Two days in the Lost Creek Wilderness

Granite towers!!

Start/Finish:  Goose Creek TH

Route:  Goose Creek Trail to McCurdy Park Trail to Lake Park Trail to Hankins Pass Trail

Mileage:  15.5mi (appx.)

Highlights:  Enormous pink granite domes and spires, caves, historic structures, Rocky Mountain Bristlecone Pines, alpine parks (open meadows nestled in valleys), secluded stands of Aspen.

 

I got back yesterday and my legs are still tired, guess skiing didn’t get me in hiking shape like I anticipated.  After trying to plan an outing for quite some time, I found two days in a row to take a trip down to the Lost Creek Wilderness.  My friend Jason had been praising it for quite some time telling me how it’s a great early season hiking location due to the low amount of snow the area receives.  In addition to accessibility, the area features unique rock formations, huge domes, spires, splitter cracks (crumbly rock though), and house sized boulders.  A portion of the Goose Creek Trail follows Goose Creek (called Lost Creek also) as it winds through a narrow valley disappearing and re-emerging from the depths of huge piles of rock.  There are also secluded ‘parks’, open meadows bordered by aspen, nestled between ridges on both sides.

Hayman burn (a VERY small portion)

When I got home from work I was pleasantly surprised by a package from The Clymb.  I immediately knew that Dewbie would be my companion for this hike.  His dog pack from Mountainsmith (review to come later) had just arrived – perfect timing.  I wouldn’t have hesitated to carry his food and packable bowl, but I was excited at the prospect of lightening my pack just a little bit, while giving him something new to learn.  After putting his pack on and getting it adjusted properly, he just stood there and looked at me.  I knew it was going to take a little while for him to get used to his new gear.

Cave dog

I was also getting ready to test some new gear.  I have had a Granite Gear Vapor Trail backpack (that I also got from The Clymb) that I had received months ago but had never used.  Sure I’d used it for a couple day trips, but never with a full load and for multiple days.  Some other newer items that came with me were my AeroPress to make that coveted morning cup of coffee, Montbell travel chopsticks, and some Mountainhouse dehydrated meals.

He should be a Mountainsmith model

When I camp I am usually more then happy to prepare meals that are more complex them boiling water and pouring it in a bag.  I did however have some sample meals from Mountainhouse that I had been waiting to use on a trip just like this one.  To supplement the two dehydrated meals I also brought some Lara bars, Cliff bars, pepperjack cheese, chocolate, coffee, tea, and some Emergen-C packets.

 

Historic structures

The drive down to our trailhead took about 3 hours so we had packed the night before and got on the road by 5:30.  I always question my sanity when I am driving somewhere at 5:30am and I’m not going to work.  Ultimately the lack of sleep and early start are worth the solitude and spectacular scenery.  Before turning off the highway onto the Forest Service road that would take us to our destination we began to see portions of the Hayman fire scar.  Holy crap – I had heard of this fire being a Wildland Firefighter myself, but the scale of it had never been clearly obvious.  Over 130,000 acres burned, most of it nuked, nothing left.  The last 45 minutes of my drive was in or within view of the burn.

Finding Goose Creek trailhead was fairly easy and there was ample parking.  Upon arriving I gave Dewbie his breakfast and got his pack loaded up.  Strapping it on produced that same look on his face, I laughed a little, “you’ll get used to it,” I told him.  As we started our hike, the trail descended through a portion of the burn, down into the drainage to meet up with Goose Creek.  Towering snags loomed all around us and I was thankful that there was no wind.

Funny tongue

The first mile or so of our hike followed the water with the occasional campsite located just next to the creek.  Then we began ascending into the hills above the water.  Through the trees we would catch glimpses of the rocky terrain we were hiking towards.  Dewbie began to find his stride with the saddle bags that hung on either side of him although he never really got used to the extra clearance he needed, constantly bumping into logs, trees, and rocks.

The further into our hike we got, the greater the view.  Towering domes and towers were visible on the opposite side of the creek.  After having spent so much time in the mountains West of Nederland,

 

View from Refrigerator Gulch

this new landscape looked alien.  We came to a sign on the side of the trail that read ‘historic structures’.  I almost passed them up but seeing how early it was, we decided to hike down and have a look.  We descended to some cabins that were originally housing for people working to construct a dam to harness the power of Goose Creek.  They didn’t succeed.  We followed the trail a bit further and came to the ‘Shaft House’.  All that is left is actually some sort of motor/winch-looking thing.  It made a nice seat for us to enjoy a snack.

