October 31, 2012 - Echo Canyon Trailhead
Bull Hill, the "highest hill west of the Mississippi" . . . I took a mid week climbing day as the weather forecast called for an absolutely bluebird day and blue bird it was, 45 degrees and still air all they way to the summit and back. Not bad for the last day of October. It was one of those alpine start climbs as in roll out of bed in Cheyenne at 3:45, be on the road at 4:00 and believe it or not in Leadville at 7 a.m. But it was a slow alpine start, I laid there after the alarm went off . . . thinking about whether I really wanted to do the drive . . . heck yes, the alternative was a day in the office looking out at the blue sky and kicking myself.
I'd picked Bull Hill because my ankle was still on the mend and I knew that most of the climb would be on old mining roads and what was not on old roads would be class one hiking for sure. It had been 11 weeks or so since the break and there were still some aches and swelling to be dealt with and I'm really trying to avoid cranking the foot if I don't have to.
I drove the short stretch of 4WD road off Hwy 82, cutting about one half mile off the climb, and parked the truck at a large concrete foundation, perhaps left over from mining days gone by. I'd read a number of trip report posts and knew what the trailhead looked like as well as the need to keep an eye out for the later cut uphill off the Echo Canyon trail. I dug around for my plastic safety orange vest and found that it had seen better days . . .as in it just plain fell apart in my hands. I'd have to survive with the orange soft shell but I was not too worried as there were no other vehicles at the trailhead, lower or upper, the coast looked clear so far.
The trail crossed the creek and followed an old mining road uphill, which didn't last too long. After no more than 200 yards, the road died and an obvious trail took a hard right, heading steeply uphill. Steep enough to be one of those "Oh Jeez" moments at the start of the hike where the going gets steep right out the gate and you don't really want to go steep that early in the climb. Well, there was no choice , so I climbed the single track path that traversed the flank of Echo Canyon, staying above the creek but not by too much. I hiked perhaps one half mile before the trail cut right again, granting me the opportunity to start climbing the multiple switchbacks that the map clearly advertisedThe first traverse was long but just when I was wondering if I would get a trip around the flank of the mountain, it cut back hard and steadily climbed back in the opposite direction. I knew at some point I would have to cut right again and leave the Echo Canyon trail so when I came to a trio of cairns, I knew that somebody was talking to me for sure. The cut right was obvious, so I took the trail headed in what I knew to be the right direction, although the trail was a bit on the sparse side as it cut in and out of pine trees doing their best to obscure the old mining road that I was still ascending. The pines petered out after a bit and I hiked steadily to tree line, and coming next to the Last Chance Mine fan house. I stuck my head in the door, took in the old machinery and shot a GU before heading further up hill.
I'd pretty much broken tree line, but for a few here hardy souls here and there, and the trail climbed steeply upward, still on the old road which I knew would remain the case up to the next two mine ruins. The road had rock from small slides on it here and there but was never unclear. The route traversed the slope of the mountain and then into a broad gully that revealed more mine ruins higher up the drainage. Back and forth a few more times and then I landed on the old pad where mine rails led from a collapsed adit to the dump point overlooking the valley. Some folks think the mine ruins are an abomination, but me . . . I'm a mining engineer and I get a kick out of the old ruins if for no reason other than their testament to ingenuity and determination of miners past. I trekked past the lower dump point and then on up and around a hairpin to the upper dump, before cutting off the end of the road to climb the slopes in the direction that I knew would lead to the summit. The footing was loose here and there but I kept the traverse gentle until I broke the skyline and could see the apparent summit not that far away, perhaps another 400 feet of vertical over a half mile . . . I took the tamest grass route offered and crossed a flat before climbing the gentle slope to the summit, actually to the top of the "summit" rise that then gave way to the summit proper, perhaps another 5 minutes and 75 more vertical feet. Soon enough I was on the summit of this rather tall hill, taking in the expanse of the upper Sawatch, which for the end of October was pretty sparse in the snow department.
The day was truly bluebird, so I took 15 minutes on the summit to eat a bit and take some photos. I'd planned this mid week climb around a forecast that said the winds that commanded the weekend would die off and die off they did . . . I sat in still air, taking in the sun. I'd started at 8 and was on the summit at 11:30, having taken breaks here and there to shoot photos along the way. I was back at the truck at a bit after 1:40 . . . quite content to having made the drive after all.