Hiking at Boreas Pass
To Black Powder Pass, Colorado
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On this trip, I tried to do two hikes per day. The first one was typically the big event of the day, and the second was the "what do I have time and energy for?" hike. As a result, my late-day hikes usually turned out to be less exciting, but Day 7 broke that routine. On my last full day, I ended up on one of the most enjoyable trails -- one that wasn't extremely exhausting, but with a big reward.
The Black Powder Pass Trail starts at Boreas Pass -- the high point on the dirt Boreas Pass Road, an old railroad grade that climbs up from Breckenridge. From Boreas Pass, you'll hike up to another pass, located to the northeast, and sandwiched in between Boreas Mountain and Bald Mountain -- the 13,684 foot/4,171 meter peak that you see in the photo above and below.
Park at the pass, and walk over to the buildings on the east side of the road. You'll find a dirt track that runs in front of those buildings...
... and that track leads to a drainage ditch, which carries water down from the pass. You'll be following this trickle of water, more or less, the entire way.
It doesn't matter which side of the ditch you walk on. The 'upper' side is a little more hilly, so it will require a tiny bit more effort.
If you're hiking in the late afternoon, like I was, the dead tree stumps on the side of Boreas Mountain (13,082 feet/3,987 meters) will be beautifully lit by the low sun.
The trails on both sides of the ditch combine at this small pool and waterfall. At this point, the less thrilling part of the hike is behind you. From here on, the elevation increases more quickly, and so do the views.
Yes, that is a little snow, still clinging onto a shady spot, in mid-June.
There's only one part of the trail that's slightly difficult to follow, and it's in the vicinity of these tree stumps. Around here, you'll need to cross the creek. I don't know if there's a better spot than the one I found, but you shouldn't have any trouble figuring out where to go or how to get there.
Beyond the stumps and the creek crossing, the sweeping view of Bald Mountain lies to your left...
... and straight ahead, up the trail, your destination is clear. You're on your way to the saddle between the two mountains, and there's very little to distract you from the climb...
... other than the fantastic views. This photo looks to the south, towards Mount Silverheels, I believe (elevation 13,829 feet/4,215 meters).
You'll have to gain about 650 feet in about 1.7 miles to reach Black Powder Pass, but when you do...
... you'll get to experience that "wow" moment, when you peek over the saddle into the neighboring French Creek Valley, which appears to be virtually untouched by humans. On the left, you see the tail end of Mount Guyot, and on the right is part of Boreas Mountain. A large snowdrift clung to the shadowy hillside at my feet.
I don't think I saw another hiker on this entire trail, and it certainly felt like I had the place to myself. I climbed a short distance up from the saddle and found a good view of the French Creek Valley.
If it had been earlier in the day, I would have considered summiting either Boreas or Bald Mountain. They both seemed so close! But the truth is, either peak would require a lot more effort. At the saddle, you're at about 12,150 feet. The top of Bald Mountain would require another 1,500 foot gain (on top of the exhausting 650 foot climb from the trailhead).
Boreas Mountain would require slightly less of a climb, but it's further away. The summit you see in the photo above is a false summit, at about 12,800 feet, that blocks the real peak from view. The trail also appeared rougher.
I had a good excuse to not go any further. This hike was just the frosting on the cake -- my day-ender, the "spare" hike, meant to fill the quickly-fleeting afternoon of my 7th day on vacation.
After relaxing for a while (as much as one can, in the brisk wind at this altitude), I headed back down to the saddle...
... and met up with the trail, for the hike back to Boreas Pass.
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