Thursday, July 15, 2010

Mountain Running the Vasquez Mountains: The Grand Loop

Mountain Running the Vasquez Mountains: The Grand Loop

Running mountain loops is always one of my favorite ways to spend time in the mountains. In Colorado we are blessed with the ability to string together several peaks in one go, often via nice mellow ridges that afford spectacular runs in wild country. The Vasquez Mountains Grand Loop is just that. With hardly any traffic, spectacular views, and lots of open tundra running the Vasquez Mountains Grand Loop is always a pleasure. The best part is that the biggest climb of the day is the one you do first, after that there are only a few sections of minor elevation gain, with lots of rolling ridge country to run across.

Tara on the steep beginning section...

Park at the winter trail head for Jones Pass (in the summer, you can drive up the Jones Pass road, but that is not what we are doing). From here, there is a trail heading due north that switchbacks up the southern slopes of an unnamed 12,900 foot peak. After a couple switchbacks and right at treeline, you head off trail and go straight up. This is the steepest part of the mountain run, and is more like a speed hike from hell. Keep going as you gain close to 1,000 feet in elevation until you reach the unnamed 12,900 foot summit. From here, just a quick ridge run away is Vasquez Peak (12,947) to the north. You can see Berthoud Pass to the east. From Vasquez Peak head due west as you drop way down to a saddle where you will cross the Continental Divide Trail. This is the steepest descent of the entire route. Rest, and then head due west on the ridge as you cross over Point 12,316 and eventually hit Mount Nystrom (12,652). From here, you can begin to finally see the finish line. Head due south along the ridge and towards Jones Pass. Cross over Point 12,673 and then the final Bobtail Peak (12,803). From here, jump down and cruz back on the road for about 2 miles until you reach your car (and hopefully a nice stashed beer).

On Peak 1 (12,900) looking at Vasquez Peak (Peak 2)

This is a spectacular loop that connects almost all of the peaks in the Vasquez Mountains. Hardly anyone runs these peaks, let alone the entire loop, so you are sure to have the entire adventure to yourself. The flowers on these slopes are some of the best in the State, and the views of the Grand Valley, Gore Range, Indian Peaks, and beyond are worth every step. On this trip it took us 3 hours and 57 minutes.

Looking at Peaks 3 (Mt. Nystrom) and Peak 4 - route in red dots...

The numbers for those who care....
Beginning Elevation: ~10,100 feet 
High Point: 12,947 feet 
Total climbing and descending: ~ 6,000 feet 
Mileage: ~12 miles 
Other People Factor: minimal; I've done this run over a dozen times and have only encountered 3 parties on it (on a Sunday no less). 
Time: 3.5-6 hours depending on how often you stop to enjoy the views...

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