Saturday, November 28, 2009

Jones Pass and Stanley Mountain

Over this Thanksgiving weekend I wanted to get out and hike a big peak instead of sticking to the warmer Front Range trails. After searching and searching for an accessible winter peak online, I came across the Henderson Trailhead in the Arapaho-Roosevelt National Forest outside of Empire Colorado. This trailhead gives access to Stanley Mtn at 12,521 ft, Vasquez Peak at 12,947 ft, Berthoud Pass at 11,315 ft and Jones Pass 12,451 ft and all of those peaks are on the Continental Divide.

Getting There: From the Denver area take I-70 West and head into the mountains for about 30 minutes and exit onto US-40 West toward Empire. Drive West on 40 for approximately 9.3 miles to Henderson Mine Road. This you will make a left turn across traffic to this road, just as US 40 starts to climb just past "The Last General Store" on the left side of 40. Click here for a map.
Drive about 1.75 miles down Henderson Mine Road to the mine, and there is a road that is well marked on the right side directing Snowmobile and Hiking traffic right toward Jones Pass. Drive just a half mile to a large parking lot (with NO bathrooms the nearest is in Empire or during the summer in the picnic area just before the Mine). On the right side of the street there is a trail with a very small sign saying "trail" and this is where you need to go! (click photo --> to enlarge and see start of hike). We arrived at the trailhead just 50 minutes after we left our house ready to hike!

The Journey:
We left the house around 7am this morning and drove just 30 minutes to our exit, then another 20 minutes to an empty trailhead. After getting our gear on we started hiking at 8:15am, the temperature on the truck read 22 degrees as we started our hike and two cars had pulled into the parking lot by then.
We carried with us a down vest each, 4 liters of water, a small lunch with foccita bread and cheese and a power bar, we also wore our mittens, hats and neck warmers and dressed in layers. The trail was well packed and easy to follow, the incline wasn't very steep and we enjoyed views of the Peaks in the Arapaho-Roosevelt Forest around us. Snow shoes weren't necessary for the hike and there were several spots that didn't have any snow at all. Very quickly, we got warm, and both decided to trade our coats for our vests and hiked comfortably in those for the remainder of the hike. The dogs ran around happily, there were no other hikers and they were able to run around freely. Belle did a great job in the snow and Rock was really glad to be out doing a winter hike.
The trail has long switchbacks with a mild incline and in about 1 mine you will reach a trail split with a sign shown in the photo.
It was at this point we had planned to hike to Stanley Mountain Peak, we turned right and started to hike that way but realized that we were blazing a trail in the snow and weren't sure which way to go. I considered just trying to find the trail as we hiked, but Josh wanted to turn back and head up towards Jones Pass which was well packed. So we turned around. Shortly after we started up towards Jones Pass we came across the only hiker we saw that day coming down with his two dogs. We asked him about what Peak we could summit going in this direction. He said he runs this trail everyday, (hence the nice path) and that we could continue to Jones Pass but it was a long way and we would need snowshoes, but we might be able to reach Stanley from the south west side of the mountain. We thanked him and continued up. After another 30 minutes we neared the treeline and came out to some incredible views, and we could finally see Stanley Mountain beside us and thought we'd try to summit it from the far side.

We followed the trail through the snow until we reached the base of the summit then started up. It didn't look very far to the top, but it was very steep and very snow packed in some spots, making the climbing very difficult and terrain unstable. After hiking about halfway up the summit, we decided that it was too dangerous to go any farther. We stopped and enjoyed the in-credible views, ate some awesome foccita bread leftover from Thanksgiving and fed the dogs.
It was about this time that we started to get chilly, looked at our watches and it was nearly 11am so we decided to start back.
It was pretty steep getting down the summit, and we hiked very slowly and I was really glad we brought the hiking poles for the trek today as they came in handy. The snow just starts to get deep at the summit and farther beyond to Jones Pass, so snowshoes are needed much farther past this point.
It took us less than 1 hour to get back to the truck, and it was a 3 hour climb to where we stopped, so we were pleasantly surprised that we made it back to the truck just before noon. You can bet that I will be back to hike Stanley Mountain again and make it to the top.
On the drive back home, we stopped in Empire at Jenny's diner. It was our first trip to Jenny's diner and we were pleasantly surprised they had Newcastle on Tap and a wonderful menu of sandwiches and soups. It was a great place to eat and you can't miss it along highway 40 through Empire. A great way to end the afternoon after an awesome hike.

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