Saturday, February 6, 2010

Jones Pass Snowshoe

Distance: 4 miles round trip
Elevation: 10,478 ft-11,800 ft
Elevation Gain: 1,322 ft
Dogs: Off leash

Jones Pass

You won't find Jones Pass in any snowshoe books, but don't lets its absence deter you. This location near the Winter Park Ski Resort is a keeper. The bowls surrounding the pass are some of the most stunning winter scenery I have ever seen. It certainly rivals Saints John near the Breckenridge Ski Resort and Mayflower Gulch near the slopes of Copper Mountain. The downside of the area is the snowmobiles, which periodically zoom around the bowl and a snow cat service that takes backcountry skiers to the upper reaches of Jones Pass Road.

Starting up the trail from the parking lot. Note the well traversed snow.

The junction between the Jones Pass (to the right) and Bulter Gulch (to the left) trails

The turn off to leave the road. The Forest Service marker is barely visible in the shade.

The noise and exhaust of the machines can be avoided, however, by leaving Jones Pass Road and following a tree shrouded, blue blazed winter trail up a creek drainage. This route also has the advantage of cutting a mile off the journey.

A typical segment in the trees

This is the spot where we avoided the more well traveled trail that went back to the road and instead started breaking trail up the narrow shelf.

The snow cat passed us just as we were exiting the trees and regaining the road.

This route to the Jones Pass area begins at the Butler Gulch trailhead near the Henderson Mine and the Big Bend in Highway 40. 0.26 miles up the road is the split to Jones Pass. This is well marked with a large brown sign. Jones Pass is to the right and Butler Gulch is to the left. 0.66 miles up Jones Pass Road is a small forest service trail marker between two boulders. This is your sign to head off trail and into the woods.

Our first view upon exiting the trees and climbing up the switchbacks

We decided to head towards the pass in the distance. This location is on the north side of the Jones Pass Bowl.

A little farther along. We walked in the tracks of snowmobiles to make the going a little easier. This area is steeper than it looks. Our destination is the clump of trees on the left.

On this trip it was easy to follow the trail that others had made, but after a fresh snow, it would be relatively easy to get lost in the drainage. If you are uncomfortable route finding, stick to the road. It is longer but it will get you to your destination.

Two of us have reached the trees and got to watch the others arrive.

Shortly after the turn off into the woods, we ran into a fork in the trail. We took the right fork, which headed up hill. This happened once again in the trees. Staying right and heading upwards is your best guide to staying on route.

A close up of the mountains beyond

If you examine a National Geographic topographic map of the area, this route through the trees is following a creek drainage that cuts off a large switchback on Jones Pass Road. The route exits the drainage and regains the road just at the midline of two tight switchbacks. This is marked clearly on the map and is the spot where the words "Jones Pass" are written.

Wind sculpted snow and dwarf trees reveal much about the usual conditions of the area.

If you ever get tired of being in the trees and breaking trail, there are numerous places where people have regained the road, which is always up and to the right of the route. At one point this confused us because the tracks headed back to the road while the shelf we were walking on headed upwards still. This zone was quaint and narrow and we could glimpse mountains through the trees. We decided to take this route even though it meant breaking trail. This turned out to be a great choice.

Ginger is dwarfed by the scale of the scenery.

This part of the route followed a narrow shelf that switchbacked very steeply (at times up to a 30% grade) to our final exit point at 11,320 ft. Periodically, we saw blue blazes on the trees, so our choice happened to be the correct one. We exited the trees at 1.6 miles and regained the road. 0.15 miles beyond this point are "oh shit" views that had us once again acclaiming how much we love Colorado.

There is no way my camera can capture the scale of the area.

After climbing straight up the midline of the switchbacks I mentioned earlier, we had to choose between following the road towards Jones Pass or heading off into the right hand side of the bowl. We could see that the Pass itself was another 1.5 miles or so to the left. It was covered by a thick cornice. There was no way to reach it without significant risk.

Another shot looking back down the bowl.

The bowl to the right is bordered by a rocky 12,000 ft ridge that dips down into a small pass. Our initial thought was to head for this pass. We ended up stopping 0nly 0.3 miles beyond the road however. After a sharp 480 ft of elevation gain, we realized we would not make the far pass in the time we had left. Instead, we settled next to a clump of wind blown trees (at 12,800 ft) and ate lunch.

The shadows, sun spots, and glistening snow were irresistible.

The wind sculpted snow, the shadows playing off of the cornices, and the dramatic cirrus clouds created a picture perfect winter tableau for our peanut butter sandwiches. Who cares about a few snowmobiles with such a panorama? All was picture perfect until several snowmobiles decided to race up the side of the wall behind us, all the way to the top.

The clouds on this trip were as interesting as the scenery they complimented.

We all started chattering like hens, wondering where the avalanche we were sure would follow would hit. Would it stay in the middle of the bowl or come roaring up and over the berm we were resting on like a wave crashing over a rock. Earlier in the day we had heard them using explosives on Loveland Pass, and in my research today I found that skiers had set off slides near Berthoud Pass to our North and Loveland Pass to our south. It seems exceptionally foolhardy to highmark a snowmobile on such a steep ridge (800 ft) when the danger is so high.

