On the Trail: High on the Flat Tops
Aspen, CO Colorado
MEEKER, Colo. ” There aren’t any fourteeners in the Flat Tops Wilderness Area.
It’s an aptly named flat-topped mesa sort of place, criss-crossed by more trails than I could ever hope to explore and more lakes and streams than I could possibly fish. But I wouldn’t mind trying.
According to the U.S. Forest Service, the Flat Tops is Colorado’s second-largest wilderness area at 235,406 acres, encompassing parts of both the White River and Routt National Forests. The description on paper doesn’t come close to capturing the enormity of the place.
From Trapper’s Lake, about 50 miles east of Meeker, Colo., the hike up onto the Flat Tops is definitely an uphill trek, but above the cliffs that form its rim, the topography gives way to alpine tundra and rolling subalpine meadows (average elevation is about 10,000 feet) dotted by impossibly blue lakes and endless vistas. It’s more grass than trees and unlike any other wilderness area I’ve experienced.
It’s a great place to get lost ” literally and figuratively ” one of those places where only good sense forces me to back to camp, or the car, by nightfall. Given the lack of climbing once I’m on top, the trails tend to lure me on endlessly, which is probably why the only 20-or-so-mile day hike I’ve ever taken was a loop across the Flat Tops.
Last week, a friend and I logged about 15 miles, climbing up above Trapper’s Lake on the Wall Lake Trail, looping well past Wall Lake and returning to Trapper’s via the Trapper’s Lake Trail. It was a Friday, and two bow hunting parties were the only people we saw all day despite blue skies and pleasant temperatures.
“It’s easy to feel small up here,” was my companion’s succinct assessment as we crossed the breathtaking expanse, mostly in silence.
The Flat Tops is wilderness, the way it’s meant to be.
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The Wheeler Opera House will remain dark into 2021, with current COVID-19 public health orders in place. Meanwhile, the masonry work on the exterior of the building will continue into July.