Goose Creek Loop

The CRV kicks up a trail of dust as I drive the maze of dirt roads through miles and miles of charred timber.

From the trailhead parking lot, I stop and look around. Only six vehicles. Good. It pays to plan backcountry excursions for weekdays.  Billowy clouds float in over burnt out hillsides.

Hiking down the trail toward the loop, things are as I remember them. Wild roses abound in the understory.

At the bottom of the hill, I turn right and hike upwards along Goose Creek.

Coming to a spot on the trail overlooking the creek, I pull out my DSLR and place the camera case by my feet. While shifting to avoid branches in the viewfinder, I knock the case off the trail and it goes tumbling down the steep hillside toward the creek.  Having promised myself that this would be a no drama trip, this is not a good beginning.  I bound and slide down the sandy hillside just behind the case but can’t catch it.  Finally, it snags on a bush just above the creek.  Looking up, I realize that I’ve arrived at a better vantage point from which to photograph the creek.

Back on the trail, I walk on. Clouds are gathering in the late morning skies

Arriving at a huge boulder by the side of the trail, I scamper up and survey the country I’m about to hike into.

Clouds move over the sun, cooling down the day and allowing the beauty of the wildflowers to become apparent.

Thunder rumbles in the distance, and the sky becomes darker.  Three groups of day hikers pass by on their way back to the trailhead.

The water source I was counting on is dry, so I have to take a side trip onto the Shafthouse trail in search of water.  On the way back, I read the inscription on one of the two workers’ cabins left here.  Denver Water tried to dam Lost Creek beginning in the late 19th century.  They were ultimately unsuccessful and abandoned the project in 1913, almost a hundred years ago.  Score one for wilderness.

The trail climbs up and down like a  roller coaster. After hiking a steep, sandy downhill, I arrive in a quiet aspen forest. I stop to listen. The smell of rain is in the air. 

I come to a fork in the trail and follow the McCurdy Park trail into Refrigerator Gulch, one of my favorite places in the Lost Creek Wilderness.

The sun is playing hide and seek among the clouds.  Then darkness overtakes the landscape.  Thunder rumbles in the distance, then gets closer.  Lightning flashes close by, and the sky roars.

Then it starts to rain. I fish a fleece top and rain gear from the top of my pack, put them on and hike on toward a stealth camp site I know close by.  The day darkens, and the rain is coming down hard now.  The site must be right around that bend in the trail.

The terrain here is very steep and convoluted with few places to pitch a shelter.  In the rainy gloom, my site never appears.  Maybe I passed it. I walk back and never find it.  Finally, I give up and resign myself to a less desirable camp down by Lost Creek. Then I find it. It feels like coming home again.

I pull my shelter out, and within a few minutes, I’m inside peeling off my wet rain gear and preparing a bed for the night.

The rain tapers off, and I go down to the creek to collect water for dinner.  After eating, I climb up onto a boulder to take in the surrounding rock formations.

Snug in my sleeping bag, I fall to sleep immediately, only to be waken up by the full moon shining in my face.  Going outside, I watch as the moon casts a surreal glow on the landscape.

Then I go inside, pull a buff over my eyes and sleep until morning.

Upon awakening, I pack up my camp quickly and hit the trail early before having breakfast.  There will be lots of uphill hiking today, and I want to get as many miles in as I can in the cool of the morning.

Landmarks appear like old friends along the trail.  Here is the spot where Lost Creek emerges from a cave.  Farther down is where it disappears underground.  Here is the social trail that leads toward the head of the box canyon.

Here is the overlook back into Refrigerator Gulch.  Eventually, I hit the part of the trail that I refer to as the wall, a series of punishing switchbacks that leads up to McCurdy Park. It’s only when I emerge from the trees do I stop to have breakfast by the banks of the creek.

Farther up the McCurdy Park trail, I see a group of six hikers coming toward me.

“Hi. How y’all doing?”

A woman who seems to be the leader of the group steps forward.

“Good. We’re just coming back from climbing McCurdy Mountain.  We were going to climb the other one…”

“Bison Peak?”

“That’s the one. But nasty looking clouds were coming in really quickly.”

” I know what you mean. There’s no place to escape to up on the ridge.”

