Stanley Mountain Trail – Berthoud Pass

Waking up early and heading to the mountains for a morning hike has been my escape of choice over the last couple of months. There’s something about breathing the cool mountain air and getting some exercise that brings about a feeling of freedom and accomplishment to my weekends. I think that’s what keeps bringing me back. I think that’s also what pushed me to get back out on Sunday this weekend, after our hike to St. Mary’s Glacier on Saturday, even though I was feeling a little bit tired. I woke up really early without planning on it and decided that I was going to get up and feel some accomplishment this morning.

We’ve made the drive to Grand Lake numerous times, going up and over Berthoud Pass on the way. The first few times I made the drive, I was so nervous going around the bend that I was just happy to be going back down the other side. The last few times, though, I’ve noticed the parking lot at the top and the trail that people were hiking up, and thought to myself that looked like fun.

I arrived right around 7am and there was still plenty of parking. It wasn’t because there weren’t any other cars, but the parking lot was actually quite a bit bigger than I had envisioned driving around the curve and past it so many times before. I also hadn’t ever noticed the building there, which turned out to be a “warming hut” – presumably for back country skiers in the winter. It also had clean bathrooms – another plus at the trailhead.

Most people seemed to be heading up the Mount Flora trail that was directly connected to the parking lot, but I was interested in the Stanley Mountain trail that required me to jog across the street, hoping that nobody came around the corner too fast.

The trail began as a fairly steep incline through the trees, with some meadows filled with wildflowers sprinkled in. The wildflowers were one of the best parts of this hike because they were so plentiful, and seemed to mix in intriguing colors and patterns. The trail also offered views of the surrounding peaks and glimpses of the destination as you worked your way up. I’ll let the millions of pictures I took do the talking!

When you emerge above the tree line, that’s when the views of the taller peaks further to the north emerge.

A little bit further up the trail and a little higher still, you come to a fairly flat saddle with 360 degree views of the mountains and the trail up ahead. It’s one of the most breathtaking views I’ve seen here in this state. Although this split view is south on the left and north on the right, it still felt a little like I was on the continental divide.

It was when I reached a point where you had to briefly make your way along a cliffside that I realized maybe I wasn’t quite as committed and determined as I should be today. I turned around the first time I reached this spot, content to call it a day, but I talked myself up and decided to dip my toe into the uncomfortable to see what was on the other side. I could see that the stretch along the cliff wasn’t very long and the trail was decently wide for most of it, so I went for it. I’m sure it wasn’t something that most people would think twice about, but it was big for me this day. I walked a little further, to try to get a better view of the small mountain stream cascading down from the melting snowfield.

I love the mountain stream starting from the snowfield. As always, it’s hard to tell when there’s a cliff, but this is where I turned around the first time.

It was in plain sight the entire time I had been on the saddle, but when I started up the steep series of switchbacks heading to the next ridge, that’s when I decided this wasn’t my day.

I promise I made it to the second switchback before turning around. This was just the best picture I took of the incline.

The trail from here was steep, with loose rocks and dirt, but it wasn’t really my fear of heights that took over this time. I think I simply realized that maybe I had pushed it too far and I wasn’t up to doing two hikes in one weekend, even if neither one of them was particularly long or challenging. My knees and ankles were hurting and I didn’t want to head up even further. I’ll admit that I was beating myself up a little over the fact that I didn’t have the desire to finish the hike, but I sat down, taking in the views around me, and had an epiphany. This was my lesson today. I was sitting at over 12,000 feet on top of a mountain, taking in one of the most incredible views I’d ever seen, and it was okay to be content with what I had accomplished. I absolutely will be back to finish this on a day that I’m feeling up to the task because it did challenge my fear of heights at times – something that I need to expand the possible peaks I can tackle in the future. That day just wasn’t today.

The view as I was sitting down looking back down the trail that I had just crossed. This was good enough for me today.
You can kind of see the cliff on the left side of the trail
I never got a better view of the mountain stream the further up I went, but at least you can tell I climbed higher than the point where I turned around the first time!

I headed back down, appreciating the wildflowers and the birds chirping. I kept my eye out for moose or deer, never seeing any, but I was still oddly content with my journey today. I plan on taking the week to rest up and making the most of one day of hiking next weekend.

A bit of an inside joke between Carly and I, but couldn’t believe I came across half of a “butt tree”
Looking up at the Mount Flora trail. I definitely plan on tackling that one someday too.
View of the parking lot as I came down at 9am. The lot is big, and I think most people just stay to get pictures of the sign at the top and leave, such that parking didn’t seem to be an issue, despite being nearly full.
Pocket of rain moving in. Glad that didn’t hit me when I was up on the saddle!

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