I drove up to Empire at 5am this morning. There’s a number of access points to the Continental Divide Trail off Henderson Road. I met Rob near the Big Bend picnic site where he camped overnight. Henderson Road leads of course to the Henderson Molybdenum Mine. The Henderson trail head leads from the mine up one mile where it connects with the CDT.
Rob said he heard truck traffic all night long, along with the roar of the mine itself. Business for Molybdenum must be good. This mineral is mostly used for strengthening steel and making other super alloys. But it even has biological and chemical uses and occurs naturally in tooth enamel.
We continued to hear the mine for miles, until we reached treeline. The wind turbines hum non-stop serving as a beacon to the trail head. Even the trail head and trail are named for a past mine engineer – Henderson. The mine dominates everything until treeline when the focus shifts to some of the area passes and peaks that are accessible by day hikes.
The day began cold and snowy so I geared up relatively heavy with a sweatshirt and ski jacket. I only had one of my long gaters, having been confused thinking my two short gaters connected by their velcro was the second long gater. I decided to wear the single long half-pair. With my boots and snow pants, gaters weren’t critical. Based on my post-hike assessment, I would say the boots were critical. I don’t have hiking boots – I always hike in trail shoes which allow for running. These are snow boots which I brought along because I expected to snow shoe. They work fine in snow shoes but not for hiking. Their traction is horrible and my feet slip inside them causing blisters – especially when hiking up a steep slope. Wearing ankle-high socks didn’t help as they slipped under my heel. I was able to stop this by pulling my tights down over the sock rather than the other way around. And this mitigated the blistering.
The weather was actually quite nice in the trees. No wind at all. And suffice it to say there wasn’t sufficient snow to snow shoe. Considering the time of year, Colorado is on track for a real drought next year. The ski resorts are likely feeling it now. Hopefully the spring will bring heavy snows. I guess it’s not even winter yet, not for another week or two. But still, it’s December and the mountains are way behind in expected snowfall. I don’t expect to get up here again until January. I can’t imagine not being able to snow shoe by then.
After the first mile of hiking, the connector trail hit the CDT at a T intersection. Click on the picture of Rob up top and you’ll be able to read the signs. We intended to turn south toward Jones Pass to complete the section that lines up with where we ended our last hike. But the hiking was so slow with poorly adapted boots (Rob wasn’t wearing optimal shoes either) and wicked ice spots covered by the fresh snow. The signs said 6 miles to Jones Pass and 4 miles to Berthoud Pass. Add in the one mile connector trail and we had a choice of 14 miles or 10 miles round trip. We selected the 4 mile route to Berthoud and turned north.
While snow shoes were not possible, I can’t imagine this trail being accessible without trekking poles. There was just enough snow, and especially the hidden ice, that poles are required. They were almost needed to withstand the wind. Most of the hike follows a ridge along the Continental Divide where the views are unbelievable, but so is the wind. Sometimes the trail would follow the side of the ridge protected from the cold mistral, but it also would pass from side to side and we had moments exposed to gale force blasts. My face appears a bit windburned this morning.
We didn’t make it all the way to Berthoud Pass as we were concerned about returning before we lost the sun. Although the clouds were so thick at times the sky appeared to be near dusk at noon. I was comfortable warmth-wise with my gear selection but wish I would have added a balaclava to my Christmas REI wishlist. This is something I could use to guard my face from the wind. We stopped after four hours of hiking for what would mark our turn-around and ate lunch on the wind-protected side of the ridge. I inhaled my store-bought sandwiches. Wish I’d taken the time to have made my own sandwiches at home. I make the world’s best sandwiches. Well, at least this world’s best sandwiches. I’ve never been to Lamuella and don’t see it listed on Urban Spoon.
Leading on the way back, I discovered some ice by taking a 20 foot fall down a frozen waterfall. My bottom is still sore and bruised. I never panicked while sliding down the hill, but did have to roll a couple of times when faced with large rocks aimed between my legs.
We found ourselves once again eating at the Mountainbuzz Cafe & Pizzeria in Georgetown. This place has some incredibly satisfying pizza, paninis and calzones. And beer. Rob is pictured here showing me his bruised elbow from a fall he took on the ice on the trek up. Given the holiday schedule, we won’t likely make it back up to the high country until January. Should be enough snow pack for snow shoeing by then. And hopefully I’ll have a balaclava.
Nice Blog! I love reading about your outdoor excursions, and your insight into the weather is interesting.
I’ve been hiking a lot up in the mountains of my backyard, and thinking about you and the hike you took us on. I too have encountered some icy patches, and need some much better snow boots…also got a zip-up balaclava that I’m sure I’ll have to use come January.
Big Bear is supposedly the highest user of Fake Snow in the country, and I can tell why. We’ve been getting into the 50’s and 60’s in the day, but the snow-birds keep comin.
Ed Mahoney said:
A balaclava is in my future Cassie. If the ice doesn’t kill me first.