Tom Ross' column appears in Steamboat Today. Contact him at 970-871-4205 or tross@SteamboatToday.com.
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Steamboat Springs The Thunderhead hiking trail to the top of the gondola has long been one of the best routes in the valley that is most overlooked by resident hikers.
Judy and I took advantage of opening day for hiking and biking trails at the ski area last weekend to get some miles on our hiking legs, and we made it as far as Twister. I’m always looking for a mild thrill and covered that base Sunday by pulling a chunk of foam pad out of my daypack.
I keep the pad in my pack to give me a soft spot to sit on, and I’ve always thought it could come in handy during a winter emergency. In this case, I used it to get in a little bit of June butt sledding on the Skyline trail just above the saddle of Vagabond. The snow there is disappearing fast.
If you make up your mind to hike the ski mountain this summer, put the Thunderhead trail on your list and be prepared to wait. A mudslide on the steep pitch of Vertigo has necessitated re-routing the trail. For at least the early part of summer, the singletrack Thunderhead trail has been replaced by Why Not. The latter is a green circle ski route in winter and a construction/maintenance road for Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp. personnel during summer.
The last time I hiked up Why Not, it was May 1 and I was on Telemark skis with climbing skins. The road had been plowed, but the surface still was pristine white and there were gigantic snow berms on either side of the road. When I arrived at the big lefthand hairpin switchback at Upper Vagabond, the snow banks were considerably higher than my head. They’ve since evaporated with the hot winds of June.
I ran into a group of down-hikers getting off the gondola Sunday who told me they were disappointed that the trail is two-track for now. The good news is that the views from Why Not will give you a new perspective on where geographic landmarks up and down the valley are in relation to one another.
I know, everyone who has ever skied with toddlers is familiar with those views. But you’ll be surprised at how different they look in summer. If you take binoculars along, you might even spot the roof of your own home, 2,300 feet below.
Why Not also is the preferred everyday training hike for anyone harboring ambitions of summiting a 14er this summer. For one thing, it’s closer to where you live than any comparable hike in the Mount Zirkel Wilderness Area. If you’re motivated, you can hike up and down before punching the clock at work.
The 3.5-mile march to Thunderhead makes a trot up Blackmer Drive to the quarry on Emerald Mountain look like hopscotch. If you can hike to the top of Storm Peak and resist the temptation to take the gondola down to your car, you’re pretty well prepared to bang out a non-technical 14,000-foot peak.
They didn’t get as much snow down south this year as we did in the Park Range, so many of those 14ers will be available for some big-time hiking before we ever drive to the top of Buffalo Pass this summer.
If you’re contemplating your first 14er, I encourage you to visit the website www.14ers.org, where you’ll find detailed photographs of all of the climbing routes with colored lines superimposed on the images to show the trail. In most cases, you’ll find the images reassuring.
Have at it.
To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205 or email tross@SteamboatToday.com