Nokhu Crags is an interesting outcropping of craggy spires located on the northern end of the Never Summer Mountain Range in northern Colorado. Nokhu Crags are named after a shortened Arapahoe name, Neaha-no-xhu, which means "Eagles Nest." It is easy to see how they could inspire such a name. With their forbidding looking towers, and their dominant perch over both Lake Agnes and American Lakes they certainly look like they would make an excellent perch for eagles.
Nokhu Crags separate American Lakes (also known as Michigan Lakes—the name was recently changed and most maps do not yet reflect this) on the east and Lake Agnes on the west. Nokhu Crags are on the terminal, north end of a ridge that connects Static Peak, Mount Richthofen
(12,940’), Tepee Mountain (12,568’), Lead Mountain (12,537’), Mount Cirrus (12,797’), Howard Mountain (12,810’), Mount Cumulus (12,725’), Mount Nimbus (12,706’), Mount Stratus (12,532’), and ending in Baker Mountain (12,397’). This long chain of mountains forms a natural boundary between Rocky Mountain National Park on the east and Never Summer Wilderness on the west.
The crags are made of several spires. There are two that are significantly taller than the others. Of these the northern spire is slightly higher and more difficult than the southern one. According to Gerry Roach, it is not reasonable to climb from one to the other because the ridge between the two summits contains some large, rotten cliffs. On my attempt I focused on the southern spire. One way to get to the southern spire is to hike up through the American Lakes basin to the saddle that separates Static Peak and Nokhu Crags. From the saddle, scramble as far as you like in amongst the crags. Another route that looks feasible is the eastern ridge from the American Lakes region. A third possibility is to come from the Lake Agnes side via the summit of Mount Richthofen
. A straight ascent from Lake Agnes may be possible, but it does not look like fun (straight up an unrelentingly steep slope of loose talus). I’ve read that a long, enjoyable, loop hike can be made by parking your car at Crags Campground, summiting Richthofen
, then continuing along the ridge over Static Peak to Nokhu Crags, and then descending back to your car via American Lakes Trail. All of these routes are at least a class 3+, maybe more difficult.
To get to the northern spire, you might try starting at Crags Campground, crossing Upper Michigan Ditch, and continuing up the slope toward the crags. Crossing Upper Michigan Ditch might be a chore during the summer because it runs chest deep and is roughly 15’ across (too far to jump). Gerry Roach calls this North Face Route a class 4.
The rock that makes up Nokhu Crags is really crummy. It is falling apart and with every step you have to be very careful that your hand and footholds will not pull away. Kicking down rock is a constant worry and is almost unavoidable in many situations. Luckily this area is rarely climbed, so there is not much worry of other climbing parties dislodging rocks that may fall on you. However, a helmet would probably be a good idea, especially if you’re going to climb this mountain with other people.
When I hiked into the area I did not reach the summit, but turned around when I got to the saddle between Static Peak and Nokhu Crags. Nevertheless, I thought I had enough info to make a decent Summitpost page. If you’ve reached the summit and would like to be the maintainer of this page, let me know and I’d be happy to arrange the transfer.
Death on Nokhu Crags:
Fort Collins High Schooler, Kevin Iyer, died 11/29/03 while attempting a winter ascent of Nokhu Crags from the Lake Agnes area. He, and two other boys, were ill-equiped for the attempt and Iyer slipped on some gravel and fell to his death. Rescuers had not recovered the body by the morning of 12/1/03 because conditions were too dangerous. For more details click on this link to the Coloradoan article: http://www.coloradoan.com/news/stories/20031201/news/743127.html
Car camping is available at Crags Campground in Colorado State Forest at the foot Nokhu Crags on the north side.
Camping in the backcountry is allowed at long as campsites are 200' from any significant body of water (fires are not allowed in the backcountry). There are many great campsites in the American Lakes basin. However, this area is very popular so expect to share it with many other campers. When I was there on July 26th I shared the area with at least four other groups of campers.
Fishing in the area is excellent! The American Lakes are full of cutthroat trout. When I got there I already had a little beadhead zugbug tied onto my line so I tossed it out there and immediately started pulling in fish. I fished all day with the same fly and had no reason to change it. I must have caught 20 fish that afternoon and almost every one of them was over 10".
The fish were rising like mad too, so I'm sure I would have done equally well on dry flies. There were other people there fishing on lures and they looked to be doing just about as well as I was.
I talked with a guy that was fishing Snow Lake. He was using dry flies and got skunked that particular day. However, he said he’d been coming up to Snow Lake for many years and often caught trout as big as 18” in Snow Lake.
