Lost Creek Wilderness Loop: Goose Creek-McCurdy Park-Hankins Pass
Photo trip report and a few thoughts on gear
Finally, a break from the trail. It’s been a mob scene out there. Boy Scouts, church groups, bros, hipsters, millennial couples, kids, seven llamas, and one old geezer. That would be..um..me. I’ve been on these trails long enough to know not to start a trip on Sunday. But you go when you can.
As expected, most other hikers seem to be headed back to civilization today, so the rest of my time here should be more peaceful.
The only other people I see hiking in is a group of three young women, and from the looks of things, they may be headed for trouble. The one in the lead is charging hard up a hill while the second is trying to keep up, and the third is struggling. They tell me that they are out for four days, so I’m guessing that’ll be plenty of time to learn how to hike together. Or not.
An aspen grove looms ahead, so I enter the forest, lie down on the ground, and contemplate the shapes of clouds gathering overhead. Thunder showers are predicted for this afternoon and evening, and tomorrow…well, I don’t even want to think about what I read on Weather.com this morning under the big orange exclamation point. For now, I’ll just enjoy where I am.
Back on the trail, I see that the three amigas have stopped for lunch. I nod as I pass them one last time. The backpackers coming back down the trail are fewer now, and I ask some of them about the crossing of Lost Creek that the ranger warned me about. I’m reminded of the tale of the seven bind men and the elephant. Each has experienced the crossing in a different way. A couple of guys walked downstream to a sketchy crossing on logs. One fell in. He indicated the depth of the creek by pointing mid-thigh. Another hiker tells me it’s crotch deep. A solo backpacker says it’s about waist deep and that he tightened the knots on a rope that someone had tied across the creek. In parting, he says that he’s happy to be getting out before the real rain begins.
Thunder rumbles in the distance. I stop at an overlook to survey the landscape.
Readers who care nothing about gear can skip these sections in blue. Think of them as inside baseball.
About the Gear: Followers of Dondo Outdoors may have notice that I’m using a different backpack. This is a frameless pack, the Golite Pinnacle, model year 2009 or 2010. (31.4 oz in size m.) I’ve used it before and liked it but found that over the course of a day the load would shift and put more weight on the shoulders than I wanted. In my training walks, I found that my Granite Gear Vapor Trail wasn’t cutting it for me any more. Rather than spending money on a new pack, I tried putting my tent pole into the water bladder sleeve of the Pinnacle to function as a stay. It worked. So for now this is the pack I’ll be using.
Yeah, the hat is new too. Having tried a number of sun hats over the years, I knew this was “the One” as soon as I tried it on at the REI flagship store in Denver. I won’t go into great detail, but those of you looking for a great, functional, packable hat to keep the sun off your neck and face should check out the Sunday Afternoons UltraAdventure Hat. (2.7 oz.) Dorky? You could say that. But not as dorky as the regular Adventure Hat. A couple of things I like about this hat: The stiff brim folds like a clam shell, making the hat very easy to stow away in your pack. Instead of vents on the sides, the Ultra Adventure Hat uses two spf 50 vents across the crown. On this trip, the hat provided great protection from the sun while keeping my head cool. Big thumbs up for this one.
Wildflowers are out at this elevation, and insects buzz around. Another growl of thunder and then the rain begins.
Though there is still a hint of light to the east, the landscape darkens.
I climb to my secret camping spot, but something feels off. Then it hits me. My landmark, a tall snag that had been struck by lightning and downed wasn’t there anymore. Stepping onto the granite ledge, I see that someone has built a fire up here and used the snag for fuel. Fearing the worse, I walk around some boulders and weave my way through a stand of small aspen looking for my spot. Studying the clearing beside the huge boulder, I see pine cones and sticks scattered about. It appears that no one has camped here for a long time, possibly since I was last here about a year ago. Quickly, I set up my tent, then get ready to cook dinner.
About the Gear: What? No Golite Shangri-La 2? A wet spring and summer last year convinced me that I needed to get serious about mosquito protection. After trying several shelter options, I noticed that the weight of some double-walled tents was getting down to my desired range, so I started investigating. The Big Agnes Fly Creek series is popular, but I’ve found that front entry on these smaller double-walled shelters to be less than ideal for me. The Big Agnes Copper Spur has a side entry, but the weight is a bit more than I want to carry. The Tarptent Notch is well liked, but I’m not a fan of shelters that you can’t just stuff in the morning. Continuing this process of elimination brought me to the Nemo Hornet 1P. The weight as carried on this trip was 29.5 oz., including the Nemo stuff sack for the poles, my own stuff sack for the tent, and 6 blue Easton stakes. So far, I’m finding it to be a really comfortable place to spend the night. The fabrics are light, so I’ll be keeping a close eye on durability.
During the night I sleep like a baby, and no, I don’t mean waking up every five minutes and screaming. When a bird begins his predawn solo, I snuggle deeper into my sleeping bag. Then slowly, other members of the chamber choir join from different positions around my mountain perch. I arise and walk to a position facing east to await the start of a new day. Someone has to do it.
After breakfast, I do my stretching routine…..
….. and my weight training, then pack my bag and head back out onto the trail.
Before long, I arrive at the point on the trail that I’ve had some concern about. When I called the backcountry ranger several days ago, she told me that the spring runoff had begun and that Lost Creek was running chest high here and probably impassible. We went back and forth a few times, and we finally agreed it would probably be waist high by the time I got there. I’m thinking she may have said this just to get me off the phone.
