Springtime in Colorado can be magical. New life blooms everywhere with trees and flowers awakening (the exception being the dead tree in our own backyard). We get rounds of wild weather that produce everything from rain to hail to snow. We get a renewed passion for the great outdoors. And the sun starts rising earlier. This combination led us to come up with the idea for our May Resolution Destination… a sunrise hike.
Once we came up with the idea, we had to do some research into where to go. We only had three requirements – we wanted someplace that was close enough we wouldn’t have to stay overnight anywhere; we wanted to avoid areas that we thought would be too popular (mostly areas around Boulder); and we needed to be able to actually see the sun come up. After a brief internet search, Cameron discovered the perfect location – The Devil’s Head Lookout. The hike itself was just shy of 1.5 miles each way and it leads to one of the last remaining manned fire lookout towers, with 360-degree panoramic views. It was exactly what we were looking for. With the activity and place decided, we looked at our calendars and thought Saturday, May 13th looked like the perfect day. WRONG.
As the end of the week rolled around we were keeping our eye on the bleak weather forecast for the weekend. It was looking cold, cloudy and rainy. And the chances of that changing were not good. As we laid in bed the night of the 12th we debated if we should still attempt the hike the next day. We discussed setting our alarm clock for the wee hours of the morning and making a final decision at that time, in case the forecast drastically changed between 10pm and 2am. But as we wavered back and forth we soon realized that with the weather dragging our motivation down, we hadn’t prepared for the hike at all. And scrambling to gather our gear at 2:00 in the morning, driving an hour and half to the trail, hiking in the rain and having a very slim chance of seeing the sun rise just wasn’t sounding appealing… at all. So, we decided to call a rain delay and plan for another weekend.
Turns out we made the right decision, because the day we rescheduled for ended up being absolutely perfect! The forecast was calling for mid-80’s, zero percent chance of precipitation and clear skies. Which meant that it would still be cool when we were hiking that early in the morning, but not freezing. And this time we prepared ahead of time, so we could eliminate any unnecessary stress. With our headlamps, water, clothing layers and a can of bear spray (at Corrie’s insistence) packed we set our alarm for 2:00am on May 27th and dutifully rose out of bed when it chimed. Cameron was shocked that Corrie actually got out of bed that early (we all know how much she likes her sleep), especially because in anticipation of the hike neither of us slept well that night and we were both running off of only 2 hours of sleep, at most. But, she managed to get up without much fuss and we made it all the way to 2:02am before our first challenge of the day hit. You see, that night as Corrie laid in bed trying to sleep her mind started racing and she started panicking about hiking in the dark. One thing to know about Corrie is that she is not a fan of the dark - just ask Cameron about our bedtime ritual. So when she started picturing hiking through the forest in the pitch dark with mountain lions and bears slumbering nearby, just waiting to be startled awake by our boots crunching in the dark and our headlamps spotlighting their newborn cubs as we unknowingly advance upon them, she just knew that we were destined to become prey. Dead prey. She looked at Cameron with pleading in her eyes and told him she was scared. He looked back with disappointment in his eyes and asked her if she wanted to back out. Not wanting to spoil the day for Cameron and wanting to conquer her fears she reluctantly stated that she still wanted to go. We got dressed, grabbed our tumblers of coffee and walked to the car, with Corrie hearing voices echoing in the dark… “Dead man walking!” Okay, so maybe she’s a little dramatic.
Despite the lack of sleep, we were both wired as we began the 90-minute drive south. The dogs on the other hand were confused by the early hour and didn’t know whether they should be excited or sleep. So they decided to split the difference, Daisy dozed and Max jammed his nose into Corrie’s ear over and over again. About an hour into the drive we passed Sedalia and began climbing the maze of narrow dirt roads to the trailhead with the anticipation beginning to build. Most of the dirt road is flanked on both sides by a campground, so we passed many slumbering campers and the occasional group that was still tying one on around the campfire at 4am on a Saturday morning. It was all a little eerie feeling. Upon reaching the trailhead, we were both annoyed and relieved to find that there were a few other people with the same idea. While we wanted to be the only ones at the top when the sun came up Cameron also tried to put Corrie at ease by pointing out that we would not be the first ones up the trail startling the animals that morning. Corrie, being the practical one, informed him that was not a good thing, as the other hikers would just alert the bears and lions, so they’d be fully awake and ready to pounce on us when we passed.
The hike started with a moderate incline that continued for most of the way up. With our headlamp tunnel vision focused on the trail in front us, we relied on the dogs to be our alarm, if needed. And we were happy to have them with us, because once we got a short way up from the trailhead we started hearing obnoxious noises echoing through the trees. Then about a third of a mile up the trail their ears started perking up and their excitement grew. That’s when ran into the most terrifying animal out there…a pack of drunk rednecks who were sucking down Budweiser, clearly on the tail end of an all-night bender to kick off Memorial Day weekend. Corrie did not like the look of this crew. In fact, they creeped her the heck out and she was silently thankful she had the bear spray in quick reach. But, we have to admit that they were polite enough and we pressed on; hoping they were going no further up the trail and we would not have to share a summit sunrise with such a rowdy group. Despite there being a few cars in the trailhead parking lot, we only ran into one other couple hiking up the trail at the same time. We leap-frogged them on the trail a few times as they paused at various rock piles (or, mountain lion homes as Corrie referred to them) to admire the scenery and we stopped to drain our baby bladders.
