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Divide, Colorado, United States

Sentinel Point

Guarding the Western Approach to Pikes Peak

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Difficulty: Difficult
Length: 7.0 miles / 11.3 km
Duration: Half day
 
Overview: Sentinel Point stands out. I first saw it on the way up to the Dome Rock viewpoint about 4 miles farther west. It looked formidable then. I can tell you now, you will remember this hike. This 12,500 ft mountain received its name because it seems to stand as a guard to the west side of Pikes Peak. It is aptly named. The hike is not all that long, but it will challenge you both physically and mentally. If you like puzzles, think of this as hiking up a puzzle, especially the 1.5 miles of the Cairned Trail. If you like to feel the size of the mountains, you will want to do whatever it takes to stand in the saddle among the four peaks at the top of the trail. If you begin early enough, you could climb the east side peaks for a view of Pikes back.

The GPS map shows this as a loop hike. That's how it was presented to me. I like loop hikes, but unless you are strong and agile, I'd recommend going back down the way you came up, once you've enjoyed your time at the summit. Traveling from POI 12 to 13 is dicey. Obviously, it's possible (otherwise you wouldn't be reading this), but it's not for the faint of heart -- once you start, you'll find it exceedingly difficult to climb back up and go down the other way.


Tips: Drive west from Colorado Springs on Hwy 24 to Divide. Turn left (south) on Hwy 67 and drive about 9 miles to the trail head (just past an old, boarded up tunnel).
Take plenty of water and snacks -- while only 7 miles, this hike took me about 6 hours (part of that time waiting out storms).
Walking/trekking poles will be very helpful, especially if you elect to try the loop route.
Start early in the day to avoid, as much as possible, the storms.
This is not a dog friendly trail. Besides the boulders at the top, the granite is sharp and will tear the pads of their feet. I would not want to climb down while carrying a 90 lb. retriever.

Points of Interest

Parking
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Trail Head

This is the trail head for Sentinel Point. The sign post on the left has no information, unfortunately. But this tunnel is unique in the area. This trail head can be used for four separate and beautiful hikes. So it's not surprising to see 15 - 20 cars here on a weekend day.
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First Trail Split

Trail split. Straight ahead leads to Horse Thief Falls and Pancake Rocks. Left leads to the Crags Campground and the Sentinel Point trail. Just after turning left, you cross the Horse Thief Falls creek.
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First View

First view of Sentinel Point. The peak is 1.3 miles away and 2500 feet above you
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Beaver Ponds

The path along the valley floor skirts several beaver ponds. The stream flowing into the valley is only a couple of feet wide and very shallow. Rodent engineers, however, have created 6 lakes more than 50 yards across. Pictures illustrate but two of the dams and one of the beaver’s homes. They did not seem to be occupied – at least, I was not invited in for tea.
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Second Trail Split

Trail Junction: At this point the trail splits again. The trail to the left leads to the Crags campground. 704C, to the right, leads into the hills and up the mountain.
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Cairned Trail

The trail, once it begins its upward course, is called on local maps “The Cairned Trail.” Much of the way it follows a dry stream bed. Sometimes it does not. So I am grateful to God that previous hikers were moved to erect small cairns (Gaelic for “pile of stones”) to help themselves and others find and follow the correct path. Watch carefully, they are not always easy to spot. Sometimes other travelers tied orange tape to tree branches. These combined with the cairns will get you to the end of the trail. The trail is rugged and rocky. On the map it seems to lead straight up. However, there is a lot less straight and a lot more up than the map indicates -- 1.1 miles, 2000 feet.
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Thinning Trees & Growing Storms

As we begin to reach the elevation where trees no longer grow, the panorama of the central Rockies stretches out behind us, even as the mountain continues to rise. But it’s not just the panorama that blankets the distant view, sudden storms become equally visible. I had to wait this one out on the edge of the tree line, hunkered down in a hollow for about 30 minutes while the thunderheads passed over.
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Trail Surprises

All is not rock. I saw this unusual red flower in a few places on the mountain. At this point you’ll be able to see the end of the cairned trail. It terminates in a grassy saddle between another rocky 12,000 foot peak and Sentinel Point. You’ll see several large patches of snow whose melting contributes to a beautiful clear stream.
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False Summit

At the end of the Cairned Trail is a wide saddle. It rests between four peaks, all approximately 12,500 feet in elevation. Sentinel Point is the most prominent, located in the southwest quadrant of the four. The end of the trail is what is known as a “false summit.” There’s still another 300 ft and nearly a half of a mile to go. Take your time and enjoy this unique spot.
Mountain
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Peak in Reach

Just below the peak itself you can see another line of thunderstorms approaching (rapidly, as it turned out). This is not the time to be the highest point on the mountain. I recommend that if you see something like this: GET OFF THE MOUNTAIN! … I did, heading as rapidly as I could down to the tree line. … Even with this threatening weather headed my way, I was able to take some time to appreciate the stunning grandeur of the scene before me.
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Decision Point

If you’ve decided to make the hike a loop, this is where you head next. Walk south of Sentinel Point along the east side of the ridge toward another saddle (pictured here). Then head west down the hill. As you stand in the saddle you’ll see a massive rock formation to your westsouthwest about .75 mile away. Begin your descent here, heading more or less toward this rock. THERE IS NO TRAIL! I would not have attempted this without trekking poles. The decomposed granite is slippery. Boulders abound, as do cliff faces. If you follow my GPS track, you’ll make it down to the stream that becomes Horse Thief Falls, where you’ll pick up the trail back to the trail head. My track is even south of where I would have like to have gone. Between 11600 and 11200, the terrain is STEEP.
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South Saddle

Standing in the saddle south of Sentinel Point, looking westsouthwest toward the rock formation. Plus, another view of the storm headed my way. If you look closely at the trees, you'll see that there is no path. The "finger rocks" don't show up at first. Skirt them on the right.
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Horse Thief Falls

This is a lovely vale where you can stop and let some of the adrenaline fade from your system before you begin the last leg of your walk back to the trail head.
Pictures in this guide taken by: dougknighton
Reviews
jjmandi
Doug - looks like a great hike! Hey, my brother-in-law and I ran into you this afternoon on the Stanley Canyon Trail. You mentioned a trail from Rampart Range to Stanley, that we could have really used today. Can you send the info?

Many thanks,

John M


by jjmandi on Oct 23, 2010

Sentinel Point Trail Map


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About the Author

dougknighton
dougknighton
30 guides
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Retired Air Force Chaplain who began military life as an Airborne Ranger. Evidently I didn't get enough...

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