Oct 27, 2009 at 8:05 pm #1240642
Here is a trip report from my Lost Creek Trip last week. Thanks to Dondo and the other guys who emailed me advice. We had a great time.
Lost Creek is a fairly low eleveation wilderness area in Colorado. It makes a good spring and fall destination because it gets less snow. Its main claim to fame is that Lost Creek flows under huge boulders and dissapears a number of times.
My original plan was to blitz through the Lost Creek Wilderness Solo and cover 40-50 miles over 3 to 5 days. Than my good friend Aaron said he would be interested in coming along. We’d spent a year working with emotionally disturbed boys at a wilderness camp together. Going through the fire like that creates a bond and we had a good working relationship. Aaron is different from me in that he carries a bit more and isn’t such a driven hiker. Going in I knew he wouldn’t be interested in speed hiking so I revised my expectations. I might not see as much country but having a good friend along would make the trip much more enjoyable.
I was carrying a base weight of just less than ten pounds in my 2008 Golite Jam. I was not carrying a lot of luxury gear but I had enough to keep me comfortable at the expected temperatures and safe at a bit lower. Aaron is on the lighter end of traditional backpacking. He carried a Gregory Palisade pack and an REI tent. He guessed his total weight was around 35 pounds. What made it funny was that he insisted on storing his tent inside his pack. This resulted in his pack being fairly light but ridiculously tall. I teased him about the “Gregory Tower” all week.
We got to the trailhead about lunch time and started hiking. I had not hiked un-acclimatized in a long time and was surprised by how much the altitude affected me.
We made fairly good time though and stopped along Wigwam Creek near a beaver dam. I was planning on sleeping under my poncho tarp but Aaron was actually carrying a two man tent so we combined in that.
We hiked up Wigwam Creek and into the Lost Park drainage. Our plan was to follow an old unmaintained trail down Lost Creek to the McCurdy Park Trail and follow it into the Refrigerator Gulch area.
To begin with the trail was easy to find and not difficult at all. Lost Creek is a beautiful creek and I enjoyed hiking along it. After a mile or so the trail began to drop steeply as the creek went into a steep gorge.
After leveling out for a while the valley narrowed again with steep granite cliffs on either side. The trail became harder and harder to find and we began cris-crossing Lost Creek on the huge boulders that covered it. We were tired and clumsy and we were jumping from one huge boulder to the next. A slip could easily have caused a nasty fall.
Eventually the trail seemed to dead end in a sheer rock wall that crossed the creek which disappeared under the boulders. I took off my pack and scrambled around but could not see any safe way over the rocks, certainly not with a pack. I told Aaron we might have missed the trail somewhere. We thought we saw a trail switchbacking up and over the rocks.
We started following the trail but quickly had doubts about it. It was very steep and starting to seem more like a washout. Going down didn’t seem attractive so we kept going up. It became clear we were not on the trail but we needed a way down. Aaron was in front and spotted a gap between two walls of rock he figured we could get through. This turned into some hairy boulder scrambling.
I was ready to try another possible route but Aaron suggested we camp since it was late. We didn’t want to be on a Cliffside when the sun went down. Over dinner we agreed that there was probably a trail somewhere the question was finding it. I was up for trying again Aaron leaned toward backtracking. We compromised and agreed to try again the next morning. If we found a trail quickly we’d follow it, if not we’d backtrack. In the morning we checked again but couldn’t find anything.
We hiked out as quick or quicker than we hiked down and then followed Lost Park to the Indian Creek drainage. We made about two miles up the valley and camped a bit early.
In the morning we started the climb up toward Bison pass. I was feeling a bit off, I wasn’t sure what the problem was. I took a Tums and added some Emergent C drink mix to my water. After hydrating pretty well I felt better.
One thing I quickly noticed about this trip was that Pikes Peak was more visible than my last trip because of the clearer weather.
After McCurdy Park we headed south toward Hankins pass. While I was getting water from a creek Aaron noticed a nice campsite set off in the bushes. It was a bit early but a quick look at the map indicated we wouldn’t find much better for a while.
The next morning we woke up to about an inch of snow on the ground with more falling. We were at a decision point. If we kept going south we were committing to two more days of hiking which would be long and hard days if the snow kept up. The other choice was to head north and take the shortcut back to the car. Neither of us wanted to slog through snow for two days so we decided to bail.
