The Mountains of Colorado •
Thunder Butte • Highpoint: Douglas County
• Pike National Forest
• Rampart Mountains

Thunder Butte

Date: May 23, 2004 • Elevation: 9,836 feet • Prominence: 1,356 feet • Distance: 7.4 miles • Time: 3 hours • Gain: 2,000 feet • Conditions: Calm and cool with clear skies


I started today in Laramie, Wyoming, planning to hike Medicine Bow Peak west of Laramie. However, I could see it was still snowed in and the approach road likely not open. Instead, I drove into Denver, a 160-mile drive, and went with Plan B, a hike up Thunder Butte.

I had no map since I had not planned for this hike. I arrived in Castle Rock about 11 a.m., where I bought a map from a sporting goods store in town, then drove another 90 minutes through winding mountain roads to the trailhead near the small town of Westcreek. I had my copy of Hiking Colorado's Summits, by John Mitchler and Dave Covill, which was helpful.

The hike is through forest with no trail, and the usual starting point is at a bend in a road south of the peak. However, the large Hayman Fire of 2003 scorched much of the forest into cinders, and closed the access road back to its junction with the main road, which meant an extra mile and a half of hiking each way. There wasn't much I could do but go with the flow. I parked and got my stuff together, and started hiking at 1 p.m. in cool, mostly clear conditions.

The hike from my vehicle to the bend in the road went fast. At this bend, I started into the forest, keeping a north bearing, and staying high on a gentle ridge as best I could. There was no underbrush due to the fire, and most of the trees were black and dead. The only upside to the destruction was that navigation was easier since I could see the peak the entire way. I just made sure to be heading toward it, and I'd be fine.

Close to the base of the peak, I had to make my route up as I went along, largely crossing in and out of various drainages so that I could get onto the main southern flanks of the peak. It got steep quickly. The mountain consists of the summit, a massive pointed rock pinnacle to the south, and a southern sub-summit with a prominent saddle connecting the two main peaks.

I worked my way up the mountainside staying below and to the right (southeast) of the pinnacle. The fire's damage was severe here, as everything was black, and lots of trees were knocked over. A stiff breeze caused those that were still standing to creak and sway, knowing that it wouldn't take much to knock a few more over. I stepped over what I could and around the rest, and eventually found myself up on the main ridge.

From the ridge, I found evidence of paths, which I followed, but mostly it was my own instincts leading the way up. I reached the summit about 20 minutes later, an overall hike of under 3.5 one-way miles and 2,000 feet of gain, in 1 hour and 45 minutes. The summit is a jumble of large boulders, with the tippy-top itself denoted by a tall tree-branch pole. I stayed for ten minutes and snapped some photos, plus relax and have a snack.

The hike down went well, following the same route out as I did coming in (often following my own footprints). All was dandy until I got back onto the flats of the forest. There, I stepped on a rock that slid out from under me, forcing me to do the splits. Since I've never done the splits in my life, this was trouble. My left knee bore thr brunt. I heard a pop, stopped and grabbed it, hoping for the best.

I had partially-torn the MCL in this same knee a few years ago, and I was worried I had done it again. The knee hurt but I could bend it. After bending it a few times and palpating it, I sensed the injury was lower down, likely a ligament for one of the calf or shin muscles. I could walk but I was in moderate pain.

I slowly limped out the remaining two miles to my car, using my trekking pole as a cane. From the trailhead, I drove about an hour north to Evergreen and stayed the night with Dave and Beckie Covill before my flight out the next morning. It was good to see Dave and Beckie. That night, my knee tightened but ice, a bandage and (legal) drugs made the pain bearable. I flew out the next day, and fortunately, my knee was just sore for a few days afterwards, but with no lasting damage.

(c) 2004-2020 Scott Surgent. For entertainment purposes only. This report is not meant to replace maps, compass, gps and other common sense hiking/navigation items. Neither I nor the webhost can be held responsible for unfortunate situations that may arise based on these trip reports. Conditions (physical and legal) change over time! Some of these hikes are major mountaineering or backpacking endeavors that require skill, proper gear, proper fitness and general experience.