While Winter Park is bustling when the snow is falling, the Summer season is perfect for all of us searching for a quiet mountain getaway. Whatever outdoor activity it is that suits your fancy, we’ve got it here. No crowds, unbeatable sunsets, and good old fashioned wide open space…. did I mention it’s free too? Ok, well maybe not all of it, but it sure is a good deal.
One of these killer bargains (free) is the hike to the top of Byer’s Peak. If you’re in the mood to get your heart rate up, have decent hiking shoes and enjoy a bird’s eye view of the Rockies, this one’s for you!
So last week my boyfriend (Dace) and I set out to conquer the 5 mile route up to the peak. We opted to bike 1.8 miles from the new trailhead to the original trailhead from the Forest Service gate. This steady climb was immediately followed by a lengthy “water break” when we reached the end of the road and the start of the original trail. The first 1.8 mile stretch has been recently closed by the forest service to motor vehicles due to the impact on the wilderness area. They do allow bikes on it up to the original trailhead, and have even placed a bike rack to which you can lock your bikes, if you so desire. From here on to the top is a hiking only trail. So, after our break and with no other people in sight, we headed up.
About 30 minutes up we stopped in a clearing to take in the view and try out our aim. We then spent a good 15 minutes hurling small rocks over an 80 foot gap in attempt to hit 2 rusty oil drums in the brush below. I got soooo close but it was Dace’s rock that eventually gave that satisfactory “dinng!!!”. Victory!
A steadily ascending, root filled path eventually gave way to tree line, with the summit in sight. The wind was whipping around us and I noticed the ground was moving. At first I think I’m seeing things, but then we get closer and realize the movement is a bunch of Ptarmigans pecking at the ground, like chickens in a barnyard. 10, 12, 0r 14 of the greyish-brown birds were covering the side of the trail, blending in and out of the mountainside. I’m really feeling the increase in elevation now and simultaneously realize how hungry I am. A cheeseburger is in order after climbing to nearly 13,000 ft, yes indeed.
On the verge of the last push up a particularly rocky section, we spot a family of mountain goats hanging out on a rocky precipice. One of them actually passes us quite close, pauses, and with an unconcerned look walks back towards the others.
They look really warm (which thankfully I am too because I remembered my windbreaker). So we push ahead and I think about the hot chocolate I may have before my burger. Shortly after, we reached the summit and took in the amazing 360 degree view of the Rockies. The sun was shining and we were feeling pretty lucky to be in our own backyard.
The descent cruised by and we made a beeline for the barbeque grill. For those of you who have yet to go, we highly recommend it because it’s worth the work and will make the burger that much better!
Sarah September 18th, 2008