It may officially be Fall, but its still prime time for the high alpine, so we thought we’d look back on some of our our favorite runs in the Front Range high country.
Grays & Torreys to Guanella Pass
Stats: 13.1 miles, +6,000’ gain, 5+ hours (Route)
This is a great full-day run linking up Grays & Torreys with Guanella Pass (and Bierstadt or Evans, if you’re really feeling motivated.) The line is straightforward across Edwards, Argentine, & Squaretop, but the run itself is deceptively difficult as the majority of it is above 13,000 feet in elevation. Taking the standard route up Grays and Torreys makes for an easier outing overall; however, taking the classic Kelso Ridge (class 3) up Torrey’s adds to the adventure factor. There is some route finding involved getting around Edwards (versus a more precarious line directly over), but nothing overly difficult. If you’re lucky, the locals might show you the line ;).
Following the locals across the ridge from Grays to Edwards.
Logistics: This route requires two vehicles and a shuttle run from the summit of Guanella Pass to the Grays & Torreys trailhead. This does make a long day even longer, but the views and lack of other people (after G&T, of course) more than make up for it! Be sure to check out the latest route conditions on 14ers.com, as any snow or ice can make for a spicy climb up Kelso.
Pawnee Buchanan Pass Loop
Stats: 26.4 miles, +7,000’ gain, 7+ hours (Route)
This ultra-classic loop may only be 26 miles, but it runs like it’s an awful lot longer. It is a long day in the mountains and requires quite a bit of gear, food, and experience due its remote nature. You have to access the route through RMNP, so be prepared to pay for a day pass and fight some crowds on the way in. Regardless of which direction you choose, you’ll quickly shake the crowds. We recommend bringing food for a full-day outing, however, there are countless streams to fill up bottles, so water is not an issue.
The trail is in there somewhere!
Logistics: This loop typically opens up in early July due to snow. There are several very large avalanche paths that cross the trail that can become a nightmare if there is still lingering snow, or debris fields. Park at the Brainard Lake Recreational Area, and plan an early start to beat the crowds and ensure you find a parking spot. Parking at the North lot is preferred for clockwise trips, while the South lot is better for counter-clockwise trips – after all, who wants to finish a pristine backcountry loop with a few miles of road?!
Stats: 15.9 miles, +3,400’ gain, 4+ hours (Route)
High Lonesome is yet another Continental Divide classic. Although it isn’t all that long mileage-wise, the high-alpine nature of the route makes for quite a long day in the mountains. Or, perhaps I need to stop taking so many pictures.
Looking back at King Lake in the morning light.
The standard route offers up great views of King Lake, the Fraser River valley, and a close up of the iconic Devil’s Thumb towering over the aptly named Devil’s Thumb Lake. Due to its proximity to Nederland, and in turn Boulder, it is also definitely one of the busier areas in the Front Range. Be prepared to see a lot of runners, hikers, backpackers, and fisherman.
Devil’s Thumb is certainly the highlight of the route.
This is also another zone that really doesn’t open up until early July. While there aren’t many (if any) slide paths on the trail, the first and last ~5 miles are fairly heavily forested and hold snow for quite a while. The lower trails can also become quite the raging creeks during runoff, so we’d recommend waiting until later in the Summer to tackle this loop.
Logistics: Park along the road near the Hessie Trailhead (just 15 minutes from Nederland) and plan on an early start as parking is fairly limited and it is not unusual for spots to fill up by 7am. Be sure to check signage in the area as there are a number of no-parking zones that are strictly enforced. There is also a much longer variation for this route that takes the mileage closer to 32 and the gain closer to +8,000’. This alternate route can be seen here.
Stats: 7 miles, +3,300’ gain, 2+ hours, (Route)
Mt. Parnassus is great alpine route for when you are relatively short on time. It is certainly the most accessible of the four listed here – and by far the shortest! But don’t let the short distance fool you. This route packs quite the punch. Although the total climb averages roughly 1,000’ per mile, 2,000’ of that comes in the final 1.25 miles, making the final stretch quite the leg burner. But the views are well worth the effort!
Not-So-Pro Tip: Don’t follow the route down from the Strava link! Sometimes (read: most times) we make regrettable decisions.
This severely delays beer drinking. Also, there’s a Doug in there somewhere.
Logistics: Park at the Herman Gulch Trailhead (surprise – another trailhead that fills up early) and follow the Herman Gulch Trail for ~0.1 mile, until you see the a smaller trail fork right on a left switchback. Head right and follow the trail up into the next drainage East from Herman Gulch. The trail becomes far less defined after tree-line, but it is generally visible enough to get you up to the saddle between Woods and Parnassus.
Have a favorite alpine run? Let us know in the comments! We’re always looking for new adventures.