|Sheep—not horses—graze at the Horsethief Pack Trail trailhead.|
In the distance, 14,309' Uncompahgre Peak dominates the skyline.
Read about our previous summit of Uncompahgre here.
Horsethief Pack Trail starts at an elevation of 12,400' and over the course of a few miles the trail gains and loses little more than a couple hundred feet of elevation. A bit of exertion is required due to decreased oxygen levels at that altitude, but the real effort is getting to the trailhead. The 16 mile dirt road leading from Lake City to Engineer Pass is rough; 4-wheel drive is needed for the final 6 miles and the going is slow—it takes over an hour to drive those 16 miles.
But after arriving at the top of the world the arduous drive is forgotten. The trail starts with 360° views of the surrounding mountains and keeps getting better.
As Tim, Annie and I walked along, pikas and marmots serenaded us with their chattering and chirping calls. Most likely they were scolding Annie but she didn't seem to notice. Annie did notice, though, a group of camouflaged White-tailed Ptarmigan nestled in a rocky chute. She flushed the birds but thankfully didn't chase them.
The Ptarmigan scurried away to bed down in a nearby rock-strewn meadow, and Tim and I were treated to as fine a view as we've ever had of these alpine and tundra game birds.
We hiked for a few miles, then stopped for lunch near a hillside rock cairn. This would be our turn-around point, but the trail continues above treeline for several more miles.
The perfect totally-above-treeline trail on the perfect day? You decide.
|The trail's beginning immediately affords views of several of the San Juan|
Mountain's 13,000 and 14,000 foot peaks.
|Annie loves nothing more than a cool high-alpine hike.|
|Tiny American Lake (center of photo) is a side destination on this hike.|
|Tim and Annie find the right spot for a refreshing alfresco lunch.|
|Marmots surveyed and scolded us from the fields and rocky ledges.|
|A cute little pika watches us pass by.|
|One of the group of White-tailed Ptarmigan, showing off its summer plumage.|
During winter the ptarmigan turn white, and are camouflaged by snow.
|This photo shows the White-tailed Ptarmigan expertly camouflaged by the rocks.|
Can you fine the Ptarmigan?
Click on the photo to enlarge. The black arrow (top left) points to the head of the bird.