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This week in Happy Trails: Sentinel Point
• 3 boots
• 6 miles round trip
• 2,800-foot elevation gain
The snow is melting, it’s downright hot in town and you may have high climbing aspirations for summer.
This 12,527-foot heap of boulders is a prominent point on the west flank of Pikes Peak. It makes a great get-in-shape hike, with just enough elevation gain and thin air to remind your body what it’s like fighting gravity in the alpine environment.
The hike involves some route finding between sporadic cairns, so take along good directions and a map, such as the Pikes Peak Atlas. The area could hold snow well into spring, so be prepared to turn back and save the summit for another day if need be.
To get there
Take U.S. Highway 24 west to Divide, then turn left (south) on Colorado Highway 67. Go just past old Little Ike tunnel and park in the lot to the left of the highway. The trailhead is unmarked, but obvious.
Walk up the broad trail above the old railroad tunnel until you see a grassy valley on the left. This is Horsethief Park, where, it is said, horse rustlers used to hide from the law during the mining days. Go left.
The trail, marked as part of the Ring the Peak Trail, meanders through the valley. Veer right at a “Y” intersection. Now the fun starts. The trail will gradually fade as it heads steeply uphill, so keep your eye out for cairns, small rock piles that long-ago hikers left to mark the way.
Continue uphill. Don’t fret if you lose the trail, just keep the large boulder field on your right and, once above treeline, the creek on your left. Aim for a saddle between high points on your right and left as the cairns disappear.
After the steep final push to the ridge, catch your breath, chuckle at the people off in the distance driving up the Pikes Peak Highway (they aren’t getting any exercise!) and head west to Sentinel Point.
Once you reach the boulders, things get even more interesting. If you’re nervous about bouldering or if the rocks are icy, call it a day here. Otherwise look for cairns in the middle of the eastern side of the rock heap and carefully climb up.
A metal plaque marks the summit, where you can soak in the amazing views of distant mountain ranges, including the Sangre de Cristos, Sawatch and Mosquito ranges. Take comfort that you will be in better shape when you attempt these greater heights.
Return the way you came.
Pikes Peak Ranger District, Pike National Forest, 636-1602. Backcountry camping is allowed, though you won’t find much on the steep upper reaches of the trail. Car camping can be found at nearby Mueller State Park or The Crags.
A scale of one to four boots. One is easiest, with little elevation gain, and it is at a reasonable altitude. Four is most difficult, with sever elevation gain, difficult terrain or extreme length or altitude.