Date hiked: 07/28/16
Mileage: 9.3 miles; 3.5 hrs
Head Count (how many other hikers I saw): 0 groups
A feathered undergrowth of hearty grasses and broadleaf ferns carpets the forest wall to wall, fringing in on the scrawny belt of shoe-print pocked dirt which shuttles you 1,000 feet up the hillside towards the mountain’s balding embrace at treeline. Sheltered under mature pockets of coniferous aspens and spruce, the growth is shin-high at worst. At points, the trees thin, laying bare wide views to Whitehouse Mountain on Ouray’s eastern flank, and Ridgway to the north.
One mile in, graded switchbacks pull the Horsethief Trail out of treeline, where it tops out at the two mile mark on the eastern terminus of the old Horsethief Trail. Rerouted in 2012, a sign prohibits travel on the fading trail which takes a steeper approach from the northern end of Ouray. The grassy knoll offers views to Ouray and Yankee Boy Basin.
Over the next two miles, a steady incline finds nearly another 1,500 feet of elevation before the final oxygen-deprived push towards the summit. In a second series of tight switchbacks, the trail ends at the Bridge of Heaven.
The climb up to the Bridge of Heaven may have been Hell on Earth, but a dopamine-induced euphoria kicks in at the ever expanding fish-eye views of the San Juans atop the lofty 12,700 foot ridge.
(From Ouray): From the Hot Springs Pool, head north on Highway 550 for 1.6 miles. Turn right onto CR 14/Dexter Creek Road. CR 14 is rough, growing more so the further up you go, but doable with any low-clearance 2WD vehicle. After 2.5 miles, the road crosses Dexter Creek. Don’t event try to bring low-clearance across here, but if you have high clearance 4WD, continue to the trailhead at the end of the road just 1 mile further.
5.3 miles; 22 min