Fall in the Moutains

Several of the neighbors have been suggesting we take a drive over towards Cripple Creek and see the aspen trees in their fall colors. We decided to incorporate that idea with a hike I have been wanting to make on the western slopes of Pikes Peak. South of Divide along Highway 67 almost to Cripple Creek is the trailhead for Horse Thief Falls (HTF) and Pancake Rocks. HTF is the more popular hike but I’ve seen plenty of falls lately and since it seems to predominately stay in a narrow valley I didn’t figure there would be much of a “view” and I was definitely after a “view” so I could try out my new telephoto lens.

The Pancake Rocks trail veers off to the right about 2/3’rds of the way up HTF trail and commences a steady steep climb up the north side of the mountain. The trail is in good condition, pine needle covered, and it makes you think of the Energizer bunny… it just keep going and going and going. Up that is!
Parts of the trail were still snow covered and over all there is a 1,200 ft elevation gain before you break out of the forest through a small saddle at the top. There is a great resting spot right there if you veer off-trail to the west you will find some rocks that provide your first views of the valley to the west and a much needed rest.

The trail now wanders along the side of the mountain through the aspen and fir trees with plenty of open space to enjoy the views. There are a number of places that look like great camping spots. We met another couple coming back along the trail and we stopped to visit with them for a moment. They were a little disappointed as they were not quite sure whether they had actually seen Pancake Rocks or not. We pressed on and soon got to the the point they were describing. I saw some rock formations that “might” have been Pancake Rocks but the trail passes through a small saddle at that point and begins to descend. I knew from studying my topo map that Pancake Rocks was definitely a high point that should have provided an awesome view to the south and west. The answer, it seemed, was not to be found by obediently following the trail.

I back-tracked to the top of the saddle and we left the trail climbing a short ways to the ridgeline on the west. The trees quickly gave way to a beautiful flat-topped granite rock area extending a 1/4 mile to the south. This was, without a doubt, Pancake Rocks. The sun was shining, and it’s heat felt wonderful in the cool autumn air. The view was awesome. Quite a panaroma, looking south toward Cripple Creek, then off to the west and northwest you could just make out the snow-capped peaks of the Continental divide some 50 miles away. And below, in the valley was the vivid yellow/orange coloring of the aspen trees.

We hopped, and scrambled across the top taking pictures and discovering; a perfect tent spot sheltered between some of the larger rock formations that was flat and covered in soft grass, pools of rainwater/snowmelt in little basins on top of the rocks (perfect for thirsty mountain dogs). Abby is getting to be reasonably competent at getting around on the rocks although she still needs help from time to time.

I gave my new lens a workout but overall the results were disappointing. There was too much haze in the air and when you accentuate that with the telephoto lens it makes for washed out murky photos. Oh, well. This is a learning process after all.