9,420 Feet (Ranked 2,661st in CO)
Approximately 8,848 Feet (Unranked)
Nott Creek Trailhead (Approximately 7,700 Feet)
April 25th, 2009
7.5 Miles Roundtrip
Elevation Gained: Approximately 2,700 Feet
Greenhouseguy (Brian), Derek, Zoomie83 (Todd)
Blue Mountain lies just outside of Golden Gate Canyon State Park in Jefferson County. The mountain’s three summits are known as Blue Mountain (a.k.a. West Blue), “Baby Blue,” and East Blue Mountain. The western summit is the highest by about 100 feet. The easiest way to access the mountain is by the Nott Creek Trailhead, which is inside the state park. There are restrooms and ample parking at the trailhead. The $6.00 park entrance fee can be paid at a kiosk at the visitor center.
We took the Mountain Lion Trail from the northeast corner of the Nott Creek Trailhead parking lot. It’s a decent trail, and it sees a lot of traffic in the summer months. The multi-use trail is also open to horses and mountain bikes. The fog was thick, and the likelihood of rain was high. We all started out with rain gear on to fend off the dampness. There was no snow at lower altitudes, but Derek and I packed snowshoes in case the snow near the summit was deep.
We stayed right at the intersection with the trail that goes to Windy Peak. The Mountain Lion Trail headed northeast at about 7,880 feet before it dropped down to Deer Creek at 7,600 feet. There was a wooden footbridge across the creek. On the other side of the creek, we took a hard right on the double track Quarry Road.
Visibility was still poor, but the foul weather appeared to have been on hold for the time being. Some of us layered down, because the exertion was more than enough to keep us warm. I saw my first wildflower of the season, a pasqueflower. Its common name is derived from pascha, the Latin name for Easter, because it blooms in the Easter season.
The pasqueflower, Pulsatilla patens ssp. multifida
Oddly enough, the Quarry Road led to a quarry. Pegmatite was quarried at the site, but I’m not certain exactly which mineral was being extracted. Pegmatite can contain a variety of rare earth minerals, including tin, tungsten, lithium, beryllium, and jewelry-grade crystals such as tourmaline and topaz.
The road ended at the quarry, but we continued on a faint trail. We passed under a barbed wire fence, and headed north until we came to the boundary fence on the northeast corner of the state park. At this point, we probably should have followed the ridge to the northwest. This would have taken us to the western edge of Blue Mountain’s summit ridge. If visibility had been better, perhaps this route would have been more obvious to us. Instead, we found a hole in the fence and passed through. We passed through another hole on the north side of the fence, and headed up the slope.
The volume of water running off of the mountain tested the limits of our waterproof boots. We passed through some seriously mucky territory before we hit higher and drier ground.
We came to a small boulder field, and decided to follow it towards the summit. It was sort of a compromise; there were no trees among the rocks, so we had a clear path to follow. On the other hand, the rocks were icy and the surface was uneven. We slid around some and banged our shins, but it was not too bad.
The tree cover opened up as we gained altitude on the steep hillside. Our rocky road eventually brought us to the bottom of a steep gully.
The gully had several branches, and we generally followed the path of least resistance. The crux of the route was a part where we had to gain more than 20 feet on steep snow and verglas-covered rocks with poor holds. It was solid Class 3, and a fall would have had serious consequences.
Once we were past the crux, we rock-hopped up the gully among some scenic rock outcroppings. There was some wind up there, and it was noticeably below freezing. The rocks and plant life were all covered with frost deposited by the frozen fog.
Brian (left) and Todd (right) high in the gully on Blue Mountain (Image by Derek Freed)
There was some light scrambling just below the summit ridge, but nothing that was very challenging. There were dozens of possible routes through the rocks, and no route was clearly better than any other.
The snow was knee-deep on the summit ridge. We postholed with every step, but snowshoes would have been of limited usefulness on the rocky terrain. Plunge-stepping in the snow was not so bad; it wasn’t as if we could have gotten any wetter!
Derek was the first to top out. We weren’t certain that this was the highest point until we found the summit register. There were not many signatures on the register, and we were the first to sign it since last fall.
We had some food and water on the summit, and departed for points unknown. We weren’t certain whether we wanted to go for East Blue Mountain or “Baby Blue” next. In either case, we had to descend to the flat 8,600-foot saddle that lies between the three summits. Descending the open slopes to the northeast was a breeze compared to terrain that we had encountered on the ascent.
We should have been able to see East Blue Mountain from the slopes, but the fog obstructed our view. We had to navigate by GPS and map & compass.
Beautiful, unobstructed view of "East Blue Mountain" (sarcasm intended)
The snow on the saddle was deep in spots, but it was fairly easy to move through the dense forest. We passed through a grove of aspens with bark freshly stripped by hungry elk. Most of the trees on the slopes were tall douglasfir.
Derek moving across the flat and densely-wooded saddle between Blue Mountain and “Baby Blue”
We stopped to get our bearings, and found that we had strayed pretty close to “Baby Blue.” All routes on “Baby Blue” are Class 3, so the appeal was obvious. We set our course for “Baby Blue,” and it began to emerge from the fog in a few short minutes.
As we approached the talus-strewn summit, we had to choose a route. The northeast side had a more obvious route than the southwest side, so we postholed and talus-hopped in that direction.
We experienced the purest enjoyment of the day on the slabby summit block. It was pretty steep, but the numerous handholds and footholds gave us plenty of options. Fortunately, the rock was dry.
Brian (above) and Todd (orange hat) on a fun Class 3 slab just below the summit on “Baby Blue” (Image by Derek Freed)
The tiny summit was among the best that I have experienced on a mountain of any height. Good things can come in small packages! Todd and Derek were equally pleased.
Derek used my tiny tripod to take our summit shot:
(L to R) Todd, Derek, and Brian on “Baby Blue” (Image by Derek Freed)
A fall from the summit in any direction would have been catastrophic. The verticality of the terrain is part of what makes this small crag so interesting.
Indecent exposure: watch your step there, buddy! (Image by Derek Freed)
The descent through the open forest was easy. There were not many downed trees or rocks to impede our travel. I used my GPS to find and intersect our route that we used on Blue Mountain’s southeast slopes. There were numerous game trails in the area. Judging by the amount of scat that we stepped in, over, and around, the wildlife population in the park must be pretty high.
Brian and Todd heading towards the gully that would take us back to the quarry (Image by Derek Freed)
We eventually found our way back to familiar territory, and headed back towards the quarry. Our mucky route had grown even muckier during the course of the day. It was nice to get back to the well-maintained trail. Nice, except for one thing…the 300 feet that we had to re-gain on the return trip. I might have complained just a little bit.
The fog deprived us of what would have been some excellent views, but it also added ambience, like in an old horror movie. The challenging route finding and complex terrain made this hike particularly enjoyable. The hike’s close proximity to the Metro area makes this an excellent choice for people who want to maximize their hiking time and minimize their driving time. This area has a definite wilderness feel to it that makes for an enjoyable outdoor experience.