06-Sep-2006 -- Anyone who says "Only a mile and a half to the confluence? No problem!" has not been to 40 North 106 West. This confluence encompasses all that is famous about Colorado--blue skies, forests, and steep terrain. The steep terrain makes the western approach to this confluence a challenge despite the relatively short distance.
Tim Sprinkle, reporter from Backpacker Magazine, had become interested in the Degree Confluence Project and was writing a story for the November 2006 issue. After one of the confluence administrators put him in touch with me, I told Tim that the best way to prepare for the story writing was to experience a visit, first-hand. Therefore, we set a date to visit the confluence a few weeks beforehand, and when the appointed day arrived, I was quite excited about visiting a confluence with a reporter. I was a bit nervous, too, because being from Backpacker Magazine, I thought Tim would laugh at me if I hiked too slowly. He assured me that there would be nothing of the sort, and he proved as good as his word.
I met Tim at a bus Park and Ride in the west Denver suburb of Lakewood at 5:00am on 6 September. We drove west on Interstate Highway 70, and by the time dawn was breaking, we were on the western side of Berthoud Pass on US Highway 40. We passed through Fraser and Granby, and by the time we reached the last town before the confluence, Hot Sulphur Springs, the clouds lifted and the day promised to be "grand". We drove south and east along Grand County Highway 50, a dirt road, into the Arapahoe National Forest. I noted the point at which the road had become impassable due to snow when I and my children had made an attempt during the spring of the previous year. At just over 100 miles (161 km) from our starting point, we reached the stopping point at the nearest pullout to 40 degrees north. It was 7:00am.
The only way to go from here was up, or as Tim put it later, it was a "rude awakening". Without a trail with switchbacks, we did indeed hike straight up, ascending the Blue Ridge from 8,879 feet in elevation to over 10,150 feet elevation (1,271 feet, or 387 meters) of vertical relief, in about 40 minutes. It was definitely worth it: Once at the top of the ridge, we were treated to wondrous views of the road we had driven on to the west, and an even better view of nearly all of Grand County to the east. We could see the Continental Divide including Longs Peak and Rocky Mountain National Park.
Once atop the ridge, we descended through an area that had been logged and was now partly revegetated. We angled southeast and reached a logging road, taking it to the south until we reached 40 degrees North. Turning and hiking due east, we descended through stands of trees, one road, revegetated clear-cuts, and two steep ridges. A few hundred meters west of the confluence, we traversed some tricky fallen logs, a small stream, and came upon a large rock. After the rock, we came upon the last steep slope, and found the confluence upon the slope.
The confluence lies on a slope of about 30 degrees, sloping to the northeast. This was no ordinary confluence, but one along a 10-degree latitude line: 40 North, the old boundary between Kansas and Nebraska Territories before Colorado became a state. I had been on 40 North a few times, in New Jersey and in Colorado, and on 106 West in Wyoming and Colorado. We spent about 20 minutes at the site, mostly to take the perfect picture of ourselves while holding the camera at arm's length. Ground rodents were in the area and a few birds, but we saw no people during our trek--just the way it should be! The winds were light and the temperature a perfect 75 degrees F (24 C) under sunny skies. This was truly one of the most beautiful of the over 100 confluences I have visited.
We hiked back to the last road we had crossed, and decided to take it to the northwest. Sure enough, this saved us at least 20 minutes on the return route, placing us at the bottom of the stream which was in turn at the bottom of the largest clear-cut. We followed it to the top of the ridge where we rejoined the spot we had been a few hours before. Once again, we paused to enjoy the serenity and the view. Descending the ridge was hard on the knees, but we reached the vehicle at just after 11:00am for a round-trip hike time of 4 hours.
I'd rank this in the most difficult 20% of confluence treks, but certainly nothing as hard as what some tenacious confluence hunters have been through. It would be easier to tackle this confluence from the east, as we were over halfway down into the valley by the time we reached the spot. However, one would miss the wonderful view from Blue Ridge with this eastern approach.
We drove out the way we came in, reaching Denver in the early afternoon. It was a pleasure to visit this beautiful confluence, and to demonstrate the benefits of confluence hunting to Tim.