Refrigerator Gulch

People say that what we’re all seeking is a meaning for life. I don’t think that’s what we’re really seeking. I think what we’re seeking is an experience of being alive, so that our life experiences on the purely physical plane will have resonance within our own innermost being and reality, so that we actually feel the rapture of being alive. That’s what it’s all finally about.  —J. Campbell

yeah, baby, yeah!—A. Powers

Indecision.  Snowshoes, gaiters, and Sealskinz socks stare at me from the trunk of the car.  There has been plenty of late snow in the northern mountains this year.  Snow is still visible on the high ridges, and  part of my route is up a north-facing gully.  On the other hand, snow melts off quickly in the Lost Creek Wilderness, and three extra pounds will certainly be felt on my back. Past memories of post holing through wet snow make the decision.  The gear comes along. A sign at the trailhead warns of flash flooding and falling trees due to the Hayman fire.   A burnt hillside sits directly southwest.  Soon all that is forgotten, though, as I hike easily through a cool forest of douglas fir, tall Ponderosa, and aspen just beginning to leaf out.  Wigwam creek gurgles quietly in the stillness.  I stop at an overlook, just to look and listen.

Watching

The sky clouds over, and the wind comes up.  Sleet and snow spit down.  Quickening my pace to stay warm, I hike past a beaver dam and soon arrive at the turn off to the Goose Creek trail.  Softly, I climb up through the forest. Several feet of snow appear, but at the other side of the gully.  Looks like I’m carrying three pounds of gear that I won’t use.  Not to mention a few extra pounds around the waist due, in part, to Dr. Dondo’s self-prescribed health tonic.  “An IPA a day keeps the doctor away.”  Maybe I’ll save the IPAs for special occasions.

Soon I find myself in an open park with granite formations scattered here and there.

Granite

The sun starts to peak through just as I hit the high point of the Goose Creek Trail. The view east is expansive from here, so I stop a while by a lightning-scarred snag to watch the moving clouds cast their shadows across the landscape.

Knot

Soon after turning off onto the McCurdy Park trail, I find an area on a ridge that looks like it will make an excellent camp.  The trade-off will be having to haul water back to camp from far below.  It’s a fair trade.  There’s nothing I like better than sitting on a high perch watching the day fading into night and the night becoming day.

Valley

Shangri-La 2

Sentinel

The morning comes too soon.  Snuggled deep in my comfortable bed, I try to ignore the singing of the birds and the coming of the light.  Then I remember why I came here. Though I’ve seen the area around Refrigerator Gulch many times as part of a larger loop, I’ve never taken the time to slow down and really explore.  Quickly, I throw a water bottle, power bars, and a camera into my pack and set out down the trail before the sun is up.

Dome

Cave

Snag

For years there have been rumors of a secret trail connecting Refrigerator Gulch and Lost Park.  Two people I’ve met on the web have told me that they’ve hiked it down from Lost Park.  From a map, I figure out where the trail would have to be and, sure enough, I find it.  Some secret. The trail steepens and becomes more faint as it climbs precariously up the wall of a canyon.  Trekking poles get put away and hands come into play.  This is not a place where one would want to fall.  Climbing higher, I notice the print of cloven hooves in the mud.  Did I stumble upon a game trail?  Eventually, I reach a point where I can not see a way forward.  The trail has disappeared.  I can see which way I need to go but can’t figure out how to get there.   After studying the terrain for a few minutes, I reluctantly turn back.

A man’s got to know his limitations. —D. Harry

On the way down, a boulder shifts beneath my feet.  I think of Aaron Ralston.  Finding a short-cut to the floor of the canyon, I’m relieved to be at the point where Lost Creek emerges from a cave.  But only for a minute.  Soon I realize that this is not familiar terrain.  This is just another spot where Lost Creek exits a cave.  I’m at the bottom of a steep canyon with no easy way out.

Canyon

A Zen tale comes to mind.

One day while walking through the wilderness a man stumbled upon a vicious tiger. He ran but soon came to the edge of a high cliff. Desperate to save himself, he climbed down a vine and dangled over the fatal precipice. As he hung there, two mice appeared from a hole in the cliff and began gnawing on the vine. Suddenly, he noticed on the vine a plump wild strawberry. He plucked it and popped it in his mouth. It was incredibly delicious!

Looking around, I notice how beautiful the canyon is.  Water drips down the granite wall from high above.

Water

I fill the water bottle and quench my thirst.  This mountain water tastes better than any IPA.   After resting a while, I plot my way out.  While climbing the steep walls, something catches my eye across the canyon.  It looks like a large white dog is relaxing on the wall across from me.  Or is it just a white boulder?  Am I starting to hallucinate?

Mountain Goat

For extra credit, find another mountain goat (click for larger view).

Well, that explains the cloven hooves on the game trail.

When I finally find my way out of the canyon, I rest in the shade by Lost Creek and munch on a Mojo bar.  Then I saunter back down the trail toward camp.

