Rampart East Roadless Area
There’s not much traffic this Sunday morning as I cruise south on I-25 toward the town of Palmer Lake. Though most of the week has been warm for January, an arctic front will be moving in tomorrow bringing in snow and wind chills well below zero. At the last minute, I gave up on a planned overnighter and decided to explore Rampart East as a day trip. Most of the Rampart Range has been given over to motorized recreation—ATVs, dirt-bikes, and the like—so I’m very curious to see this area that has been set aside for quiet use.
There are only a few vehicles at the trailhead. The morning is still cool. A mountain biker rides by on the dirt road followed by his golden lab. A GMC Suburban pulls up beside me and three guys dressed in camo pile out.
The road up to the Lower Reservior is steep and icy, and I’m happy to have brought trekking poles and ice cleats. A young couple come into view, both with long hair and carrying camping gear. They have just spent the night above the Upper Reservoir and seem to be in a great mood.
Turning north onto an unmarked trail, I climb up the very steep side of Sundance Mountain. Hearing a noise, I look up to see a trail runner slide down an icy patch, followed by his dog. At the top of the ridge, I stop to listen to the silence and breathe the cool mountain air.
The trail runs level for a while, offering glimpses of the surrounding landscape, then plunges downward. Rock formations that remind me of the Lost Creek Wilderness come into view.
Descending lower, I cross a stream that has a trickle of water running beneath the ice and snow. Just beyond, there are a two men warming themselves by a campfire. One of them tells me that cat tracks outnumber dog tracks near here, and sure enough, there are mountain lion in the snow just beyond their camp.
Soon after crossing Ice Cave Creek, the Winding Stairs Trail appears to the west. Another steep climb puts me in view of the rock formations on the north side of the creek.
The sky darkens, and a cold breeze stirs in advance of the arctic front. Still, it’s thrilling to be here in the presence of such beauty. Hiking through the ankle-deep snow, huge granite boulders appear to my right.
Climbing higher through the snow, I reach a point where the Winding Stairs Trail descends again. The day is getting late. Reluctantly, I turn around and hike until intersecting the Swank trail, then head south toward the Upper Reservoir.
A dark, green forest highlights the beauty of the reservoir. In the waning light, I spot two groups of ice fishermen on the lake, one in the open, the other enclosed in a big red shelter. Back at the trailhead, I’m feeling physically tired but filled with the exhilaration that only a day out in the wilds can provide. I promise myself that next time, I’ll spend the night.
The Colorado Mountain Club maintains an excellent site that tells more about the Rampart East Roadless Area.
There is also a Rampart East facebook page complete with photos and maps.
Here’s more about Tom Mowle who generously took to time to answer my questions. He probably knows more about Rampart East than anyone alive.