24: Beaver Creek Wilderness Study Area

Lane stares at me incredulously.

Janine says, “You should at least bring a gun.”

“That wouldn’t do any good.”  Marshall says, “By the time you know what’s happening, it’s too late.”

Felicia jokes, “That’s it, you’re not going.”

Fueled by wine and my enthusiasm about tomorrow’s trip, I had let it slip that Beaver Creek Wilderness Study Area has one of the highest concentrations of mountain lions in Colorado.  Marshall goes on to say that he had seen a show on TV where a woman’s pet mountain lion turned on her and grabbed her by the head with his mouth and wouldn’t let go.

“Thanks for sharing that, ”  I say.

“So where is this place?” asks Lane.

“It’s just a little ways north of Florence.”  As soon as the words leave my lips, I realize that I had made my second mistake in five minutes.

“Isn’t that where Supermax is?”

“I’d be more worried about those guys than about the mountain lions.”

The conversation turns toward a discussion of Ramzi Yousef, Ted Kaczinski, Terry Nichols, and other notorious residents of ADK Florence.  Finally I say, ” As far as I know, no one ever escapes from there.  That’s why they call it Supermax.”

By noon the next day, I’m driving on I-25 through Colorado Springs.  An unexpected home repair had eaten up most of my morning but now I’m zipping past the Air Force Academy and Focus on the Family.  This being Sunday, the usual bottleneck in the Springs does not materialize and I’m soon headed south on Hwy. 115 past Cheyenne Mountain and Fort Carson.

I turn onto a dirt road and slow down enough to look around.  This is cattle country. The open landscape  is dotted with  juniper.  A few cows graze lazily in the sun.  A ruddy-face man in a big pickup and even bigger hat passes me going in the opposite direction,  The dirt road is good for most of it’s ten miles but becomes narrow and deeply rutted toward the end.  I shift my Civic into second and then to first as I attempt to pick a good line without scraping bottom.

There are half a dozen vehicles in the parking lot, most of them with high clearance.  A couple of men dressed in camouflage stand by a pop up camping trailer at the far end of the lot.  Turkey hunting, I’m thinking.  I shoulder my pack and head down the trail until I come to a fork and a small sign that says “creek” with an arrow pointing left and “trail” with a right arrow.  Since I don’t have many miles to cover today, I shift into wandering mode and head left.  The trail soon dead-ends and I turn around to retrace my steps.  A couple of grizzled fly-fisherman are working Beaver Creek.  One of them tells me that the fishing isn’t that great yet because the water is still pretty cold.  This morning, he measured it at 36F.  We talk about the area for a while.  Noticing  my pack, he asks me where I’m headed.  I tell him I’ll be spending the night near the confluence of East and West Beaver Creeks.  In parting he says, “Well, keep an eye out for mountain lions.”

In some ways, Beaver Creek WSA reminds me of Lost Creek Wilderness, it’s much larger and more well known neighbor to the north.  But there are differences.  Beaver Creek seems rougher, hotter, drier with pinyon, juniper, yucca, and lots of cacti.

I climb steeply up the side of the hill and look down at Beaver Creek winding through the canyon.   The few clouds dissipate and the air becomes hotter, the light harsher.  The path plunges down to cross Beaver Creek.  There are no log bridges here, so I’ll have to wade.  I slowly step into the creek and am soon in very cold water up to my knees.  Using my trekking poles for balance, I pick my way carefully through the slick boulders on the bottom of the creek.   My feet are numb by the time I reach the other side, so I hike quickly to warm up.

A pair of day hikers approaches.  We talk about the trail, the general area, and the canyons ahead.  The woman eyes my backpack and asks, “Don’t you get nervous about cougars, being out here alone?”

“A little,” I say, ” but I get more nervous about some of the drivers on I-25.”

The talk of cougars from both of the parties I’ve met has me a bit spooked.  I scan the numerous rock outcroppings and ridges for wildlife.  Nothing.

There are a couple more stream crossings before I find a great place to camp near the confluence of West and East Beaver Creek.   Quickly, I set up camp and go to explore my surroundings.  The sun is lower in the sky and the light softer,  so I pull out my camera.

After dinner, I climb into bed.  The door of my shelter is left open so that I can watch the stars come out.  I’m lulled to sleep by the sound of the creek nearby.  Some time during the night I awaken to dreams of cougars, mountain lions, pumas, panthers …  I zip the door closed and go back to sleep.

Early the next morning, a cold wind blowing down the canyon wakes me up.   The stars are gone and the sky is a dull gray.

About the gear:  A luxurious camp at a reasonable weight.  The shelter is a Golite Shangri-La 2.  Plenty of room for two and absolutely decadent for one.   Mine weighs 21.6 oz.   Add two to three ounces for six stakes, depending on which ones you choose. The mattress is a full-length POE Eco-Thermo, 20.2  oz. of bedtime bliss.  You can have this mat when you pry it from my cold, dead hands.  The pillow is a Montbell inflatable.

