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Tuesday, June 13, 2017

The Way to The Bridge of Heaven Goes Straight Through Hell

Bridge of Heaven is a long, but Heavenly hike; 10.6 miles roundtrip from our doorstep, to be exact. Old Horse Thief Trail adjoins the Bridge of Heaven Trail on a grassy ridge line I can spy from our living room. When put together, the two trails ascend an astonishing 4,000 feet in just over 5 miles, and lands you on a precipice that overlooks a cavernous glacial basin...so eroded, so rotten of rock, so impossible to traverse that Big Horn ewes choose it as the ideal place to "lamb." 

I studied the ridge... sipping morning coffee, waiting on a couple friends foolhardy enough to join us on such a hike. The "ridge to the bridge" is less than halfway, yet it looked so high...so ridiculously far, far away. I feared a long day was in the offing. 

Friends "Crazy Leon" and Kay; a couple of fellow Geezers who trust us enough to join in.
With quads not fully recovered from Twin Peaks, I was counting on being stopped short of going all the way by heavier-than-normal snow...probably where the trail slips in and out of dark woods for a couple miles before breaking free into sun-washed openness above timberline. 

Sections of Horse Thief Trail are narrow, loose, and precipitous. We met a lady with a dog here ,breathless and beating a hasty retreat

The views back to Lovely Ouray as we ascend...

Friend, Kay, takes a water break just below the grassy ridge line.

Last view of town for a while...

The grassy ridge line is flowered with phlox...

The intersection of Horse Thief and Bridge of Heaven Trails on the grassy ridge we can see from home.

As suspected, we found snow lingering in the shade of timber as we neared 11,000 feet. It was deep in places... soft enough that didn't support our weight. We're all wearing shorts, so the shards of icy crust cut our senior skin like butter as we post holed along. I was still scabbed from post holing up Red Mountain, so it was a particularly painful process. The going was slow. Leon's wearing running shoes, throughly saturated after a few steps, so it doesn't take long for blisters to form on his feet. I give him some bandaids and moleskin and tell him, "Suck it up, old man." He doesn't laugh.

We leave the snowed in trail to go in search of bare ground bypasses.  It's fraught with deadfall, and worse than post holing. Spirits were sagging. I keep hollering, "Just another hundred yards...were almost to timberline." Post holing is hard work, discouraging at best, and it can suck the "fun" out of a mountain hike faster than you can say, "Cold, wet feet." 

Having exhausted all stored carbs, Leon plops his ass down in the snow the second we break into sunlight. We all need fuel, actually. Bobbie and Kay straggle in a couple minutes later looking done for.

The above photo is the view from our refueling stop...a tad daunting, to say the least. I'm treated to a chorus of groans and panted cursing at the mention of continuing on to the "Bridge." I feel a little burst of adrenaline at the thought of being so close to the summit, and decide to test elk tracks for solidity. If I stayed in the elk's tracks the going was good, I didn't break through. "Hey, the snow is good and solid, you guys. Like climbing stairs." Nobody rushes to their feet.

"I'm going for it," I say, We're too close to stop now and the snow is good. I turned and continued up the mountain.

Looking back down, following elk tracks up

Bobbies on her feet!!! But Leon's still sitting in the snow.

A couple hundred yards up the slope of snow I pause for breath and look down. Bobbies up and following! And she's cajoling Leon to do the same. I continued on.

Sure enough, Leon gets to his feet. Nothing like being outdone by a "girl" to get you going.
We wrapped around to the south face, where snow had long since yielded to the effects of solar energy. The trail reappeared. "We're almost there! Another hundred yards." The views grew with every step.

The Bridge of Heaven is still snowed in.
But the views are enormous...

Peaks in the distance, left to right starting mid frame: Courthouse, Precipice, Redcliffe. Bobbie and I have been on top of each one...fond memories; so lucky.

Bobbie and Leon, almost there

I wouldn't trust the "Bridge of Heaven" yet. It's a long way down.

There's Leon!!!

And Bobbie, right on his heels.

Time to head down...on shaky legs, five and a quarter miles.

Sometimes you don't realize how steep it was going up till you start back down

It took 8 hours. Time well spent with friends, a challenge met; victors on this day. Time for beer and Mexican food at Buen Tiempo.

Sometimes, "if you want to get to heaven, you got to raise a little Hell." Ozark Mountain Daredevils


  1. Wow. That was some hike. Looked like it was as difficult going down as it was going up. Thanks for taking us along. I'm feeling guilty I got to do it from an arm chair.

  2. Sweet Jesus.....that's enough RESEARCH to last us for the rest of the month. Then the thought of walking all that way down , I could only think of who was going to get dinner after that....thank god for the Buen Tiempo.
    Now take a couple days off and gets some rest ,would ya?

  3. 8 hours? What took you so long? Using your spectacular photos and text, I was at the "Bridge" cornice (what's left of it) in less than 3 minutes. Even so, I'm a bit winded.

  4. I get a little breathless just reading your posts and remembering those high altitude hikes. This one looks like a killer!

  5. Thanks for letting us experience it through your photos! Geesh, I don't know how you all handle that steep trail.

  6. 4000 ft in 5 miles?! that is insane, good work!


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