Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Lost Creek Wilderness Trip Report

When my friend Ted bailed on me for our easy one night backpacking trip to the Lost Creek Wilderness. I decided to ramp it up a bit by going solo, going farther and going an extra day.

Fortunately my pup Rocco (a Weimaraner) didn't bail so I had a trusty companion.

It has been a goal of mine to do some back country camping by myself just to have that experience of being alone in the wilderness. This trip was also my first trip going ultra light which I have been learning about and re-gearing for over the last several months. I wouldn't say I am ultra light yet. But very light. My pack was down to about 20 pounds. Rocco carried about a 10 pound pack with all his food and some of mine.

We left Friday morning on our two night trip. A 1.5 hour drive from Denver to the Goose Creek Trailhead at the SE corner of Lost Creek Wilderness. The route takes you through Pine CO where just to the south there is the most beautiful (inhabited) valley I have ever seen in Colorado. The Swan Heffer something ranch with a wide grassy valley floor, horses and a 20 ft wide river making exagerrated bends back and forth from side to side. The last part of the drive and the first 1/4 mile of the Goose Creek Trail are through the Haymen Fire burn. Miles and miles or desolation on all sides. Really astounding.

The Lost Creek Wildernness is characterized by dramatic rock formations and walls made from bomber (pink) granite. The walls are stacks of round bubbles sort of like the Michelin Man. There are giant domes (like a mini Yosemite) and valleys and canyons filled with room size and even house size granite boulders. The Lost Creek disappears many times into aquafers underneath these formations and boulder piles.

My plan was to do the entire 27 mile loop counter clockwise. But I was apprehensive because I had spoken with a Ranger who had told me that there was quite a lot of snow along the west side of the trail at the higher elevations. This would be the second half of the trip. I was trying to decide whether to wear boots or trail runners when I met a guy coming out who had been up near Hawkins Pass at 10,000 ft. He said the snow was two feet deep and he was post holing. At that point I decided to wear trail runners and just do an in and out route up Goose Creek staying at lower elevation out of the snow.

We left from the trailhead (8100') at 9am. A three mile hike northbound on the Goose Creek Trail #612 to the shafthouse turn off gained about 600ft and took me past high rock cliffs and formations on the left and past a dramatic (and very rare) granite arch. Look to the left and slightly up at about mile 1. The shafthouse and several standing employee housing buildings are all that is left (beside a bunch of cement in the aquafer) from a half baked scheme around the turn of the century to dam the lost creek by plugging the underground aquafer with cement.

I turned left at the shafthouse turnoff. I checked our the historic buildings and continued a quarter mile up the trail to the old shaft house. I became surrounded by a strange and wonderful world of giant round granite boulders and high rock walls of all shapes. There was a large rock ledge on the left near the top of the hill that overlooked the entire valley to the south. A good campsite. Beyond the shafthouse was a very beautiful grassy valley also an excellent campsite. I continued a little further headed upstream NW over the aquafer with the Lost Creek below. I wanted to find where the creek goes underground because then I would have a water supply. After a short stretch through a section with room size boulders that create a maze and boulder caves I came to a boulder ledge with a large flat area behind that overlooked an entire remote valley. i could hear the water of the Lost Creek entering the aquafer below. I had found my campsite. I set up camp about 2pm.

I found this picture of the valley on the web. I can tell it is exactly where I camped by the three holes in the rock in the right forground. This picture was obviously taken later in the summer. The bottom of the valley was not green yet when I was there. This would be the valley that would be filled with water had the turn of the century dam scheme worked.

I spent the rest of the afternoon hiking around the valley exploring the various aquafers. It was very hard going because climbing over room size boulders it is very easy to dead end, especially with a dog. The scope and size of things was very confusing as was the maze of canyons that all converged. Thanks to Rob Nevitt I carried a GPS which saved me at least once. I was happy I had changed to long pants because of the thorny brush near the water.

Here is another picture I found on the web of some people among the giant boulder like those near the shafthouse.

The next morning I awoke at 7am and was on the trail at 9am. I returned to the main Goose Creek Trail and headed further in to the north. At about 2 miles I came to the intersection of the McCurdy Park Trail #628. I turned left on 628 headed for Regrigerator Gulch. After a few hundred yards a beautiful, large pine tree filled valley came into view on the left. This is the area of the gulch and looked beautiful to camp in the bottom. I continued down 628 for another 1/2 mile. My intention was to leave the main trail and follow the gulch to the south about 1/4 mile to where it intersects the Lost Creek looking for a campsite here near one of several aquafers. Where 628 crosses the steam that flows at the bottom of Refrigerator Gulch in some tall brush, 628 continues to the northwest, but behind you there is an unmarked trail that goes off tho the southeast. Perfect! This trail was tougher going and at times faint. It lead through some aspen groves with lots of tree fall then up and over a steep hill next to a giant rock formation on the right. The stream goes underground here. On the other side is a large valley and the stream has gotten much larger. Aha the Lost Creek has joined the other creek under the rocks. I followed the path along the east side of the river headed south through some brush and up and over a hill behind a rock wall. I began to see the green pines getting thicker as several canyons diverged. As I followed along the east side the Lost Creek takes of the the SE. Gradually the valley became a narrow canyon with 200 ft rock walls. 50 yards wide with a 20 yard wide stream rushing through the bottom. It reminded me of Dream Canyon outside Boulder although at 9000' the trees were different. It was lush with green forest and moss. Here the Lost Creek disappeared under the rock for about 100 yards. Just beyond the aquafer there was a large flat grassy area next to the stream. Couldn't be more perfect. I set up camp here for the night and spent the rest of the day exploring the canyon, rock hopping and bushwacking up and down both sides. I found that the canyon was impassible about 300 yards downstream from my camp. I slept with the canopy off my tent that night under the stars.

The next morning I awoke at 6am packed up and hiked out about 6 miles to my car. I arrived at my car at 1pm and returned home.

This was a magical trip. I really found absolute paradise twice. Thanks to CMC Backpacking School I felt really good about my skills and was totally confident the whole time. I was not bothered by any local sasquatch.

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