03 October 2016

Stardate 2016.759

Wunderbar! Autumn in the Sky!

Several days ago I had the opportunity to play hooky and ride up to Jones Pass in Colorado's Clear Creek section of the Front Range. This may have been my last altitude ride for the year, as winter is just around the corner. A classic Indian Summer day greeted me. Even better, I mostly had the high mountain basin and pass to myself.

Jones Pass is suspended at an elevation of 12,451 feet between Bobtail Benchmark (12,803 ft) to the north and unnamed Point 12,700 to the south. The Jones Pass road to the pass is well maintained. It also is very steep, narrow and loose. Some high clearance cars could make the grade. However, it's narrow in places and passing protocol might be a problem for some 4x4 drivers. During the snow months the road is used by a snow-cat operation ferrying backcountry skiers to the powdery goods in the high basin.

I got a bit of a late start due to helicopter operations on Berthoud Pass. Having a "thing" for helicopters – any aviation event for that matter – I really didn't mind the stop. For me, it was kind of a mini-airshow.

The day was rather rustic.

Clear weather was forecast for the day. However, "puffer" clouds did start building fast.

Steep, loose and up a constant grade, I would have liked one more tooth on my rear cassette gearing.

Jones Pass is top center of the following pic.

Fireweed is vibrant pinkish-red in life and snowy white in death.

Ta da – Jones Pass high atop the Continental Divide at 12,451 feet. I'm facing the Pacific Ocean.

Looking south along the Continental Divide Trail. The box in the lower center of the photo is a trailer with solar panels and antennae. I'm not sure what it is; perhaps it's a radio repeater of some sort. The skiff of snow seen on the north aspects was about one week old. Except for the year round drifts, the snow from the last storm melted fairly quick.

The distant serrated peaks rising behind the sunlit ridge in the foreground is the Gore Range. There may be some Mount of the Holy Cross peaks to the far left, as well. In between the Gore Range and Jones Pass is the Blue River, a major drainage and valley in this area.

The high points left to right are Pettingell Peak (13,553 ft; rank 219), Hagar Mountain (13,195 ft; rank 462) and Coon Hill (12,757 ft). Note: Rank is simply rank in elevation compared to other state peaks. Normally I rank only peaks above 13,000 feet of elevation.

From Jones Pass, the Front Range kind of steps to the east and continues north. To the northeast the Front Range encompasses the Indian Peaks and Rocky Mountain National Park (distant left in photo).

The northern end of the ridge that wraps around Bobtail Creek to Hager Mountain has some northerly snow. There's a nice little avalanche path at about the lower center of the photo. Actually, all the chutes above treeline (and many below) can be nice little avalanche paths. Colorado has a shallow and cold snowpack and is very dangerous in regard to backcountry travel and avalanche potential. We lose people yearly. I may do a blog post later down the road on Colorado avalanche characteristics.

I have no idea how this peak became known as Coon Hill. Perhaps it was a rabid raccoon tormenting climbers? I do know the peak is rather stately, piercing the sky at 12,757 feet.

Autumn is in full swing, and the lush, green alpine tundra (sing it Julie Andrews), sprinkled with myriad colors of flower, has turned to soft and warm earth-tones of varying color. It's an awesome time of year.

Despite expected incision from the small stream, the coniferous trees growing to the left of the stream appear to be growing on an ancient lateral moraine.

I love fall!

To the southeast rise Engelmann Peak (13,362 ft; rank 348), Robeson Peak (13,140 ft; unranked) and Bard Peak (13,641 ft; rank 176).

Unnamed point 12,316 makes for a good parting shot before entering the trees and coasting down to the pickup. A very good ride came to an end all too quickly. The ride was a stiff climb up to a scenic pass, even though the route is an occasionally graded 4x4 road. You'll earn this one.

More from the Pacific Northwest is on the docket. I hope you enjoyed this exploit. Thanks for reading.


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