The rest of the afternoon we gradually ascended, staying above the creek the majority of the time.  We hiked through Aspens and rock outcroppings eventually descending into Refrigerator Gulch.  The hike in was steep as was the hike out.  In the bottom of the gulch was one of the cooler sights – a cave with Lost Creek (Goose Creek) flowing out.  There were nice looking campsites here but we wanted to camp higher.  We continued on (after some tough route-finding).  The rest of the day got a little tiring lots of uphill – the higher we got, the more snow we encountered.  By the end of the day we were post-holing (and cursing) on every step.  We eventually reached a nice level spot in a small meadow and called it quits for the day.  

Dewbie getting comfortable w/ the tent

This is why it’s called Lost Creek

After dinner out of a pouch (and a good one!) I enjoyed a couple cups of tea and Dewbie and I tucked in for the night.  This was his first experience sleeping in a tent and although he was a little apprehensive to get in, he got comfortable with the idea of having shelter.  The temperature dropped into the 20’s and I woke up to Dewbie shivering next to me.  After covering him with some of my extra layers and playing big spoon I tried to get some more sleep.

Sunrise came too soon, as it usually does when you are comfortable in your sleeping bag trying to get a few more minutes with your eyes shut.  Breakfast helped us warm up.  Hot coffee from my AeroPress tasted pretty damn good (that thing makes great coffee at home too!).  After packing up camp, Dewbie and I got back on the trail and continued ascending.  Within thirty minutes we were at McCurdy Park, an open meadow close to 11k feet.  The center of the park had some rock towers and surrounding us were McCurdy Mountain and McCurdy Park Tower.  The climber in me wanted to get on a rope.

Just past McCurdy park we reached the high point of our circuit and began descending…before heading back up hill to get on the Lake Park trail.  This was supposed to take us down to through Lake Park and then down to Hankins Pass.  Unfortunately, I managed to loose the trail prior to Lake Park due to the snow on this part of our route.

Rock features on McCurdy Mountain

They say that when you get lost you should stay put instead of moving.  If you keep going you risk getting yourself further from where you want to be.  I ignored this.  It wasn’t that I felt I would randomly find the trail, I had a strategy.  My map was of little use because the scale was so large that smaller features were almost non-existent.  This made locating my position difficult.  I was on a ridge looking down at the valley that I had hiked up from the previous day.  I knew roughly where I wanted to end up at the end of the day.  Unfortunately, going through Hankins pass was the easiest way to arrive at my desired destination.  The alternative was a horrible bushwhack.  I followed the ridge I was on to some rock outcroppings to try and get a better view of my surroundings and try to locate Lake Park so I could get to Hankins Pass.  No luck.  With the odds of finding the elusive park, I decided to head downhill, attempting to follow a drainage to Lost Creek  which would then allow me to get back on the trail.

Tower in McCurdy Park

As we headed downhill into the drainage, we encountered snow.  Lots of snow.  Knee deep, unconsolidated, sugar snow.  This is the worst possible kind of snow to try and travel through without skis or snowshoes.  We kept going.  Dewbie surprised me with his energy, literally leaping from one spot to the other and then sinking back into the snow.  The further downhill we got, the less snow we encountered until we were on dry ground.  We kept heading down, eventually encountering those huge rock domes we had scene earlier in our trip.  House sized boulders occasionally blocked our progress and forced us to contour around the drainage to more reasonable terrain.  The whole time we kept heading downhill I had visions of us being cliffed-out within view of the creek below.  Somehow we managed to make it to the bottom of the valley where we crossed the stream and got a much deserved break.  Back on the trail we picked up the pace and made it to the car by two o’clock.

With Dewbie sleeping (instantly) in the back seat, we drove back out through the burn area, happy not to be spending an unplanned night in the woods.  Our trip was fun, with a little unplanned adventure, and amazing sights.  I’ll go back to the Lost Creek Wilderness, and hopefully the creek will be the only thing getting lost next time.

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