Environment,  Hiking the U.S.,  out and about

High Elevation Hiking in Colorado – McCullough Gulch

Breckenridge is a cool little town with all the amenities a couple of west-coastified vegantarians could want. Good food, several coffee shops with great coffee,  lots of awesome brew pubs and tons of outdoor activities year round.

We may not ski or snowboard, yet, but the area has more to offer than just a world famous 13,000 foot peak – for one, hiking (while it’s still snowless), the things I mentioned above, and about 300 inches of snow to play in all winter.

Our first weekend here we were ready to explore the area. After taking a trip to Denver on Saturday (80 miles each way) to look for a truck – a trip which turned out to be a disaster, we happily found a hiking trail on Sunday to make up for the 60+ hours of sitting at computers and truck seats we do every week.

There were tons of trails to choose from in the area so any was as good as the next as far as we knew- but based on its general description, McCullough Gulch Trail was one of the most interesting and fairly moderate.

On the way to the trail, the aspens, bright yellow and scattered throughout the pines like sunshine in a swamp, lined the scenery like a  cartoon gateway to the stony, rocky mountains we pursued. The road itself was riddled with potholes but nothing deadly, and several areas were lined with cars where other trails, hiking and ATV, were located along the way.

Mccollugh Gulch Road
Mccollugh Gulch Road

The elevation had already been taking a toll on my lungs over the week so I didn’t know what a climb up to 10k feet would feel like (Breckenridge is already around 9k). The trail is only about 3 miles round trip but full of steep inclines and a more than a couple surprises.

At first I had some trouble breathing. We’ve been hiking all summer so my legs were ready for the job but my lungs have always been weak. It was frustrating not being tired but not being able to breath. Considering I wear pretty much whatever I want when I hike (aka neither of us wear the “hikers uniform”…), I felt like a serious amateur –  knowing I could hike the trail without incident if it were about 5000 feet lower, but looking like I’ve never hiked before. After we got about a half a mile in, something changed or kicked in and I didn’t need to stop as often and had no problems the rest of the way up or down.

First part of the trail
First part of the trail

At first the trail seems uneventful (aside from the awesome views of course) wide and well worn, but soon enough you come to a great little wood bridge, and a small cabin with a couple of flags outside. When we were there, there was a box truck (like a uhaul) next to the bridge and cabin and a man making repairs to.. some structure with pipes (haha, me construction worker). The trail had been wide but it was hard to imagine the truck making it up there safely, but it had made it – even around one corner on the trail that was nearly hairpin and had trees on the cliff side that a truck would probably hit trying to turn. Slightly confused and curious, we continued on and the natural part of the trail began – also known as “the part with way less people”.

This part of the trail is riddled with rocks, roots and numerous ups and downs – you pass small watering holes and, in our case, dried up creeks, and see random traces of (like… scat) animals. Neon yellow lichen is scattered over the stony hillside and, my favorite, gnarled trees, are scattered about like a small hurricane hit Sleepy Hollow (gallery).

After a while you come to a mini cliff – that we choose to go over rather then through – it’s so mini, you can just go around without incident – after that you come to a small valley of rocks, another place we stood in wonder, trying to imagine how the rocks got there. Behind you is a large mountain but between you and the mountain is a flat area – in front of you is a ravine that leads to the base of the mountain in front of you so the chances of a landslide seemed null – maybe the miners? Anyway – from there we could hear the waterfall and by that time, we were not going back and missing it so we ambled over the stones – about watermelon size and grey, avoiding twisted ankles with more ease than expected.  Sometimes I think I’m older and more fragile than I am – but usually it’s just the opposite and I hurt myself trying to scramble up some cliff or jumping down 3 feet farther than my spine can handle.

After the valley of stones the water became louder and we came to a strange wavy hillside/mountain side. The whole area was a grey stripey stone that swirled and waved like nothing I’d seen. Again we wondered how that had happened, it’s obvious I need some geology books..

From here we could finally see the waterfall, which apparently leads to a glacial lake. Had it not been nearly dark already we would have continued on but having no light of any kind and temps below freezing at night, we didn’t need to be the next people in the area on the evening news – missing and presumed dead.

Ross and Waterfall

Although the trail is marked easy/moderate we started the hike near several people with kids, and by the time we reached the first lookout, we left them all behind. It’s not a difficult hike per say but your kid will bust their lip if you know what I mean.

The walk down was an ease after the climb up and we ended up the second to last vehicle at the trail head.

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