The plan for today is to complete the loop by taking the Powerline Trail up and over to the next drainage and hiking out.  It’s only after breakfast that I remember that I have to recross the creek.   Beaver Creek feels a lot colder this morning that it did yesterday.  The bank is steep here and I gasp as I lower myself into the frigid snow melt from Pikes Peak.  The water reaches my knees and then my thighs as I concentrate on each step on the slippery creek bed and around the boulders.  This is not a place where I want to make a mistake.  On the far bank, my feet and legs are numb.  I move quickly up the side of the canyon to warm up.

The Powerline Trail is elusive.   It should be to my left but never appears.  But the cloudy light is good for photographs, so I slow down enough to notice things.

Pasque Flowers


Reaching a high point,  I scan the landscape and notice a patch of reddish brown dirt with a white  speck in it off in the far distance.  It takes me a few seconds to realize that it’s a parking lot and that my vehicle is the only one left.  It then dawns on me that the reason I can’t find the Powerline Trail is that I’m actually on it.  The trail winds steeply up and down the rugged hillsides.  At Trail Gulch, I take a right and head southward toward the parking lot.  As I near the end of my hike, I find that I’m almost disappointed that I didn’t encounter a mountain lion.  Almost.

20 thoughts on “24: Beaver Creek Wilderness Study Area

  1. Great trip report! It’s a beautiful canyon for sure; I did the powerline trail a couple of years ago (and survived the cougars as well!)

    In 2008, the parking area at the creek was marked ‘no overnight parking’ so I never thought of this as an area for backpacking. Has that changed?

    • Hi Dan,

      Sign? What sign? 😉 Actually, I did see a sign. I chose to interpret it as “no overnight parking blocking access to the road to the creek.” Whether or not this is the correct interpretation, I’m not sure. A call to the land managers is probably a good idea. I got the idea of backpacking Beaver Creek from this site.

    • Thanks, Hendrik. As always, I’m enjoying your multifaceted blog. Your new “Week in Review” is a great idea; I’ll be sure to follow it.

  2. Good report, I’ve added you to Google Reader, so I’m looking forward to reading more 🙂

    There’s some seriously nice wilderness in the US, got a taste of it on a business trip to CO a few years back. I really would love to go back and experience it more fully.

    • Thanks for visiting, Frazer. I didn’t know who you were so I checked out your blog. Whoa. Love your photography. Being a newcomer to the world of DSLRs, I’ll be spending time there studying your photos. Looking forward to pt2 of “What I’ve learned so far.”

  3. Just letting you know that I have a new email address. I don’t want to miss any of your reports. They are great. Thanks for sharing.

  4. I’ve been there many times and have never seen a Mountain Lion. You should be more concerned with the Bears that live in the canyon. It is a very wild canyon. Hopefully it stays that way.

    • James, it’s good to know that mountain lions are not that big a deal in Beaver Creek. Maybe next time I’ll leave my tent door open all night. ;-). The wildness is one of the things I love most about the canyon. Right now, I spending my outdoor time up in the high country. But when the snow arrives, I’m looking forward to enjoying the wildness of Beaver Creek once again.

  5. I just finished a 4 day backpacking trip on the upper end hiking down from the lake. We went about 4 – 5 miles in through a very active bear area. The upper end has a nice meadow for a couple miles. Then once you enter the top of the canyon the hiking becomes very DIFFICULT and there really isn’t much of a trail. As you go down there are multiple stream crossings.

    Last year we did the lower end where you went. That picture of your tent next the tree was almost exactly where I had my tent setup! In fact I had my pack hanging from that same tree! I can see you camped a the Y of the east and west forks of the creek. Nice area. Once you get past that area further up the creek about another mile it gets to be some SERIOUS hiking, not for amateurs.

    • Awesome, James. I’ve been wondering about the upper end of West Beaver Creek canyon since I read the BLM sign at the lower end warning hikers about the difficulties of the trek up the canyon. Were the stream crossings really tough?

  6. As I recall they were pretty easy crossings. There are pink ribbons marking the easiest way down through the canyon. Just up from the Y at the bottom end where you were there can be some tough crossings. We went up the canyon from the bottom and there was a spot I remember crossing that was more then waist deep. It gets very rugged in the middle.

    • James, thanks for the descriptions. I’ve already planned more time at southern end to further explore the canyon. Sounds like I also have to add the Skagway Reservoir end of the canyon to my list of must see places.

  7. I do this hike quite often. Its much easier to go up trail gulch first (theres a sign where the powerline loop starts). I can’t find ANYONE who has done the whole hike from Scagway to bottom.

    • Thanks for the tip, Bernard. If you hear of someone who has hiked the whole canyon, please post back. The sign put up by the land managers makes it sound like a very tough trip.

    • Last year (2009) while camped at the Y fork of East and West beaver creek we had 3 guys come down from the top at Skagway at the end of the weekend. They were pretty torn up and were planning to camp in our spot but we were there already. They camped downstream from us, then we hiked out the next day. When we got to the bottom trail head their buddy who was to pick them up rolled his truck just before the parking lot. We were ready to head out and the road was blocked for a bit while the two truck flipped the truck back over. Those are the only people I know of that have hiked the entire way. They said there was a point where they had to go up and around the creek and do some rock scrambling. I believe it was a 3 day trek for them. I wouldn’t advise that hike by yourself!

      • That’s a great piece of info, James. To be truthful, I am a bit intimated by the idea of a solo trip through that canyon. Looks like it may be time to round up a posse.

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