“Let’s Hike… That One!”

We stood in the meadow, surveying our surroundings. Short shrubs brushed our ankles, taller aspens stood proudly around the edge of the meadow. Our tent rustled behind us in the slight breeze, and the bright sun cast a warm glow over everything around. And, of course, we were focused on the looming peaks that surrounded  the area. We were looking for an adventure, a summit, a goal.

Slowly turning, we examined each visible peak. “Too short”, “not steep enough”, and “it doesn’t even go above treeline!” were some of our critical comments.  There was one, however, that stood above the rest- its steep, conical peak loomed in the distance and it was bare of any trees for hundreds of feet. There was a small structure at the top, too far to discern what it was. It was perfect. And so, our goal was set by a simple exclamation of:

“Let’s hike… That one!”

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The peak we chose, it turned out, was Hahns Peak (one of the better known ones in the Steamboat Lake area). The structure at the peak was an old fire lookout tower. We made it our goal to reach it.

We set out early the next day to make it to the peak. Weather rolls in fast during the afternoons- a few innocent wisps can quickly turn into a dangerous storm. It was important we made it to the top and started down again before noon, because the highest peak in the area is a dangerous place to be if there’s any chance of lightning.

We had to drive up a slightly sketchy dirt road to the trailhead, but the three-car parking lot was full so we drove down the road to park. Which tacked on an extra mile to our hike.  It wasn’t too bad, though, and we were back up at the trailhead pretty quickly.

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We started off on the trail energetic and happy. Of course, between the hot temperature, the increasing altitude, and steep trail, this didn’t last too long. 🙂 However, it was broken up every now and then when there would be a break in the trees and we could see out over the valley. With each new opening, it became apparent how far up we had gone, as well as how much further we had to go.

The trail was also scattered with lovely wildflowers. There were so many, and of all different types!

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An hour of steep hills and loose dirt later, we neared treeline.

It was refreshing to get out of the dense forest and to be able to see the peak in the distance, as well as our campsite far below near the lake. What was disheartening was that the last ascent would definitely be the steepest and most difficult part of the hike, as it sloped up quickly to the peak.

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The lines crossing up and down the mountain appeared to be access roads, though they seemed to be overgrown and unused for quite a long time. It looked like the trail we were following headed towards the left of the peak (the less-steep side), so that was a relief.

As we neared the last of the low-growing trees and the air got thinner, we found a small building. It was the first man-made object we’d seen since we left the trailhead, and it was interesting to see it all the way up there in the middle of nowhere.

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Stepping out of the last trees, we noticed something was… off. The trail, the peak, were unlike anything I’d ever hiked before.

From the last tree all the way up to the peak, the ground was covered in cracked pieces of shale. After a while, even the dirt path between the stones disappeared. There was no set trail, really- Just some lines on the shale that were slightly more worn than others. We took that to mean that they’d been walked over many times, and decided the best course was to follow them up the mountain. The lack of path and the many different ways up the mountain resulted in each of us taking a different route to the peak through the shale.

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The steep incline and loose rock made it a slow ascent, but I was too mesmerized by the views and trail to notice. Every step we took sounded like walking on broken glass as the shale shifted under us. Each step we took got us a little closer to a full panoramic view. The lookout tower at the peak got bigger and bigger each minute.

At some points, the steep drop-off to each side got a bit dizzying. Looking out over the edge for too long would give you an unbalanced feeling, and I would have to turn my eyes back towards the ground and keep hiking to avoid falling over.

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The last little bit of trail to the lookout tower was a narrow path through the shale- well worn and lighter in color from all the people that had walked over it. Another group was milling around at the top, likely arrived just a few minutes before us.

I held back from the group a bit to turn around and get a photo of the ridge behind us as some clouds rolled over.

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The area around the lookout tower was smaller than it seemed, there was barely space for both groups to stand there without getting too close to the edges.

The views, however, were everything I expected them to be. Walking around the tower, you could get 360-degree views of everything around. We could see a plume of smoke in the distance from a wildfire, we could see the highway weaving through the valley, we could see our campsite by the lake. It was incredible.

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The clouds to the west were getting darker, though, so we only spent a little while at the top before heading back down. But the time we had up there at the peak was well worth the tiring hike.

When we got to the base, we were all excited and eager for the next time we could go on a similar hike. Maybe it’ll turn into a summer tradition!

My rating: 10/10. Would hike again. 🙂

-BlueSkyVail

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