September is Colorado at its best. Similarly the region served by the Fourth of July Trailhead is also Colorado at its best. The two together, well, let’s just say they never disappoint. I have a soft spot in my heart for this area since it was the first place I ever got above 10,000′, so I get certain yearnings if I don’t visit every so often. Since winter could descend at any moment, locking off this region behind five miles of additional approach each way, we made getting up there a high priority. Neither Michele nor I was feeling all that ambitious, so we settled on a nice mellow hike (yes, hike, not run for once). But despite the best intentions, neither one of us really has a mellow gear.
We set a brisk pace up the well-worn trail to Arapaho Pass and Lake Dorothy. The last gasps of summer clung in a few patches of wildflowers around small waterfalls (it’s been an astonishing year for flowers), but the shrubbery at 11,000′ was turning dark red and a light dusting of snow from last week lingered in the shadows and at the highest elevations. Thinking of last year’s exploration beyond Caribou Pass, we pressed on over the impressive and precipitous trail cut into the steep north shoulder of Mount Neva. This is a simply sublime trail to run and I ran a few hundred yards just for old time’s sake, but quickly remembered the day’s mellow mantra.
From the broad, barren Caribou Pass, we struck out into new terrain: Satanta Peak (11,979′). Satanta is not what you’d call a major peak, but for some reason it shows up prominently on Google Maps and I was curious to see if they knew something I didn’t. The summit itself was a forgettable tundra hump, but running north-east from the summit was a short ridge armored with various rock towers. We scrambled along happily to the final tower and took in the views. Perhaps the Google people did know something the geographers don’t, because the position was fantastic and the view of the big peaks to the north east better still.
Next, we dropped 900′ down steep tundra to Caribou Lake (lovely) and climbed another 900′ up approximately 20 switchbacks back to Arapaho Pass. Off-trail travel automatically renders a trip at least moderately sporting, but we figured that tagging the adjacent Quarter to Five Peak wouldn’t make our trip much less mellow than it already was.
But, of course, it turned out to be a good deal hairier than we’d expected with some nice scrambling required to get to our second excellent summit of the day. The 1000′ descent to south-west to the main trail looked unappealing, so we pressed on down a nice tundra meadow toward the broad wall of the Arapahos… only to find ourselves well and truly cliffed out on all sides.
We half-heartedly started down a steep scree route that looked like it would go, but I chickened out after a few dozen yards and we retreated back over the summit to the unpleasant but safe descent we’d spurned earlier. So it turned out to be not so mellow as we’d planned, especially for a guy recovering from some sort of nasty cold. But no day in the mountains is wasted, especially one in good company on new mountains. I’ve paid my yearly respects to the Fourth of July area and am content to close out my summer season.