Today, we had yet another bright and early start, this time ready to take on a more challenging hike! We packed up and headed a little farther West on I-70, then took Loveland Pass up to the Continental Divide. This was now our 3rd time crossing over, but this time, we stopped for a peak hike. Curtis found one that was a good length, that would offer great 360 views, and that hopefully wouldn’t completely wear us out. And so we set off to hike Mt. Sniktau!
The hike started at 11,000 feet above sea level, above the tree line. For us, this meant that the morning air was crisp and fresh, and the views from the very beginning were gorgeous. I think that my fingers were numb for the majority of this morning’s hike.
The first mile was tough. It pretty much climbed straight up the mountain, gaining over 1000 feet of elevation without switchbacks. The trail was well worn and made of loose gravel and dirt, and I found it difficult to walk on, both uphill and down. We set a steady pace, but found ourselves out of breath and stopping for breaks often. While the car park at the beginning of the trail was full, we hardly came across any people on our hike. We loved being able to enjoy the peace and quiet of the Rockies on our own.
After about a mile, we reached a peak – the first of the false peaks we were to encounter before making it to Mt. Sniktau. The hardest part of our climb was over, so we stopped to enjoy the views and have a small snack. Our trail then went on to follow a ridge, past some false peaks before taking us to our destination. The winds weren’t as bad when we were making our way to the peak, but we weren’t able to appreciate that as much as we could until we had to walk through the strong winds on our way back – wind so strong I could hardly hear myself think, and had to concentrate to make every step.
The trail between the peaks varied from a narrow dirt path, to navigating around large piles of boulders. Thankfully, the trail was pretty easy to find after coming off of those sections. At this point, we were staying around the same elevation, so hiking was much easier. Charlotte did great, by the way. She enjoyed watching/chasing grasshoppers along the way – yet somehow totally missed the pikas running around, trying to steal her Cheerios.
Finally, we made it to the top! 13,234 feet above sea level – the highest we’d ever hiked. While we would have loved to do a 14er, it just wasn’t the right time for us since we were still adjusting to these high elevations. Someday we will! We stayed at the top for no longer than a half hour, and left just as 2 other hikers arrived. We saw more people on our way back than we did our way there. The early bird gets the peak all to itself. 😉
The hike back down was challenging in its own ways, as I had mentioned before the wind picked up, and the ground made walking downhill difficult. It may have taken me a bit to get used to the steep slope, but we finally made it back to our car, very pleased with ourselves! This hike was 5 miles round trip.
We went down the road a little further, and found a secret spot near some quiet lakes to have a picnic. There were a few guys in the parking lot, looking at deer a long ways off through a scope, but other than that we had the area to ourselves. We found a letterbox, and indulged in whatever car snacks we had on us. 🙂 This is what I’d call the perfect spot for a private lunch with my love… and puppy, who was wandering around. She’s always good at finding the perfect rock to stand on and take in the view.
After that, we drove back to I-70, drove through the tunnel, and took Highway 24 East to Leadville. Leadville is the highest incorporated city in the US, at 10,152 feet above sea level. It was such a fun town to drive through…but just like most towns on this trip, we really only drove through it. Downtown areas of cities can be so cute and sometimes I just want to walk down main street and enjoy, but on this trip, we were much more interested in exploring the Rockies outside of the towns – and going to little known places where there were no people.
So with that, we continued on 24, and decided to do some boxing along the way. Our first stop was Turquoise Lake, just outside of Leadville. There were only a few drive-by letterboxes here, but we took a little extra time to walk by the lake. And Charlotte took her time wading and drinking from the lake. 🙂
This was the first time we had heard about the Colorado Trail – a trail that crosses the state from Durango to Denver. You bet it’s on our list of through-hikes to do in the future! For most of the trail, we were also on the Continental Divide trail, as the 2 were merged together for this bit. After we found the letterbox, we continued on a half mile further to see some sort of historic site set up. I asked Curtis to write about this exciting part for me!
Based on the letterboxing clues, we knew that there was some sort of “historic site” ahead on the trail. Perhaps some log cabin ruins, foundations, dilapidated houses, etc. What we weren’t prepared for was the size and level of restoration of the Interlaken resort. Opened first in 1879, Interlaken resort was one of the foremost vacation destinations for America’s well to do. Visitors would have to come by train to the town of Granite, Colorado where they would then have to get on a horse and carriage and follow a forest road on the south side of the lakes.
But just because it took some effort to arrive at the resort, didn’t mean the living was rustic. After Leadville millionaire James Dexter purchased the resort in 1883, he made massive renovations ultimately building one of the most modern resorts of the time featuring luxurious comfortable rooms, a tavern, pool hall, dance hall, ice house, and two steam boats for cruising the lake. But by far the most ornate structure on the property wasn’t part of the resort but was actually Dexter’s private “cabin”. Granted, this is the most restored building currently standing, and the only one visitors are allowed to enter.
Dexter’s “cabin” (more like Victorian cottage) features a central fireplace, elaborate wood flooring and paneling (can’t remember what woods, but I know it had to be imported from the east coast), indoor plumbing (not even the resort had that at first), two stories plus a third story room with 360 degree view of the lake and mountains. Being a millionaire is probably nice.
After that, we made our way back to the car. We were happy with all we’d seen and learned today, and impressed that we had been able to hike 10 miles. We’re back in the game! Charlotte may have been a little resistant about getting back in the car. I think she was getting tired of all the driving we were doing. Oh well, at least after all this hiking she slept really well!
We decided to call it a day for sightseeing, and drove down to Salida to spend the night. We drove passed the Collegiate Peaks as the sun was beginning to go behind some clouds, which made the mountains appear hazy and mysterious.