American Lakes Trailhead in Colorado State Forest:
Most will approach the trailhead from the east. From Interstate 25, take the Fort Collins exit for Highway 14, also denoted as a Colorado Scenic Byway. Proceed west on 14 through town, following the signs, which is not complicated. At "Ted's Place," is the junction with Highway 287. Measure from this point, although the signage along the highway is very clear. It is 62 miles to the turn off for Lake Agnes and American Lakes. This turn off is 2 miles west from the top of Cameron Pass. This left turn is well marked.
Once you've dropped into the valley, you'll need to stop at a fee station. See the RED TAPE section. The area and mountain you are about to experience are certainly worth the small fee.
Proceed up the road, staying left. In less than a mile you’ll run into a gate and the parking area at the trailhead.
Nokhu Crags are in the Colorado State Forest, which is a fee area. Day use fees are $5.00 per vehicle. The one-day pass expires at noon the following day so if you’re planning on a one night backpacking trip the one-day pass will work for you as long as you’re back to your car by noon the next day. Camping at the Crags Campground requires an additional fee. For more information contact Colorado State Forest.
When To Climb/Mountain Conditions
To avoid large amounts of snow, Nokhu Crags is best climbed July through October. However, climbing in the winter might be a good idea because hopefully the snow will cover and freeze over the miserable rock. The area is also a popular destination for wintertime snowshoeing and backcountry skiing.
For up-to-date mountain conditions try contacting Colorado State Forest. The following weather forecast gives info for the town of Gould, Colorado which sits in North Park on the west side of Cameron Pass.
Contact Colorado State Forest
Colorado State Forest State Park
2746 County Road 41
Walden, Colorado 80480
History of Colorado State Forest
"North Park - a beautiful, circular valley of 30 miles in diameter, walled in all around with snow mountains, rich with water and with grass, fringed with pine on the mountain side beneath the snow line, and a paradise to all grazing animals"
- John C Fremont June 15, 1844
North Park and Colorado State Forest State Park remains a paradise today more than 150 years after Fremont's expedition. The history of State Forest State Park is as broad and diverse as the North Park Valley, dating back 10,000 years when American Indians began making the area their summer home because of its rich diversity in wild game. North Park was known to the tribes as the "Bull Pen" or "Cow Lodge" because geographically the area resembled a large pen. Mountains on all sides confined the multitudes of elk, antelope, mountain buffalo (now extinct) mule deer and other animals. But tribes seldom lived in North Park permanently, migrating over the Yampa Valley or the Ft. Collins plains for summer hunting. The tribes believed North Park was no place to remain once winter descended. Someday, they believed, the whole valley would fill rim to rim with snow. For those who live in the area year-round, it's not hard to imagine!
By the time trappers and gold miners arrived on the scene, the most frequent tribes were the Ute and the Arapahoe with Crow, Sioux and Cheyenne tribes dropping in from the plains. Many of the names in North Park and State Forest State Park can be traced back to American Indian sources. For instance, the Nokhu Crags are named after a shortened Arapahoe name, Neaha-no-xhu, which means "Eagles Nest." The full name of Seven Utes Mountain means, "Where the Arapaho Killed Seven Utes." The Utes called themselves "People of the Shining Mountains" and mountains were central to their spirituality and way of life. The State Forest State Park lies along the western boundary of the Medicine Bow mountain range where friendly tribes would often meet to fashion bows and arrows after asking the spirits of the mountains to bless them. Sadly, two of three Ute reservations lie in desert terrain, a great distance from their original homelands.
The Arapahos and Utes considered themselves enemies and many battles took place in North Park over plentiful hunting grounds, which both tribes claimed as their own. But more well known are the early battles between the American Indians and settlers who came to trap, mine and ranch in the area as early as 1817. It was at this time that the Chateau and De Munn expedition entered North Park for trapping. The number of beavers in North Park coupled with the value of their pelts worn as hats by Europeans. Jim Bridger and Jim Baker were among those trappers who followed the trails to North Park. Others were Andrew Sublette and Louis Vasquez with a party of 32 men in1839, Fraob and Gervais of the Rocky Mountain Fur Company in 1830 and Jaques LaRamine of the Northwest Fur Company, also, in 1830. In 1841, Kit Carson entered the region on a trapping expedition.
Jacques Laramie, a French-Canadian employed by the Northwest Fur Company, trapped on the North Platte and then made his way up the Laramie River which, among other places, was named after him. After entering onto an American Indian battleground on the river, he was killed and found dead in the cabin he'd built.
Robert Chambers, the namesake of Chambers Lake, met an equally gruesome end during one of his trapping trips in the 1850's. He sent his son down Poudre Canyon for more ammunition. When his son returned, he found his father scalped and dead, lying along the lakeshore where he had camped, killed by Indians who resented the settler's hunting practices.
