This route is designed to avoid the avalanche danger posed by a concave feature above Jones Pass near the ridge crest of the Jones Pass Road summer route. The route leverages the Jones Pass road (or what can be found of the road under snow cover) for about 3 miles before veering from the road around 11,700 feet elevation to ascent Pt. 12,673. The route finishes with a ridge ride along the Continental Divide to Bobtail Benchmark. In the winter, the howling Continental Divide gales will take your breath away, but so will the wide-open views of surrounding high country.
Roundtrip Mileage: About 8 miles
Net Elevation Gain: 2,700 feet
From the town of Empire: Follow US Highway 40 west from Empire for 7.5 miles to the “Big Bend” of Hwy 40.
From the summit of Berthoud Pass: Follow US Highway 40 eastbound (you’ll actually be heading south from the pass) for almost 6 miles to the “Big Bend” of Hwy 40.
- Look for signs to “Big Bend Picnic Area”, exit Hwy 40 and head due west on the road following the West Fork Clear Creek.
- Stay on the main road (do not turn left on Woods Creek Road) for approximately 2 miles to a rough parking area on your left/south side of the road across from the humming Henderson Mine operation. (Do not continue to the Henderson Mine entrance gates.)
- Leave the parking area to the hum of the nearby Henderson Mining operation, heading due-west on the road.
- After about ¼ mile, stay straight on the main path (do not head right/north on the Henderson Spur to the Continental Divide Trail; do not head left/south on the Butler Gulch Trail.
- You may see signs for FS Road 144.
- Continue another mile to a junction of a road identified on some maps as County Road 202 which ascends West Fork Clear Creek. Stay on FS 144 as it sharply turns to the south-southwest rounding the 12,118 foot toe of a ridgeline.
- Continue along FS 144 until the Jones Pass Road heads sharply west toward Jones Pass at approximately 11,700 feet elevation. Leave the road here heading cross-country toward Pt. 12,673.
- The ascent begins gradually, and then steepens. The last quarter mile toward the top of unranked Pt. 12,673 is quite the lung-buster.
- From the top of Pt. 12,673, Bobtail Benchmark is just over ½ mile away. Turn left (south) from Pt. 12,673 to reach the summit. Depending on snowpack, you may be able to follow portions of the St. Louis Divide trail right to your benchmark.
- Look for a smallish cairn pile and a rustic concrete and rebar benchmark (not the more standard-issue metal USGS disk).
- After savoring the big-country views, return north along the Continental Divide to Pt. 12,673, taking care not to overshoot and head toward Pt. 12,666 as the two look incredibly similar (at least in winter).
Essential GearFor a winter ascent of Bobtail Benchmark using this route, you will want to have the following standard Colorado winter peak gear:
• Insulated winter boots
• Flotation (snowshoes or skis for use below the ridge)
• Bomb-proof windgear
• Insulating layers
• Goggles or glacier glasses
• Warm alpine mittens
• Balaklava or facemask
I did not find an alpine axe necessary for this route, but your own preference/experience may dictate otherwise.