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.

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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.

DSCF1617The Castle, a prominent rock formation along the Rolling Creek trail.

DSCF1619Mule deer are keeping an eye on me.

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DSCF1633There 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.

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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.

DSCF1656-2Bedtime 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.

DSCF1658The morning is windy and cold as I walk west along the Wigwam trail.  Rock formations peek out from among the trees.

DSCF1660My 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.

DSCF1664Cattle 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.

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DSCF1671Views 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.

DSCF1673Autumn 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.

DSCF1677It’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.

DSCF1691Aspen 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.

DSCF1696This 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.

DSCF1707The  Colorado Trail is carpeted with aspen leaves.

DSCF1712Aspen bole

DSCF1716Aspen leaves hang on against a cloudless sky.  Next time I come this way, they’ll be gone.  Winter is on it’s way.


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15 thoughts on “Rolling Creek-Wigwam-Colorado Trail Loop

  1. Dondo,

    Great write-up and excellent photos, a pleasure to read. Thanks for posting. Nice time of year, huh?!

    Bill Manning, Mg Dir
    The Colorado Trail Foundation
    bill[at]ColoradoTrail.org
    www ColoradoTrail.org

  2. Dondo, well the photography is excellent as always. I also use a Montbell pillow in conjunction with a Neo Air and this is my preferred combination. I see you are still using your Montbell Diamond, did Montbell replace the design with a new one? I love my Steripen Adventurer though most times in Scandinavia, I am using water from a tap.

    Finally I really like the Aspen Bole photo and am eagerly awaiting your next instalment.

    • Great to hear from you again, Roger. That Montbell pillow is pretty comfortable, isn’t it. Mine always makes the cut, even when I’m trying to get my weight down. Montbell America replaced the Diamond with a single wall/double wall hybrid, something probably more suited to warmer weather. It’s pretty cool that you have access to tap water during your Scandinavian treks–much better than drawing it from places like Lost Park.;-) BTW, I really enjoyed the post of your latest trek at Nielsen Brown Outdoors. I grew up in a town by the sea. Your trip report and photos made me nostalgic for the ocean. Looking forward to your next trip report.

    • Thanks for visiting, Martin. I appreciate your comments.
      The Lake District has held a special place in my imagination since reading Wordsworth in high school. Maybe some day I’ll get there. Until then I’ll keep reading your Summit and Valley blog.

    • Jason, I’m glad you’re enjoying the reports; I’m having fun putting them together.
      On my past four trips, I’ve combinined the Montbell 90 with either a cut-down 1/4″ or 3/8″ thinlite or, on my last trip, a Ridgerest, more for extra cushioning than for insulation. On the last trip, though, when the temperature dropped to 20F (-7C), I think some kind of supplemental insulation was needed. Back in June, I used the Montbell 90 by itself. (Click on Lost Creek Scenic Loop, scroll to seventh photo.) The temperature dropped to below freezing as indicated by some frost on the inside of my Silshelter, and a bit of ice in my water bottle. I was warm enough with just the Montbell 90. So I think the transition point for me is somewhere in the 20sF.
      BTW, I love your photography site. I’ll be spending some time there studying your photos to get inspired to see things in a fresh way.

  3. Hi Dondo,

    Thanks for the info. I am looking to get something lighter than my Prolite 3 and trying to decide between the NeoAir and the UL 90. The 90 seems to be good from a warmth point of view, but pretty thin. The NeoAir is much thicker, but pricier and less warm. I will probably be carrying a cut down Ridgerest to use as a pack frame, so this could provide extra padding, but I was kind of hoping to use it under my legs. Ah – decisions, decisions. Thanks for your kind comments on my photos. You clearly have a good eye yourself and your photos really add to your trip reports.

  4. Dondo, I really enjoyed the write-up and the photos – I’m still learning to use my EOS 50D and hope that soon I too will master the long exposure! What backpack are you using? It looks like a GG Vapor Trail, am I right?

    • Hi Hendrik,

      Ah, an EOS 50D. Nice! So that’s how you capture those evocative low-light images.

      Another thing I like about Hiking in Finland is your emphasis on making environmentally responsible decisions. It influenced me in a recent search for a more comfortable sleeping pad. Like many of us, I initially chose a NeoAir for the weight savings. When that didn’t work out for me, the Ether Eco-Thermo 6 rose to the top of my list because of Pacific Outdoor Equipment’s effort to produce a carbon neutral pad. So far, I’m finding it to be very comfortable. It’s not as light as some full-length inflatable pads, but at 574 g (46g under spec.!), it’s light enough.

      Yes, that’s a first generation Vapor Trail in my trip report photos. It’s been with me on the vast majority of my trips since I got it back in 2003. Though I’m attracted some of the newer, lighter framed packs such as the ULA Ohm and the Gossamer Gear Gorilla, it’s possible I may keep using the Vapor Trail until it wears out.

  5. We just did this loop begining and ending at the North Fork Trail Head. The 2300 ft ascent on the Rolling Creek Trail toward Wigwam proved to be a bit more thatn we were ready for, but we did over pack for the 3 day trip so our packs were a bit too heavy for such a climb. Absolutely beautiful.

    • Hi, nag 515. Glad you enjoyed the hike. That ascent is a bit of a slog, isn’t it? Whenever I’m climbing something like that I’m always thinking about what I can leave behind or replace for the next trip. 😉

  6. Wow. I guess I am feeling two things: !) I’m jealous … these pictures are stellar; and 2) I’m thankful that I stumbled on to your blog, and specifically this post. I live about 45 minutes from Rolling Creek Trail, accessed on Road 125? Maybe not. You drop down into Bailey by way of Crow Hill … and you take a left … Its been a year since I’ve been out there. Its right there where Colorado trail hooks up with Rolling Creek Trail. Actually. I just took a look at one of the pictures up above, “The Castle” … Yeah, this is the trail that I stick to. Its a great trail. Peace, T

    • Thanks for stopping by, Wilder Man. Yeah, Rolling Creek is a special place, long a personal favorite. Also check out 24: Flyin’ Shoes. In this post, I don’t mention Rolling Creek in the text, but you’ll recognize it from some of the photographs.

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