St. Vrain’s Ridge Walk

A walk on the ridge that connects St. Vrain Mountain to the Continental Divide.


Over the years, I've developed a taste for more off-trail jaunts. Where the terrain is a little more rough, the access is a bit harder but where solitude is granted and where I can see new aspects of the mountains I know well.

Wanting a quick overnighter after the Wild Basin trip, I thought of St. Vrain Mountain and how it naturally connects to Elk Tooth. Lookng further on the map, Ogalalla beckoned, too. The route description had it within my comfort zone for semi- technical solo travel..or so I thought. 🙂

The trip proved to be a bit gnarlier than I had envisioned, but still a very satisfying an unique trip.

The backpack started off mellow with the usual easy, but steady, ascent up St. Vrain Mountain with it's iconic views of Longs Peak.

Once at the summit, I chose to push forward and quickly start the off trail portion.

The ridge from St. Vrain's connects to the Continental Divide.  This ridge is also a border between  the Indians Peaks Wilderness and Rocky Mountain National Park.  The ridge had markers all along the border.  Quiet frequently one foot was in IPW and other foot was in RMNP.

The route was full of talus, but I could see it flattening and smoothing out ahead.

After this smooth stretch, the route become rockier again.  As I close to Elk Tooth, the rock become more scree like. The grade become steeper. My poles were stashed on my pack as it was now more along the lines of Class 3 scrambling (hands and legs both used; no exposure).


I paused a bit to look over to the view of the valley below.  The Hutcheson Lakes were in foreground and Peak Lake in the distance. I could even make out the wooded knob that was bushwhacked through a week earlier.

I came closer to Elk Tooth. The way become slower and even gnarlier.


The hour was getting late and my water was low. Rather than push further, decided to drop into the park and grab water.

The going down the scree slope was slow as well.

The views from the Hutcheson Lakes were nothing short of exquisite. I must confess I was tempted to stealth it in the park and enjoy this area.

Alas, my adherence to the regs won out. My permit was for the IPW and not for cross-country camping in the park.

Foolishly (looking back on it), I climbed up a different way slightly less steep but with tundra and less scree.

Found a small, flat-ish area and made camp on the ridge.

The night sky was amazing as I drifted off too sleep.

In the morning, did a reassessment of my route with its loose scree and increasingly gnarlier approach.  I admitted that perhaps it was not a good idea to do this type of scrambling solo. The ascent looked more exposed than I anticipated. And frankly I did not want to spend that much time and energy into what was supposed to be a relaxing overnighter.  And with less than a month to go before my wedding, perhaps it is a good idea to not bang myself up too much. 🙂

I, you guessed it, descended yet again to the Hutcheson Lakes.

After another steep descent, I arrived at one of the lakes. I luxuriated in the view, the warm sun and a cup of morning coffee I brewed up.  Really..does life get any better?

Down at the lakes, and committing to head back the way I had came,  I had the luxury of picking an easier way back to ridge.  A route was followed that was considerably more mellow than what I had done that morning to get down or in the evening before to get up to the ridge.

Once on the ridge, I merely had to contend with talus and krummholz that was more-or-less on level ground.

A last, and amazing, view was had to where I was…and where I hope to again, but perhaps from an easier approach. 🙂

Last view towards Elk Tooth, Ogallala and "Ooh-la-la" peaks. Ogalalla is the end of the ridge and of the Continental Divide. It is considered the most remote peak in the IPW. Easier to get to from Coney Pass. Next time! 🙂 Also pictured are the St. Vrain's glaciers. The southern most 'real' glaciers in the Rockies (vs. a permanent snow field).

St. Vrain's summit was reached again. I was shortly on the trail thereafter and then back at the car.

A more difficult trip than I had planned, but a very memorable one. Already have some ideas for future trips and can't wait to go back.

The trip was capped off by meeting some friends at the Oskar Blues in Longmont where I had a well deserved Silo Burger along with a pint.

Caught up with friends, planned future outdoor trips and discussed the great trip I just had.

No complaints from me…

All the photos

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Casey Burnett
11 years ago

pretty awesome… Nice photos from this one… I can feel the solitude