I found myself with an afternoon off and uncertain schedule the following day (typical life of a raft guide, I suppose). I could go pedal around Glenwood, or even do some studying at the library, but I was getting a little too stir crazy for that. With the Thomas Lakes trailhead only an hour out some gravel roads and double track, I figured it would be a good time to finally reach the summits of Mt. Sopris.
First off, let me apologize for the cheesy iPhone pictures. All Canon batteries where dead, and I left in a hurry. Rookie move. Even with the big camera at home, it was totally worth it being above treeline for sunrise.
Mt. Sopris is the focal point of the lower Roaring Fork Valley, rising nearly 6,000 feet from the valley below. At 12,953 feet high, it's not on the list of Colorado's highest peaks, but offers views and vertical gain the rival many of the 14ers. Total roundtrip mileage is 12.6 miles with an elevation gain of 4,600 feet. It's a technically easy but strenuous hike; I thought the most difficult part was navigating the scree and talus fields towards the top (you'll have sore feet by the end of the day). Although it's most commonly done as a day hike, there are beautiful spots for camping at Thomas Lakes. However, since it is in the Maroon-Snowmass Wilderness, bear-proof food storage is required (bear hangs not allowed).
I used this overnight to test out a few pieces of gear (or that's how I justified it anyway). I have a $60 Amazon backpack used for mostly storage, but was curious to see how it'd perform. The result was just as terrible as you'd suspect. There were internal metal frame stays and plenty of padding, but the design and fit couldn't come close to the comfort of an Osprey, Arc'teryx, etc. Worth a shot though!
Also, a $20 military surplus coated nylon rain jacket continues to stay in my pack, due to my lack of funds to purchase a real rain jacket. It's bulky and doesn't breathe the slightest bit. If you were standing around in Seattle all day and not exerting yourself, this might be OK. But every time I try hiking with it, it almost immediately wets out and becomes a sauna inside.
Issues aside, I'm still thankful for every piece of kit I had out there, as I was pretty darn comfortable the whole time. It even got a little close to Glamping...
The only other time I've attempted an alpine start to see the sunrise was on Mt. Quandary, and we were shut down by lightning after we topped out above treeline. I figured I'd give it a go this time around and left camp around 5:00am. I managed to get just above treeline before the sun poked up around 6:30, probably due to the heavy pack I was schlepping (but mostly because I ran out of fuel to make coffee!). It was absolutely stunning, and I recommend it to everyone (it's totally worth the 4:30am alarm).
Overall it was a pretty awesome impromptu trip, and I can't wait to explore the rest of the West Elks with friends. Every time I go out I screw up at least one thing and learn from it, plus am always jazzed about nature and wild places afterward. The mountains have a powerful way of keeping you humble, and showing you what's most important in life. So if that sounds good to you, the Thomas Lakes trailhead is waiting.
More trail info here: