Saturday, July 2, 2011

Chief Mountain

Distance: 3 miles round trip
Elevation: 10, 720 ft - 11,709 ft (USGS measurement)
Elevation Gain: 989 ft
Date Hiked: 16 June, 2011
Dogs: Off leash
Bathroom at the trailhead: No, closest is the Starbucks in Evergreen

Chief Mountain near Evergreen Colorado is a short jaunt to almost 12,000 ft. It makes mountain climbing accessible to the masses. The view of the Continental Divide from the summit of Chief Mountain
If you have ever wanted to see what it is like to climb a 14,000 ft peak (14er) but have no desire to carry supplemental oxygen or slog tirelessly upwards for miles on end, the stunning jaunt up Chief Mountain is for you.

The trailhead
A typical lower trail segment

A small 11er on Squaw Pass Rd near Evergreen, Chief Mountain is short and delightful (e.g. easy) climb up through a stand of sub-alpine firs and the rare Bristlecone Pines to a bare summit with interesting rock formations and jaw dropping views of Mt. Evans. At the top is a small pile of talus (large rocks) that require a scramble to reach the top. The Fir trees, the views, and the talus are all features of a 14er adventure.

The sign at the cross roads of Old Squaw Pass Rd. Don't trust the mileage.

The trailhead for Chief Mountain is approximately 12 miles up Squaw Pass Rd out of Evergreen and the parking area is directly next to the ski lift for the Echo Mountain Ski Resort. The parking area is just a broad shoulder on the right hand side of the road that can handle perhaps 8 cars. The trail starts on the opposite side of the road. A small vertical forest service sign and several rock steps are the only visible features that you are in the right spot.

View to the northwest part way up the route
The trail travels upwards sharply for the first quarter of a mile and then eases up into a nice gradual ascent that almost anyone with a baseline of fitness can handle. At 0.3 miles the route crossed the Old Squaw Pass Rd. On the other side is a large sign that says Chief Mountain is 2 miles away. This is incorrect. The one way route, from the parking lot to the summit is 1.5 miles.

The trail begins to creep above treeline
When the trail pops above treeline, the topography changes. The route becomes more rocky and the few remaining trees are stunted and wind blown. Small tundra flowers dot the landscape with splashes of white, yellow, and blue. The summit pile comes into view along with several other angular rock formations that just beg to be photographed.

Squaw Mountain and Bristlecone Pines near the border of treeline

The last few switchbacks wander through these formations and it is difficult not to linger to admire the lichens and flowers. On this trip, the weather was pressing and I did not know if I would have any time on the summit at all, so I pushed on to the final scramble.

Looking at the summit as the trees disappear and the tundra begins to rule

The trail becomes more rocky above treeline
From the summit, the views are stunning. To the west is Mt. Evans. I felt like a voyeur, looking deep into the back side of the Mt. Evans Wilderness Area, a zone one does not normally see. To the east is Squaw Mountain, which I have only snowshoed, and Evergreen and Evergreen Mountain, which I had just hiked the week before. To the north is Longs Peak and Mount Meeker along with the Indian Peaks.

Looking at the summit talus pile. It is a short 2 minute scramble to the top. The top of Mt. Audubon in contrast is a 0.5 mile scramble.
The summit itself contains a lot of nooks and crannies suitable for lounging, and if you don't want to scramble a small plateau just below the talus pile provides similar views without the final effort.

Looking at Squaw Pass Rd as it continues towards Mt. Evans.

Chief Mountain is going to become an annual hike for me. While higher peaks are still blanketed in snow, Chief Mountain is snow free. It can provide a tundra fix for those pinning away after a long winter. This is a short hike, however, so if you are yearning for more, try tacking on the Pessman Trail up the Mt. Evans Road. This trail will take you through another stand of much older Bristlecones. You will also get views of the place you just visited.

Below the summit is a nice plateau that contains excellent views for those who don't want to scramble over the talus to the top.

6 comments:

  1. What a view!...along with that blue, blue sky and puffy white clouds.

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  2. Hmmm...such beauty. Sometimes the short hikes are needed and provide just as much fun!

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  3. That trail is a great bang for the buck close to Denver. Great views.

    It's the first thing I hiked when I moved here (I think it was the day after I arrived). Also learned a quick lesson about CO weather, when I got pelted by hail in July on the way down. The road was white.

    Bonus: especially if you go up in the fall, in the evening there are often elk in Elk Meadow open space near Evergreen on the drive up.

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  4. I'm curious to know who creates the trails. Is it the local authorities, a government agency, or volunteers?

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  5. Hi Linda,
    In many cases it is government agencies. Trails exist in county-level open space properties, national-level forest service, and park properties etc. Often improving or maintaining trails is done by volunteers.

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  6. Anyone have advice for hiking to the summit in winter?

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