November 7, 2020 · White River National Forest
The trek to Kokomo Pass is along a portion of the Continental Divide Trail inside the White River National Forest was a pleasant surprise. The trail itself is technically not challenging, however, the slope of the trail it is relentless. There are plenty of tall healthy conifers along this open and airy trail making for a very enjoyable hike. The weather forecast for this trek was all over the place.
I came prepared for heavy snow on the return. However, I opted to dump a lot of the heavy snow gear at the trailhead and go with several light layers which turned out to be a good choice. It never snowed along this trail, though at Kokomo Pass the wind did kick up from time to time, and being November, the wind was cold.
This trail and this area have an interesting history, in addition to the mining history associated with this area of the Mineral Belt, the area was also home to the 10th Mountain Division, the base was called Camp Hale. This elite division trained in alpine warfare and were deployed during WWII. The base has since been razed and is now a nice area with easy access from Leadville to spend a day in the White River National Forest. However, there are many signs around stating that there may still be live munitions around, if you find any you are to leave it as is and report it; "Stay the Trail" is the marching order of the day.
Once on the trial, the slope of the trail is noticeable and each pitch feels like it goes on forever, with only a few spots along the trail that are flat-ish. It's easy to image a platoon of fresh troops in the 10th Mountain Division on PT or training having to run this trail, and unlike me, they could not stop until the Drill Sargent said they could stop; it must have been grueling.
For the most part the trail is on the South Face, so it was rare there was any snow on the trail. However, on the East side of the trail, there was a nice light blanket of snow. Along one of the few flat sections of the trail, you could hear the wind whip through the treetops but nothing along the trail. Along the trail there was a tree that did not have any limbs on it and had several sections of bark missing. My subconscious must have been trying to get my attention, though I did not make the connection until I stepped off the trail of several sections of bark stripped off of a tree at and above eye-level and saying out loud "this is bear country."
I did not see any large game along the tail, though there are plenty of Deer and Elk tracks along the trail. Which was a good thing, big game hunting season was underway. I suspect the animals know when it is time to not play "I see you human; do you see me?" along the trail. As far as traffic on the trail, I basically had the trail to myself all day. I saw one hiker and his dog on their way out early in the trek. On my way back out, I saw two hunters, one above treeline laying down next to the trail waiting for something to happen and another making their way up the trail.
The weather was great on the way to Kokomo Pass, you could hear the wind in the tree-tops from time to time and there were patches of fast-moving clouds. At tree-line, the valley opens to the West of a spectacular view to the Northern Sawatch Range in the Holy Cross Wilderness; one of my favorite areas in the White River National Forest. The jagged peaks had a light dusting of snow. The clouds over the Northern Sawatch Range where gathering and changing in color from white to dark heavy rain or heavy snow clouds, coming in from the North.
The final pitch from treeline to Kokomo Pass was wonderful, to the South is North Sheep Mountain and its North face is covered in a light blanket of snow. The sky was still clear and with the sun beating down on the snow, it looked like the mountain was covered in salt. I took my time getting to Kokomo Pass, the groundcover above treeline is a rust-brown and against the clear blue sky is striking and intense in color. Looking back to the West you could see the storm clouds gathering faster and becoming darker and darker. I knew I would not have a lot of time above treeline before the weather reached this valley.
Upon reaching Kokomo Pass the views of the Northern Sawatch Range to the West are obscured by North Sheep Mountain. However, the trade off is the Tenmile Range to the East and are equally impressive. They are closer than the Norther Sawatch Range and have a spectacular light layer of snow on them. The wind at Kokomo Pass was strong and cold but intermittent. Looking to the East towards the Tenmile range, the Molybdenum strip mine is a prominent feature. The Winter is the only time the mine is not an eyesore. I am sure mine operator will eventually consume all of Bartlett Mountain.
From Kokomo Pass the Continental Divide trail continues to Copper Mountain. Judging the speed of the incoming weather I lingered at Kokomo Pass for a fair amount of time, knowing I had to be back down below treeline before the weather moved in. By the time I got back down to treeline, the weather over the Norther Sawatch Range had changed over to snow and rain and the sky to the North was filled with thick, dark, low clouds. It started to rain just as I stepped off the trail.
This trek turned out to be a quick 9.3 miles roundtrip coming in at almost exactly 7 hours. To me this trail is a hidden gem, especially since I effectively had the trail to myself; though I suspect in the Summer this is a popular route. It was a fantastic day on the trail.