Thursday, August 20, 2015

Trip Report: Climbing Waterfalls Along the Spruce Creek Trail (Summit County, CO)


    While out hiking in Colorado, a "rest day" hike between 14'ers took an unexpected turn and became one of my favorite memories of the trip: I spent an entire day bouldering along the rushing whitewater of the Continental Falls, just off the Spruce Creek Trail in the White River National Forest outside Breckenridge, CO.

    The Spruce Creek Trail is universally considered to be one of the more accessible hikes surrounding Breck, so I thought it the perfect respite between summit days. The 6.8 mile loop trail winds up rock faces and through a low forest up to a little over 12,000ft, ending at the picturesque Mohawk Lakes. Spruce Creek is dotted with former mining cabins that are now being slowly reclaimed by nature - a hauntingly beautiful sight considering the history of area. 

    With a little over 1,800' of elevation gain spread across nearly 7 miles, the Spruce Creek Trail fit the bill for a long, slow detox between bigger hikes. Plus, every Breck local I talked to recommended the trail for the pictures alone - I think you can see why.  

    Around 2 miles past the trailhead, I heard the unmistakable sound of gushing water and soon found myself at the "lower vista" of Continental Falls. There's an incredibly humbling sense of scale imprinted by standing at the bottom of a waterfall. A plan crept into my head: the Upper Mohawk Lake, my final destination, was a paltry mile and a half further up the trail and I was making good enough time to detour and get off the trail before any afternoon storms. If Continental Falls is this magnificent from the bottom... I wonder what it's like at the top.

    Young and stupid, I stepped off the trail and began climbing up the exposed rock near the falls. I reached the Upper Falls Vista in a far-from-expected fashion (read: not by walking switchbacks), then stepped further off the road most traveled to continue my ascent. Nothing along the falls left a Class 2 hike with extended bouldering and a few rock scrambles, but the combination of water spray and slippery footing made my "rest day" a little more exciting than I had intended.

Thankfully, my Vasque Breeze 2.0 hiking boots and their Vibram outsoles performed every bit as well as I needed them to, even in the wet. Should I have ponied up the extra $20 and bought the waterproof Gore-Tex version? I'll let my waterlogged socks (the only pair I brought with me for this specific trail - again, young and stupid) decide that.

    After a solid 40 minutes of vertical, I pulled myself onto a rock outcropping at the top of the falls! The effort was well worth it: the following pictures were all taken from my 4x4' ledge as I refueled (big shoutout to my mom's homemade granola) and took in every ounce of the moment I could.

Big shoutout to my North Face Surge backpack, too. It's a capable daypack with enough room for everything I could need on the trail AND TSA-compliant double zips AND a laptop slot. Basically, the perfect all-around bag.

   My granola finished and my camera low on battery, I navigated my way down through slick rocks and alpine mosses to rejoin the Spruce Creek Trail. The rest of the trail seemed pedestrian after my climb: even the gorgeous Mohawk Lakes lost their shine compared to the rush of the falls.

    Besides, I was behind schedule! My extended snack break at the top of the falls had put me in jeopardy of being at elevation by the time afternoon thunder was expected. I snapped a few pictures, repped the Blue (and the Biv!), snuck in a quick round of fetch with Toby on Lower Mohawk, put my faith in my North Face backpack's waterproof coating, and beat a hasty descent.

    I got back to the trailhead right as the first flight of grey clouds descended over the Ten Mile Range and just in time to beat the storms. Only on the ride back into town did I realize how truly special my morning was: on my day off, I climbed a Colorado waterfall. All in all, it was one heck of a rest day.

~Alex R. -Men's Fashion


Bad case of Wanderlust? Plan your next trip by checking out all the details behind our visits to Canyonlands National Park (UT)Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore (MI), and Chicago (IL), or click here to go back to the Bivouac Blog!

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