One of the strangest North Park stories is about a famous trapper named "Pegleg" Smith who was attacked by American Indians in North Park in 1827 and, during the battle, was shot through the leg with an arrow. His companions were unwilling to amputate his leg and so Smith, taking up a butcher knife, did the job himself. Once he fully healed, he then constructed a wooden leg, which he wore for the rest of his life.
The first major settlement in North Park was the town of Teller City on Jack Creek where silver was discovered. The population of the town exploded from 300 in 1879 to 1,882 in 1882. The town boasted a large hotel, newspaper, blacksmith, post office, store and 14 or more saloons. But the ore was too expensive and difficult to process and ship out over the high mountain passes, and soon folks were leaving as fast as they came. They say families deserted their rustic cabins so quickly they left dirty dishes on the table. In 1886, the post office was discontinued. Many of the buildings were moved to present day Rand or salvaged to build new structures, leaving only a few foundations and old gas logs scattered about.
With the number of trappers and miners settling in the North Park area, the herds of wild game began to disappear substantially, causing strife between settlers and American Indians who depended on them for their way of life. Gold was discovered by Fremont's party on Independence Mountain at the north end of the park and, once word got out, many men descended on the site and began placer mining. In 1870, Chief Piah and Chief John came and ordered the miners to leave, declaring the gold Ute property. Then, on July 4, 300 Arapahoe and Cheyenne arrived on the scene and massacred six miners, blaming the attack on the Utes.
North Park also played a part in the Meeker Massacre of 1879. After Nathan C. Meeker failed to convince the White River Utes to convert to agrarian ways, plowing under their race track and requiring their children to receive a white man's education, a battle ensued, resulting in the death of all male employees, including Meeker. Fleeing into the mountains, one Ute faction spent a winter in lodges built by North Park near the North Sand Hills. The event was one of the final bloody duels between the U.S. government and American Indians. At the orders of Gov. F.W. Pitkin, who declared "it will be impossible for the Indians and whites to live in peace hereafter," the Utes were removed from their lands onto reservation in southern Colorado and Utah.
After the removal of the tribes from the North Park region, more settlers began to arrive and the area rapidly developed. The Cameron Pass toll road was completed in 1880. In 1886, the LaFever sawmill began operation in the Gould area. Copper was discovered at the north end near Big Creek Lake and the town of Pearl was founded in 1900. That same year, Zimmerman's Keystone Hotel also opened in the Poudre Canyon. The Michigan Ditch was completed in 1907 and in 1914 the first water was diverted from the Laramie River through the tunnel into the Cache La Poudre River.
The history of the State Forest begins with a history of the lumber industry. In 1939, the state awaited the land and won the town of Gould and the Bockman Lumber Came built schools, each school capable of holding 30 to 65 children. A post office and gas station/hotel was also built in Gould whose population peaked at 300 in 1949.
During the early 1930's, two Civilian Conservation Corps Camps were built on the state land. The camp south of Gould was later converted into a Prisoner of War Camp during WWII for Germans as well as American conscientious objectors. The German Prisoners of War were used as timber laborers. In the spring of 1945, a few prisoners escaped the camp and broke into E.B. Shawver's summer home. They had maps drawn of plans to escape to Mexico, but were discovered the next morning, having had too much to drink from the wine cabinet the night before and were walked back to camp barefoot.
After the German POW's left, the cabins were used as a 4-H camp and by various other groups in the summer.
In 1957, the State Park Board recognized the recreational value of the area and in 1970, Colorado State Forest became a park. Since then it has become a popular year round recreational area, luring visitors all over the globe to hike, mountain bike, fish, hunt, ski and snowmobile in what locals call "God's Country." Colorado State Forest is unique from other State Parks in that it is used as a multiple-use area to generate money. Under the land trade agreement of 1938 and under state law, the park is designated as a source of revenue for Colorado's public schools. Aside from outdoor recreation, the land has also continued to be used for timber cutting and cattle grazing.
Most recently, the town of Walden has been designated the Moose Viewing Capital of Colorado after the release of 38 moose in the Laramie River Valley and at another location near Rand in 1978. Because of the willowy habitat in North Park, the moose population has increased to as much as 600. A Moose Visitor Center was built on Hwy 14 near Gould to educate the public about viewing moose and other native wildlife in their natural habitat. The park has also renovated some of its historic cabins for rental by the public and boasts a unique yurt system beloved by backcountry skiers and snowshoers who use the canvas structures for winter shelter. With its wild history and even wilder scenery, the State Forest State Park continues to enthrall visitors with its thriving, enduring and diverse natural and historic wonders.
This article was found on the following web page: http://parks.state.co.us/secure/intranet/Library/Admin/History%20of%20Colorado%20State%20Forest%20State%20Park.doc