Lost Creek: Lost Park-McCurdy-Bison Loop
“Cows do not belong in the wilderness. USFS sucks.” I laugh as I read the words someone has scrawled in black magic marker over a long-faded sign near the beginning of the Wigwam trail in Lost Park. I remember feeling the same way when I was last through here back in October. Cattle and their pies were visible throughout East Lost Park. But today, for some reason, it doesn’t bother me. Summer has just arrived, everything is green and I’ll be hiking for four days, revisiting some old favorite places and hopefully discovering some new ones. From the corner of my eye I notice another backpacker, a bear of a man toting a big pack, approaching from the other side of the valley. When I stop for lunch, he catches up to me. We exchange greetings. When I tell him where I’m going, he warns me of the steep climb up to McCurdy Park and how hot it’s going to be over the next several days. Thinking back twenty-six years, I remember the first time I climbed those switchbacks with my friend Dave, who had flown to Colorado to be the best man at my wedding. It was blazing hot that afternoon, our packs were too heavy, and I remember the words “death march” escaping from his lips. Leaping forward a few years, I remember hiking up to McCurdy park in the pouring rain with another friend, Dave. Why is everyone named Dave? “Death march” was just of the the colorful phrases that I heard that afternoon. The man then tells me that the section between McCurdy Park and Bison Peak is “…wild, it’s just wild.” There is excitement in his eyes.
The big man hikes on and I run into him again at the junction of Wigwam and a spur trail that heads southeast following Lost Creek. Legend has it that you can hike right into Refrigerator Gulch by following Lost Creek and then by bushwhacking. The man seems to know a lot about the area, so I ask him about it. “It’s not possible.” he says. “Lost Creek runs into a box canyon and then runs underground.”
It’s gotten hot now and there’s not a sign of a cloud in the sky. I dodge a couple of cow pies on the trail. Soon I climb a small ridge and descend to the other side. Lost Park and the cow pies are left behind. Now it’s even hotter, the light is harsh and the air still, but the landscape is very green. In the shadows beneath the aspen, I spot my first golden banner of the year as well as my first columbine.
By mid-afternoon, I reach today’s destination at the junction of the Wigwam and Goose Creek trails. But it’s not a particularly scenic spot. One of my favorite campsites in the world is four miles farther, so I press on. Hiking up the Goose Creek trail, I stop at the top of the ridge to admire the view. The valley I’m about to go into is very rugged and very beautiful. As I descend the steep trail, a young man with a dog comes up behind me. I stop to let them pass, then notice that he’s wearing running shoes, carrying a very light pack with what looks like a windshield reflective shade strapped to it. I ask him if he’s carrying a hammock and he says yes, it’s a Hennessy jungle hammock and he’s trying it for the first time tonight. We talk gear a bit, I tell him about the country ahead, and he introduces himself as Dave. Naturally. Maggie is the dog’s name. Rescued through the Humane Society, she was, at first, a handful but through a lot of hard work has become an excellent trail dog. She lets me sweet talk her and scratch her behind the ears.
Coming into the rugged valley, I admire the strangely shaped rock formations and the aspen boles.
I gather water at a small trickle and then head up to my campsite. Once there, I’m delighted to find a Vargo nail stake that I lost there last June. It appears that no one has camped here since then. Smoke from a campfire, probably Dave’s, is visible far below in the fading light.
The next morning, I arise when I hear the birds begin to sing. The next mile or so is landscape I really love and want to see it in the early morning light. Dave’s hammock is strung over the trail. Good hammock trees were hard to find. He’s still uncertain about the hammock and will have to play with it a bit more. Maggie greets me like an old friend.
The trail climbs steeply up and down and suddenly I find myself at the beginning of the climb to McCurdy Park. It’s already pretty hot. I scoop water from the stream, treat it with my Steripen, drink it down and scoop up more water for the hike ahead. Going into meditation mode, I slowly and steadily ascend the steep switchbacks. When I break out of the trees at the top, I stop for lunch in the cool shade of a spruce tree by the stream. Looking up, I’m delighted to notice the first clouds of my trip. Grace happens.
Refreshed, I continue on up to the top of the McCurdy Park trail. Though it’s still early, this is where I’ll be camping. It’s a beautiful spot.
Tomorrow’s hike, McCurdy Park to Bison Peak, is mostly new to me. From the map, it appears as if there will be no water up there, so I think out my options. Tonight’s camp is without water, so I’ve had to haul four extra liters up to here. Since I want to camp near the peak, it may be that my best option is to haul it from the same source back down the McCurdy Park trail. As much as I’d like to avoid carrying eight extra pounds, camping near the peak is more important to me.