“You’re travelling pretty light with that tiny pack.  You doing the loop in two days?”

“No. I’ve done it that way, but three works better for me.  I…”

“Don’t have to run?”

“Yeah.”

I’m thinking that I can spend half an hour photographing a flower or standing on a ridge watching the cloud parade if I want, but “don’t have to run.” summarizes it pretty well.

We wish each other a good hike and head our separate ways, they, back to their McCurdy Park campsite and me, toward an alternate part of the loop that I have never hiked before.

Passing my usual turn off to Lake Park, I continue south along the Brookside- McCurdy trail.  The trail plunges steeply down the sandy soil through parched trees. The afternoon heat is starting to feel oppressive.  Then clouds begin to drift in from the west.

Openings appear through the trees, and I get a view of the valley far below.  There is a dirt road and a few vehicles and two buildings, one of which seems to be a lodge and the other, stables.

I finally get to my stopping place for the night, Hay Creek. There isn’t a lot of water here, but enough that I can fill my water bladder for dinner.  Climbing back uphill, I find a perfect stealth camping spot, drop my pack, and scramble onto a boulder to watch the clouds sweeping across the valley.

After dinner, I climb back up to my perch to watch the evening light show.

In the morning, I pack up and start hiking early.  The sun peeks over top of a mountain just as I’m passing through an aspen forest on my way to the Hankins Pass trail.

The cool of dawn gives way to the heat of mid-morning under a cloudless sky. The burnt forest eventually comes into view again.

On the climb back to the trailhead, I stop to observe the charred stumps and trees of the Hayman fire. A decade after the fire, a healthy understory is apparent here.  In time, it will grow and regenerate this land.

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14 thoughts on “Goose Creek Loop

  1. Excellent photos, I often have trouble getting out of bed in the morning I usually roll over and make coffee and then consider getting moving. You certainly look comfortable laying there, it must have been a quick run back to bed from the camera, or do you have a remote? I gather you are carrying a short section of ridge rest for a seat, as it does not look like a full length one.

    • Thanks, Roger. As you know, the Exped UL7 is a very comfortable mattress, and I often have a hard time getting out of bed in the morning myself. That morning my motivation was getting to and up those brutal switchbacks before the day got too hot.

      Wish I had a remote, but that shot was taken with a ten second timer. I also have a couple of shots of me still trying to get into position. 😉

      The piece of ridge rest is left over from the days when I actually was still sleeping on one (shudder) and had cut off the end to save weight. I brought it on this trip because I knew that I would be kneeling on granite to set up some shots and wanted to save my knees. But having used it as a sit pad and windscreen for my canister stove as well on this trip, it may possibly become a permanent part of my kit. Dimensions are 20″x13″ (51cm x 33cm). Weight is 2.5 oz. (70 g).

      • Thanks Dondo, yeah I know the story of photos of me moving to get back to the position in time.

  2. Have recently found your posts and I must say I find them very enjoyable. Your logs from the Rogers Pass – Rollins Pass loop in James Peak a few years back was confirmation and inspiration to do that loop for a birthday trip.

    Thank you for the stories and beautiful photography.

  3. Keep up the great trip reports. They are wonderful to read. My wife and I were planning on coming out next weekend for a short overnight trip to Refrigerator Gulch from Goose Creek trail head. We have only been in the area during the May time frame. Do you know if the creek ever runs dry mid-summer? thank you.

    • Hi Toby. Thanks for your comments. Having done the loop a number of times from May through October, I think you’ll find water on your route. Though this is a year of severe drought, I have never not found water in Goose Creek and Lost Creek in Refrigerator Gulch, even in 2002, another drought year. Have a great trip and post back here if you’d like to let us know about your trip.

      • Thank you for the reply. I will post a reply and let everyone know what the conditions are.

      • The trip was short, but sweet. There was plenty of water. In fact, it rained Friday and Saturday off an on. My wife and I did a little exploring and got caught in a hail storm about a mile form camp. Ended up trudging back to camp, soaked, through about two inches of hail! The only good thing was that the rain scared a lot of the people off and we only saw three other couples.

  4. There was rain in town over the weekend, and I was wondering how you and your wife were doing out there. Glad to hear you had a good time. Sometimes adventures like your hail storm can make a trip really stick in your memory.

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