Pasque Flower

The wind kicks up again and is intense by the time I reach the high camp.  I check the stakes and rocks holding down the Shangri-La and tie the midpoint on the windward side to a tree.  Then I settle in to watch the evening show.

Shadows

Despite the wind, I sleep deeply and only wake up when the day begins to turn light. Again, I want to stay in my sleeping bag but get excited when I see the mist rising from the valley below.

Mist

Waiting for the Sun

Self Portrait

On my way out of the wilderness, I run into a man taking a picture of a flower.  We talk photography, lenses, HDR.  His eyes light up as he discusses his passion for macro. He’s been coming to this stretch of the Wigwam trail for thirty years and knows all the microclimates and where and when a particular flower is likely to appear.  He seems to know it as well as Thoreau knew the area around Concord.  So much left to learn and so little time.

At the trailhead, I pass five men coming in carrying packs that would make a Sherpa proud.  It’s mid-afternoon.  Just enough time to drive back to town, clean up, and head to my sister’s house for a cookout.  Tonight is a special occasion.  My niece is back in town after being away at school.  It will be good to see everyone again. Tonight, I’ll drink an IPA in celebration.

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10 thoughts on “Refrigerator Gulch

  1. Wonderful story, Dondo. THe quotes go really well with the train of thought. And I hope you got to finally enjoy your IPA without getting caught in anymore canyons.

    • Thanks, Miguel. I consider your photography and writing to be the gold standard, so I’m pleased that you’re enjoying what I do. Yes, I did get to enjoy an IPA at my niece’s party and another one with my wife this evening. But that’s it for a while. Got to work on that belly.

  2. Outstanding photography Don! Especially love the
    way you captured the rock formations at Refridgerator
    Gulch including the Sentinel. He reminds me of the late
    Old Man Of The Mountain from franconia notch, New Hampshire. Also loved the photo of the mountain goat at rest and your self portait in shadow. Am looking foward to future editions of
    Dondo Outdoors. Keep up the good work.
    Gerard

    • Jerry, thanks. It’s funny, that rock formation reminded me of Old Man of the Mountain too. We’re planning a trip back east in October and are looking forward to seeing you guys. It’s been way too long.

  3. Hi Dondo
    I really enjoyed your narrative and quotes as well as your photos. I am always impressed with how you manage to see wildlife on your trips, it must be partly due to hiking solo and therefore quiet. Im planning to do that area in a couple of weeks and wonder what the snow conditions might be on Brookside – McCurdy over near Bison Pass. Ive heard that crossing snow fields early in the day while the snow is still firm is the way to go.
    Confession , After reading your eval of the Exped Synmat, I couldn’t hold back and went out and got myself one. So much for self- control! I look forward to being just a touch warmer than on the BA Clearview. Happy Trails . David

  4. Hey David, I’m glad you enjoyed the report. Snow near Bison? I’ve been wondering the same thing myself. But check out the thread at BPL about Lost Creek. There are some guys heading out there shortly and should provide more updated reports on conditions. Let me know how the Synmat works out for you. I’m betting you’re going to love it.

  5. I was thinking about my first trip and where to go because of the late snow, and here’s the answer perhaps. Nice report. Mine… just skied from Loveland Pass over Grizzley Peak and down to Bakersfield, what a state Colorado is! See you on the hill.

    • Great to hear from you, Pete. Sounds like you’re having a fun spring. Report indicate that most of Lost Creek is in pretty good shape so yeah, go for it. Happy trails!

  6. Hey Dondo,

    I didn’t end up going to Bison as I got a late start and only had 2 days. On my way out Saturday on Wigwam to the Wigwam TH, I ran into a couple, probably in their late 60’s, doing a 30 mile day hike loop! They had come over Brookside McCurdy earlier and said getting up to Bison appeared to be snow free and certainly wouldn’t be a problem. I also asked them if they had ever done the Goose Creek loop as a day hike and they said yeah, last weekend. I’d like to say I’d hope to be in that kind of shape when I’m their age, but I’d like to be in that kind of shape now.

    I did try the lost route from the north. I got to about .25 of a mile from the McCurdy trail but I had my dog with me and the rock crossings got too iffy to continue with him. Maybe a good thing as if it was too iffy with him, I probably shouldn’t have been doing it solo anyway. There were some pretty deep holes/gaps in the rock that if you fell into, you may not have been able to get back out of, even if you weren’t injured. Very beautiful area though. Glad I went there.

    Randy

    • Randy, it’s great to see you visiting here. 30 mile day hike in Lost Creek? That’s impressive at any age. I better start training for my sixties.

      Thanks for the info on the lost route. I may have to cross that one off my list.

      Just back from three days in Lost Creek. Hiked up Bison & McCurdy. Very little snow. That will be my next trip report. But now it’s time for a hot bath and a cold beer.

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