So it's not quite 14,000 feet. Believe me, you will earn this summit. The Loch Lomond route to James Peak is a fairly steep ascent to the summit of a very prominent Continental Divide 13'er. This mountain serves as the intersection of Gilpin, Clear Creek, and Grand counties, and the views on the trip up are almost as rewarding as the views from the summit itself. On the way up you pass a total of 5 lakes, with the aptly named Ice Lake as the highest. Once on top, the Mary Jane ski runs at Winter Park will appear so close that it looks as if you can reach out and touch them, but watch out for the updraft on that site of the mountain!
The approach can be an adventure in itself. The Forest Service road up to the Loch receives very little maintenance and has deteriorated to a very slow 4x4 rock crawl. You can choose how far you want to drive before you strike out on foot. Your vehicle may make the decision for you. The first parking area on the route can be accessed by most vehicles without any difficulty, although the ride will be bumpy. Beyond that, you will need a high-clearance vehicle with 4x4 Low Range to go any farther.
Camping at 11,000 feet+ is an experience not to be missed. Sites abound along the road just before you hit treeline. Some people camp above treeline at the Loch itself, but if there is even a chance of stormy weather I prefer to stay a little lower.
I have divided this trip into 2 tracks. The first track starts at I-70 and guides you through the St. Mary's roads and then up the Forest Service road to Loch Lomond. The second track starts at the Loch and ascends the actual trail to the summit.
During 2008, accessibility to this route has been a huge problem, it just opened near the end of July and will probably be closed again by the end of September. A couple of years ago I went up it on July 1st with no problems. It just depends on the snowpack and spring temperatures. You may find snowfields blocking the trail in places if you go early in the season, I always prefer to go around them rather than across. I've fallen through a snowfield before and it isn't easy to get back up, so just because you see footprints going across doesn't mean you should try it.
Did I mention the solitude? Very few people know about this peak, so if you're looking for some quiet time on a high mountain peak, this is it. Of the few people that know about this peak, most of them approach it from an easier but less scenic route to the North. So you will likely encounter very few people, if anyone, once you get above the Loch. There is a circular rock shelter on the summit to help you stay out of the wind while you enjoy your time on top of this magnificent Continental Divide 13'er.