The night is deliciously cool at this elevation and I sleep well. After breakfast, I head back down to get water, then laze around my camp for a while.
While I’m packing up, a lone backpacker comes up a little used social trail that runs near my camp. I call out a greeting and we exchange a few pleasantries. While we’re talking, I’m getting a feeling that there’s more to this guy than the British accent, so I approach. It turns out that the hiker, Pete, is a mountaineer who has climbed in the Himalayas. For his birthday, he always tries to do something special–for his thirtieth, he climbed Half Dome; for his fiftieth, Denali. We talk gear a bit and the desire for more comfort as you get older balanced with the desire for a light pack. Pete is no stranger to lightweight philosophy having been a ultra-runner with a eight-pound total pack weight in his youth. We talk about Lost Creek. Pete says that the scenery here is world class and I take his word for it. In parting, I take couple of photos of Pete striking a mountaineer’s pose in front of some McCurdy Park granite –one with his camera for posterity and one with mine for my blog. While putting away my camera, I find, to my chagrin, that I’ve left it on shutter priority with a one second exposure. The photo is ruined; Pete is long gone. He’s hiking out today and flying to England tomorrow for wedding. (Update: Pete has graciously sent me the photo from his camera. Thanks, Pete)
When I put on my pack, it’s surprising heavy; I’m not used to carrying eight pounds of water. After I get to the top of the ridge, I soon forget about the weight on my back. The big man at Lost Park was right. This place is wild. There’s a ghost forest of weathered trees, some standing and some fallen, amid some of the most bizarre rock formations this side of Utah.
I’m in hiking heaven up here; there is so much to explore. Walking along, I hear the faint sound of a trickle of water. The day is hot again and I look for a place with enough clearance to fill my empty water bottle. While doing this, I notice a window rock in the granite formation in front of me.
Before long, I arrive at tonight’s destination, the area around Bison Peak. I’m glad I decided to carry the water up. This place is amazing. It’s like an enchanted rock garden and I have it all to myself.
Bison Peak itself looks like a fairly easy walk-up but now the sky looks gray and threatening. I head back down to a flat area I had seen to look for a place to camp. Thunder is rumbling now and flashes of lightning appear. It’s great to be in the tent.
After dinner, the sky is still gray but the thunder has stopped. I’m getting restless, so I grab my camera and head back to the rock garden. It’s late, 7:30 PM and I had no intention to climb now but something draws me toward the peak.
I scramble to the top only to realize that the summit is farther on. It’s 8:15 PM now; not enough time to get there and back to camp before dark. Bison Peak will have to wait for another day. I arrive back in camp just as the last light of day disappears. Sitting on a rock high above my tent, I listen to call-and-response of two birds nearby. Beyond that is only silence.
In the middle of the night, the rain begins. Earlier in the trip, I had snapped the carbon fiber strut of my Tarptent. This wasn’t much of an issue the last two nights because the geometry of the tent still works without it, as long as you don’t need to use the doors. Wind blows the rain through the front of my tent. I deploy the beak, scoot to the back of my tent, and hope for the best. Somehow, I fall back asleep. When the birds began chirping again around 5:00 AM, I’m pleased to find that only a small amount of rain has come inside.
The rain has stopped. It occurs to me that the clouds may be clearing around sunrise. Fighting the urge to go back to sleep, I grab my camera and head back to the rock garden.
Eventually, I get hungry and hike back to camp for breakfast. As I leave the rock garden, I turn around for a final look.
After a leisurely breakfast, I pack up my stuff and hike onward along the Brookside-McCurdy trail. I give the rock garden a final look as I walk by.
Leaving the high country is always a bittersweet thing for me. It’s bitter because it means that my Rocky Mountain high will be over, at least for now. But it’s sweet because I know that I’ll soon be seeing my family again.
This post marks the one year anniversary of Dondo Outdoors. I started this blog at the suggestion of my daughter as a way of sharing the photos and stories of my trips. Thanks to all who visit here and to the other outdoors bloggers whom I’ve come to know online.
The format will be changing a bit from what I’m done previously. Some have liked have the comments about gear mixed in with the narrative while other have not. As an experiment, I’ve decided to follow the example most of outdoor bloggers and save the gear comments for separate posts. This will enable me to get the photos and narrative out more quickly, striking while the fire of my trip is still hot, and give me time to think more about the gear before posting. Hopefully, I’ll be able to go into more detail about what worked and what didn’t for a particular trip without annoying family and friends with inside baseball.