Elevation: 11,100 ft - 11,888 ft
Elevation Gain: 788 ft (net), 1,135 ft (cumulative)
Date Hiked: 31 July, 2011
Dogs: Off leash
Bathroom at trailhead: Yes
Shrine Mountain off of Shrine Pass near the Copper Mountain Ski Resort has by far the best scenery I have seen in Colorado thus far. It beats out Mt. Thomas, which has similar views but a much larger effort, and Mayflower Gulch, which had here-to-fore has been the trail I returned to year after year, season after season. To think that this trail is practically in my back yard makes it all the more appealing. It is short enough for a quick after work jaunt to watch the sunset from the ridgeline.
The route up Shrine Mountain begins at Shrine Pass, which is located only a few miles up Shrine Pass Road from Vail Pass. In the winter there is a fee to use this area in summer there is no fee. The road, while bumpy in spots is passable with a passenger car. Don't be fooled by several of the smaller pull outs along the way. There is a 50 car parking lot at the Pass and bathrooms. You'll know it when you see it.
Immediately greeting the hiker upon arrive at the saddle is an expansive view to southwest highlighted by the Mount of the Holy Cross, which dominates the view. Some people ascend to just this point for this view alone. To the left is a long, lazy climb through open green meadows and to the right is the summit of Shrine Mountain and the ridge beyond with its fascinating rock formations. A hiker familiar with the area said go right first. Had the weather not intruded, I would have done both.
The route to the right is relatively flat for a quarter of a mile or so. There is a large plateau here where other hikers lounged to admire Holy Cross and the teeming wildflowers at their feet. It was tempted to linger there for a while, but the clouds were building ominously, so after snapping a hundred or so flower pictures, I continued on.
Looking left from the saddle. There is a trail that heads up that plateau. I will have to return another day to do that segment.
The Mount of the Holy Cross (14,005 ft) and other peaks in the Holy Cross Wilderness dominate the view to the south.Beyond the summit the ridgeline continues, which is the most interesting part of this section. It descends gradually and sometimes vary narrowly towards the northwest. To the left is a gentle slope full of trees, while to the right is a small gully overlooking the Gore Range. Sitting atop the other side of the gully is a long series of red rocks that are like a giant Rorschach Test. To me they looked like a giant fossilized aircraft carrier. Bring along some mind alternating substances and who knows what you will see.
A field of wildflowers of every shape and color greeted me as I head off to the right side of the ridge.You can walk this ridge all way down until the trail officially ends. There was a very steep section that I almost just slide down on my tail near the end. I am not sure it was worth that extra 100 yards, but having never been on the trail before I had to check it out.
In the distance over Piney Lake and the Gore Range a large thunderstorm was booming, sending shock waves across the valley. I was taking a chance being above treeline in such weather, but since it was a short sprint to trees I felt safe enough pushing my luck. Alas, by the time I returned to the saddle, the weather directly above had turned ominous and it had started to rain. Time to descend dag nabbit!
Looking south towards Copper Mountain from the summit. You could follow that ridgeline down to Wilder Gulch for a nice loop if you had two cars.
The ridge begins to narrow. I continued despite the looming dark clouds and the sound of thunder ahead. It is a quick jaunt into the trees on the left.I will say that this trail is being unfortunately loved to death. Instead of staying in the muddy single track route, the hordes have expanded the trail so that it is almost a multi-lane highway. He is a tidbit about hiking etiquette, get muddy folks, it preserves the area.