In our latest video, Fluffy Dog and Katie go adventuring in Creede, Colorado. We visit Wheeler Geologic Area, see a big waterfall and check out some old mining camps. Happy Trails!
It’s cold and there is fresh snow on the ground, but it’s Colorado, so the sun is shining and it’s a perfect day for a hike. There’s too much snow for the mountain bikers and not enough for the snowshoers so I get the trail all to myself. That’s exactly how I like it.
With my faithful companion, Fluffy Dog, I set out on the trail to finally finish Section 3 of the Colorado Trail. The trail starts at the Little Scraggy Trailhead and rolls through ponderosa pine forests. It winds around the sides of hills and up and down drainages until its terminus at Rolling Creek.
Rocky peaks, composed of well worn rubble dominate the landscape. The lower reaches are strewn with boulders wearing blankets of snow. Remnants of ancient peaks, they are reminders that the mountains are no more eternal than we are, just longer lived. Now and then, there is a a glimpse of the snow capped mountains through the trees.
The cloudless sky is a shade of brilliant blue that I’ve only ever seen in winter. The sun throws long shadows, even at midday and it’s low angled rays glide over the snow making it sparkle like precious gems. The stark white of the snow contrasts sharply with the conifers making the green needles and the red bark of the ponderosas appear deeply saturated. Here and there the trees let loose a silvery cascade of snow dust. I stop and watch the show until a nearby tree decided to loose it’s cold, shimmery gifts upon my head.
The going is slower than usual because of the snow, but I don’t mind. There is something extra special about hiking after a fresh snowfall. With the crystalline carpet muffling the rustling of the trees and brush, the silence overwhelms the senses. Even the streams are quiet. No babbling brooks chattering on their course, there is only a muted glug, glug as the water makes it’s way under the ice. Punctuating the silence are the sounds of mountain song birds, clearer and brighter than what you hear in summer, and a lone woodpecker is tap, tap, tapping in search of grubs.
And, oh the happy puppy dog! He’s unfettered to frolic freely in the snow. He’s bounding through the forest after who knows what. Oh look, he found a deer leg. Hope the critter that left it isn’t still around.
It takes some route finding to find my way through the forest with the trail obscured by snow, but the path is well worn and the depressions left by thousands of footsteps are not too hard to follow. I make my way through this cold, white Eden contemplating all and nothing. The landscape is beautiful and silent and the peace it brings my soul is unmeasured. I leave this place and return to the bustle of “real life” but it lingers in my mind and I am restless and anxious to return to the woods to find that peace again.
A little synchronicity happened in our schedules allowing Marybeth and I to embark on a short backpacking trip to tackle segment 10 of the Colorado Trail. It was a good chance to test out our gear and have a little adventure. We started our trek in the great little town of Leadville, where we met up and had dinner at the Tennessee Pass Cafe. I popped into the Leadville Outdoors & Mountain Market to pick up a dehydrated meal for our trip and ended up walking out with a new air mattress and a bunch of maps. The Market is a small but well-curated shop and the owner was very helpful and knowledgeable about her products. I can definitely recommend stopping in if you’re in the area and need some gear.
Segment 10 of the Colorado Trail meanders through a pine forest along the base of Mount Massive, and aptly named 14er that is the second highest mountain in Colorado. There are two long up climbs going either direction on the trail. We started from the Mount Massive Trailhead, hiking “backwards” from the way most people choose to do it. The grade is not too bad on the legs and lungs (and about the same whichever direction you choose), though I think we both were a very happy when we completed the second uphill portion. Water crossings are abundant which made this a good section to go lighter on the amount of water in our packs and I didn’t need to carry extra water for Fluffy Dog which was a welcome change from most of my hikes. The trail winds mostly through pine forest and grants you occasional glimpses of Mount Elbert (which is right next to Mount Massive). After 10 miles on our feet, we found a good campsite at a large clearing with views of Leadville and the surrounding hills just inside the Mount Massive Wilderness.
The lack of good rain this summer and subsequent burn ban meant we couldn’t build a campfire, so we made quick dinners from our dehydrated meals. It would have been perfect except we were swarmed by mosquitoes for a couple of hours before the sun went down. We took shelter from the pesky bugs in Marybeths tent until they settled down for the night. We broke out the campstove again to toast marshmallows for ‘smores, my favorite camping treat.
While Marybeth and Fluffy Dog spent the night in her tent, I brought along my hammock and rainfly for a trial run. In one night, I’ve become a hammock camping convert! I spent a very comfortable night (even when it rained) with the exception of my sleeping pad shifting. A new sleeping bag with a pad holder is now on my wishlist, along with a bug net.
My pack weighed in at 28 pounds including 1 liter of water and all my food. I’d like to get that pack weight down a bit (under 20 pounds if I can) when my budget allows buying lighter gear. I have a toasty warm sleeping bag, but it weighs in at 4 pounds and takes up an extraordinary amount of pack space. A lighter, smaller sleeping bag is first on the list! Fluffy Dog is also going to learn to carry his own food, dog booties, some of his water and few other pup supplies. His gear and food (not counting water) adds nearly 3 lbs to the pack so I’ll be searching for a pack for him soon!
I’m loving my Osprey pack (3 lbs) which is big enough to carry all my gear, but not terribly bulky. My spur of the moment purchase of a Thermarest NeoAir sleeping pad was a welcome upgrade from my old foam pad. I cut the foam pad down to Fluffy Dog size so he could have his own backcountry dog bed. My trusty Down Under oilskin hat, my trekking umbrella and my versatile shemya, round out my 3 favorite pieces of backpacking gear.
We packed up our gear the next day and had a quick 3 mile hike to the Timberline Trailhead. It was time to get back to civilization and our jobs (so we can buy more gear!). We’re already dreaming of our next journey!
But first, a few more pics…
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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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
One of my many hiking goals is to complete the Colorado Trail. I’ve made a slow start of it, but have some ambitious plans for the summer. Taking off work a month or more is not a financial possibility so I’m planning to tackle it section by section as time allows. I’m also planning nearby side trips to do a few 14ers and visit other interesting places I find along the way. I started with Section 2 to get my “feet wet.” It’s the nearest section to my house and is familiar territory. I started this section way back in November, with a 12 mile out-and-back hike from the Platte River to Raleigh Peak Road. Then, I got insanely busy with work and other trips and didn’t make it back to the trail until yesterday. To complete the trail, I started from the Little Scraggy Trailhead side and hiked to my previous turn around point on Raleigh Peak Road.
The Colorado Trail Guidebook (available at the Colorado Trail Foundation), describes this section as “brutally hot” and they are not kidding! Large portions of the trail meander through the Buffalo Creek Fire burn area and there is little shade and no water. Even though I hiked it in the cooler months of November and May, it was still uncomfortably warm. I would not recommend doing this section in the heat of Summer unless you enjoy being miserably hot.
Overall, it’s not too strenuous, mostly gently rolling hills, though the beginning near the Platte River has a short switchback climb that’s not too fun. There are some interesting sights along the way including and old abandoned quartz mine. The vistas are pretty wide open in the burn area and you can see Mount Rosalie to the north and Pikes Peak to the south.
Somewhere along the line I must have delete pictures I took in November, but here’s few from yesterday along the trail.
I’m planning to do some of the low elevation segments before the full force of summer heat is upon us. Stay tuned!