Hitting the trail again, I backtracked to Section One of the Colorado Trail and tackled it in two very different days of hiking.
June 3, 2016 – 16.2 miles. Laced up my hiking boots and packed up plenty of snacks and water for what I knew was going to be a long, steep, and mostly dry hike. The plan was to start from the South Platte River and hike 8.1 miles to Bear Creek and then back. The first 4 miles are switch backs up and over a rocky ridge. It was definitely strenuous going up, but my legs were fresh and the weather was lovely. Once you gain the ridge there is a beautiful view of the valley bellow. Another 4 miles and 1000 feet of elevation loss, brought me to the first crossing of Bear Creek, a nice place to have a snack and refill the water bottles before turning back. Fluffy Dog was very happy to have a little water to splash around in. The climb back up the ridge wasn’t too bad as the grade going back was gentler on my legs and cardiovascular system than the switchbacks from the other side.
The wildflowers of summer are just starting to bloom. Colorado wildflowers don’t tend to be as showy as those you find in moister regions, and you’ll miss a lot of them if you aren’t paying attention. I spied quite a lot of berry bushes, mostly thimbleberries, raspberries and currants, at the lower elevations. In a month or so, hikers will be well-rewarded with natures best trail snacks.
Not a flower, but I love seeing Scrub Oak. It reminds me of Utah.
Fairy Slipper Orchid
I was dreading this 1/2 of the section a bit because of the long switchbacks, but overall it was pretty pleasant, with plenty of shade, unlike Section Two. If you have a car, there is a great tubing spot on the Platte River (at the Platte River Campground) near Deckers that would be a great activity/reward at the end of this section.
June 17, 2016 – 12.6 miles. Bringing Fluffy Dog along for the hike, meant starting at the Indian Creek Trailhead for the second half of Segment 1, instead of the “Official” starting point near Waterton Canyon (no dogs allowed there). I got an early start and found a very helpful volunteer at the trailhead that gave me a map of the trails in the area put together by the Parker-Elizabeth Riding Club. There is an equestrian campground at the trailhead run by the forest service. It looks like a great place to camp out with the horses and do some trail rides.
I started out from the Indian Creek Trailhead with a spring in my step and was thoroughly enjoying the meandering trail as it wove it’s way through the forest and along Bear Creek for the first 1.5 miles. If I had been planning to hike this section in one direction, the fact that I was going downhill for so long wouldn’t have concerned me too much. Knowing I would have to come back the same way, I took note of how much uphill hiking I would have to do to get back to the car. I didn’t ponder it too much though, because the grade seemed reasonably gentle and the overall distance would be shorter than what I did just a couple of weeks before. I was delighted to find even more wildflowers were blooming.
Ferns are some of my favorite plants.
Soon, you leave the lower forest and gain a ridge, hiking the rolling terrain of the ridge for another 1.5 miles. Quicker than I thought I would get there I made it to Lenny’s Rest, and was officially back on the Colorado Trail. Three more miles of hiking up and down drainages (with several water crossings) finally found me at my turnaround point. Fluffy and I stopped for a bit and had some snacks and I refilled my water bottles at Bear Creek. This part of the trail is really lovely, and the moisture from the creek supplies plenty of water to support lush vegetation.
Hard to tell from the angle of the picture, but this was about a 10 foot waterfall
Come on Lady! Why are you going so slow?
Fluffy Dog enjoying a snack break in a stream.
All too soon, my snack break was up and it was time to head back. I checked my stats on my Iphone and found I had come 6.2 miles, ascended 1255 feet and descended 1798 feet. I wasn’t looking forward to the 1798 feet I would have to climb back up, but figured it wouldn’t be too bad.
I was wrong.
The temperature was creeping up, I could feel some fatigue setting in, and I was almost out of trail snacks. Packing up my backpack, in my early morning haze, I had forgotten to grab half of my planned snacks for the day. I usually, keep an emergency high calorie trail bar tucked somewhere in my backpack, but I ended up eating it on another hike and forgot to replace it, so it was a long, hot, hungry hike back.
I was doing okay until I hit the “Ridge” again. At the bottom of the ridge, there is a trail intersection. I had to make a decision, I could go back the same way I came or take a connecting trail to Stephen’s Gulch to reach the trail head. It was very tempting to take the connecting trail, as it was very clearly going downhill. I didn’t have a topo map with me so I wasn’t sure which way would have been easier on the legs. In the end, I chose the “Devil I know” and prepared myself for the ridge ascent.
