Saturday, December 12, 2015

McCullough Gulch Snowshoe

Distance: 3 miles round trip
Elevation: 10,300 to 10,995 ft
Elevation Gain: 695 ft
Bathroom at Trailhead: No
Dogs: Off leash
Date Updated: 12/13/15
Tags: #Breckenridge, #snowshoe

View of Red Mountain (13,229 ft) at the terminus of the McCullough Gulch Snowshoe 
McCullough Gulch near Breckenridge CO is a great place for a short but scenic snowshoe. The imposing side of Quandary Peak is your constant companion on the left heading up the gulch and Red Mountain (13.229 ft) dominates the views on the way out.

Map showing the route and parking area off of highway 9 out of Breckenridge.
The winter trail for snowshoe is a large plowed parking lot on Hwy 9 heading to Hoosier Pass from Breckenridge. It is located around a mile before the turn off to Co Road 850, the traditional turn for both Quandary Peak and Quandary Falls. The lot is unmarked, but should be evident.

Heading up the trail
Quandary Peak as seen from the right side of McCullough Gulch
The trail starts out in a Ponderosa forest but quickly segways into open meadows with occasional stream sightings. Quandary Peak is always present, tendrils of snow whisking from its summit. Turn around from time to time, however, because as the trail gains altitude, the views to the east of Red Mountain (13,229 ft) become increasingly expansive. At the apex of the route, this view is nothing less than stunning.

Old cabin at 0.84 miles
The view begins to expand to the east
There are several milestones on this trail. At 0.8 miles is an old cabin and at 1.5 miles is the intersection with the Wheeler National Recreation Trail. Another tenth of a mile beyond this is the intersection with a spur road that heads off to the left across the gulch and intersects with Co Road 851 heading to Quandary Falls (see map). At this point you can head across the gulch if you like or continue straight for another 0.4 miles up a broad shelf that dead ends into a rock wall. We chose the latter. If the given the choice between going up and going down, Coloradans invariably want the up.

The trail ends just ahead
Aspens on the hill
The last quarter mile is steep (150 ft up from the intersection), but the views will have you sighing with contentment, or perhaps sucking wind,  depending upon how fast you bolted up that last bit. Pull out your linen tablecloth, the foie gras, and feast! This is the kind of view you see in travel brochures.

Looking back on the final pitch
While McCullough won’t get you trained to climb Quandary Peak, seeing folks on the peak, even in winter will motivate you. If you are staying in Breckenridge and want a short outing with continual payoffs, some solitude, and the sense of really being in the back country, then this trail may be just the ticket. Unlike Baker’s Tank on Boreas Pass Road, you won’t find the hordes here. Perhaps the snow is too deep, perhaps the altitude gain too intense, or perhaps it is just unknown.

Final view to the east

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