Escaping The Nutshell

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Hike around Ralph Price Reservoir

We did this loop 2 years ago, so knew what we were getting into. The south side of the reservoir, until reaching North St Vrain Creek, is mostly without human made trails, so we figured we’d tackle this most challenging part first. The forest and terrain of the south side also makes it easy to lose one’s way, so before attempting the loop, we entered 3 waypoints into our GPS:

  1. 7000 line: 40.208150,-105.374212
  2. Saddle pt: 40.210050,-105.384554
  3. N St Vrain Creek: 40.212463,-105.392730

These waypoints are marked with blue markers on the map of our GPS tracks. The first waypoint showed us how far we needed to climb the first ridge following the first cove, which is at an elevation of 7000 ft (2134 m). The second waypoint is a point on the next ridge that is at about the same elevation as the first point. Our plan was to stay at about 7000 ft from the first to the second ridge. The third waypoint was roughly where we planned to cross North St Vrain Creek.

2023-11-06 Stefan walking across Button Rock Dam

Starting at the Button Rock Preserve Trailhead, we headed up Longmont Dam Road to the bottom of the dam. Taking the trail to the top of the dam, we walked across the dam to its south side. From the end of the dam to the first cove, there is a nice shoreline trail, which we used.

2023-11-06 Ralph Price Reservoir from Button Rock Dam

A little after the first cove, we left the trail and headed up the ridge toward our first waypoint. From there, we came across game trails which we used to our advantage when they went in the desired direction. As planned, from the first to second waypoints, we stayed at about 7000 ft. After passing by the south side of the second waypoint we set our direction toward the third waypoint at the creek. This part was all downhill to the creek.

2023-11-06 Mt Meeker, Longs Peak and North Sheep Mtn from after 1st waypoint around Ralph Price Reservoir

Getting to the bank of the creek can be tricky, as the side of the creek has frequent bluffs. At first, we were unable to reach the creek, and so walked upstream above the bluffs until finding an access point. Our actual crossing point (40.21071,-105.39359, elevation 6552ft) is marked in orange on the map.

2023-11-06 Stefan crossing North St Vrain Creek

Once at the bank, we switched from boots to sandals, which had been stowed in our backpacks, and carried our boots across the creek. Being the time of year with the lowest water level, it was easy to cross, but the water was mighty cold.

2023-11-06 Looking upstream from our crossing of North St Vrain Creek

After drying off our feet and putting our boots back on, we headed downstream and upward in elevation until reaching a dirt road, which we followed until the west end of the reservoir, where a shoreline trail begins around the reservoir’s north side.

2023-11-06 Meadow, ponderosa pine and Ralph Price Reservoir

This trip took about 6 and 1/2 hours, with stops for removing and putting on boots, as well as lunch on the north shore, and frequent stops for photography and taking it all in. Total distance traveled was about 9 miles. Elevation difference from lowest (6000 ft) to highest (7100 ft) was about 1100 feet, with lots of ups and downs.

2023-11-06 Clarks Nutcracker (Nucifraga columbiana) in ponderosa pine

Our video of Button Rock Dam and Ralph Price Reservoir

Tourmaline Lake
2023-08-09 Tourmaline Lake

Parking at the Fern Lake Trailhead we hiked to Fern Lake, then Odessa Lake.

2023-08-09 Odessa Lake

The first part of the hike from the trailhead to Fern Lake was a very different experience than I expected, due to the East Troublesome Fire that burned this area in 2020. The trees left standing are black, and the wildflowers have taken over, especially fireweed (Chamerion danielsii).

2023-08-09 Flowering fireweed meadow near Fern Lake

We started our trek up to Tourmaline Lake from the west side of Odessa Lake. There is no trail up to Tourmaline Lake. There are occassional patches of trail and/or cairns, but nothing coherent to get you there. The last time we did this climb was 11 years ago, and our memory had faded.

The route we took up is the northernmost one shown on the GPS tracks. This way was very rugged, and once we reached Tourmaline Lake, we were not inclined to return the same way. The return route was significantly easier, and is the southernmost route on the GPS tracks.

If we would do it again soon, we would basically ascend by our return route, beginning the ascent from Odessa Lake before reaching the Tourmaline Lake outlet where it spills into Odessa Lake, then ascend straight up (northwest) for awhile until getting above a band of cliffs overlooking Odessa Lake. Then we’d go southwest for awhile, above the cliff bands, and finally in a general northwest direction to Tourmaline Lake.

