Under the Devil’s Thumb


We're just back from a three-day backpacking trip through the Rockies, and I'm still nursing my aching legs. I hadn't done any backpacking since our trip to Scotland, so hiking with full packs was a shock to my system (especially without a support network of pubs to retire to every evening). Our plan was to start at Hessie trailhead near Eldora, camp by Devil's Thumb Lake the first night, then head along the divide to Middle Boulder for the second, hiking back down King Lake trail on the last day back to the truck. Do you see the ice wall in the photo? That blew our plan apart.

The first thing to watch out for if you're thinking of exploring the wilderness from Hessie trailhead is the parking. There's a first parking area that only has space for a dozen cars, and while there's room along the road for more, there's signs warning they'll be towed. We were lucky and found a space someone had just left, but as we hiked in we discovered ample parking if you have a four-wheel vehicle that can make it through a long stream ford. We made it to our first camp without a hitch, and the setting was beautiful, next to a lake, amongst scattered pine trees sitting under the Devil's Thumb mountain. That night the wind was continuous and strong, even sheltered behind a stand of trees.

In the morning we set out to complete the final thousand feet of climbing to Devil's Thumb Pass on the Divide. The trail was steep and a bit treacherous towards the end, but we were a stones-throw from the top when we hit the ice. At first we explored clambering over, but the surface was too slick. Next we scrambled over the scree to work our way it. After slipping out of my pack I was able to make it around, and halfway along the top, but had to admit defeat. With our 30 pound rucksacks, a 500 foot drop and the strong winds it was just beyond our abilities to manage safely. We chatted with another pair of hikers as we dropped back to eat our lunch, and were within earshot as they planned their attack. It took them about 30 minutes, but they managed to work their way around, and later on we met another group who'd tackled it a couple of years ago who took the same route. We're still pretty frustrated we couldn't manage it ourselves, we were so close to making the divide, so we're already planning another attempt.

Feeling pretty dejected, we headed back down the trail almost back to the trailhead, and then cut up Kings Lake trail to camp that night.

It was hard to stay downhearted in somewhere so beautiful, and on our final day we had an amazing series of views as we climbed up to the divide along Kings Lake trail, the route we would have been taking back had everything gone to plan. Near the top we took a spur trail to Betty and Bob lakes, just below the Continental Divide at about 12,000 feet:


We actually ended up working quite a bit harder than we would have doing the loop, hiking up and down to the Divide twice rather than cutting along it on the High Lonesome trail, but it was worth it to experience the world up there. Even in mid-August the winter seems close, with the flowers blooming like it's just turned spring and the most amazing mushrooms sprouting from the damp ground. We were lucky enough to have clear weather so we could see way out onto the plains, and deep into the Rockies. Despite our aching legs after the hike down, it left us wanting to return.

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