Cross the Great Divide at 12,000ft
Summit & Clear Creek County, Colorado
Loveland Pass is the highest mountain pass in the world to stay open throughout the winter season. It crosses the Continental Divide at 11,990ft and features enough parking at the top for over two dozen cars, allowing plenty of access for hiking, back country snowboarding/skiing, and photo snapping opportunities.
U.S. Hwy 6 splits off I-70 at the base of Loveland Ski area and climbs the ridge atop which Loveland Pass sits before descending down the other side past Arapahoe Basin and through Keystone. The drive along the winding mountain road is often exposed, as much of the length of road is not protected by a shoulder barrier. Careful driving is paramount, especially in icy conditions. Avalanches are another risk as large sections of the route sit under steep avalanche prone slopes. This particular ridge-line is a magnet for snow and high winds in the winter and heavy snow removal equipment is frequently in operation to keep the pass open.
Winter hiking is relatively easy starting on Loveland Pass. The trail begins well above treeline at 11,990ft and rises almost 1,000ft in just under a mile to the first unnamed peak from where spectacular views of the Front Range and the Western Slope can be had. The ridge is wide and wind-blown, which suited me well as I moved out here with no prior experience in neither mountains nor snow. As the thick of winter sets in, snow shoes become necessary for hiking in most areas of Summit County. Loveland Pass, however, can usually be hiked in waterproof/insulated boots as the wind keeps the ridge bare. Be careful, however, after heavy snowstorms, as portions of the trail can end up waist high in the white stuff.
Loveland Pass is also popular with pets. Plenty of people stop to stretch their legs in the parking lot at the top and give their dogs the opportunity to do the same. Dogs will also frequently accompany their owners on hikes to the top of the hill and back.
During ski-season, many back country skiers and boarders will bring their dogs along. The dogs dutifully give chase down the snow covered slopes as their owners slide away, and when the run is done they join their owners in the journey to hitchhike back to the top.
Hitchhiking is common during the winter season, as boarders will take to both sides of the pass and there are no established lifts. Good karma suggests you stop and pick up a usually friendly and excessively happy boarder if you see one stood at the side of the road. The culture is incredible, and many friendships both fleeting and long term are made.
These articles are my best efforts to share the amazing things I have encountered on my adventure in Summit County. They are a constant work in progress, so check back often for updates and feel free to contact me with questions or comments.