Hiking the High Country

Somewhere off the end of the road, walking turns into hiking.
Some people hike to see wildflowers and take photographs. Some people hike to breathe the fresh air and relax.
“Some people just want to tell jokes,” says Crested Butte Mountain Guides owner Jayson Simons-Jones. “It all depends on what people want to do.”
With the snow melting off the peaks and the wildflowers out in bloom, it’s a great time to go for a hike out in the high country. As many hiking enthusiasts will tell you, one of the best things about hiking is it can be as easy or challenging as you want.
The Crested Butte Mountain Guides are known for taking people on epic ski descents, big wall climbing in the Black Canyon and multi-day bike adventures, but Simons-Jones says hiking is still a popular activity that many people will hire a guide for. “A lot of people come to us because they don’t know where they want to go. Or they don’t have time to organize everything so they just get a guide and like to be safe,” Simons-Jones says.
Simons-Jones says hikers who use Crested Butte Mountain Guides range from easy-going people who just want to cruise up the Lower Loop and check out wildflowers, to more adventuresome people who want to go on full-day hikes on popular peaks like Teocalli or Baldy.
Local guides can also help point out particular flora and fauna, describe what’s going on in the ecosystem, and tell about the history of the area.
Hiking certainly doesn’t require a guide. All you need are sturdy shoes, a rain jacket, sunscreen, food and water.
Crested Butte resident Maureen Hall is a member of the Elk Mountain Hikers Club, a trail advocacy group with an emphasis on hiking trails. Hiking may seem “low impact” but Hall says there is certainly a need for trail work on popular hiking trails, whether it’s replacing a bridge over a stream or repairing sections of trail that have eroded.
“Trail maintenance is really important, especially in wilderness areas where mountain bikes and motor bikes don’t go,” Hall says. In the past few years the Elk Mountain Hikers have been involved in re-routing a portion of the Oh Be Joyful trail and working on the Yule Pass trail.
Hall says many people just enjoy the solitude of hiking, even if they’re avid mountain bikers or rock climbers. She says it’s a great way to look at wildflowers and Mother Nature. “You can enjoy a slower pace activity and just take in all this area has to offer. It’s just incredible,” Hall says.
For an easier/beginner hike, Hall suggests the Upper Loop, which features aspen groves, wildflowers and some occasional wildlife. The Upper Loop trail can be accessed by walking south on Elk Avenue, into the Verzuh Ranch and up Tony’s Trail.
As a more difficult hike, Hall says Copper Lake is her favorite. “It has a lot of elements to a nice hike, a good workout, and a beautiful reward at the top,” Hall says of Copper Lake, which is accessed north of Mt. Crested Butte, starting at the Judd Falls trailhead (the hike to Judd Falls is a good beginner hike with amazing views of a large waterfall).
High Country Citizens’ Alliance organizes moderate group hikes for seniors, such as trips to Dark Canyon and the top of Crested Butte Mountain. The program was started by Crested Butte resident Don Baker 17 years ago. Baker is recovering from an injury, so Sue Navy has stepped in to help lead the hikes.
She may be just “filling” Baker’s shoes, but Navy is an avid hiker, too. “We live at some of the highest elevation, most beautiful areas that are hike-able, anywhere. The flowers are extraordinary, the air is extraordinary,” Navy says. “There’s a quietness to it. You hear more birds and water. It’s calming, but it’s as energetic as you want it to be.”
This week Navy is leading a hike to the old Standard Mine site to see how the Environmental Protection Agency’s work on remediating the mine site is progressing. “We try to show people the benefits of environmental work, the things [HCCA] is involved in and all the places that are worth protecting,” Navy says.
For more info on some great local hikes, check out gunnisoncrestedbutte.com/hiking-info, visitcrestedbutte.com/hiking.cfm, or stop by one of the many outdoor equipment stores around Crested Butte.

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