In preparation for the hike, we had done our research to try and plan how much time we would need on the trail to get to the summit before the sun actually rose. All of the reviews we read stated that the hike took about 1.5 hours. This baffled us, as a 1.5-mile trail shouldn’t take more than 40 minuets. However, we still decided to err on the side of caution and plan for some cushion time. We were thankful for our foresight. The trail was deceptively steep, and our pace was slow from stopping along the way, turning what we assumed was a 40-minute hike into an hour plus. But with the cushion time, we still made it to the base of the fire tower stairway with plenty of time before sunrise. There we greeted the other couple who were taking a quick breather before tackling the 143 stairs to the top. Corrie headed off to find a secluded place to pee (duh) while Cameron snapped a few photos of the stairway and the fire lookout tower. This allowed the other couple to ascend the stairs first, which was a good thing since, we faced our second big challenge of the day that lead to us needing a little extra time.
The first portion of the stairway is fairly tame, with rock walls surrounding you as you climb. The stairs are constructed of a skinny metal frame with wood treads. There are no risers, so you can see right through them as you climb. And of course, some of the treads were prone to creaks and groans when you step on them. Once you crest the initial few runs of stairs, you find yourself on an exposed rock ridge, with steep, plummeting, drops on either side. This, combined with the open nature of the stairway, began to pose a problem for our dog Max and for Corrie who has a serious fear of heights. Max began to lay down and refuse to move any higher and Corrie’s fear was exacerbated by the terrifying thought that Daisy would slip right through the stair treads since she is a FEARLESS puggle who doesn’t understand boundaries. Cameron left Max with Corrie and went ahead to scout things out. He returned to find Corrie was beginning to become too overwhelmed with her fear of heights and concern for the dogs to press on. Taking it one run at a time, Corrie eventually coaxed herself a bit higher, reaching the final set of stairs where she again froze and didn’t want to go any further. Cameron was standing at the very top, nearly within arm’s reach, and did not want her to regret not making it to the top. Walking down a couple of steps he took Max’s leash and urged him to the top. With Max safely on the summit, Daisy was not wanting to miss out and was straining against the leash to join Max and Cameron at the top. Feeling unstable with Daisy pulling on her, Corrie took a deep breath, pushed through her fear and ascended the final set of stairs to join her family at the top. While he can’t relate to having a fear of heights, being the incredible empath that he is, Cameron was so proud of her for pushing through such overwhelming fear and couldn’t wait to celebrate with her. Corrie on the other hand quickly doubled over with her hands on her knees and proceeded to have an emotional release once her feet were planted on solid rock.
Corrie had conquered two fears before sunrise! Once she caught her breath, we proceeded to celebrate with a thermos full of toasty coffee as sunrise approached. There was already plenty of light in the sky to see the amazing views that stretched out well over 100 miles in every direction. From Devil’s Head we could see the summits of Longs Peak, Mt Evans and Pikes Peak. The still sleeping cities that dot the Front Range twinkled in the pre-dawn light. It’s no stretch to say that the views were stunning! We could hardly believe how lucky we had been with the weather; crystal clear without a cloud in sight. As we stood there taking it all in, we were both instantly thankful we hadn’t wasted an attempt at this on a rainy day earlier in the month. It was too amazing of an experience to have been wasted in the rain.
There were just 5 of us on the lookout tower that morning, the other couple and a young kid wearing Birkenstocks and armed with an old-timey camera (probably from Boulder). Our fellow sunrise hikers we were pleasant with the little talking we all did. The kid with the camera snapped a bunch of photos (including a couple pictures for us) and then departed as quickly as he had arrived. And to our great relief there was no sign of the drunk rednecks, who probably wouldn’t have made it up the stairs without disaster.
We watched the sunrise and took as many pictures as we could, without ruining the moment, so we could remember this scene when we are old and gray. When the sun had risen in totality and we decided we had soaked it all in, we packed up and prepared to hike out. Cameron took both the dogs and quickly led, or more like followed, them down the stairway. Corrie requested that he not wait for her so she could move at her own comfortable pace. Once we all had our feet firmly planted on safe ground we made quick work of the hike out. It was starting to get a bit busier on the trail and we passed a handful of other hikers making their way to the top. By 7:00am we were back in the car and headed home. At this un-holy hour for a holiday weekend, I-25 traffic was mercifully light. We made great time on the way home (thanks to Cameron’s quick driving and Corrie’s cat nap in the front seat) and were seated in a booth at a new local breakfast spot at 9am – with celebration mimosas in hand, of course. On a typical weekend we often are still in our PJs at 9am on Saturday mornings. And here we were, sitting down for breakfast having hiked 3 miles, hitting more than 10,000 steps and accomplishing one of the grandest hikes we’ve experienced in a long time, all before most people had even started their day.The whole experience felt a little surreal and hypnotic, probably due to the lack of sleep and the total shift in our normal Saturday schedule. Knowing that for the rest of the day all we would want to do is sleep and watch movies, Corrie insisted we set-up the blowup mattress on the living room floor. As we laid there snuggled up and slightly drunk from lack of sleep, we were both thrilled that we followed through on this particularly jarring resolution destination. Trying new things and conquering fears isn’t always easy, but we always find it rewarding. As Corrie put it, this was “a bucket list item we didn’t even know we had!” It was worth every difficulty to do it!
DESTINATION RATING: 5.0 OUT OF 5.0
What We Learned:
DO pick activities and destinations that will challenge you and are outside your comfort zone. It’s extremely rewarding.
DO put Devil’s Head Lookout on your Colorado hiking bucket list, even if it’s for a regular day hike. It’s a very beautiful spot with incomparable views.
DO invest in bear spray, there have already been serious bear attacks in Colorado this spring. It will bring peace of mind for years. Firearms shouldn’t be your first choice when encountering a bear.
DON’T limit your adventures to “normal” daylight hours. The world, and especially nature, is a total different and incredible place when seen in a different light.
DON’T Let your fears prevent you from experiencing bucket list items. Especially if you have an amazing partner that encourages you to never give up.