If I can just get off of this LA freeway
Without getting killed or caught
I'd be down that road in a cloud of smoke
For some land that I ain't bought bought bought
- Guy Clark (L.A. Freeway)
“In the late 1950s Carl Pfiffner spoke passionately about traversing from the Arapaho Peaks to Longs Peak along the Continental Divide. This project retains all of its original mystique and it the ultimate mountaineering adventure in the Front Range. The adventure can be extended by going from Berthoud Pass to Milner Pass. There are many variations to this complicated project and any attempt requires your creativity.”
- Gerry Roach, “Colorado’s Indian Peaks Wilderness Area, Classic Hikes & Climbs” (1989)
Given this intriguing description in the most prominent mountaineering guidebook to the area, it’s remarkable that this traverse has not seen more attention. In 1987, Roach & his wife linked Berthoud to Milner Passes (the only 2 paved roads crossing the Divide in this area, the dirt Rollins Pass road also crosses the CD, but with closure of the Needle's Eye tunnel many years ago it is not longer possible to drive over the CD there) in a 16-day backpacking and peak bagging trip, but they did not stay on top of the Divide. Taking some liberty with Pfiffner’s original idea, Roach dubbed this the “Pfiffner Traverse”. Roach's Pfiffner crosses the southern portion of Rocky Mountain National Park and all of the Indian Peaks Wilderness. The route is up to the individual, but there will certainly be much rugged off-trail travel. Since Roach's route is substantially different from Pfiffner's original idea of traversing from Longs to South Arapaho on the divide, we give it it's own page here.
An earlier attempt at Roach's version of the Traverse (Milner to Berthoud) was by Bill Briggs, who started from Milner Pass on 8/7/1979 with the intention of hiking to Berthoud Pass while staying on top of the Divide. Briggs made it as far as Pawnee Pass in a strong 27-hour push with a 3-hour bivy at Buchanan Pass. Years later, on 8/14/1993, Briggs ran from the Audubon TH to Mt Audubon and then followed the CD to Fourth of July TH in 7h35m, with the following splits: Mt Audubon 1:00, Paiute 1:40, Toll 2:15, Pawnee 2:30, Apache 3:40, Navajo ??, Arikaree 5:00, N Arapahoe 7:00, Trailhead 7:35.
The first person to complete Pfiffner’s original idea of linking the Arapahos to Longs along the CD was Buzz Burrell, who did this giant project on July 8-9, 2002. Burrell stuck strictly to the Divide, only dropping down to bivy and collect water, and he summitted every significant and named peak (see below). The route requires some serious climbing, with several mandatory 4th and 5th Class sections, all of which Burrell did solo. Other issues are the lack of water along the Divide, and the fact that the route crosses the western edge of the City of Boulder Watershed, which is strictly off limits to human access (and patrolled!) To distinguish the project from Roach’s “Pfiffner Traverse”, Burrell called his route the “LA Freeway” - an irresistible name for sure! Oddly, the LA Freeway languished in obscurity until a recent, sudden uptick of interest. Peter Bakwin attempted to repeat Burrell's 2-day effort on July 24-25, 2017, but got rained off the tricky Shoshone-Apache traverse on the second morning & bailed out. He posted some details on the route on 14ers.com. A couple weeks later, on August 5, 2017, Matthias Messner completed the LA Freeway in just 16h59m. His trip report with splits is here.
Summits, passes and THs of the L.A. Freeway:
|Chief’s Head Peak||7.0||13579|
|Boulder Grand Pass||10.0||12061|
|N Arapaho Peak||28.9||13502|
|S Arapaho Peak||29.5||13397|
|4th of July TH||33.8||10121|