As we headed back down, the rock formation we could see in the distance from the bowl is much closer now and just starting to get bathed in the evening light. This formation sits right above the Henderson Mine.

Alas, we lived to tell the tale and gleefully strode back down the mountain away from the setting sun. Jones Pass is now a favorite that I will return to again and again. I want to thank Suzanne who invited me on this trip and showed me this stunning area.


Senad said...

Very nice report, i love pictures, great job.
Very nice blog, i was googling Mount Audubon and came across this page.

Ryan said...

Are you sure that rock is above henderson mine, that looks a lot like the ralston butte to me. The pics are fantastic! Next time you'll have to try from the other side...

Linda said...

Blue and white and clean air and space. What bliss.
Are snowshoes more stable than cross-country skis? I ask because having injured myself badly on my last cross-country outing I'm not keen to repeat the experience, but I love hill walking and love snow, so wondered if this was an option for people like me with no balance at all on skis.

sylvia murphy said...

This is an official response to Ryan. We talked about it in person :)

The butte he refers to is on the west side of the divide. We never made it to the ridge, so we would not have seen that butte.

sylvia murphy said...

Hi Linda,

Snowshoeing is very stable, unless you are plowing through very deep snow and up a very steep hill. Not knowing your injury, I can say that folks with bad knees can frequently snowshoe when they can not hike. I tried skiing once. It was not pretty. The only time I have fallen down on snowshoes is when I am purposefully playing in very deep snow. I say give it a try for sure. Better yet, come to Colorado and try it here :)

Andrew said...

Awesome pictures! Was this trip taken this year? I'm planning a snowshoe trip and was looking at Jones pass to take a group of people up to. It looks like a place that would be good for beginners to more advanced people. Thanks for posting such a great entry and the pictures are great.

sylvia murphy said...

Hi Andrew,

I did that trip the last weekend in January of this year. It was just a few days before I posted it. It is always tough mixing folks with different abilities. Your advanced folks will race ahead and the beginners might be better off sticking to the road. If you do stick together, then the two groups could easily separate in the bowl. You would be able to see everyone unless they go to the far south end.

Andrew said...

Thanks for responding...I really appreciate it. I think that's where we're going to go.

Anonymous said...

We too are thinking of snowshoeing Jones Pass. A small group, some first timers. Would like to start before dusk and end hiking in the full moon. Any thoughts?

sylvia murphy said...

Hi, while we were there, I was thinking the area would be great for a full moon snowshoe but a recent mountain lion attack the weekend after we were there makes me think it is not a good place to be after dark.

Some other trails to consider might be Peru Creek and Mayflower Gulch in Summit County and Lost Lake in Indian Peaks.

CraigCat said...

That is Red Mountain in the picture, above the Henderson Mine. The horizontal line near the top is an old mining road, and the mountain appears jagged because it was dynamited to smithereens as part of the mining operation. Ralston Buttes are near Coal Creek Canyon in Jefferson County and access to them is restricted. Here is another view of Red Mountain, or what's left of it:

Anonymous said...

Just think i am a miner at henderson mine.And jones is my playground what a great place to

Anonymous said...

@sylvia, mtn lion attacks are rare, very rare. I wouldn't be concerned about them, and if you are then just pack a side arm and go with multiple people. Learn how to shoot, and carry some repellant. Bottomline, enjoy the wilderness, respect it, protect yourself and don't hike in fear. Mother nature generally doesn't do much to those that are well trained, smart about it all and make sound decisions.

sylvia murphy said...

Hi anonymous,
you are quite right. that particular attack was quite unusual in both the hour of the day and the behavior of the cat.

actually I would love to catch a mountain lion on film and will hardly stay away from known areas. In fact I might go there on purpose!

ski vacation said...

Awesome photos. Shows the beauty of nature in its blue, green, and white colors. I've been to Copper mountain to ski with the entire family. The mountain offers the best of challenges.

CSM said...

Great pics and jealous of your backcountry treks. Healing a bad knee from backpack at Olympic N.P. last summer.

Kevon said...

Sylvia: We've done the Jones Pass trail on snowshoes twice this year (2012), mostly because of your post. That top or lead photo of the mtns. & clouds is one of the most beautiful photos I've (ever) seen. Keep hiking! ...and taking pix!

Jennifer Mantegani said...

Great pictures! Just curious if this trip is 4 miles round trip or 8 miles round trip? Other sites have listed this as an 8 mile trip. Just curious where you started vs. how far you actually went up the pass. I'm a beginner with snowshoes, but I'd love to see this view in person!

sylvia murphy said...

Hi Jennifer,
This particular trip was 4 miles, which is good for a snowshoe. Note that we left the road and snowshoed up a gully, which cut a significant distance off the route. We also did not go to the Pass itself, but stayed down in the bowl. It could very well be 8 miles up the road to the Pass.

If you are new to snowshoes, I would recommend something easier.
Baker's Tank near Breckenridge (, for instance is nice and flat and has stunning views right from the start.

Glad you are enjoying the outdoors!