Tourmaline Lake is pristine and beautiful, with no signs of humanity. We saw no person at Tourmaline Lake, or on the way up or down between Tourmaline and Odessa.

The total distance was about 10 miles (5 miles one way), with an elevation gain from the Fern Lake Trailhead (8165 ft, 2489 m) to Tourmaline Lake (10580 ft, 3225 m) of 2415 ft (736 m).

Thorodin Mountain
2022-12-11 Three Buttresses with Thorodin Mountain

We hiked up Thorodin Mountain from Gap Road on Dec 11, 2022.

The name of this mountain suggests the auditory environment at a drumming school, or the concatenation of two Norse god names. The origin of the name is the latter. At 10,540 ft (3,213 m), it’s the highest peak in Golden Gate Canyon State Park.

From Longmont we drove south to Boulder then south on CO Hwy 93 toward Golden, then west up Coal Creek Canyon Road, and left onto Twin Spruce Road. In Golden Gate Canyon State Park, we parked at the Gap Road Access to Tremont Mountain, just past Harmsen Ranch.

Driving distances:
  • From intersection of CO Hwy 93 and Coal Creek Canyon Rd to intersection of Coal Creek Canyon Rd and Twin Spruce Rd: about 7 1/2 miles. Note that Google Maps indicates this distance is 8.7 miles which is about 1.2 miles too long.
  • Intersection of Coal Creek Canyon Rd and Twin Spruce Rd to the parking place for Thorodin Mtn: 6.9 miles. Note that Twin Spruce Rd becomes Gap Rd at a sharp bend.

Note that Google Maps mislabels the peak as being on a north knob of the mountain. On the other hand, it is correctly labeled on topomaps like this one.

2022-12-11 Lookout tower on Starr Peak from near Thorodin Mountain summit
2022-12-11 Mount Meeker and Longs Peak from near Thorodin Mountain summit

This was a short hike of about 1.5 miles one way. Elevation change from low to high was about 1,200 feet as you can see from the plot. There is a faint trail which we followed up the mountain, but it doesn’t start from Gap Road, but from the Harmsen Ranch trail in the meadow on the north side of Gap Road. Ascending the south facing slope provided only a thin layer of snow most of the way. There were no human tracks in the snow. On the way back, a stop at Harmsen Ranch took us a bit lower than the parking place.

2022-12-11 Harmsen Ranch with sign and Lazy Squaw Spire

For our return drive home we went west on Gap Road to CO Hwy 119, then south to Rollinsville, Nederland, then Boulder. This way was less driving on unpaved road.

Here are the GPS tracks

2022-12-11 Elevation gain plot from Gap Rd to Thorodin Mountain summit
GPS data
Place Name Elev [ft] Accuracy [ft] Position (lat,lon)
Parking for Thorodin Mountain 9,436 30 39.87182,-105.42862
Thorodin summit 10,584 20 39.88452,-105.42861

Mount Garfield
2022-10-13 Stefan at Mount Garfield trailhead parking area

The video shows glimpses of our climb from the trailhead to the summit.

Mount Garfield is on the edge of town at Palisade, Colorado. It’s separated from the town by Interstate 70. A narrow one vehicle wide tunnel below I-70 provides access from town. Even at a dry time of year when we visited, there was a significant amount of water (maybe 6 inches) on the north side of the tunnel.

2022-10-13 Sign at Mount Garfield Trailhead
2022-10-13 First ascent point on Mount Garfield trail

We hiked up Mount Garfield from the main trailhead. Ascent was mostly standard route, but for approaching the summit from the northeast after the saddle just below the summit plateau.

2022-10-13 On first plateau of Mount Garfield trail

Descent was an alternate route beginning at the saddle, and bypassing the trail under the rock wall. This alternate route begins as a faint trail that leaves the main one near the saddle, and goes behind the knob whose south face is the rock wall at whose base the main trail goes.

2022-10-13 Looking down on second plateau of Mount Garfield trail

An advantage of this alternate route is no exposure to falling rock below the crumbly wall. The alternate route meets up with the main trail again at the second plateau.

2022-10-13 Stefan at saddle of Mount Garfield trail

The features of the main trail are first a steep ascent on bare dirt and rock, then two grassy plateaus, then a walk along the base of a rock wall, then a saddle, followed by a scramble to the summit plateau.

2022-10-13 Palisade from Mount Garfield summit

The elevation change from trailhead to summit was 1,960 feet. The distance from trailhead to summit is about 2 miles.

2022-10-13 Stefan on Mount Garfield summit

Here are the GPS tracks.

© 2012-2023 Stefan Hollos and Richard Hollos