[Christy here again] After spending the last three weekends running through the incredible Maroon – Snowmass Wilderness, we thought we’d switch it up and explore a new area. Earlier this summer, we had done a fun loop run over Missouri and Belford Mountains. From the summit of Missouri, we had an amazing view of the Pine Creek Valley below us to the southeast and quickly added this to our summer ‘to-visit’ list.
So when we were looking for 5-6 hour run on Saturday, the long, gentle valley of Pine Creek, just outside of Buena Vista on Road 367, came to mind. We pulled out the map and saw that there was an opportunity to make a loop from the Pine Creek Trail that would incorporate Frenchman Creek, South Pine Creek Trail, and a section of the Colorado Trail. Of course, because we love loops, we opted for this new linkup rather than an out and back on the Pine Creek Trail. Then we noticed how close this loop would go to the summit of Mt. Harvard, a 14er that we hadn’t hiked since 2001. So of course we elected to extend the loop to include tagging the summit. And then, once on the summit, we took it even further by deciding to navigate down the north face of Mt. Harvard to avoid having to retrace our steps back down the west shoulder. It ended up being a fun, adventurous 18-mile loop that at times felt like more hiking and traversing than actual running, but the exploration feel and ground covered made it all worth it.
To start, we drove a very rough 4wd drive to the Frenchman Creek’s trailhead. If you didn’t want to drive this road, you could add about 2.5 miles and just run the road. The Frenchman Creek Trail climbs into the valley and connects with the South Pine Creek Trail, which looked like a well-defined trail on the map but wasn’t so much on the ground. This is where the trail, even without adding Mt. Harvard, became more cross-country travel than trail running. Once up on the 13,100 foot pass of South Pine Creek it was easy to connect with the Columbia – Mt. Harvard traverse trail and up to the summit of Mt. Harvard. That’s where we noticed we could travel down the north side of Harvard and connect back with the faintly marked South Pine Creek Trail. Up and over another small pass finally brought us the steep, yet more defined part of the South Creek Trail that connects with the buffed out trail of the Pine Creek Valley.
After passing through a few old mines and homesteads, the Pine Creek Trail meanders through open meadows along the creek and eventually intersects with the Colorado Trail, which takes you back to Frenchmen Creek. The miles on this part of the loop were enjoyable and runnable, and the time spent on the Colorado Trail only made us want to explore this trail more. Ted summed it up well by saying it was a cool way to discover this remote and less-traveled wilderness, but probably won’t become a staple in our trail running repertoire like the Four Pass Loop. That said Frenchman Creek was an awesome way to climb Mt. Harvard, the 3rd highest 14er at 14,420 ft in the state, and the Pine Creek Valley is a valley worth exploring.