Living the High Life
If you're looking for a leg-stretching, lung-busting challenge, not to mention high-above-the-world, million-mile views of more mountains than you can count for as far as you can see, this 27-mile hike along the open crest of the Continental Divide on Colorado's Front Range offers what may be the quintessential high country experience. Everything about this hike is on an oversized scale: The size of the mountains, the length of the climbs, the scope of the views, the thundering storms. It's a trip to open up your lungs and clean out the cobwebs.
Expect a Challenge
Storms race in fast and furious, and with treeline some impossible distance downhill, there is nowhere to hide once the sky turns purple and the thunderclouds start hurling their fury. The footway, if you can call it that, is a rock-strewn, ankle-twisting obstacle course occasionally marked with improbably placed cairns. The wind roars and gusts, until your rain gear crackles and whips around like a torn sail in a hurricane. And, since you're atop a ridge, there's the problem of water: The few sources are sporadic and too far apart.
I mention all this in the spirit of fair warning. This is not a hike to tackle if you're looking for a gentle, restful walk on a scenic ridge. It's a hike to take if you want to come face to face with the power of mountains: their rage, their beauty sometimes both within minutes. The payoff is the inimitable exhilaration of walking atop the world: of getting high and staying there, mile after windblown mile.
Elevations range from 11,300 at Berthoud Pass to 13,391 atop Parry Peak, and in between it's a roller coaster ride, so in addition to being fit, you'll need to be acclimated to high elevations. In good weather, strong hikers can do this hike in three days, but it's better to build in extra time. My extra-tough, marathon-running, rugby-playing, thru-hiking, mega-mileage backpacking buddies are still reminiscing about this hike, so don't underestimate it. Be sure to plan your days with water sources in mind. While there isn't much water atop the ridge, there are a few springs and you can test your bushwhacking skills by climbing down to some of the jewellike alpine lakes visible from the trail. You need extra time for these off-trail forays.
Most important, plan extra time to just sit and stare. It would be as easy to count the waves in an ocean as the mountain peaks that surround you.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication