The Wheeler National Recreation Trail in Summit County, Colo., is a good place to go when you need to be stimulated.
A point-to-point singletrack that runs 11 miles
over the Tenmile Range, from 14,265-foot Quandary Peak to Copper
Mountain, the Wheeler twice crests passes of more than 12,400 feet and,
if hiked south to north, finishes with a 2,700-foot descent to one of
the swiftest-running rivers in the area, Tenmile Creek.
this trail will make your lungs feel like they are frying in a pan,
turn your legs into bulging vats of lactic acid, flood your eyes with a
kaleidoscopic array of wildflowers ranging in color from pink to blue
to white, and set your mind at peace with a silence broken only by the
songs of birds and marmots.
Best of all, the Wheeler Trail is one of the emptiest prolonged singletracks in Colorado.
To begin, shuttle a car to the spacious parking
lot near Copper Mountain, just off I-70, then swing back through
Breckenridge and commence your journey at the southern trailhead in
McCullough Gulch, just below Quandary's massive north wall (pictured).
In the autumn, you will travel through glowing
aspen groves for the first mile or so. In the summer, you'll be treated
to the aforementioned wildflower show. The trail also comprises a
world-class Nordic ski route in the winter.
Along the way, you'll pass through the
magnificent Spruce Creek and Crystal Creek drainages and directly under
13,164-foot Mt. Helen, a tabletop peak with steep faces on its north
and south sides. You will climb a lot - about 3,000 vertical feet - but
if the sun is shining as it usually does, the pain will be tempered.
Once you crest the Peak 10 ridge high above the
Breckenridge Ski Resort, you'll drop into the Wheeler Trail's
highlight: an alpine meadow surrounded by big rock walls and one of the
best sidecountry ski runs in the state, Fourth of July Bowl. Here you
can see ptarmigan in groups (we once saw 11 hanging out together) and
droves of flowers in every direction.
A quick scale of the switchbacks between Peaks 8
and 9 brings you to your long and final descent - a favorite section
among racers in the annual Breck Epic and Breck 100 endurance mountain
bike races, as well as the renowned Breck Crest Marathon.
While on this descent you can see Fourteeners like
Mt. Elbert, the highest peak in Colorado, all the way to Aspen's Maroon
Bells, Vail's Mount of the Holy Cross, and every bump in between.
After picking up your car and shuttling back to
retrieve the one you left in McCullough Gulch, saddle up for a well
earned beer in the courtyard of the Motherloaded Tavern on Breck's Main
Street, where you can watch the sun fade into the mountains you just
- Devon O'Neil