So without really adding up the difficulty or the mileage we went on our merry way toward what we later dubbed the “Death March.”
Hiking through Refrigerator Gulch was cold but fun. It was clear enough to enjoy most of the rock formations. Hiking up over the first pass to Wigwam Creek was tough but we figured we could make the car by dark. As we hiked along Wigwaw Creek the snow got worse.
By now we were wading through about ten inches of snow. Hiking up the Rolling Creek Trail was pure misery. It began to get dark as we headed down the steep and rocky switchbacks to Rolling Creek. Aaron had lost his headlamp so we figured out a system where Aaron would wear my headlamp and shine it ahead so I could see somewhat. It worked okay but progress was slow. We finally rolled into the parking lot at 9:30. We stopped at a gas station for snacks and hot drinks and headed for a warm hotel.
All in all it was an awesome trip though. In spite of pushing the limit more than normal I didn't manage to kill or maim myself. Having a friend along was great. It helped that Aaron is familiar with wilderness travel. We were both comfortable in the woods and trusted each other. If either of us had hiked solo we might have done the trip a bit differently but in the end we were both content with the choices we made.Oct 28, 2009 at 4:54 am #1540364
@dondoLocale: Colorado Rockies
Thanks for sharing your trip report, Luke. Looks like you and Aaron had a lot of fun. Love your pics. There's something about a fresh coating of snow on Lost Creek granite.Oct 28, 2009 at 5:54 am #1540376
I thought the snow was awesome too. Just curious Dondo, have you ever explored the unmarked trail that goes south from Lost Park to the McCurdy Park Trail? We lost it toward the end and choice backtracking over spending to much time scrambling around on rocks. I'm told it can be done though.Oct 28, 2009 at 6:39 am #1540392
@markmclauchlinLocale: Western Australia
Love the photos, great workOct 28, 2009 at 9:22 am #1540431
@dubendorfLocale: CO, UT, MA, ME, NH, VT
I ventured down that trail earlier this year (check out http://www.backpackinglight.com/cgi-bin/backpackinglight/forums/thread_display.html?forum_thread_id=21117&skip_to_post=170064#170064), and arrived at the same dead end you did. It was beautiful, but I was by myself and away from my planned route ('lost' is a bit too strong a term…), so like you I decided to backtrack, and was glad I did not fall between one of those huge boulders. That dead end is so close to the Refrigerator Gulch trail, I am sure that with enough time and effort there is a way through.
JamesOct 28, 2009 at 9:53 am #1540444
James I checked out your old trip report. Nice job on the pictures. We made almost the exact same mistake in Alaska.
I'm told the trail does go all the way down to Refrigerator Gultch but that it involves some class 3 scrambling at the end. Supposedly the Forest Service leaves it off the maps for that reason, they don't want someone to get hurt. I was told by an older man in Montana that there are actually a lot of old trail that can still be followed but they're not maintained or marked on the maps.Oct 28, 2009 at 10:07 am #1540452
@cuzzettjLocale: NorCal - South Bay
Sounds like you had a great time. I wish I could write a trip report as well as you did. Looks like it was a really fun trip. Thank you and keep posting them.Nov 8, 2009 at 5:41 pm #1543899
@dondoLocale: Colorado Rockies
Sorry I missed your question earlier. Yeah, I've followed that trail south from Lost Park but got stopped about where you and Aaron did. The terrain can get pretty convoluted as you get closer to the McCurdy Park trail and I didn't want to get lost.
Another time, a friend and I tried to follow Lost Creek from the Shafthouse area to Refrigerator gulch. It was raining steadily as we scrambled up and over and through the tumbled boulders lining the creek. We often had to cross the creek when the rocks became impassible. After several hours, we were exhausted and crashed by the creek, not really knowing where we were. The next morning, we found our way back to the main drag by following game trails.Nov 8, 2009 at 6:21 pm #1543912
Thanks for the info Dondo. I was interested in hearing back from people who've been there in case I go back. Lost Creek is one of my favorite spots. Interesting that I'm not the only one to get stumped down their. If I go back I might try from the other end. I'm told its easier to find the trail that way.
Come to think of it the general area you mentioned (Shafthouse area) was described to me by a volunteer ranger as the worse terrain in the wilderness area. He said some sections were simply impossible to get through. I think a more detailed map might have helped if we'd been interested in more aggresive crosscountry travel (we weren't we figured we'd seen the canyon, time to move on).
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