Half a mile into it, I was cursing all the ice cream I had indulged in over the winter, as I still haven’t shed all my “winter weight.” Lugging extra pounds uphill, the grade was tougher than usual. Three quarters of a mile into the ridge, my feet felt like I had lead weights in my shoes and the heat was becoming a problem. I deployed my handy hiking umbrella to to get some relief from the sun, but it was of little help. The heat radiating from the ground was far more potent than what was coming from above. I felt like I was hiking through some level of hell. Then came the chills and goosebumps. I’m medically and outdoor savvy enough to know that chills, when you’re sweating it out in hot weather is an early sign of heat exhaustion, so I found a nice patch of shade to rest and for a bit and drank a lot more water. Unfortunately, my sawyer filter was beginning to clog up and it took some effort to get a decent flow of water from it. I had to stop a few times to rest and rehydrate over the next mile. What was a gently rolling ridge on the way in, turned into 1.5 miles of drudgery and hill climbing on the way back out. Thoughts of the ice cream I would get at the end kept me going.
Finally, I descended the ridge and was delighted when the trail began to once again follow Bear Creek. I was hungry, hot and tired, but at least I had plenty of water! The hard times were over…or so I thought. The last 1.5 miles (that seemed to be a gentle grade going in) were pretty miserable. My Motion tracking app on my Iphone was very helpfully telling me every 0.5 mile that I was going the blazing speed of 1.7 miles per hour. Fluffy Dog, however, was still full energy, chasing butterflies and practically dragging me uphill.
In what seemed to be a million years later, I finally made it back to the trailhead, drove up the road to the nearest market, only to find they were out of ice cream! Well, it’s probably better for my waistline, that I didn’t get to indulge in my favorite treat. Lots of lessons learned on this hike…don’t forget to pack all your food, bring a higher volume water filter (I have one, I just didn’t bring it), and stop eating so much ice cream!
I’m feeling the need to leave the heat of lower elevations behind, so next up, I’m probably skipping ahead to Section 6. It’s 32 miles, so it might take me the rest of the summer to get it done, unless I convince Marybeth to backpack some of it with me, but I’m looking forward to getting out of the foothills and into the real mountains!
Snow is still blanketing the high country in Colorado, so we packed up the Jeep for Memorial Day weekend to spend some time with friends and visit one of our favorite places, the San Rafael Swell. The Swell is a unique geologic feature rising out of the high desert near Green River, Utah. It’s full of twisty slot canyons, adventurous 4wd roads and unusual rock formations.
We picked a campsite at the head of Crack Canyon that we had scouted on previous adventures. It’s a great spot off the beaten track and only accessible if you have 4wd vehicle. The Swell receives a lot of visitors on holiday weekends so we were pretty happy to score our secluded campsite.
Visiting places like this feel like entering another world. All your cares and worries fade away the moment your feet hit that red dirt. Though we’ve visited the Swell on multiple occasions, there is always something new to explore. This time, we used our base camp in the Swell as a jumping off point to explore some of the surrounding territory.
We started out by driving down to Hanksville to the maze of canyons in the North Wash. Leprechaun Canyon provided a fun, easy hike to help us break-in our hiking legs. This is definitely an area to visit in the cooler times of the year as even in late May, the heat was oppressive. Fortunately, once you get into the canyons it’s much cooler.
Marybeth heading into Leprechaun Canyon
Fluffy Dog negotiating the slots like a pro.
Leprechaun Canyon starts out tall and wide before the slots begin.
We were lucky to have our adventurous brother, Tad, along for this trip.
On the way home, we took a side trip down a long dirt road to the Burr Point overlook. We got a good preview of what our hike the next day into Happy Canyon would entail.
Happy Canyon is in the Robber’s Roost area near Hanksville. The canyons of Robbers Roost were used by Butch Cassidy and his Wild Bunch gang to elude capture and it’s easy to see why. There are very few trails down into the canyon and the top part of the canyon is largely bounded by vertical walls of rock. If it weren’t for the remote location, Happy Canyon would probably be swamped with people. Lucky for us the long drive up an unmaintained 4wd road with some pretty sketchy sections and exposure to shear drop offs keeps out all but the most intrepid travelers. The hike itself is an easy (but hot) walk few miles along a canyon shelf before dropping down to the bottom of the canyon with a brief, refreshing ford of the Dirty Devil River. The heat was searing (don’t even attempt this hike in summer), there were biting flies at the river and the climb back up to the Jeep was a bit grueling, but it was worth it.
The crew entering Happy Canyon
Tad exploring Happy Canyon.
Happy Canyon has features much like Antelope Canyon, but with far fewer visitors.
We spent our last day in nearby Moab to put the Jeep through it’s paces on the Fins ‘n’ Things 4wd trail. It was great fun testing the capabilities of the jeep, with the bonus of amazing scenery.
The Fins ‘n’ Things trailhead.
There was a little skid plate damage acquired, but otherwise the jeep performed beautifully on the trail.
One of the cool views along the way.
Too soon, it was time to go home. We’re already planning future adventures and I’m sure some will include more of the slickrock trails around Moab!