

Dense vegetation including  yucca and cholla
I quickly reached a second jumble of rock that I had to bypass.  The rocky terrain  even more difficult by thick stands of scrub oak.  A stiff wind added to the challenge.  In the shadows, snow made the terrain slippery.  I soon made it around the rock and had the summit in view.

Looking at my second jumble of rock I had to traverse

An uneven rocky section to navigate
Another look toward the summit
A closeup of the summit
One of many interesting rock formations
Traversing a mix of rock, snow, and scrub oak
I had about 600 vertical feet of climbing in front of me to the summit.  My travel was much easier on this slope since the scrub oak was less dense.  To avoid the vertical cliff of the summit, I skirted around the side of the peak.  I was still faced with a class 3 scramble to get to the top of the cliff from the less steep side.  From the "summit" I could see I was actually on a subpeak.  The actual summit was a short distance away.

More scrub oak to pick my way through
Interesting ridgeline
Nearing the summit block
Looking back at my route
A look back as I near the summit
Looking toward the true summit
Pikes Peak
Eagle Peak and Wulsten Baldy
Looking down the Sangres
I had to downclimb to a saddle over scrambly terrain before I reached the true summit.  As I reached this saddle I noticed a trail.  I followed this trail a short distance before veering off to the summit proper.  I just followed the path of least resistance until I reached the high point on a small outcropping while being blasted by the wind.

Although these summits are small at only 7873', the climb is well worth it.  Since the summits are open, the views are phenomenal.  The Sangre de Cristos are quite close and the peaks offer grandstand views.  The mountains in the southern Sawatch are in clear view as well.  Pikes Peak stands out to the northeast.  The numerous surrounding small peaks of the Wet Mountain Valley and Arkansas Hills are quite interesting as well with their interesting rock features.

The Sangres north of Hayden Pass
Nipple Mountain
The Sangres including Bushnell Peak and the Twin Sisters
Looking back at the first summit
Looking north from the summit
A view at the many lower mountains in the vicinity
Looking down the Wet Mountain Valley toward Westcliffe
Eagle Peak
On my descent, I dropped back to the saddle and rejoined the trail that I found earlier.  I could see an old road below.  The trail, which was well tread and even had a few cairns, led me to the road.  Although not on any of the maps that I saw prior, the trail was in pretty good shape and made the descent pretty easy.  The road, a jeep road at this point, descended slowly back to CR 37.  I rejoined CR 37 about 2 miles from my car.  While walking along the road, a one lane sandy track, I saw numerous mule deer and turkeys.  I covered somewhere between 5 and 6 miles and the hike took about 3 hours

Looking across the cliffs below the true summit
Looking north into McCoy Gulch
A view north from the trail into a sea of jumbled rocks
Another look at the endless rocky terrain
The Sangres from Eagle Peak to Horn Peak
An old windmill along CR 37
The main group of turkeys
Another neat rock outcropping
Large rocks piled up with the Sangres in the background
Despite its low elevation, Cotopaxi Peak is a rugged mountain with grand views.  I highly recommend it, even as a side trip while traveling to the Sangre de Cristos.  In dry road conditions, most vehicles could follow CR 37 to the dirt road I exited.  Starting at this junction and following the trail, I think the round trip could be done in 90 minutes to 2 hours with minimal bushwhacking.

Eagle Peak and Wulsten Baldy
Another look down the Sangres
Another shot of the Sangres north of Hayden Pass
taken near the end of the hike
The long ridge on the right is 13,012' Twin Sisters North.
I live a few miles just below this ridge.

Lookout Mountain

Lookout Mountain is another obscure peak located between the settlements of Texas Creek and Hillside.  The area is considered Cotopaxi, but isn't really that close to Cotopaxi.  I lived in this area for a couple months when I first moved to Colorado and Lookout Mountain is a prominent landmark in the area.  The area has numerous small mountains but Lookout Mountain stands out with its rocky summit block.  Although the entire route can be hiked on BLM land, I never really knew how to access the mountain.  After I moved from the immediate area, I forgot about Lookout Mountain.

Even though it slipped to the back the mind, I occasionally thought about climbing Lookout Mountain.  After hiking Cotopaxi Peak the day prior, I could see Lookout Mountain and thought about climbing it again.  Since I had a few hours the next day to kill while Puma was working, I thought I'd give it a shot.

