Wednesday, August 25, 2010

North Empire Loop - Empire, Exploratory hike

Hiking up the narrow road.
All summer I have said that Josh and I need to pack a dinner and take a hike after Josh gets out of work some weekday afternoon.   For one reason or another, we had not done this all summer, but I said last Friday that we were getting outside and into the mountains!  Josh gets home from work around 3pm and I had packed up tuna melt sandwiches, fruit, salad and a couple of beers.  The dogs were going crazy because they knew they were going hiking, and because the smell of tuna fish was in the air.  Shortly after Josh arrived home we drove out to Guanalla Pass to do a hike to Silver Lake, which was quickly cut short because Guanalla Pass is closed on the I-70 side due to construction.  I had read the sign several times saying the Pass was closed, but I had incorrectly assumed it was closed farther up the road and we could still access the hike.  Since that plan was squashed, we drove back east to Empire to find the North Empire Loop/Bill Moore trail which turned into quite an adventure.  

Second Mine we passed going up the road
Getting there:  The hike starts outside of the town of Empire, take I-70 to exit #232 and proceed on Hwy 40 to the town of Empire.  In the center of the small town turn right (toward the mountains) onto Main Street (its just a turn, no light, no stop signs) and drive until Main Street turns into dirt.  From here, continue up a rough gravel 4-wheel drive road about 2 miles to the parking area on the left.  The road is very rough and a car cannot make the drive; there are a few forks along the drive up the dirt road, just continue up what looks like the main road to reach the parking lot.  Here is the Clear Creek County page with info; titled Bill Moore/North Empire Loop trail.  The directions are not accurate however; my directions above are, the drive up the road is well over 1 mile, and the street turnoff is Main Street, not Park Ave.  

Specs:  The drive up the dirt road is very rough and bumpy, I was unsure our new (new to us) SUV would make it, so we opted to park in an area on the side of the road where we did not see any private property signs.   We decided we would just hike up the road, and got on our packs and started walking.  The road was rough on the ankles with all the huge rocks.  Eventually the road split and we took a very rough side trail up to the top of the mountain.  It was here we found the signs for the Bill Moore/North Empire Loop trails and the parking lot.  There are no facilities at the trailhead and very little parking, this is not a well known trail and on a Friday night we only saw 3 cars making the drive up to camp as we were leaving at 8pm.  There are several backcountry campsites in the area, several with good views of the mountains beyond and we sat here to eat our dinner. 
On top of Mtn, Road Split.

The Journey:  After being turned around at Guanalla Pass we were at a loss as to where to go, and I remembered the Clear Creek website where we found the Empire Loop Trail.  We were immediately confused by their directions as it stated to turn right on Park Ave, but Park Ave is also Hwy 40, so there was no-where to turn.  We guessed and turned right on Main Street, a small side street in the center of Empire and continued on this until it turned to dirt.  We hoped that we were in the right place, but when we drove up the road for longer than 1 mile and didn't reach a trailhead we questioned if this was the right place at all.  I decided we should just stop and hike, the road was deserted, rocky and rough, just like a trail and I was sick of being in the car.  We found a place that didn't have a "no trespassing" sign and parked alongside the road, however I believe we were probably still on private property.  
One backcountry site at top of Mountain
We got out and started hiking up the road, eventually we came up to an old mine with great views of the mountains beyond, a little farther up the road another old mine with a beautiful scenic backdrop of mountains behind it.  Shortly after the second mine we noticed the road split and we took the trail that was steeper, rockier and went higher up the mountain; it was about this time we saw a Land Rover driving down the mountain and that confirmed that a vehicle could manage this road.  Josh was convinced ours could have made it to the top, I was not so sure.  We hiked up this trail and could see the top of the mountain peeking through the trees, once we reached the top we had great views of the mountains beyond and we saw some trail signs!  I was glad to see the signs so we could confirm that we were actually in the right place, but the distance was well over 1 mile to reach this trailhead and the Arapaho National Forest.  
Rough Road, this is nothing, it gets worse!
We stopped here to eat our dinner and then we checked out the area.  We hiked further up the road which splits shortly after reaching the top and you can take the road to the left to reach Bill Moore Lake or to the right to do the Empire Loop, this is marked at the road split.  Since we walked up to this point, we had already hiked plenty and the sun was setting so we decided to walk back down the road.  
We took the opposite trail split going down the road and saw several more backcountry campsites, by this time we saw another three vehicles heading up the road packed to camp for the weekend and I was envious because the sites were really cool and I love camping.  
Because we never reached Bill Moore Lake, we will definitely be back to hike here again; I am always eager to see what is around the next corner or over the next hill and we didn't get as far as I would have liked due to walking up the road, not the trails.  
This road would be great for mountain biking and ATVing, and there is evidence both have been done recently. 

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