10,388 Feet (2,091st Highest in Colorado)
South Ridge Route (Class 2+)
Bootleg Bottom Trailhead (8,860 Feet)
Roundtrip Mileage: about 2.5
Elevation Gained: about 1,600 feet
October 12th, 2008
Tremont Mountain is the rarely-climbed high point of Golden Gate Canyon State Park. The mountain beyond the trailhead is largely untouched by man, and it is home to many animals including black bears, mountain lions, deer, and elk. Chattering Steller’s jays and chickarees provide the soundtrack. Dense stands of Douglasfir and aspen conceal boulder fields and immense rocky outcrops. There is no clear trail to the summit, which adds to the charm of ascending this craggy peak. The best place to start this hike is from the Bootleg Bottom Trailhead on Mountain Base Rd. in Golden Gate Canyon State Park. Daily admission to the park is $6.00, and an annual State Parks Pass is $60.00. The trailhead is 2WD accessible, and has plenty of paved parking. There are pit toilets at this and several other trailheads in the park.
I started by heading east on the Coyote Trail. A light snow had fallen overnight, but the snow cover was rapidly dissipating due to the temperature, which was in the high 30’s. Dense fog obscured the view of the mountain, and limited visibility to a few hundred feet. The aspen were still in prime color, and the bark bore numerous scars from hungry elk.
The sky was overcast, but the colorful aspens seemed to illuminate the trail.
Bootleg Bottom was a remote haven for moonshiners during prohibition. One of the bootleggers’ cabins is still standing, and the rusting remains of a moonshine delivery truck lie up the draw from the cabin. A 1940’s vintage asphalt roller also came to rest in the draw, apparently after rolling more than 100 feet down the hill.
An antique asphalt roller that met an untimely demise
The Coyote Trail passes over Tremont Mountain’s southern slopes. I followed the trail for about a quarter of a mile until it started to switchback up the side of the mountain. I left the trail at the second switchback and started to bushwhack up the south ridge. The terrain was rocky, and downed timber created a difficult obstacle course. There was not enough snow on the ground to cause any problems.
The start of the bushwhack up the south ridge
I found a couple of small cairns along the route, but I couldn’t see any trail. There may be some established route that is easier to find in the summer, but I was off-trail for most of the day.
After a few minutes, I encountered a craggy fortress on the ridge. The jumble of boulders would have offered a good view on a clear day, but the visibility had steadily decreased as I gained altitude. The summit was not visible, and I only had a vague notion of which direction the ridge would lead me. Fortunately, I spied the ridge through a gap in the fog and was able to stay on course.
I stayed on the ridge, and eventually came to another rocky outcrop that was even more spectacular than the first. The rocks were huge, and I couldn’t resist finding an amusing route to scramble to the top. An outstanding wind-sculpted Douglasfir decorated the outcrop. I admired the gray nothingness of the fog, and kept on moving.
I descended the back side of the outcrop and found a large, relatively flat area. The flat area confounded my efforts to find the ridge in the dense fog. I didn’t have my GPS with me, but I was able to use a map (Trails Illustrated Map #100) and compass to find my route. The upper slope was much rockier than the lower portion, and it required quite a bit of rock-hopping. I had to stop frequently to plan the best route through the massive rocks and trees.
I bobbed and weaved my way through the boulders and downed trees, and eventually the summit ridge emerged from the mist. Approaching the ridge, however, proved to be the most difficult and entertaining part of my journey. I had to cross a small field of ice and snow-covered boulders to get to the ridge. My legs were not exactly fresh, and there was the distinct possibility of snapping an ankle between the giant rocks.
It wasn’t easy to tell which end of the ridge was the high point. I guessed correctly that the south end was the highest. I scrambled up to the summit boulder and pulled myself to the top. I found a Mike Garratt-style mayonnaise jar summit register between two rocks. There were not many signatures on the register; either the summit register is hard to find, or not many people visit this summit. I had hoped to catch a glimpse of the snow-covered Continental Divide, but visibility had not improved. I was pelted with wind-whipped graupel as I started to descend.
Finding the most direct route was far easier on the descent than it was on the ascent. I headed southeast until I spotted a cairn on the Coyote Trail, and followed trail back to the parking lot. Summit to trailhead only took an hour, which was about half the time that it took to ascend.
Tremont Mountain turned out to be a nice hike on a day when the weather was kind of dicey at higher altitudes. Many people prefer hiking above treeline, but hiking in the trees is a great alternative on a blustery day. The peak’s proximity to Denver meant that I didn’t have to spend all day driving, and having a 2WD accessible trailhead meant that I didn’t have to drive my gas-guzzling Jeep. The lack of a trail to the summit wasn’t a liability; it was an opportunity. Having to plot my course up the ridge was far more interesting than simply following a trail. While I enjoyed the route that I took, there are equally worthy routes on the southwest ridge and west slope. Tremont Mountain is never going to attract huge crowds as long as we have more than 2,000 higher peaks in Colorado; that is just one more reason to get out and enjoy this hike.