Having been able to complete our first 14er and a number of trails that traversed gorgeous alpine lakes, we were psyched that southern Colorado’s mid-autumn weather was affording us so many amazing hiking opportunities. When we settled on spending a month in the area, we were well aware that one early-season snow could thwart some our high-elevation excursions. After a few weekends with flawless weather, we finally got a Sunday with a dodgy forecast. With winds expected to be at or near gale force, we knew another summit hike was probably out of the question. Thus, we settled on Quartz Lake via a nine-mile trail outside of Pagosa Springs. However, as I gawked at the foliage along Highway 160 as we drove to the trailhead, I made a last-minute decision that we really should go up to Wolf Creek Pass and check out the Continental Divide. Because really, the place you want to be to avoid unpleasant gales is on the Divide.
As we turned into the parking area atop the pass, the winds were fairly light, and we pretty much forgot about the weather forecast as we set out on the trail. Sanchez was loving all the sniffs, as well as the fact that we were completely alone. Heading south, the trail climbed gradually through some burned forest until we reached the Wolf Creek Ski Resort. The views started to open up, and we finally began to feel those predicted gusts.
With the winds topping out at around 40 mph, we decided to hike to Alberta Peak, the first knobby little summit along the Continental Divide Trail. As the path began skirting the edge of the ridgeline, we were relentlessly blasted with cold air. Poor Sanchez was totally windswept, her head down to avoid the direct blows. Always the tenacious little explorer, though, she jumped up and pranced along each snow fence, nose pointed firmly into the wind to take in all the passing smells. As we reached Alberta’s small crown (11,870’), I was struggling to stand upright in the winds. No longer wanting to endure the gales, we headed back to the pass after just a brief walk.
The trail was scenic enough, with the views seeming to improve the further we got from the pass. Had it been a little less windy, we probably would have gone at least a few more miles to check out the scenery. While it wasn’t the hike we originally planned, it was a nice little morning outing.
Total distance: 6.4 miles
Elevation gain: 1,220 feet