The Arkansas Hills rise north of the Arkansas River in the area that I live. They ultimately stretch all the way north to Trout Creek Pass near Buena Vista. Compared to the Sangre de Cristos, Sawatch, and Mosquito Ranges, the Arkansas Hills don't get much attention. The highest summits are only around 11,000', compared to the 13 and 14,000' peaks of the other ranges. Most of the Arkansas Hills are scrubby and wooded compared to the denser forests on the higher ranges. Nonetheless, the Arkansas Hills rise 3-4000' above the river at places. While the Arkansas Hills see a fair amount of recreation where they rise above Salida, most of the range doesn't see too much traffic.
Driving through Bighorn Sheep Canyon along the river every time I leave the house, I get a good chance to look at the hills. A few of the mountains in the range caught my attention. The first is Big Baldy Mountain, which is visible to the east of Salida and appears to have sections of meadow near its summit. The other one that grabbed my attention recently is Burned Timber Mountain. Burned Timber caught my eye mostly because it is the highest mountain in the section of the hills close to my house. I can even see the mountain from my property.
Taking a good look at the Arkansas Hills, I decided to take a shot at 10,082' Burned Timber Mountain. The southern slopes receive a lot of sun and had less snow than other parts of the range. On a map, a road looks like it provides fairly easy access to Burned Timber from the east. I was more interested in spending a few hours in the woods and bushwhacking from the south, just a few minutes from my house.
On Tuesday, the 5th, I started hiking at 10AM. The most convenient spot with public access appeared to be at the Howard Cemetery along the Arkansas River on County Road 45 at 6600' in elevation A dry creek bed called Kiln Gulch heads toward Burned Timber. Once closer to the mountain, my plan was to gain one of the ridges toward the summit.
I started hiking in the gulch but quickly followed the ridge above for better views. Unfortunately my time on the ridge was short. I approached private property and there were houses a short distance away. I soon dropped back into the gulch. There was a little more snow than I expected, but nothing too deep. My travel was over a mix of snow and bare ground.
|A large mine opening not too far from the road|
|Early view of Burned Timber, the high point is on the left|
|Rock spires near Kiln Gulch|
|Traveling away from the gulch up a loose slope|
|Another look at my target|
|Crossing the clearing, the ridge I followed to the hilltop |
is at the near right with Burned Timber in the distance
|Traveling up a snowy slope to the 7700' hill|
|Looking at my destination from the small hill,|
the higher point is actually the left summit
|Rock outcroppings on a nearby ridge|
|Following a game trail on the main ridge|
|Lots of yucca throughout the hike|
|Picking my way through the path of least resistance|
|Approaching rock outcroppings and cliffbands along the ridge|
|A cave along the ridge, it actually went in fairly deep and turned |
back deeper under the rocks
|Jumbles of rock along the ridge|
|Interesting formation of sandy rock|
|My route up traversed this ledge, one|
of the more technical sections to negotiate
|Looking into the Howard area|
|Looking toward Howard from a higher vantage point|
|The northern Sangre de Cristos|
The Twin Sisters are the pointy peaks
in the center
|Close up of the Twin Sisters|
I live just beyond the large snowy field
|Clouds hugging the tops of the mountains|
|Big Baldy Mountain with the Sawatch Range beyond|
As I climbed, I faced more outcroppings. I was able to skirt around sections that required excessive scrambling however. The ridge was filled with numerous false summits. Just as the end appeared in sight, I would reach the what appeared to be the highpoint and see another stretch of ridge.
|Open meadow near the summit and knee deep snow teeming with |
deer or elk tracks
(hard to tell since they weren't fresh)
|Bushwhacking through the harsh scrub oak|
|Looking across the valley on much of my route during the descent|
|The Cottonwood group of the Sangres|
|Sawatch Range including 14ers Shavano and Antero|
|13,651' Taylor Mountain|
|Descending the ridge|
|Contending with rock outcroppings and cliffs|
|Close up of southern Sawatch, you can see the Angel of Shavano |
if you click to enlarge
|One last look at Burned Timber on my way out|
|Traveling through the gulch|
|The gulch was a mix of snow and dry ground|
|Wide section of the gulch|
|Interesting lone boulder in the gulch about 15 foot tall|
|Continuing in the gulch|
|Large outcropping above gulch rising about 100' or so|
|Another neat rock feature|
|Sun setting over one of the Twin Sisters|
|The gulch narrows near its mouth|
Since I was traveling without trails I don't know the exact distance of the hike. From the cemetery in Howard to the summit is about 3.5 miles as the crow flies. I didn't travel in a straight line so I covered more distance, I would guess more than 8 miles total. The total elevation gain was around 3500'.
Traveling in this area would probably not be ideal in summer. The area thrives with desert vegetation. Most of the cacti were brown and dormant this time of year. In summer it would be a different story. Surprisingly there were cacti nearly all the way to 10,000'. The lower reaches, particularly in the gulch, seem like good rattlesnake habitat in the summer. This side of the mountain gets full sun exposure with little shade as well.
This type of hiking probably isn't for everyone. A little know how in off-trail travel is helpful. The ability to use a map and compass is definitely an asset. I was able to get a good idea of my route before I left by studying a topo map.
Growing up in Pennsylvania I enjoyed bushwhacking quite a bit. The hardwood forests usually made for decent off-trail travel. Living in Maine, I would bushwhack from time to time. Thicker forests made off-trail travel difficult however. Many places the forests were too dense. Now living in Colorado, I find myself traveling off-trail quite a bit. Above treeline, off-trail travel is fairly easy with endless lines of sight. The lower terrain is often desert-like with good lines of sight and scrubbier vegetation. If you ever want the outdoors to yourself, bushwhacking and off-trail travel is a great way to find your own private wilderness.