Table Iron (12,060’), Iron Mountain (12,265’), Flat Top Mountain (11,355’) Hikevia Trap Park
8:10 am – 4:07 pm
Joe and Frédérique Grim
We left Fort Collins early, hoping to get to Trap Park early enough to see some moose. When we arrived at the Trap Park trailhead, we could tell 3 of the 5 five vehicles there had been there overnight, as they were covered in frost. Despite the cool air, the warm sun and calm wind allowed me to hike with only a t-shirt and pants. Frédérique had to dress up more, but not for long.
The hike up the old road to Trap Park was pleasant; as we climbed up through the boulder field we could see the high peaks of the Medicine Bow Range to the northwest, as well as a glimpse of Trap Lake below to the east. Most of the first mile was uneventful as we paralleled Trap Creek through the forest.
As we came around a corner, we got our first glimpse of Trap Park. It was so beautiful with the willow-bordered stream flowing through the park, surrounded by rustic evergreen forest, and ringed with sharp cliffs. From this vantage point we could see two of the peaks we would summit that day, Flat Top Mountain to the east and Iron Mountain at the far end. They looked so stark and rugged rising above this peaceful valley.
Unfortunately, we didn’t see any moose as we hiked along the old road for the next hour to the south end of the park. The hiking was very easy as our net elevation gain was only 100 feet from one end of the park to the other.
The trail continued into the woods following Trap Creek, but became more and more faint until eventually we lost it altogether. As we were following the stream I suddenly heard a deep "huff". I asked Frédérique if she had heard it too, but she hadn't, so I told her that there likely was a large animal nearby, a moose I was guessing, because the tone of the huff was similar to that I would expect from a horse. After looking around for a minute or so, I spotted a cow moose 20 yards away in the shade and pointed it out to Frédérique, and took a zoomed in photo as well. Since she was right in the direction we wanted to go, we made a roundabout hike around where she was and discovered that the reason she wasn't happy was because there was a calf with her too.
We continued upstream until we reached the point I had marked on my GPS that we should follow one of the drainages to the west. Suddenly the ascent became much steeper and we slowed down accordingly. As we worked our way above timberline, I tried to find the route that took us across the most vegetation, as the barren ground was covered with loose gravel. The final push to the summit of Table Iron was on the steepest terrain we would encounter that day, and to better avoid the loose gravel and rocks that marked nearly every route up, we opted to climb up to and along a large rock outcrop. The outcrop was composed of crumbly rock so we took turns advancing, making sure the other wasn’t immediately below. At the end of the steep ascent we encountered strong winds (~40 mph) on what was a surprisingly flat summit. We signed the summit register, the first ones to do so since April of this year!
After taking a few photos, we descended down along the ridge to the southeast to the saddle with Iron Mountain. Along the way, I happened to glance back and see a natural arch formation jutting out of the west side of the ridge. All along the ridge, the wind was blowing hard and continued to do so as we ascended up Iron Mountain. Once again, the ground was covered by loose gravel and rocks, so our ascent was slow and deliberate. At a rock outcrop a little below the summit, we stopped to get out of the strong wind to eat our lunch. It was a pleasant lunch, albeit a bit cool (45°) in the shaded lee side of the outcrop, as we enjoyed the view down on Trap Park far below.
After lunch, it took us another 20 minutes to make it up to the top of Iron Mountain and surprisingly lighter winds. The views from its summit were even more spectacular than the last! We could see all the nearby named peaks in the Neota Wilderness: Table Iron, Bald Mountain, Flat Top Mountain, Thunder Mountain and Mount Neota. We could also see plenty more distant peaks in other ranges: Mummy, Medicine Bow, Snowy, Park and Never Summer. In the Never Summers we could see the American Lakes and Snow Lake at their base.
The traverse to Flat Top Mountain was very easy, as most of the way was a gradual downhill. We generally followed the ridgeline, while rounding any areas where it climbed a little to avoid gaining any elevation we would have to lose. About 3/4ers of a mile before reaching the summit of Flat Top, the ridge drops below timberline, which was pleasant after having been out in the cool wind for quite a while. We mainly followed what appeared to be animal trails through the wooded area, then made the last 250 foot ascent up to Flat Top. After the previous two peaks we did this day, this one was a lot tamer, but it was still worth bagging for sure.
After hanging out on the summit for a few minutes, we backtracked a bit and headed down the southwest side of the mountain. It was a bit steep at first, but since we stayed in the trees, we had them to hold onto to help descend more easily. At the end of the steep part, we encountered what appeared to be two parallel running social trails, so we took the more well-worn one which eventually merged with the other, and followed it for about the next mile, as it slowly descended as it headed north-northeast. We decided it was most likely a well-worn animal trail, as it branched frequently and would pass through branches right in between trees where nearly all people would go around. Eventually, we cut off this path, as it was starting to veer away from the park, and headed steeply downhill. This part of the hike was slow-going, as we had to weave around a lot of fallen timber and marshy areas where water was seeping out of the mountainside.
Arriving back at the park, we followed a social trail along the east side until it rejoined the main trail. We turned around and took one last photo of the park, with Flat Top jutting up in the background, then headed down the last mile of the trail to our car. It was a great hike and one I will likely do again one day.