My plan was to wait by the creek and see how other hikers did with the crossing. If they got swept downstream, then it probably wasn’t too safe. But I haven’t seen any other humans since yesterday afternoon. Only one thing to do. I step into the creek and gasp, having forgotten how cold the spring snow melt could be. Slowly, I make my way across the creek, holding onto a log for balance.
At the other side, my legs and the bottom of my torso are numb from the cold. The water was indeed waist high. In a move that would make David Breashears proud, I fish my camera out of my hip belt pocket, set up a tripod, and wade back into the frigid water to get the shot.
About the Gear: My backpacking photography gear is always evolving. In the past, I’ve skipped over the so-called “tough” cameras. But after reading that newspaper photographer and photo editor, Dean Krakel, chose the Olympus TG-4 for his thru-hike of the Colorado Trail, I decided to give it a try. Having used it since the beginning of the year, I have to confess that I’m loving this little camera. It is indeed waterproof, as evidenced by the above photo. After crossing Lost Creek, I just wiped it off and continued shooting. It’s a great pleasure to have a camera in my hip belt pocket that I don’t have to try to protect from rain and snow. And it has cool features such as supermacro mode, backlight HDR, and live composite, which makes getting those silky moving water shots quick and easy. It also has a limited aperture priority mode and raw capture for those of us who like to mess around in Lightroom.
Many of my favorite shots are taken around dawn and dusk, so some kind of tripod is always with me. Mostly I’ve been favoring stand-alone tripods, because the times when I most want to use a tripod are also times when trekking poles are already being used to hold up my shelter.
The fact that I had dedicated tent poles on this trip freed up my Pacerpoles to use as two tripod legs. Combining these with a third leg (2.5 oz.) borrowed from my Zipshot, my Universal Trailpix (2.2 oz), and a Giottos MH 1004 ball head (1.8 oz.) gave me a tripod with a working height of about 40 inches for 6.5 oz. Not bad. It worked fine, though it’s not quite as quick on the draw as other tripod options I’ve used. For my next trip, I’m planning to add another section to the Zipshot leg to give me a tripod at a working height of almost eye level. Of course, I’d prefer to use a “real” tripod, but at 7 oz. carry weight, this one will do.
Emerging back on dry land, I hurry along to warm up.
Before long I find myself at a high point, and I turn around to take a final look at the rugged landscape of Refrigerator Gulch.
By mid-morning the sky resembles smudged charcoal. The mountain gods roar and flash their teeth. The forecast for today is for severe thunderstorms both morning and evening with one to two inches of rain. The first round is about to begin. I cross the creek one final time to start my ascent up a series of switchbacks that leads up to McCurdy Park.
The storm begins with hail; I deploy my umbrella and say a “Hail Mary.”
About the gear: Umbrella?!? Has Dondo gone all Mary F. Poppins on us? Or worse, all Ray Way? Fear not, gentle reader. Realizing that there is no one more zealous or annoying than a recent convert, I’m not even going to try to sell you on the umbrella.
But if you want to give it a go, the one I’m using is a Golite Chrome Dome (8.1 oz). Golite is no longer with us, but it’s successor, MyTrail Co, sells the Chrome Umbrella, which appears to be identical.
Then comes the rain, sometimes in torrents. Yesterday, I made it through a couple of brief thundershowers using the umbrella, but this will be my first real test in a full blown Rocky Mountain thunderstorm. Apprehension gives way to delight, to exhilaration, to joy, as I ascend switchback after switchback while learning to point the umbrella into the storm. After a while, there is only the trail and the trees, the storm and the sky. The mountain roars on.
The storm tapers off as I break through the trees to McCurdy Park. Bits of blue emerge among the varying shades of gray up above. Stopping for lunch, I return to my normal state of mind. What just happened back there? It’s impossible to describe, but I know that I’ve been profoundly affected by it. It’s moments like these that have kept me coming back to the wilderness year after year, decade after decade.
The sun re-emerges as I hike through the open landscape of McCurdy Park. Leaving the main trail, I pick up a social trail headed toward a favorite rock formation.
Knowing that a popular camp spot is nearby, I approach cautiously, not wanting to break the spell of solitude. Sure enough, I can hear a group of boisterous youth just beyond the rocks, so I move on.
At a trail intersection, I encounter a man and his young son backpacking together. The boy is clearly tired. We share information about the trail conditions. The man asks me about a section of trail that runs above tree line. I tell him about the ghost forest and the strangely beautiful rock formations along that stretch, but that they would have to keep moving to get back down into the trees before the next storm hits.
Hiking steeply down the forest path. Birds of prey circling on updrafts. Insects flitting about. Rolling thunder. A wet area teeming with marsh marigolds. Walking on mile after mile.
When I finally find a place where I want to camp. I’ve done a lot more walking than I expected to today..
Storm clouds swirl, and the sky takes on a strange hue. Rain begins to fall. I cook and eat dinner under the spreading arms of a tree, then go to bed.
In the morning, I again wake up to a chorus of birds.
Again, I turn to face the dawning of a new day.
The sun comes up silently, softly illuminating a mountainside nearby.
Early morning shadows play against the lichen-covered granite formations.
Since there are only a few miles to go today, I luxuriate in a round of yoga and a leisurely breakfast. The chill of the evening dissipates. I pack up and walk on.