The 28th of April was the first Saturday of truly warm sunshine (70° in the city) without much snow left on the ground below timberline. Accordingly, it seemed like a good day to get in a good workout with more mileage and climb than I’ve been able to rack up in one piece since December. I decided to rectify my failure of the previous spring, and run Kineo Mtn. from 6,200 ft. This would require no use of a car (that anyone else in the household might need), so I could take whatever length of time was required.
I also wanted to get an accurate mileage figure for this route up Cheyenne Cañon via the Columbine Trail and the Seven Bridges Trail, and back to the summit via the west ridge. Alas, it was not to be. After turning on my GPS unit, and waiting…and waiting…and waiting, I got nothing but a display announcing “poor satellite reception.” I thought that this was awfully weird, as I couldn’t see a cloud in the sky and I was not deep in the cañon, but I couldn’t change it. All the same, I tucked the thing in my belt pack, hoping to turn it on with better results once I hit the summit, enabling me to measure the distance on the return trip.
I set off at about 10:15 MDT, and most of the way up the Columbine Trail I felt like the slowest thing on two legs. I made it to the Gold Camp Road parking lot (my starting point for all my previous summittings of Kineo) in 1:17, however. It wasn’t my best time for that leg, but not too bad, and I continued up the Road and then the Seven Bridges Trail with increased hopes for a relatively speedy climb.
A note on the Seven Bridges Trail: There are indeed seven bridges across North Cheyenne Creek in the first mile or so. Only six of them are still used, however. Bridge #3, which is located only a few yards upstream from Bridge #2, just at the point where the stream takes a major turn from running basically east to running basically south, is a disused alternative to #2. You can actually see it if you look, but the official folks have put brush and timber in the way to discourage its use. While there’s no good practical reason to use it (Bridge #2 is in much better condition), it’s easier to see on the way down, and will plop you back on the trail just below the other bridge. So, as it stands now, the odd numbered bridges move you from the north side to the south side of the creek, and the even numbered ones, ending with number six, move you from south to north. After all the crossings, you end up back on the north side of North Cheyenne Cañon, and the trail stays there, on the sunny side, until you get to the trail junction just below Jones Park.
On the way up, I met a single hiker with trekking poles descending, who asked me how far it was to the trailhead; he said he hadn’t come up that way. After running on a few steps, I stopped myself and re-hailed him, to find out by which route he had come up. Interestingly, he said that he had left the parking lot at 5 am to summit Mt. Rosa, and then descended off Rosa’s north slopes. This is a loop route which has been suggested to me, but which, to date, I have not tried. His report of waist-deep postholing made me just as happy that I hadn’t tried to attempt it this particular weekend, but he sounded like the possibilities for getting lost were minimal, despite the bushwhacking needed, so it’s definitely a possibility for the near future.
Near the junction, I encountered a few patches of quickly melting snow covering the trail. Farther up, past the junction but before I left the trail for the ridge climb, the snow was beginning to get a little more widespread, creating the usual melt-out palette of soft snow, slush, or muddy ground. Still, it was minimal, and I never regretted wearing only normal running shoes.
In half a dozen forays, I’ve never taken exactly the same route up the west ridge, or down it, twice. The timber makes seeing far ahead quite difficult, and there are several wisps of trails that don’t add up to much of anything. The general rule is just to proceed generally east and up, staying north of the ridge crest at least to begin with, to avoid the steep rock faces on the south side.
This time, however, I finally stumbled upon the best route, which offers a real, if faint, trail most of the way. After following a shallow draw east from the trail for a couple hundred vertical feet, a fairly strong trail leading up and south is encountered. If you can follow it, it will lead to a saddle west of the first major ridge point, then around the south side of this point, just below the rocks, before returning to the crest. From there, the mostly treeless area on the west side of the next ridge point is visible and easy to negotiate, with the trail continuing to be visible through most of it. The second point, too, is bypassed on the south side, and shortly thereafter, one finds oneself in the flat, but forested, area behind (north of) the summit block. A tiny bit of scrambling takes you to the top, where a vertiginous view of the cañon and the trail you have just ascended suddenly appears.
I got to the summit in 2 hours, 28 minutes, which I didn’t consider a bad time. I had also made it up the 2,000 feet from the parking lot in one hour and eleven minutes--not my best time, but then my best time was racked up by starting fresh at the parking lot. Here, as planned, I turned on the GPS unit, hoping for a distance figure. But even here, on the top of a mountain, under a totally cloudless sky, it told me it had “poor satellite reception.” Go figure.
I had originally intended simply to retrace my route down, as I had always done before. But, as I was leaving the parking lot on the way up, a new idea occurred to me. Thinking back to csmcgranahan’s trip report of a loop, I decided to try some exploring, and descend the east slopes of Kineo until I encountered the ridgetop trail which leads east toward Mt. Buckhorn. With the whole day at my disposal, I figured that the worst that could happen was that it would involve some bushwhacking and take a little longer than I had figured. If it turned out to be easier than this, then it would cut off some distance and allow me to get back in a good deal less time than my time up.
So, after five minutes on the summit, I dropped off to the east for a new adventure. I soon discovered that this side, too, features faint but useable sections of trail running more or less along the ridge crest. It’s fairly steep most of the way, and rock outcroppings have to be bypassed in several places, but the going was fast. In less than fifteen minutes I had rejoined the main trail. Then I set off for the two minor points (8,720 and 8,540 ft.) between Kineo and the gully which leads back down to the trailhead.
Both points provide nice views, and are easily negotiated. In less than an hour from the summit, I made it back to the parking lot. There I stopped briefly to eat a granola bar, before setting off on the final 4-mile leg of the trip. I guess my sleep the night before had been pretty crumby, because that last leg was annoying slow. Down near the bottom, however, I did encounter a couple on bicycles, and the woman asked me if I had gone “all the way.” I wasn’t quite sure which “all” she meant, so I said “Yes; I climbed Kineo.” She said she was impressed; I was tired and not setting any speed records at that point, but I put up a pretty good appearance of decent running form.
Overall, the trip took me 4 hours and 35 minutes, covered approximately 12 miles, and included about 3,500 feet of climbing, as descending the Columbine Trail involves some vertical gain--the summit is just about 3,300 feet above my home.