Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Devils Causeway Hike

Distance: 6.0 miles round trip
Elevation: 10,298 ft - 11,608 ft
Elevation Gain: 1,721 ft
Dogs: Voice and Sight Control (Flat Tops Wilderness)
Date Hiked: 21 Sept 2010
Tags: #hiking, #coloradooutdoors, #FlatTops, #gearguide
Other Trails in the area: Trapper's Lake, Skinny Fish Lakes, Flat Tops Scenic Drive
Topo Map: Flat Tops




The Devil's Causeway is a small eroded spit of land connecting two ridges.  While those without a fear of heights can just walk across, most other humans cower before it. The Devils Causeway

Devil's Causeway is one of the most notorious hikes in Colorado. This hike, which ascends the Chinese Wall in the Flat Tops Wilderness, contains a narrow 3-foot wide, 25-yard long segment of broken rock with 1,500 ft drops on either side. This segment, which gives the trail its name, is demonic indeed. Anyone with the slightest bit of acrophobia will cower, cringe, and otherwise drool on themselves with anxiety. The pictures of this chunk of rock do nothing to convey the emotional impact of the drop off so don't be fooled. This is a PTSD inducing experience. Save time and bring along a psychiatrist.

Trailhead with bathrooms

Hiking along the lake

If you ARE wickedly afraid of heights, don't skip this trail. The Causeway is down the ridgeline and there are several lovely spots to lounge on less scary spots to admire the views. To the south is Flat Top Mountain and to the north is the Lost Lake region. I could have stayed up there all day watching the raptors fly in the distance.

Sunlight glinting off the lake

Wispy clouds and suspended raptor

The trailhead for Devil's Causeway is at the far end of Stillwater Reservoir west of Yampa. The road dead ends into a large parking area near the dam. The trail follows the shoreline of the reservoir for 0.8 miles and minimal elevation gain before cutting inland to another trailhead. Take the right fork for the East Fork Trail. This is the trail to the Causeway.

Trail junction with the East Fork Trail

The Chinese Wall comes into view

After the fork, the trail wanders through a Lodgepole/Fir forest and at 1.08 miles comes to the Wilderness Boundary and the first good view of the Chinese Wall. At 1.63 miles the trail breaks out of the trees and traverses a long slope covered in talus. To the left is Little Causeway Lake and in front is a bare basin with an obvious saddle. The route looks more intimidating than it is. It does not take very long to get to the base of the saddle. Be sure to turn around every once in a while to admire the view behind you.

Heading into the trees

The first view of the saddle

From the base of the saddle, there are a series of lazy switchbacks. We met two hikers coming down who had just returned from the Causeway. One indicated that he had gotten about 1/3 of the way across but turned around because of the shifting winds. The other gentlemen indicated that he had been up to the Causeway at least 6 times and each time he had only been able to get within 50 yards of it. This served to freak me out and I started getting the ebbie jebbies on the uppermost switchback that narrowed unnervingly. Fortunately, the saddle is a broad plateau and not a narrow ridge. While the wind was blowing like Zeus, I at least could catch my psychological breath.

The trail heads across the talus field to the right.

Little Causeway Lake from the talus slope

The ascent up to the top of the Chinese Wall looks more intimidating than it is. While there is a drop off on either side, the trail travels up the middle with limited views on either side. The biggest challenge is that the route is very steep and very loose. At one point I could not stand up at all and was leaning into the slope with my feet sliding backwards in the dust. There was nothing for my hands to grab onto except a few loose rocks and more dust. Be sure to take a break half way up to admire the view.

Heading across flats toward the saddle


My destination from the area below the saddle

At the top of the ridge is an area filled with willows and rocks. To the right was a nice flat area where I dumped by pack. No way was I taking it to the Causeway. The wind had died down a bit which was nice. I started walking towards the Causeway, camera in hand. It is a short 2 minute walk. As soon as it came into view, I started cackling nervously and I confess a few unprintable explicatives passed my lips.

Getting closer to the saddle

Looking down on the switchbacks

As trail became more and more narrow and I continued on much to my personal amazement. I was on the cusp of the rocky portion of the Causeway when all of a sudden the vertigo hit as my peripheral vision picked up the drop offs on both sides. I landed with an ignominious thud in the dirt. I quickly wedged by butt into a small rock circle to give my mind the illusion of stability. Nuclear War or perhaps a slobbering carnivore might have gotten me moving again, but not much else. I turned around and my hiking partner had collapsed about 30 yards behind me. I coaxed her forward to my position. I have heard Devils Causeway described this way...walking, walking, walking, HIT THE DECK. I found this to be startlingly true.

On the saddle. Note the wind-filled jacket.

Looking up at the final pitch

From my vantage point I could look, after much Lamaze breathing, straight down the right side of the wall. Lost Lake valley loomed in the distance, and the wall curved photogenically around to the right. While I snapped pictures of the view, the dogs poked around on the rocks, increasing my vertigo with each bounding leap.

The view to the east from half way up the final pitch

On top of the Chinese Wall. The Devil's Causeway is just ahead. Would you go any further?

Finally, after sitting there for 10 minutes or so my mind said enough and I lumbered upwards and flung myself back down the trail. Reaction to this story has been mixed. Some of my friends have shuddered at the mere thought, others have laughed knowing that they crawled on their bellies across. Devil's Causeway is a highly personal experience.

