Chief Mountain (11,709′) | Arapaho National Forest
Idaho Springs, CO | 05/18/19 | 3.36 miles | 1,043′ gain
We had time Saturday for just a short hike so I picked Chief Mountain. I’d actually done this hike a few years ago with a women’s hiking group, but was excited to do it again. So far this year, I haven’t had much luck summiting anything above treeline. It’s not always my fault, but I was still feeling pretty crappy about it. I knew I would be successful on Chief Mountain since the hike is pretty short and easy, plus the summit is JUST above treeline.
I set out late Saturday morning with Kyle and Lady, expecting a full lot at 9:30am. We were surprised to see only 3 other cars, unusual for as busy a trail as this one. We found the start of the trail in the snow (thanks to my AllTrails map) and set out.
The trail starts out in the forest and slowly winds its way up the mountain. The incline is steady the entire way, gaining 1000′ in only 1.5 miles. The trail was snowy through the forest, but well boot-packed and easy to travel.
After a half mile or so, we came to an area I called Post-hole City. We had had a hard freeze the night before so we could walk on top of the snow, but others before us had post-holed 1-3 feet deep. After a short distance, our “trail” started to head downhill and became less traveled. I knew that the trail shouldn’t go downhill, so I checked my map and of course we were going the wrong way. We backtracked through Post-hole City and realized where we made our mistake. There was a large patch of bare ground in a clearing and we should have kept right instead of going left. After a quick look around, we found the correct trail (without ANY post-holes) and continued on. We were glad to finally be on the right trail, but annoyed that we lost 15 minutes going the wrong way.
We reached treeline after another half mile and battled the wind the rest of the way. We no longer had trees to block the wind and it was STRONG! I was even knocked off balance a few times.
The trail above treeline was completely bare of snow and very easy to follow. We made much better time on the dirt trail than we did through the ice and snow.
As we climbed higher, we were treated to views of surrounding peaks. We were considering climbing a neighboring peak called Squaw Mountain as well, but ultimately decided we shouldn’t as we had already gotten a late start. (And if you’re not convinced of this area’s theme, there is also a small peak in between Squaw & Chief called Papoose.)
A few switchbacks later, we were almost to the summit! There was a bit of snow at the top, but it was easy to traverse. We tried to follow the footsteps but ultimately just picked the way that made the most sense to us.
There is a bit of scrambling required at the top, but we were able to find an easy route that I would still consider to be Class 2. We quickly made our way up and were treated to gorgeous views of Mount Evans. And we had the entire summit to ourselves! I snagged a few pictures and then we found a spot out of the wind for a snack.
As we enjoyed our wind-free snack, a few other groups of people neared the summit. A pair of girls asked for advice on the best way to get to the top as Lady and their dog became best friends. After our short break, we put our microspikes on for the descent. The ascent wasn’t too bad, but going downhill on snow and ice is always more slippery.
Now that we knew where the trail was, we were able to descend very quickly. We passed a few more people heading up, but nothing like the last half mile. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many people in one section of trail in my entire life! It seemed like they all started at the exact same time, and many of them definitely weren’t hikers. We were glad to get the heck out of there!
Another storm is coming through this week and could dump another 12-20″ of snow in the mountains. Will it ever end!? Looking forward to summer in the alpine tundra.