Mileage: 7-10 miles RT
Elevation Gain/Highest: 4000ft/4400ft
Map: Green Trails Marblemount No 47
2/27/2016 Well, today taught me to take other people’s trip reports at face value. I wrote about this adventure on my post, Persistent.
I got to the trailhead at 9am and decided to stick with just microspikes and gators based on the last trip report, heading up at about 9:20am. This was my second time visiting Cow Heaven, the last time being in summer. It kicked my butt that time, too, probably because I did some scrambling up the butte.
I’ll make a note here that WTA says 5 miles for this trail, and Green Trails says 3.5 miles. I don’t do the GPS thing, so I relied on my altimeter, compass and map today.
The trail was good and easy to follow the first 2 miles (there is a sign on a tree). I thought I would count the switchbacks at the beginning before you hit the ridge, but lost track at 40 (about 2000 ft). The waterfalls were running nicely and crossing the streams can get your feet wet right from the beginning.
After a brief leveling out, you lose some of the switchbacks and climb in more earnest. The trail also becomes less maintained and at times will look like a dried up creek bed. The snow started to cover the trail at 3100 ft, and with the warm weather it meant no tracks to follow and lots of postholing. Lots. It was often easier to walk on the snow next to trail instead of what I thought was a trail because I was sinking up to my knees in spots. The snow was both hard enough to walk on and then suddenly you’d sink. Kept me on my toes (or knees). The snow is not consistent, and there will be a few bare spots to confirm you are indeed headed in the right directions. Someone has also tied pink tagging randomly to trees which I noticed more on the way down than the way up.
There was a spot where the trail seemed to either run into a three ft snow bank or climb straight up to my left through a moss covered creek bed. I gambled wrong with the snow bank and spent about 30 minutes off trail until I made it back to that same spot and took the straight up.
By the time I got to 3500 feet, I was post holing in spots up to my waist. Snowshoes would have been nice but I’m stubborn so I kept on. By 3800 feet it was after 1pm, so I just decided to head straight up and onto what appeared to be a viewpoint. I had seen glimpses of the buttes and blue sky taunting me to my left and having been here before I knew I could hope for a view of the valley. It took me a bit to get up there, I was kick stepping and postholing the whole way. I must have looked at my compass at least 30 times today just to make sure I was headed in the right direction. Having those buttes on my left was great reassurance. I topped out at about 4100ft.
I managed to get down to the car by 4:30, sore but no worse for the adventure. I saw no one else on the trail today.
Directions: Drive SR 20 east toward Marblemount. Turn left onto Ranger Station Road (signed “Ranger Station, one mile”). Proceed to the ranger station. Pulling into the parking lot for the station, continue through on the left (driving past storage buildings and abandoned cars). The road turns gravel and the trailhead is on your left (elev. 400 ft).