Walk the Divide – East Portal to Berthoud Pass

The Continental Divide. The three words evokes an image of an endless chain of mountains. With peaks rising into the sky and the valleys far below. To the east lies the Atlantic watershed and to the West the waters flow to the Pacific.

The Continental Divide and the surrounding land is firmly etched into the fabric of the Western landscape.

And to walk this land is to take in some of the most scenic terrain in the American Rockies.

One Saturday in late August, I walked the divide.

And I was not disappointed.


The route chosen would start at Moffat Tunnel (East Portal), up to Heart Lake and then to Rogers Pass. From there I would be almost continuously on the Continental Divide from Rogers Pass to Berthoud Pass.  All told, this hike would be approx 14 miles in length, close to 5000' gain and take in two alpine lakes and five 13ers. Most of the route would be off trail (if well marked with old cairns) and in high alpine terrain.

It is a hike I have done before be it with friends or on my solo thru-hike of the CDT.

It is also a hike I never get tired of doing.

The idea for the hike this year was to meet friends in Winter Park. Several of my friends were doing a mountain bike ride up and over Rollins pass via old mountain roads and established single track (and some took a more adventurous route! 🙂 )

A scenic mountains bike ride for sure.  But I am not a mountain biker.

Still wanting to take part in the activities, decided to do my solo hike instead.

At about 7 AM, I showed up at Moffat Tunnel and surprised at all the cars already there.

No matter.

Powered up the single track and made my way to Rogers Pass Lake in the cool morning air.


Enjoyed the views form the lake and took a very easy side trip to Heart Lake just below the divide.


From the lake, took a short and somewhat steep hike up to Rogers Pass.  I was on the Divide and the CDT. Time to head south towards Berthoud Pass.

The very worn sign marking Rogers Pass

I continued briefly along the trail but then left it to walk on the actual divide. On the actual divide there was no one. Below on the trail? Many trail runners heading from up to James Peak.  I chose solitude and views instead.


At James Peak, I could see that the trails from Indians Peaks and from the Fall River Reservoir area was abounding with people.

The Continental Divide Trail lead away from James Peak and off the actual divide to easier terrain and out of the designated Wilderness Area.  The CDT is 'officially' routed lower to make easier access for not only hikers but mountain bikers and horses as well.  The trail is well graded, nicely switchbacked and goes by a few lakes.  But the route (often near roads if not quite on it), it did not inspire me.

Instead, I continued to follow the divide. The trail-less option was more difficult….but more scenic, lonelier and perhaps bit wilder. I would have the divide all to myself.

A small knife edge along the divide. Not too bad, but does require some placing of hands. Class 2+ maybe?

As I walked along the mountains and climbed and descended the peaks, I could not help but notice the russet colored ground cover and the bright red plants. Fall was coming to the high country.


A few peaks later, I approached Mt. Flora and was about to join up with the the 'official' CDT again.

One last view to the wild country I was about to leave behind was had.


I joined up with the well graded CDT and quickly made my way to Berthoud Pass.


A warming hut, some signs and restrooms were constructed since my last visit three years ago.

I quickly hitched into Winter Park (in a pickup, 'natch) and met my friends.

The hike was over for the day.

Time to relax, eat and talk over the different experiences we had.

Not a bad way to spend my time in the Colorado high country.


Note on the photos:  Since this was a hike on the fast and light side, I took my P&S camera again. Really enjoying the quality of the Canon A1200 for landscape photos. Has  its limitations, but works well within them.


Getting there: From Protrails.com :

The East Portal Trailhead is located at the end of Rollins Pass Road, an 8.2 mile dirt road west of Highway 72. Rollins Pass Road is located 4.9 miles south of Nederland, Colorado.

The dirt road is well-maintained but conditions deteriorate when wet.

From Highway 72, turn west on Rollins Pass Road and Keep Straight until it dead-ends at the Moffat Tunnel. Ignore turnoffs that climb toward the pass.

The route: Info listed above. The route is a challenging one that takes in five 13ers and is mainly off trail. I had some wonderful early Fall weather with no t-storms. There is exposure, though, if the weather turns bad.  The small knife edge after James Peak (heading south) is somewhat tricky if you are not used to scrambling.   

The navigation is a piece of cake in good weather with a fair amount of cairns marking the way.  In bad weather? You may want to take the lower CDT. It is a pleasant route..if not as memorable as the actual divide. Parts of it make a good ski tour in the winter.

Map: Trails Illustrated #103 has the route info and alt. bail out points for the CDT if needed.

Post Trip Grub: When I heard that we were meeting at Hernando's, I was expecting some delicious TexMex type food. I was a bit surprised when I found out the restaurant was revealed to be a pizza place! But it was pleasant surprise.  Good food, cold beer and excellent service at reasonable prices.  I did not have it personally, but several people raved about the lasagna.

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