24: The Shafthouse
A powerful gust of wind comes up from over the western ridge. Burned trees start to topple. A thirty footer falls across the trail just a few yards ahead. Looking around, I catch another one crashing to the ground behind me. Quickly, I flip off the hood of my wind shirt and remove my sun hat. To make it through this charred landscape, I’m going to need every bit of my peripheral vision.
A day earlier, I’m strolling downhill along this trail into the Lost Creek Wilderness. It’s sunny and windy, the opposite of what I like for making photographs, but I’m happy to be here. Though I’ve hiked this stretch of the Goose Creek Trail many times, both before and after the 2002 Hayman fire, this trip will be different. Usually, I make a brief visit to the Shafthouse as part of a longer loop. Now, I’m taking the time to really explore the area.
The trail continues with ups and downs and views of rock formations on the opposite side of Goose Creek. In two hours, I turn down a spur trail to the Shafthouse area.
The afternoon is spent exploring boulder caves and scrambling among the unworldly rock formations. My pack is light enough that I don’t need to take it off; I’ll find a camp later in the day.
By late afternoon, I’m tired and find a high perch in the shade of a boulder where I can rest and survey my surroundings.
About the gear: When I’m outdoors, I like to be comfortable, so for this trip I’m using a scrap of Ridgerest as a cushion against the rough granite and the padded back of my Vapor Trail as a back rest. A trekking pole is jammed into a boulder or tree to prop up the pack.
Rejuvenated, I continue to explore the area.
This is about all that is left from a attempt to dam Lost Creek by the Denver Water Department. Starting in 1893. they tried for over twenty years but eventually had to give up. Score one for Mother Nature.
I explore up and down the bank of the creek, then fill my water bladder and walk up a steep hill looking for a place to camp.
About the gear: True confessions time. Though I know the weight of each item of gear to within a tenth of an ounce, I can’t be bothered to make up a gear list. When packing for a trip, I just grab items off my gear shelves that seem to be appropriate for a particular trip. Mostly, this casual approach works well for me, but occasionally I forget an important piece of gear. On this trip, it’s the alcohol burner for my Caldera Cone. Remembering a nearby fire ring, I build a tiny cook fire to heat the water for my dinner of couscous, black beans, and dehydrated vegetables.
After dinner, I walk farther uphill in the fading light where I find a good flat spot to set up my shelter. I fall asleep to the sound of the wind in the trees and the creek running far below.
Golite Shangri-La 2
Around midnight, a big gust of wind hits my camp. I walk around my shelter to make sure all the stakes are secure. It’s going to be a windy night.
About the gear: In windy conditions, in the relatively loose soil at this elevation, I really like to use eight inch Easton Aluminum stakes for a very solid pitch.
Though the moon is bright tonight, constellations are still visible through the canopy of trees above my camp.
I awaken when the sky starts to turn light. My bed is so comfortable that I’m tempted to sleep in for a while. But I resist the urge, grab my camera, and walk down the steep hill.
The sky turns brighter. Clouds appear over the granite walls of the canyon. Swallows dive and swoop near the top of the cliff.
While having breakfast back at camp, a hummingbird buzzes me a few times, apparently mistaking my red jacket for a giant flower.
The wind intensifies now as I break camp. Lighter items have to be weighted down to prevent them from blowing away. I hike back up the spur to the Goose Creek trail, then turn south toward the trailhead. The wind gathers strength. I pull on the hood of my wind shirt and walk on.
Before long, I’m back at the Hayman Burn. Being aware of the danger, I hesitate for a second, then hike in. The wind swoops down; charred trees fall. When I finally reach the trailhead, I warn a solo backpacker who’s about to hike down about the falling trees. From the relative safety of the parking lot, I watch as more trees tumble.
Later on, I learn that wind gusts in excess of 70mph were recorded in the area. At Fort Carson, a soldier broke his leg when the tent he was occupying was carried away by the wind.
But now I’m focusing on driving away from the Hayman Burn. As I negotiate the winding maze of dirt roads, I see branches, limbs, then a whole tree trunk blow across the road in front of me. A blackened limb bumps against my car. More trees go down.