12,251 Feet (Ranked 1,171st in CO)
North Slopes from Riflesight Notch Trailhead (11,100 Feet)
October 11th, 2009
3.3 Miles Roundtrip
Elevation Gained: 1,200 Feet
Greenhouseguy (Brian) and Todd (Zoomie83)
The NOAA forecast for “Heartbeat Peak” seemed more like a forecast for January than it did for early October:
“Point Forecast: 3 Miles W East Portal CO 39.89°N 105.7°W (Elev. 11719 ft)
Sunday: A 10 percent chance of snow showers after noon. Mostly cloudy, with a high near 38. Wind chill values as low as zero. Breezy, with a west wind between 22 and 29 mph, with gusts as high as 46 mph.”
In other words, it was a great day for a hike! With the relatively low elevation and short approach, “Heartbeat Peak” would not rank as an expedition-quality hike for many people. At 12,251 feet, it is the lowest of the six ranked peaks in the James Peak Wilderness. However, its location on the Continental Divide places it in a good position for incredible 360-degree views.
The 10-mile roundtrip on the South Boulder Creek Trail seemed like overkill for a low 12er like “Heartbeat Peak.” The short jaunt from the west from Riflesight Notch Trailhead seemed more appropriate. Riflesight Notch is on the Rollins Pass Rd. (FS 149), which is an old railroad bed that was built by the Denver, Northwestern and Pacific Railroad in 1903-1904. In order to keep the railroad grade at a manageable 4% grade, it was necessary to form a loop in the tracks at Riflesight Notch. Part of the loop ran through a tunnel directly beneath beneath the trestle, but the tunnel collapsed many years ago. The Rollins Pass “Top O’ the World” route became obsolete when the Moffat Tunnel was completed in 1927, and the route was completely abandoned in 1935.
The Riflesight Notch Trestle at dawn
The western trailhead for the Rogers Pass Trail is at the Riflesight Notch Trestle. The trail is actually an old wagon road that people in Boulder used to move goods over the Divide. The trail passes directly beneath “Heartbeat Peak,” and very little bushwhacking is required to reach the summit.
Riflesight Notch Trailhead – access to the Rogers (not “Rodgers”) Pass Trail
There was a little bit of fresh snow on the trail, but not enough to require any special gear. Waterproof boots and gaiters were more than sufficient.
The Rogers Pass Trail
Since hiking on the Divide is far more interesting than hiking on an old wagon road, I decided to move up the slope at the earliest opportunity. The slope was steep in places and we had to pass through a few snowdrifts, but it was basically short and sweet.
Slope up to the Continental Divide
We aimed for a massive cairn that didn’t seem to mark anything in particular. The quality of the views increased as we gained altitude, and so did the wind! It was pretty cold, but I scarcely noticed. I had my balaclava, goggles, heavy base layer, insulated snowpants, heavy fleece, long parka, mountaineering gloves, and expedition socks. It sounds like overkill for an October hike, but it really wasn’t. The weather was miserable.
Todd topping out on the Divide
The prevailing wind on the Divide tends to keep the snow scoured. Heavy cornices are already starting to form on the eastern side. The views were pretty nice up top. To the west, we could see the towns of Fraser and Winter Park, with all the associated ski slopes. Heavy clouds blocked our views to the east; they were probably dumping snow on Golden while we were watching. Cars back at the T-Rex Park-n-Ride had a light dusting when we got back.
On the CDT with “Heartbeat Peak” in the foreground and James Peak in the background
The Continental Divide Trail wasn’t so much a trail as it was a series of large stone cairns with 4X4 timbers sticking out of them. It was well marked through this section.
CDT marker on the way to “Heartbeat Peak”
I stopped for a minute to gaze down into the idyllic Iceberg lakes. The “Icebox Express” route up from the lakes looked pretty insane.
The Iceberg Lakes
The remainder of the hike over to “Heartbeat Peak” was just a pleasant hike on a broad ridge. The peak itself is little more than a bump on the ridge, but it’s significant enough to be ranked (although it’s not officially named). The hike over to James Peak looked like it would be fun, and at least a moderate challenge.
On the summit of “Heartbeat Peak” with James Peak in the background
Everything to the east was concealed beneath an ocean of low-hanging clouds. It was an eerie sight.
Above the clouds west of Denver
The higher peaks in the James Peak Wilderness (James, Bancroft, and Parry) looked magnificent with a fresh dusting of snow – particularly when the clouds parted enough to let some sunshine through.
Looking over Rogers Pass at (L to R) James Peak, Mt. Bancroft, and Parry Peak
It only took a few minutes to rock-hop down the talus slope to the Rogers Pass Trail. We postholed a bit in the drifted snow, and Todd’s poorly-waterproofed boots weren’t sufficient to protect him from the elements. Hiking with numb toes isn’t much fun!
Heading down the slope towards the Rogers Pass Trail
The snow was fairly deep on the higher parts of the trail, but we avoided problems by staying in the shallower snow on the edges. I might have worn snowshoes up here if I’d had them.
Up to a foot of snow drifted over the trail
From higher up, it was easier to see the original route of the train tracks through the loop at Riflesight Notch. This was a dangerous route that must have caused a lot of anxiety among the railroad crews. Several derailed freight cars still remain at the bottom of one of the slopes. The multitude of relics from the railroad era make the Rollins Pass area an interesting place to visit in the warmer months, when they are much more accessible.
Back to the trestle
The “Heartbeat Peak” hike is excellent for those days when you don’t have enough time to devote to an all-day hike – like when you have to get home in time to see the Broncos trounce the Patriots!
GPS track of our hike