The dogs frolic on the Devil's Causeway. This picture makes it seem a broad plateau. It feels much more narrow.

The view of the Chinese Wall from my butt-planted position.

Fall colors on the left side of the Wall

Since the views of Flat Tops is so spectacular, I found my pack and moved to a large plateau where I could lounge, eat, and reflect. As I said in my intro, if you don't like heights, ascending to the wall for lunch is still a viable option.

Lost Lake and the north side of the ridge

Flat Top Mountain from my lunch spot



This hike is featured in Colorado's Hundred Classic Hikes. I have yet to hike a trail in this book that was not spectacular. Buy from Amazon and I will receive a small commission.


20 comments:

Jennifer (Rainey) Mason said...

Wow, this looks horrifying and it's totally on my "to hike" list for next spring/summer! If only it were a little closer to Denver...great pics!

Linda said...

Brrr! My increasing-with-age vertigo was having a hard time just with the photos. My teenage daughter had a similar experience to yours on a ridge on one of the Cuillins on Skye.

I'm amazed at the vibrant yellow of the aspens. Like spilled egg yolk.

Heather said...

My family & I just hiked the Devil's Causeway yesterday and find your pictures and descriptions right on. Now ranks as my & my husband's favorite hike (so far). Absolutely beautiful from beginning to end (we started at Stillwater reservoir & U-turned after the Causeway). And you are right, the picture of the Causeway does not nearly convey the stomach lurch that occurs when standing there. I cannot believe that we allowed our 9 & 12 year olds to also climb across (talk about parental anxiety...and stupidity?), but what an amazing, unforgettable family experience!! A couple of suggestions to others: start your hike EARLY as afternoon storms are almost guaranteed (we had light rain & small hail on the way up, then heavy rain on the way down) and BRING BUG SPRAY...A LOT. Endless swarms of relentless mosquitos that were present all the way to the top

sylvia murphy said...

HI Heather,
2011 has been a nasty year for insects. I have been eaten alive on almost every trail. This is very unusual. I think it has been the continuous moisture that is the culpret. We did this hike in the fall and there were no bugs, but with all the lakes around, I can see how there could be. Kudos to you for getting across.

Stay tuned to this blog. I'll be posting my trip to Shrine Mountain near Vail soon. It has become my utmost favorite of all time and totally suitable for your rock scrambling munchkins!

Skeeter said...

Sylvia,

You have some terrific pictures here. Can i use you picture of the causeway in my blog. I will give credit and link back.

thanks

sylvia murphy said...

Hi Skeeter,
You may. Thanks for asking.

zydo said...

Hi Sylvia,

I love this report you have on the Devil's Causeway! That one is on my list for sure. Flat Tops is one of my favorite areas.

Also enjoyed your report on Democrat. I did the trio many years ago. Lincoln was my favorite.

I linked to your blog from my own: www.wilderness150.wordpress.com.

Zydo

Corrie said...

Is the causeway really only 3 feet wide? Compared to the dogs in that picture, it looks more like 3 yards? Not that it's still not vertigo-inducing I'm sure, but that'd be a critical distinction in whether or not I'd ever attempt it! :)

Anonymous said...

Oh its really is only 3 feet wide, trust me.

Anonymous said...

Great pictures but my girlfriend and I found your description of the hike to be a bit exaggererated and worry that it may scare away potential hikers. The hike from the saddle to the top of the wall is steep but good footing is readily found. The causeway is narrow and certainly remarkable but is no more than a class II-III hike/scramble. We did this in high winds and rain/snow today.

Anonymous said...

Great pics! Your blog rocks! Definitely on my to do list this year. Also, great description of the hike as it will prepare people for what's ahead.

Phyllis Cron said...

Just finished this hike today - perhaps one of the most spectacular hikes I have ever done...totally will blow your mind with sensory overload! It was a great accomplishment for me, as I have been recovering from surgery - first solo hike this year. I will do this one again before the wildflowers fade, and again on the fall!!!

John Huss said...

I want to do this. How do you get there from I70? Thanks.

Anonymous said...

Did the dogs do ok going across the causeway? I am backpacking a loop that brings us to the causeway and wondering if its a good idea to bring the dogs?

sylvia murphy said...

This hike is in the Flat Tops Wilderness. It is not near I-70. The closest town is Yampa.

sylvia murphy said...

The causeway itself is not flat. It is equally dangerous for you or your dogs. Dogs have the advantage of 4 legs but an old dog that is unsure or arthritic is going to have a harder time.

Anonymous said...

Cool thanks!!

Jennifer Mantegani said...

I would love to go here Memorial Day Weekend. I work Friday night, and was going to drive out Saturday afternoon (I work overnights). I see that Cold Springs Campground is a great place to stay, as an extended loop near Stillwater Reservoir connects to the Causeway Trail. My question is...all the reservable campsites are already taken for that weekend (I know I'm doing this late), but there are a good amount of walk-up sites. Do you have any experience with this campground and how quickly it fills up?

sylvia murphy said...

Hi Jennifer,
Glad you are going to try this hike. We stayed in a hotel, so I can't tell you anything about the camping in the area. Have fun!

Anonymous said...

Nice pictures. Thank you