Monday, April 5, 2010

Views of Red Rocks Ampitheatre hiking Morrison Peak 7,877 feet

I have lived on the front range for over 7 years and just 10 minutes from Red Rocks and Mount Morrison which can be seen towering above the front range.  But I never realized you could hike to the peak until recently.   After doing some reasearch, I found out that there were several routes to the summit, and I decided to do the longest route, the southern route. 
This route to the top which takes you up the southern ridgeline of Mount Morrison with views of the front range, Denver, and Red Rocks Ampitheatre below.  From the top of the mountain you can see all the way from Pikes Peak in Colorado Springs to Longs Peak in Estes Park!  Wow!   The dogs and I saw several deer who watched us intently while we hiked past them. 
Getting there:  There are several routes to the peak of Mount Morrison, I chose the southern route which is longer  than many of the direct routes. (the longest route starts from the Matthew Winter trailhead)  To get there drive to Morrison Colorado and head west on highway 74 through the town to the second entrance to Red Rocks which is numbered as entrance 4.  Turn right here, the road is also called Titans road, click here for a map.  Park just inside the entrance near the park sign where you will see an obvious pull off parking lot on the right side of the road.  Cross the park road to get to the well traveled trail on the opposite side. This is not a very popular trail during the week and it's moderately busy on the weekend.   There is not a trail sign denoting the trail, but you can see it in the clickable photo above.  The nearest bathroom facilities are at the Red Rocks trading post or in the town of Morrison. 

The Journey:  I haven't hiked in quite a while due to the nasty cold that lingered for two weeks, so I was eager to summit a peak.  Mount Morrison has been on my hiking "to do" list for quite some time and on this warm spring day I was ready to get outside for some exercise and to see what spring flowers had bloomed! 
The hike starts on a steep incline that continues until you reach the southern ridgeline of the mountain.  For some time, the trail follows the telephone wires that run alongside the mountain but eventually the poles continue over the west side of the mountain and the trail turns to the north.  In the photo to the left you can see I have marked the peak in the distance with a blue dot.  After making it to the ridgeline of the mountain continue north toward the peak.  Along the hike you are entertained with incredible views of the front range, Denver, and Red Rocks Ampitheatre below.   Eventually the trail takes you to a false peak and once you hike over this you are greeted with views of the Continental Divide and the city to the east just below the summit.  At this point the trail starts to get a little technical and involves scrambling over Class 2 rock.  It took me 1.5 hours to get to this point below the summit and then another 35 minutes to scramble up and reach the top.  This was due mostly to my dog Belle who was new to climbing over rock and was scared to scramble up the rock.  Eventually we made it to the summit and were greeted with incredible views of both the city and the mountains.  
The top of the mountain has two large antenna's which do obstruct some of the view, but aside from the towers, the view is great.   After spending some time taking in the views and eating lunch, I started down the mountain. 

Initially, I had planned to take the same trail down the mountain and realized after climbing for a few moments that I was following one of the many other trails down; and I needed to cut back west.  I called the dogs and started to cross the rocks; after 10 minutes, I met back up with my original trail to notice that my dog Belle had stopped 150 vertical yards above us, and was not coming down by herself.  I climbed back up to get her and decided to descend one of the more steep and direct routes down rather than cross the mountain again.  We began to descend the front or east side of the mountain, and due to the melting, the rocks were slick and gravel slid easily.  I lost my footing several times on the unstable footing, but recovered enough to not fall.  Eventually the trail leads to a large craig that sticks out the front of Mount Morrison; as I walked to the edge of the craig I could barely see the mountain below as I inched my way over the edge.  (see photo below for view from below the craig)

After scaling the craig; the trail continues steeply and directly down the east side of the mountain and beside the valley and mountain runoff stream.  The stream was overflowing as I hiked down, and the water was pushed into tributaries and onto the trail ending in a small waterfall near the north upper parking lot behind the ampitheatre. 
Rock was very excited to wade in the water when we reached the bottom of the main trail; we walked behind the ampitheatre on one of the red rocks trails beside the rushing stream which spilled onto the trail causing the red clay to become very sticky and muddy.  The trail continues to the southern parking lot; and from there I walked back to my car along the road.  The entire hike took just over 3 hours and I estimate the hike to have been approximately 4 miles long. 
This is a great hike to prepare for a 14er this summer, or to summit a peak with some technical difficulty.   The trail doesn't have very much shade so this hike is best done in the spring, fall or winter.  Use caution when hiking or scrambling on rocks and become prepared for the weather and hike conditions. 

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