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Lost Creek Wilderness (part 1)

Started: 2008-06-21 19:24:00

Submitted: 2008-06-23 22:09:20

Visibility: World-readable

I'm currently in the middle of a four-day, three-night solo backpacking expedition. Assuming all goes as planned over the next two days, this will be my longest backpacking trip ever in terms of both distance covered and nights camped. It is also my first solo backpacking trip; Kiesa took this weekend to visit her mother, leaving me to take care of myself.

I spent much of this week getting ready for the trip. This included acquiring backpacking food; I spent some quality time in the freeze-dried meal aisle at REI, then built a spreadsheet to figure out how many calories I would need per day and how I would get them. I ended up taping meals together in neat labeled groups. Once I figured out that I had enough food on the table that I wouldn't starve, dividing the food into meals (plus an extra stash of energy bars) was easy.

I took Friday off work for the first day of my expedition. My fully-packed backpack weighted fifty-five pounds, much to my dismay. (For those not keeping track, that's more than a quarter of my body weight.) I didn't really think I could take much out; I needed food, clothing, cooking gear, a sleeping bag, and a tent. (I took the one tent we have, which comfortably sleeps Kiesa and I with room to spare. I thought about looking for a smaller, one-man backpacking tent but I didn't really spend very much time looking.)

While running around the garage gathering stuff for my expedition, I stubbed my left little toe on a pegboard that mysteriously appeared in the garage on Monday, when Kiesa's mother and grandfather dropped by on their way between Arkansas and Washington while moving Kiesa's grandfather's household to Washington. It felt like I might have actually broken my toe, mere hours before I was set to undertake my first major backpacking expedition of the summer. I taped my little toe to the one next to it (using masking tape since Kiesa took our one remaining roll of first aid tape to Washington). My boots gave enough support to my toe that I didn't feel it once I put my boots on.

With my pack in the back of Motoko, I swung by King Soopers to get first aid tape (essential for treating blisters on the trail) and a package of Snickers bars to augment my otherwise-not-terribly-unhealthy meals on the trail. I stopped by Kiesa's community garden plot to water it while she was out of town. I headed to I-25 and almost made it when I remembered that I had left my new camping knife in my drawer at home. I felt silly but returned home to pick it up and ultimately got underway.

I stopped for my last lunch in civilization at Chipotle in Lakewood, across the street from OpenTV. (I find it somewhat disturbing that I know so much about a random section of Denver's western suburbs.) Properly fortified, I continued west on I-70 to CO-470 to US-285, then followed a complicated series of roads through the area burned by the 2002 Hayman Fire before finally reaching the Goose Creek Trailhead on the south-eastern side of Lost Creek Wilderness around 1430.

I set off down the trail ahead of a Boy Scout group and immediately ahead of a group consisting of two guys and two girls who appeared to be in their mid-twenties. The trailhead itself had been spared by the fire but the eastern edge of the wilderness had been burned. I tried to figure out if this was where I backpacked with Pathfinders a decade ago; a few of the clues in my journal suggest that we hiked up Goose Creek but I didn't recognize anything. (That may have been because it was dark by the time we hit the trail a decade ago.)

I didn't really expect hiking with a 55-pound pack to be easy but I was unprepared how hard it was. Sustained uphill stretches left me gasping for breath as if I were climbing the last few hundred vertical feet of a fourteener. I followed the Goose Creek Trail north along Goose Creek. I caught occasional glimpses of the canyon, spectacular in its own way with vast aspen groves and rounded granite domes, entirely unlike the alpine scenery I'm used to closer to home in Indian Peaks Wilderness.

Rounded granite terain, Lost Creek Wilderness
Rounded granite terain, Lost Creek Wilderness

Three miles up the valley, I took a side trip to the Shafthouse, one of the remaining artifacts of a turn-of-the-last-century scheme to pour vast quantities of concrete into the various subterranean waterways making up Lost Creek to create a reservoir for municipal water supplies. Not surprisingly, the scheme failed, leaving only a few buildings and some machinery in evidence a century later.

Machinery at the shafthouse, Lost Creek Wilderness
Machinery at the shafthouse, Lost Creek Wilderness
Old reservoir housing, Lost Creek Wilderness
Old reservoir housing, Lost Creek Wilderness

I continued up the Goose Creek Trail, hiking around massive granite formations. At length, I reached the junction where the McCurdy Trail headed west. I dropped my pack to survey possible campsites but soon realized that my best bet would be another kilometer down the trail in Refrigerator Gulch where I could find flat land and fresh water. I found the flat land I was looking for and set up camp in an aspen grove. It was getting dark by the time I arrived. I pumped water and boiled water for my instant backpacking meal and hot chocolate. I started setting up the tent as I heard thunder; a handful of hail fell but I didn't get wet.

I suspended my food bag between two trees and retreated into the tent. I wrote an offline changelog in my little back book and went to bed at 2200.


When I woke up in my tent on Saturday morning, I had doubled the number of nights I spent camping last year. In 2007, I spent one night car camping and one night backpacking. This year, I've already spent two nights car camping and two nights backpacking.

Camp in Refrigerator Gulch, Lost Creek Wilderness
Camp in Refrigerator Gulch, Lost Creek Wilderness

I pumped more water for breakfast and made oatmeal and coffee. The coffee grounds proved harder to work with than I expected; I ended up with grounds all over my washcloth.

I broke camp, stuffed everything into my backpack, and continued up the McCurdy Trail. The trail meandered westward, up and down sunny slopes, finally joining Lost Creek at one of the points it emerged from the granite caves. A few hundred meters down the trail, I recognized the cover photo on my Trails Illustrated map of the wilderness -- Lost Creek disappearing into a steep granite canyon -- and took my own version of the photo.

Lost Creek disapears into rocks, Lost Creek Wilderness
Lost Creek disapears into rocks, Lost Creek Wilderness

I was frustrated by the constant up and down in the trail; I needed to climb nearly two thousand vertical feet, and each vertical foot was an extra struggle with my overloaded pack. I did enjoy the views more than the previous day; the gentle, subtly-carved granite stood out against the rugged valley. The trail finally turned south on the final approach to McCurdy Park, my destination for the night. I turned off the trail into the wide valley and discovered that I wasn't the first camper to set up camp in the shadow of a massive block of granite in the middle of the valley. I hiked around the block and found several campsite candidates. I settled on one on the far side of the rock, with its bulk providing an extra measure of solitude between me and the trail and the other campers.

Camp in McCurdy Park, Lost Creek Wilderness
Camp in McCurdy Park, Lost Creek Wilderness

I arrived at my campsite by mid-afternoon. I rested before and after setting up my tent in the shadow of the massive block of granite. Getting water was harder than the night before; the meadow was mostly marsh but finding enough water to actually filter was tricky. On my return trip, I ended up in the middle of the marsh, shin-deep in the murky water. Somehow, my feet stayed fairly dry and my nylon pant legs dried quickly.

I had more time to kill than the previous night, so I built a small fire after supper and continued to document my wilderness expedition so far.

it's amazing how much nothing you can do on a sunday.
- bse, Tue Feb 29 16:50:45 GMT 2000