Updated: Apr 7, 2021
We took a day to put a little weight on our backs and get up on the longest available climb before RMNP re-opens.
Crosier Mountain isn't known for anything by anyone except locals and athletes that often use it to train for long climbs. At only 9,216 feet in elevation, this summit isn't a huge draw for people looking for an elevation sign to post on Instagram. But what it lacks in end height, it makes up for in elevation gain, distance, and great views.
Pulling into the parking lot, there were only 4 other cars. Along a 5 mile in and 5 mile out trail, we're seeing other people maybe once an hour or so. We chose a day that topped out at 65 degrees and partly cloudy, so it was surprising to find so few people when the weather was so perfect.
At first, you make your way through deciduous foliage up probably a thousand feet of elevation on switchbacks. But once you reach the top of the first face, you really begin to lose mental track of the fact that you're climbing. This easy-going slope to the top of Crosier Mountain is great for people of all fitness levels. It's easy to run if you're in great shape, and easy to walk and picnic if you're just out to enjoy the wild. At no point is any scrambling required, save for the very tip of the summit if you're the type (like me) that insists upon total completion of any summit.
One of the first 'big' views you get is looking east toward the plains. Somewhere beyond the surrounding mountains, a forest fire lifted smoke into the air.
We continued until we hit an aspen grove, and paused for lunch. Summer sausage is one of my favorite things to bring on the trail. For its weight, it's hard to find anything more satisfying than something with salt, fat, and protein all in one delicious snack. Shelf stable, you can keep preserved meat like summer sausage with you in the wild for quite a long time. Plus, it comes in very packable shapes and sizes.
We came across only two very small water crossings. One could easily take this hike in trail running shoes without any waterproofing. Not knowing what to expect and with mountain weather being as unpredictable as it always is, I selected my Oboz Windriver IIIs for this hike. Mid height (5 or 6 inch) waterproof boots, they have this unique ability to offer more ankle support than almost anything else I've ever worn. I've been told that this has more to do with solid heel support than ankle stiffness. Either way, I distinctly remember the first two weeks of wearing them. Despite years of hiking, they were forcing my ankles to work out muscles that really never had been.
In many situations since then, I've been saved from bad ankle injuries by my new ankles that are strong-like-bull.
We enjoyed a half hour or so of warm sunshine in a meadow between two aspen groves, then packed up and headed through the aspens.
We made two turns from our 'original' trail with obvious signage to get to the summit, so you won't be getting lost out here.
Everyone seems to be of the opinion that the distance markers on this trail are a little off. That does seem correct. Keep in mind that when you reach this sign, it will say the summit is 1.4 miles away. I'm pretty sure it was the summit trail head that was 1.4 miles away.
The summit trail is not a long one by any means. It is a bit steeper than the rest of the trail in some parts, and is prone to loose rocks, so watch your step.
Not too far past this sign, you'll find yourself in a lodge pole pine forest. These only grow at higher elevations, and were harvested by ancient cultures specifically because they have a consistent width and vertical straightness that makes them great for building material.
I have always loved lodge pole pine forests for the simple reason that they're beautiful. At this elevation, not a lot else will even grow. So you find yourself in this cinematic drama where the afternoon sunlight stabs sideways through the trees and casts beautiful lines on the relatively clear forest floor.
Once you exit the lodge pole pines, you're very close to the summit trail head. Keep in mind that the summit trail heads west via switchbacks, and you'll know you're at the summit when the trail ends with a great picture frame and a small bluff with an incredible view.
Going back down the mountain takes almost as long as going up due to the loose rocks in the trail. You'll notice the 10.2 mile round trip and the 3,216 feet in elevation in your feet, though not the cardio work if you're already acclimated to the lower oxygen levels at higher altitude. Yes, the top is very windy.
Of course, there's only one way to relax after a great day pushing to the summit.