Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Backpacking the Lost Creek Wilderness

The South Platte is a special place to me and Shelby. We've now made 7 trips to the region this year alone. Its elevation is only a bit higher than Denver's so it is a warm, dry area. It's an area that is often overlooked and relatively unappreciated. The ground is composed mostly of BB sized granite gravel with a thin layer of decomposed pine needles. The land is mostly covered with pine trees except for the 138,000 acre burn scar from the Hayman fire in 2002, roughly a third of the entire area of the South Platte region. All this being said, the region visible from paved roads isn't scenic by most Colorado standards. Once you start to venture onto the dirt roads and trails, you start to see some of the gems - Sheep Rock, Cheeseman Canyon, Turkey Rocks, and the Malay Archipelago to name a few. Looking to get lost for a weekend, Shelby and I stumbled upon what may be one of Colorado's best kept secrets, found in none other than the South Platte area- The Lost Creek Wilderness.

Looking at a terrain map, the Lost Creek Wilderness looks like an unimpressive set of small hills relative to some of the giant peaks found elsewhere in the state, so it is easy to skip across when scanning a map. Somehow Shelby had heard about backpacking loops in the area and a quick google search revealed some beautiful photos. The photos combined with the excellent forecast were enough to ignite a spark and we couldn't wait to explore the area.

We chose a loop that cherry-picked the most beautiful parts of the area. We would start by following Goose Creek, then Lost Creek, climbing up to McCurdy Park, over to Hankins Pass and back down to the car. I drew out the route on MapMyRide and it came out to 20-25 miles depending on how many switchbacks I missed while drawing the route.

We got started early on Saturday morning and began the hike north along Goose Creek. Most of the time we were in the trees, walking along a wide trail that we assumed must have been used as a road back in the mining days. 

Every once in a while the trees would clear and we would catch a glimpse of the granite domes and other rock formations that surrounded us on all sides.

Occasionally, we'd come across a giant boulder or a grove of aspens.

The miles ticked by quickly for the first half of the day. We had lots of energy and were excited to be in such a beautiful place, so the hiking was easy.

Much of the day passed in silence, both of us in our own thoughts, but with the occasional conversation. We would stop frequently, taking the time to look at the views. I would stop even more often to take pictures while Shelby continued and then I would slowly catch up. We stopped for a snack around noon and both of us realized that we brought less food than we normally do. Not a big deal, we just figured we'd be pretty hungry by the time we got to camp.

Eventually the trail went down to Lost Creek. We were low on water, so we took some time to filter water while we watched tiny trout feeding on food that drifted down to them. Just above this spot you could see the water come out of a dark cave. Lost Creek gets it's name from all the times it disappears underground and then reappears a ways downstream.

We weren't really sure where the trail lead from here. Following a less worn trail through some campsites, we eventually dead ended at the creek. It seemed really weird that the trail was less faint, so we weren't really sure that we came the right way. We ended up wading across the creek here and finding no trail on the other side. Darn. We came back across the creek to figure out where we went wrong and then continued along the trail barefoot, looking for a place we could sit down to put our shoes back on. Ouch! Ooh! Ouch! What the? I didn't realize it but we were walking through a field of thistles barefoot and I had about 5 thorns in my feet. Nice one. 

After taking the time to pull all the thorns out of our feet, we made it back to where we filtered water and found the other couple that had been hiking at about the same pace as us. They had a much better map than us and got us back on the trail we were supposed to be on. 

At this point, we started to realize that our map wasn't very good and we weren't exactly sure how far along the trail we were. We just kept hiking along the trail, figuring that we'd be able to figure out where we were eventually. Up a steep hill, down another hill, we came to two creek crossings, a landmark that allowed us to figure out where we were. By this point, we were both pretty exhausted. My mileage estimate seemed like it was way below what we had actually hiked due to switchbacks and we didn't bring enough food to keep our energy up. We sat down for a bit and shared my last clif bar before starting the long climb up to McCurdy Park. 

This part of the hike dragged on and on. Endless switch backs traversing up the face always brought us back to the creek that climbed up next to us, so it felt like we weren't making any progress. Eventually we finally made it to the last switchback and just hiked straight up the valley. Finally the trees opened up to a meadow and I knew that we were almost there. We made it to a nice camping spot with a firepit, sheltered by trees from the wind and right next to the stream. We cooked dinner, gathered wood and made a nice campfire before going to bed early after a long hard day.

We heard the wind blowing all night long. It rushed through the tips of the trees above us, but never really hit our tent thanks to the good camping spot. In the morning, we made quick work of the usual morning chores of pulling the food out of the tree it hung from, cooking breakfast, taking down the tent and packing our bags. Yesterday Shelby had only drank a kale smoothie for breakfast and it was a big reason why she ran out of energy so bad, so we both made sure we had plenty to eat for breakfast and started the hike feeling refreshed and energized, albeit quite sore.

The scenery today was less epic than yesterday, but we had lots of pleasant meadows to pass through between stints in the trees. We passed through the rest of McCurdy Park, passing a hidden tower called McCurdy Park tower with over 20 climbing routes up it. We'll have to come back and do some climbing in this wonderful area. At the end of McCurdy Park, we dipped down a bit and then took the cutoff towards Lake Park. This trail would be our only climb for the day and was enough to get the blood pumping at 1.5 miles long, but we were good on energy this time, so it went by relatively easily. The climb brought us to our high point for the weekend where we could scramble up a pile of boulders to a great lookout where we could see the whole wilderness area.

The rest of the hike was just a long gradual downhill all the way back to the car. The majority of the time was passed in silence, lost in our own thoughts, watching the landscape shift as we descended in elevation down to Lake Park, then to Hankins Pass.

The miles went on and on and we found ourselves looking at the map more often, ready to get off our feet and eat a tasty burrito in Deckers. We took frequent breaks along the way and eventually Shelby felt inspired to start wearing aspen leaves in her hair.

We were ready to be done and eventually I saw a distant ridge that signified that we were close to the end. Passing through a narrow corridor with rock walls on both sides, we came around the corner and saw horses making the final climb to the cars. We were done.

While the long hike in two days may have been a bit ambitious, we had a wonderful time in the Lost Creek Wilderness. It's truly a special place with few people and a feeling of wildness that is rare in the front range of Colorado. Next time we'll come prepared with more food, more time to explore, and climbing gear! We will be back, oh yes, we will be back.

1 comment:

  1. Love that you both enjoy these adventures together!!