Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Alderfer-Three Sisters - Elephant Butte - Uphill tempo

Managed to squeeze in an afternoon run between thunder showers. Ran hard up Elephant Butte, a little-used, off-the-map Denver Mountain Park adjacent to JeffCo's Alderfer-Three Sisters Open Space park.

Time: 1:08
Distance: 6.06 miles
Effort: Moderate
Body: Good
Weather: Cloudy & Cool

It started raining hard just as I was driving over to the upper parking lot trailhead at Jefferson County's Alderfer-Three Sisters Open Space park. Big ol' honkin' raindrops were smacking the windshield, making me wonder if I should scrap the run. But, since this is Colorado, I figured there was a good chance the downpour would end as quickly as it started, enabling me to get in a solid mid-afternoon run without getting soaked.

Right about the time I pulled into the parking lot, the clouds parted, patches of blue, followed by a warming sun appeared. And, off I went speeding down the Bluebird Trail into the lower half of Alderfer. Initially, I planned to run the outer loop of trails that ring this part of the park. However, at the bottom of the first descent, I had another idea as I gazed up at the rounded and rocky hulk of Elephant Butte

View from the house of Elephant Butte rising from behind the ridge above Bear Creek.  

It has been well over a year since I ran up this lightly-used, but prominently visible local mountain landmark. The butte isn't big, but it rises suddenly from the relatively flat Elephant Park that lay below its southern flanks. As Colorado's 3,383rd highest peak -- topping out at 8,405 feet, it ain't going to make anyone's life list, but it is local, it is steep and it's our local version of Boulder's Green Mountain, only smaller. It's got a lot of rocks, a bunch of step-ups, a little scrambling and amazing views to the west of the Evans group -- Mt. Evans, Mt. Rosalie, Mt. Epaulet and Mt. Spalding - and over to Bergen Peak to the north and Evergreen Mountain to the south. I'd go so far as to say it's among the best views in the county.

From one of the main trails in Alderfer, I located the faint track heading west that leads one up the eastern flank of Elephant Butte. The trail is unmarked, and somewhat hard to find from the Alderfer trail system. However, once the trail starts to climb, it improves. Someone has invested a bit of time cutting some downed logs, checking some erosion and very subtly marking the trail with mini cairns.

With the exception of one scramble, I ran the whole thing, hitting the split at 24:44 at the butte's highpoint on the western side of the rounded summit. For the hell of it, I'll make that the FKT from the Alderfer parking lot.

After a few minutes of scenery gazing, I descended a bit and found another likely marked trail that headed out across the southern shoulder of the large uprising that extends off Elephant Butte. I followed this trail over to another high point, then continued on south on a series of ever-fainter trails until I was dumped out on a dirt road that provides access to a few houses and ranches. From there, it was 1.5 miles of road running back to Alderfer. I then ran a quick loop around the Bluebird Meadow Trail to round out the mileage at just over six miles.

Elevation gain:  1,444 feet.


  1. Instant, I must do this run. Perhaps I'll hit it from the Lake House via Dedisse on Saturday morning...

  2. It's a good one...combine it w/ the northern part of Blair Ranch, below Alderfer and Evergreen Mountain across Buffalo Park Road and you got a great long run. Wish I could join you...but will be camping (and running) in Rocky Mtn NP this weekend. Eager to hear what you think.

  3. I'm not familiar with Blair Ranch, where is the access trail? Would I need to take that little junction (the neighborhood access) that shoots back south of the High School?

    It looks to me like the access to EB is just off Mountain Muhly trail 2mi north of the upper parking lot?

    Enjoy RMNP, lumpy ridge for you?

  4. Blair Ranch is the now the lower part of Alderfer. I don't think they call it Blair anymore. So, yeah, take Mountain Muhy down to the pond and as you climb from the pond, look for a social trail heading off to your left (behind the big wooden sawhorse-looking thing). That'll take you to a barbed wire fence. "Main" trail head up and to the right just past the fence. There's another access point, I recall, near the top of the climb from the pond...but, it's been a while.

    We are camping w/ friends at Moraine Park, so I may run up to Fern Lake and beyond. There's a 17-mile loop you can do from the campground. I haven't run Lumpy Ridge, but have heard of it. Good run?

  5. Oh, ok. Yeah, I'll probably head up Dedisse, skirt the northern end of A3S, up EB, up Evergreen Mtn, and back around the base back to the car. Thanks for the tip! I never knew this was there.

    The lumpy ridge loop is really nice, about 10-11 miles, decent climbing and really accessible from Downtown Estes. Not sure if it's near you, but worth a pop sometime.

  6. Hey Jim,
    I'm thinking of coming up to Evergreen early Saturday AM and hitting up all three of these in order to bag about 15-17 miles as my last decent effort before the PPM. I've never run at A3S or Evergreen Mtn, but will try to follow your dialog w/ Patrick on where to go. I don't mind running with a map in my pocket. If I hit up most of the trails in the park, do you think I'll get to 15 easily? Or will I have go for seconds on a few?

    Looks like your prep for a double at Pikes is going great. Not long now.

  7. Woody - yeah, you can string together 15-17 miles. Start, as Patrick suggests, at the parking lot of the Evergreen Lake House and take the Dedisse Trail up into A3S. A number of options exist once you enter A3S, but you'll want to hit the high point at the Three Sisters rock formations, then drop down into the new part of the park - Blair Ranch. Loop all the way down and pick up the social trail up Elephant Butte on the way up from the lower loop. Head up and down, then run up to the upper A3S lot and do the loop up and down Evergreen Mountain (counterclockwise), then from the lower A3S lot you can connect back over to the Dedisse Trail back to your car. If you head out very early on Saturday, I might be able to tag along, if you want company.

  8. Thanks for the info. I'm looking at a 5:30 start, so I'm not sure if that's early enough for you. My cousin might join me and if that's the case, then my pace might be just a little slower. He's a great runner, but fairly new to trails. If not, I'm game to push it a little harder, which is probably an easy pace for you!

  9. Plenty early. Not yet sure what my weekend plans are, but I think an early easy one on Saturday works. Will drop you a line to confirm later in the week.

  10. No worries Jim. You're going to have an amazing run up there! It's always nice to get away from the home turf on the weekends and explore! Hopefully we can meet down at Pikes on 8/22.