Rolling Creek-Wigwam-Colorado Trail Loop
October’s hike is a pleasant ramble through the Kenosha Mountains, part of Colorado’s Lost Creek Wilderness southwest of Denver. Thought it has none of the high peaks and glaciated scenery that Colorado is known for, it’s a great place to go for one last snow-free hike before the long winter sets in.
Today’s area forecast is for wind with a high of 43F and low of 20F with possible rain and snow showers. The sky is overcast when I arrive at the trailhead. I’m not expecting to see many people out here and, in fact, see no one on this three-day trip.
About the gear: My pack weight is about 20 lbs. with a base weight of about 14. This is a bit higher than normal for me, but I’m determined to be comfortable during the long hours in camp this time of year. I’m toting a double-walled tent, a warm sleeping bag, and lots of warm clothing. While hiking, I’m wearing a lightweight synthetic base layer topped by a hooded wind shirt. On my legs are my standard REI Sahara pants. On my feet are trail runners and wool socks. The Manzella Powerstretch gloves are new for me on this trip. They worked out great. That hat is a REI Alpental, my favorite cold weather hat. Yes, it’s a woman’s hat, but it fits my head well, with the option of layering a thin skull cap underneath. To my eye, it’s a little less Elmer Fudd-ish than the men’s Snoqualmie. For long downhill stretches when I’m not generating much heat, I add a Polartec 100 pullover to the mix.
The Castle, a prominent rock formation along the Rolling Creek trail.
Mule deer are keeping an eye on me.
There are several small streams along the Rolling Creek trail.
The trail climbs a couple thousand feet through the timber to a saddle at the crest of the Kenosha Mountains.
On the way down, I come upon a stark reminder of the cycle of life and death. A cold wind blows and it starts to snow. By the time I reach the Wigwam trail on the far side of the Kenosha Mountains, the wind has become more intense. Finding a good flat spot and a nearby stream, I decide to quit early. Darkness comes quickly this time of year.
Bedtime for Donzo
It’s a cold night. Frost forms on the inside of my tent’s fly and my water bottles freeze, though they are inside the tent with me. But I spend a comfortable night. The extra bit of weight has paid off.
About the gear: At the risk of sounding like a Montbell pimp, notice that I’m using a few of their items of gear and clothing. The pillow is very comfortable and reasonably lightweight. It’s attached to a torso-sized self-inflator from Montbell. The high-loft synthetic jacket is an Eldo which my wife got me for town use. It also works well in the wilderness. The tent I’m sleeping in is the now-discontinued Monoframe Shelter Diamond. My carry weight for the tent is about 40 oz., pretty light for a double-walled tent with a solid fabric inner wall. The Lifa knit hat is something I’ve had for years. It layers nicely under the Alpental hat and is long enough to roll down over my eyes on nights like tonight when the moon is shining brightly.
The morning is windy and cold as I walk west along the Wigwam trail. Rock formations peek out from among the trees.
My first look at Lost Park. The wind intensifies as I come out of the trees. I better get used to it since I’ll be in Lost Park for the next few hours.
Cattle appear as I hike up the valley. So do cow pies on the trail and near the creek. Ah, the romance of the Old West! Though I’m packing two kinds of water treatment, I play it safe and refrain from taking water from Lost Park. The frozen water I’m carrying in my Platypus bottle will come in handy in getting me through this section.
About the gear: While I’m on the trail, I like to use a device called the Steripen Adventurer which treats water by using ultraviolet light. You just dip your bottle, swirl the Adventurer around in the water for a minute or so, and drink. Rarely do I need to carry more than a pint between sources. In camp, since I’m treating more water at one time, it’s easier to use chlorine dioxide tablets.
Views from Lost Park
I walk through the Lost Park Campground which sits at the end of a 20-mile dirt road leading from a highway near the town of Jefferson. Today the campground is deserted.
Autumn sagebrush glows in the afternoon sun.
I reach the junction of the Colorado Trail and start climbing back into the forest. There are a couple of ounces of water left in my bottle, and several miles to go before my next reliable supply, so I consider taking water from Lost Park. But I find a small seep trickling from the mountains and manage to get a pint. The heavily-forested trail climbs up northeast through the mountains then drops down again.
It’s late in the afternoon when I arrive at my next water supply. It’s a lovely little spot and I spend some time playing with the shutter speed of my camera.
Aspen leaves swirl counterclockwise in the water.
I’m getting chilled and I notice the time. There is little daylight left. So I haul my water back up the hill to a lodgepole forest with many flat spots for sleeping and good branches for bear bagging.
This night is not as cold last night was. There is little frost in the tent and the water bottles did not freeze. Still, it is cold, and since I have only a few miles to cover today, I sleep in until the sun peeks out over the mountains. I have breakfast and hike on.
About the gear: In milder weather, I like using an alcohol stove. But when it’s cold, I prefer the speed of a small canister stove. I keep the fuel canister and BIC lighter inside the tent and warm them up inside my sleeping bag before using them. To protect the canister from the cold ground, I carry a small scrap of closed-cell foam. My canister stove of choice is the Coleman F-1 ultralight. It has a bit more power than other UL stoves I’ve used, which can come in handy in windy conditions.
The Colorado Trail is carpeted with aspen leaves.
Aspen leaves hang on against a cloudless sky. Next time I come this way, they’ll be gone. Winter is on it’s way.