Bootprints: Hiking guide to Peak 1 in Frisco, Colorado
BY THE NUMBERS
Mileage: 2.9 miles one way (from Second Avenue trailhead)
Time: 4-6 hours
Elevation gain: roughly 3,665 feet
Getting there: From Interstate 70, take Exit 201 for Frisco’s Main Street. Either park at the large paved parking lot at the base of Mount Royal, right off of I-70, or travel east down Main Street and turn onto Second Avenue. Follow this road, cross the paved recpath until reaching the gravel parking lot. Take the trail to Mount Royal. The Peak 1 Trail continues from the summit of Mount Royal.
One of the most remarkable, rewarding aspects of living in Colorado’s high country is being able to see a mountaintop from your house, walk out your front door, climb that mountain and return to your house in town, all in the same day.
At all times there are numerous peaks on our horizon line. In Summit County, you can see the Tenmile Range from almost anywhere. From Silverthorne and Dillon, you can see both the Tenmile Range and the mysterious Gore Range. And in some places, like Frisco’s Main Street, you can see far into the distance toward Grays and Torreys peaks.
These mountains become familiar landmarks to Summit County residents, and for some — myself included — they are a source of inspiration and a constant call to action. Bagging the peaks in my own county — the faces I see on a daily basis — is more pressing to me than crushing as many 14ers as I can. It’s about creating a personal bond with your mountains. It’s about climbing them, creating memories on their summits and being able to look up at them with respect, having been there.
I can see the stunning trinity of Mount Royal, Mount Victoria and Peak 1 from my front porch. These mountains are part of my everyday life and are landmarks of this place I call home.
Setting sights high
It’s a sleepy Sunday mid-morning as I step outside onto my front porch. I glance up at the craggy face of Peak 1.
“In a couple hours we’ll be up there sitting on top of that mountain,” I say to my friend Oliver. We give each other giddy glances and head towards the trailhead. To access Peak 1, hikers need to jump on the Mount Royal trail, then over to Victoria and, finally, up to the peak’s summit.
There are a couple access points to the Mount Royal trail — we parked near the I-70 off-ramp and walked down the recpath. The first portion of the trek is a breeze.
It’s steep, but when you know it only gets steeper you’re able to quiet any reluctances from the body early on.
In less than an hour we neared the summit of Mount Royal. The trail was crowded with people up until a quarter-mile from the summit of Royal, where we saw the trail split. There is a signpost here giving mileage for the offshoots of Victoria and Peak 1.
Onward and upward
The push to Victoria is no flatter than the hike to Royal’s summit. It’s steep, but we were thankful for the initial switchbacks and turns in the trail en route to Victoria. We were also thankful that this portion of the trail wasn’t as sandy — Mount Royal’s trail is heavily traveled, causing the trail to have sort of a sandy, gravel-like surface. Traction on that kind of trail is a bit limited. The push to Victoria has more shade, too.
As we gained elevation, the forest changed from aspen to evergreen, and as we got even higher there were fewer trees at all. We passed an old mining cabin and a mound of snow so large I initially thought it was a yurt, or someone’s backcountry camping setup. Even in the thick of summer, there are still thick pockets of snow in the shade.
At times, Victoria’s trail was so steep — I would guess nearly a 40-degree angle for stretches — I was grabbing onto roots and tree branches, pulling myself upward. Parts of the trail were muddy from recent rain, making it all the more interesting. So did the pockets of snowmelt covering the trail: We would lose the trail for a couple of minutes, only to find it again on the other side of some snow.
Then, there was scree like you wouldn’t believe. Victoria seemed to have a false summit of her own. There were rock cairns stacked all over the ascent to Victoria: different passages wrapping left and right. At her summit near a large radio tower, gnarled pine trees seemed dwarfed by the elements. We looked up toward Peak 1, which looked so close, and at the weather station before it, which looked even closer.
Little did we know we still had a couple hard pushes and another hour of hiking.
NOT QUITE THERE
For the next hour we encountered treeless tundra and boulder scrambling. Peak 1 seemed to be getting close, but there were numerous moments when we discovered we weren’t as close as we had thought. The false summits — we counted four of them — were a bit defeating at times, but laughable. We’d take a breath, chug water and crush another section of scree … only to get to the top and see more false summits unfolding before us.
Moving completely camouflaged in the alpine grasses was a white bird with patches of tan and black spots in its feathering. It was a white-tailed ptarmigan (for which nearby Ptarmigan Peak in Silverthorne is named). These birds are totally white in the winter to blend in with the snow — masters of disguise. Above their eyelids is a band of red, a piece of color that stands out from their otherwise flawless concealment. In our brightly colored jackets, we didn’t blend in nearly as well as the ptarmigan as we pushed our way over the many false summits.
Finally, we reached the bottom of what we believed to be the actual ascent to Peak 1. Looking down over our right shoulders were the rocky fins you can see from I-70 as you drive past Officers Gulch and those turn-offs. Here, there was a lot of rock scrambling and digging in with trekking poles. At the very top, we had to cross over a patch of thick snow to the actual summit. Buddhist prayer flags were there to greet us with comfort, peace and good tidings. We saw the rest of the Tenmile Range looking daunting as ever to the south of Peak 1.
Once there, we met a trail runner who’d already scrambled to Peak 3 and back by around 1 p.m. We took our time at the summit though. I looked down toward Frisco and traced the familiar landmarks below in an attempt to locate my house. I saw the elementary school, and I spotted the fire station and the large reddish-colored apartments near the trailhead. I traced the streets to where I believed my house to be while standing on the same mountaintop I’d been staring at just that morning. Then, I smiled at the unspeakable feeling of juxtaposition and how lucky I am to summit the peaks in my front yard.