Go before the snow
October 25, 2003
It was silent on top of the southern side of Rabbit Ears Peak last Sunday, except for the wind blowing heavily to the east.
The “rabbit ears” of Rabbit Ears Pass are two rock formations formed by volcanic ash and lava millions of years ago that resemble the ears of a rabbit. One of the ears, however, now has a large spilt in it.
On a clear day, views stretch from the Morningside Park ski runs on the back of Mount Werner to a panorama of Mount Ethel, North Park, all the way to Wyoming and the Medicine Bow Mountain Range, to Kremmling, the Gore Range and the Flat Tops.
The three-dimensional plastic maps on display in government buildings and shops around town suddenly became real, and much larger.
Getting up on the ear is noisy, though, with volcanic rocks crumbling as you climb. It is a dangerous climb, but there is one crevice that provides the quickest, easiest and perhaps safest ascent. Besides an old rope that is stronger than it looks, the rocks provide several solid hand and foot holds.
However, Wendy Holden of visitor information services at the Hahn’s Peak/Bear Ears Rangers District, warns that not all the rocks are solid and does not endorse climbing on them. Climbing is allowed, but at your own risk.
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The ears are much larger than they appear from the pass. Once you’ve made the initial climb, you have to hike about 20 to 30 feet up to the peak. On top is a metal marker, reminding those who made it of their accomplishment, though at some point, the “10,654 feet” was scratched out of the elevation measurement.
The split rabbit ear is lower than the solid one, and it is much steeper and difficult if not impossible to climb without climbing equipment.
Holden said that because of the rocks’ susceptibility to crumbling and erosion, technical climbing is not recommended.
Standing on the solid ear of the rock formation provides an interesting perspective of the top of the other ear. Light passes through the split, creating interesting shadows.
According to “Hiking Colorado’s Geology,” by Ralph Lee Hopkins and Lindy Birkel Hopkins, the layers of rock are “extruded volcanic rock that cooled at the surface rather than intrusive rocks that solidified deep within the neck of a volcano.”
“These volcanic mountains mark the roots of ancient volcanoes that spewed ash and lava across north-central Colorado between 33 million and 23 million years ago. Over time, the explosive flows of ash and lava buried areas of rock at the crest of the Park Range. Erosion has now shaped these volcanic layers into the unique Rabbit Ears of today.”
The rocks may have withstood the test of time in their windy spot because of calcite that has crystallized around them, protecting them from the elements.
In summertime, wildflowers are plentiful along the hike to the rock formation, but only their brown remains were visible last week.
Exploring the base of the Rabbit Ears is as fun as exploring the top, but reaching the top isn’t necessary for great views. Everything seen from atop an ear can be seen at the formation’s base.
Take time to notice the details of the rocks.
The hike is relatively easy and well worth it, especially for Yampa Valley residents who have driven past the ears hundreds of times but who have never seen them up close.
— To reach Nick Foster call 871-4204
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