Bristlecone on Windy Ridge with storm cloudsStroll among the ancients.
Photo by Bob Sihler
Windy Ridge is little more than a smooth wrinkle of land rising at the toe of the long, gentle southeastern ridge of of Fourteener Mount Bross
. There are wonderful views to be had from this timberline perch, but it’s the presence of twisted old Bristlecone Pines that makes a visit to Windy Ridge so special.
The tilt of the gnarled old trees leaves little doubt with regards to the direction of the prevailing winds. It is estimated that the tress on Windy Ridge are approximately 1,000 years old, making them relative youngsters of a species that can live five times as long. (The oldest known Bristle Cone Pine once resided in Nevada and was estimated to be nearly 4,900 years old. However, now the oldest known of the species lives in California*.) The Bristlecone Pine Scenic Area was established by the US. Forest Service in 1964 to protect and showcase this beautiful grove of trees.
Trails Illustrated Map:
#109 (Breckenridge / Tennessee Pass
Rank and prominence information: Lists of John
*The following is courtesy of SP member Bob Sihler: The one in Nevada was cut down many years ago in order to determine its age (gotta love the irony). Currently, the oldest known living one is the Methuselah Tree in CA's White Mountains, and the FS does not reveal the exact location (probably a good idea).
"The oldest (non-clonal, acknowledged) living organism known is a bristlecone pine tree nicknamed "Methuselah" (after Methuselah, the longest-lived person in the Bible). Methuselah is located in the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest in the White Mountains of eastern California, however its precise location is undisclosed by the U.S. Forest Service to protect the tree from vandalism. The age of Methuselah was measured by core samples in 1957 to be 4,789 years old.
In the Snake Range of eastern Nevada Donald R. Currey, a student of the University of North Carolina, was taking core samples of bristlecones in 1964. He discovered that "Prometheus" in a cirque below Wheeler Peak was over 4,000 years old. His coring tool broke, so the U.S. Forest service granted permission to cut down "Prometheus". 4,844 rings were counted on a cross-section of the tree, making "Prometheus" at least 4,844 years old, the oldest non-clonal living thing known to man."
Getting There and Route Info
Mount Bross from Windy Ridge Bristlecone Pines on Windy RidgeDirections from Fairplay
Photo by sisyphus
From the junction Colorado Hwy 9 and US Hwy 285 in Fairplay, follow CO Hwy 9 north for about 6 miles to the town of Alma. In the middle of this small mountain town, turn left (across from a gas station) on Buckskin Gulch Road and head uphill to the west. Follow signs for Windy Ridge Bristlecone Pine Scenic area. Follow Buckskin Road for 2.8 miles to FS 787). Turn right on FS 787 and follow this forest road for almost 3 miles to the parking area near the Mineral Park mine. The road after this point becomes steeper and lower-clearance vehicles may wish to park here and walk uphill. If driving a high clearance vehicle, continue driving another 1/2 mile to the small dirt parking lot for the Bristlecone Pine Scenic Area. Some interpretive signage tells more about the trees and the Windy Ridge area.
Important Update: Per Diapensia, as of 2 September 2011, washouts along FS 787 make the road impassable for passenger cars. Their party was forced to park near Sawmill Creek due to a washed-out culvert and walk 1.3 miles to the upper parking area.
From this upper parking, the summit cairn of Windy Ridge is a short walk along a dirt path worn into the tundra. Head east from the high parking area to stroll across Windy Ridge, gawk at the gnarled, twisted old trees and touch the gentle summit.
A Windy Ridge Bristlecone Pine
Photo by sisyphus
Bowing before Silverheels
There are no fees for visiting the Windy Ridge Bristlecone Pine Scenic area. However, the roads leading to the parking are in many places public access roads through private land holdings. Please be mindful of public/private property boundaries and obey signs restricting public access to private land.
Camping & Lodging
Strolling along Windy Ridge Windy Ridge and Mount SilverheelsNational Forest Camping
While no developed National Forest campgrounds are available in the immediately Hwy 9 corridor near Alma, opportunities for rustic car-camping and backcountry camping are scattered about. Be forewarned that this area is popular with Colorado residents and tourists alike (expect crowds) and be aware that private property (mining claims) can be an issue.
Fairplay & Alma
On the south side of Hoosier Pass the communities of Fairplay and Alma provide a laid-back atmosphere and more reasonable prices for lodging. Fewer hotel rooms and lodges exist on this side of the pass, but privately-owned rental cabins can allow for ample privacy with all of the comforts of home.
Detailed information about lodging in Fairplay and Alma may be found here: http://www.coloradodirectory.com/parkcounty/
Blue River & Breckenridge
On the other side of Hoosier Pass, a wide variety of lodging options can be found in Breckenridge and Blue River, ranging from simple hotel rooms to luxury mountain retreats. Rates may be moderate in the shoulder season (spring and fall) and tolerable in the summer. Expect astronomical lodging rates during the winter ski season.
Detailed information on Breckenridge area lodging (including Blue River) may be found here: http://breckenridge.snow.com/info/winter/pb.ldg.asp
Weather & Seasons
A Bristlecone Pine hangs on for dear life
Photo by sisyphus
Mid- to late-Summer into early fall would be the prime time to visit Windy Ridge. The Forest Service access roads would be open, mostly free of snow and passable during the warmer months. Windy Ridge could certainly be visited in Winter and Spring, but deep snows and road closures would make for a longer journey. Be mindful of avalanche potential in the upper reaches of Dolly Varden Gulch, and keep in mind that Windy Ridge got its name for a reason: Cold winter winds could make Windy Ridge and unpleasant place to visit on a chilly day.