Not unlike Cotopaxi Peak, there isn't a whole lot of information on Lookout Mountain either.  I did find a brief trip report however on the mountain and found out where to access the BLM land in the area.  I passed the access point, BLM Road 6162, many times when I lived in the area, but never noticed it.

BLM 6162 was snow covered from the start, so I started my hike at the end of the road around 7400' in elevation.  Even in better conditions, I don't think I would have driven my Subaru up the road, which was a fairly narrow jeep road.  Generally the snow was only a couple inches at most on the lower part of the road with several bare spots where the sun hit it.

BLM Road 6162
The first good look at Lookout Mountain
from the road
Lookout Mountain on the left and a rocky ridge to the right
After a half hour or so the road ended and the bushwhacking began.  The area is surrounded by dense scrub oak.  My best path was following a small gulch, which avoided the worst of the oak.  The summit block is visible pretty much continuously.  A direct climb didn't seem possible in the scrub, so I climbed to the ridge on the right of the summit.  This appeared to be an easier route and it allowed me to get a better look at a jagged ridge to my right.  My progress was quickly hampered by more scrub oak and larger rock obstacles.  By themselves, the route would not have been to bad, but the combination slowed my travel.

Cliffs along a ridge
A close up of the main cliff on the ridge
Entering the scrub oak
Making my way up the gulch
Fairly easy travel in the gulch
A jagged ridge above
Making my way along the rock and scrub
Soon enough I made my way through the scrub and rock to the summit ridge.  To gain a slightly lower subpoint, I faced another rocky stretch that featured unavoidable scrub oak.  There was consistent, ankle deep snow at this point.  Despite a temperature around 40F, the snow was surprisingly powdery.  This made the traverse over the rocks.  A few short patches of snow were close to a foot deep where it drifted.

A good look at the subpeak in front of the main summit
Looking across a spire
Pikes Peak from the ridge
Looking down the jagged ridge
Once over the subpoint, I climbed the more imposing summit block.  Even though the route wasn't nearly as steep as the front cliff face, I still faced a solid class 3 climb with maybe a class 4 move or two necessary.  While this was the larger, more impressive part of the summit, there was another summit block just a couple hundred feet away with a steep notch between the two high points.  I couldn't tell which was the true summit, so I decided to climb the other summit.

Approaching the summit block
A scrambly part of the summit, it's hard to gauge
height and steepness in the photo but
it is steeper and higher than it looks
Looking down the jagged ridge 
Looking north
Looking toward the highest point of Lookout Mountain
The descent from the first point to the second was the most challenging part of my outing.  The short drop was a tough Class 3 route with several Class 4 moves.  The final 8-10 feet was a solid Class 5 section that took some some thought to navigate.  Once I finally made it to the notch, the climb to second summit was a straightforward scramble.  According to my altimeter, this second summit was a few feet higher (I later confirmed on a map this was the true summit).

Beginning the downclimb into the notch
The view from the notch
Again it's hard to judge by the picture but this is
downclimb into the notch and is a consistent
Class 4  with Class 5 difficulty near the bottom
At 8500', Lookout Mountain isn't that tall, but it lives up to its name.  The most impressive view is to the west, taking in a long stretch of the Sangre de Cristos.  The Wet Mountains are immediately to the east.  Pikes Peak's snowy summit stands alone to the northeast.  Endless lower elevation mountains stand out in every direction, many with interesting rock features.

Looking across the lower summit from the peak
The Crestone Group
With the sun angle late in the day, the Sangres
didn't photograph as good as usual
To avoid revisiting the rocky terrain that I already scrambled, I descended via the notch between the two summits.  I descended directly to the gulch below and avoided the worst of the scrub oak.  I made quick time on my hike out, reaching my car about two hours after I started.  This hike gains about 1100' in elevation from the road and I don't think it is much more than 4 miles roundtrip.  The hike was relatively short and sweet and was a worthwhile place to spend a couple hours.

Looking across the face of the lower summit
The summit block of the higher summit from just below
The higher point is actually on the left peak.  The photo doesn't
show scale well but the far right is at least 100' or more drop.
The long ridge in late day light
A closeup of the ridge
Descending toward the gulch
A high cliff along the ridge
One last look back toward the summit in fading daylight
A view of the Crestones on the descent.

While these hikes aren't as grandiose as some better known destinations, they still make for worthwhile trips.  After all, most time spent in the outdoors is worthwhile and it's always fun to explore new areas.  More than likely, you will get to enjoy these obscure places to yourself unlike more popular destinations.

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