Inspired by Dondo's report on the Beaver Creek WSA, and exasperated by the winter that will not end here in Colorado, I began searching for likely low-elevation hikes along the Front Range. Low-elevation meaning below 9000 ft.
Grape Creek is a BLM Wilderness Study Area just south of Canon City. It drains much of the Sangre de Cristos, running through the Wet Valley before cutting a rugged canyon through the Wet Mountain foothills on its way to the Arkansas. You can read more about it here , courtesy of the Colorado Wilderness Network.
Although the map shows Grape Creek crossing Co Rd 3 at Temple Canyon Park, an email to the BLM confirmed that there is no access there, due to closed private property. At present, the only access is from the Bear Gulch road off Co Rd 143. The Bear Gulch road is somewhat rough and steep, but easily passable by any high clearance vehicle in dry weather. When wet it would be dubious for any vehicle 4WD or no.
I'd planned to go the last weekend in April, but the weather was just too nasty and my buddy Jim and I decided we didn't want to go just to spend a lot of time in the tent. The forecast for May 1 was at least plausible, and although Jim had to drop out, Baloo the Trail Dog was ready as always.
Let's go for a hike!
Boulder was gray and threatening at dawn, but the weather lifted as we drove south, and we were greeted by beautiful blue skies and a brisk breeze at the trailhead.
I had just bought a GoLite Jam2 pack the week before at the warehouse sale, and it weighed in at 21 lbs with water, food and cold-weather clothing. A bit heavy by BPL standards, but I like to eat well - I keep chickens in the back yard and like nothing better than a fresh omelet in the morning.
From the trailhead, the valley looked quite promising for fishing and hiking - the water clear and not too high, the canyon open and beginning to green up.
Looking upstream from the trailhead
There is no maintained trail in the canyon, and my hopes for a dryshod hike were dashed within 100 yards. I fished my Tevas out of Baloo's pack and waded across. The water was brutally cold and I began to numb up after only a few steps. Any thoughts that this crossing was a singular event were quickly dashed as I found myself crossing and recrossing, or wading around outcrops. Fortunately the water was not yet high and I got in no more than thigh deep. In run-off conditions I would consider the canyon pretty well impassable on foot - especially soloing.
Fortunately the weather was good and the scenery delightful.
Scrapping Ridge above Grape Creek - it squeezes the canyon pretty tight.
The canyon abreast of Scrapping Ridge
Rounding the bend, the canyon begins to open out
The rugged nature of the canyon was brought home to me as a clambered along a rock ledge over the water. Baloo, being a water dog, had been wading where I climbed over these outcroppings. But this time he decided to follow me up and around, bumped his pack on a rock, lost his balance and flipped into the water from about 5 feet up. Fortunately he fell in a pool and on his side, where the pack cushioned the impact and no harm was done. But I could very easily have found myself with an injured 130 lb dog (or injured self) in rugged inaccessible terrain where no one was likely to find us soon.
Baloo got a bit balky after that, and there being no good campsites high enough above the creek we backtracked. We'd made maybe 2 miles in 3 hours of bushwhacking and had to retrace a mile (and 8 or 9 stream crossings) before finding a suitable site.
But the weather held, and a good site was found next to some lovely deep pools that were begging to be fished.
One of many deep pools on the creek
I had recently acquired a BPL Tenkara Hane rod and was anxious to put it to work. There was a light blue-wing olive hatch coming off, but no signs of fish coming to the surface to feed. I went deep with a CJ dropper off a parachute Adams and was soon rewarded with a handsome rainbow, possibly a cutt-bow judging from its spots.
A nice 12-incher
Plenty more where that one came from
Baloo tries to get in on the action - the light smudge in front of him is a fish on the line
As the sun started going down, the temp dropped quickly and it was time for a small fire and a round of harmonica playing before turning in.
"A small fire, with my faithful friend and the Tarptent in the background
I am not a warm sleeper, and my REI Sub-Kilo +20 didn't quite keep me comfy. I didn't bring a thermometer but there was a quarter-inch of ice on my water cup inside my tent in the morning. But I was greeted with blue skies and none of the snow that had been forecast, no grounds for complaint. After a hearty breakfast of hash browns and scrambled eggs cooked on my Trangia, we caught a few more fish and then packed up and headed out.
Morning on Grape Creek
By the time we got to the trailhead the weather was threatening, and by the time we got to pavement, another spring storm was rolling in with sleet, snow and winds. We had managed to hit one of the few windows of decent weather we've had this spring, so I was feeling pretty lucky.
I don't normally write about or otherwise publicize good fishing spots, but this is an exception. The canyon is so rugged and inaccessible that there is little danger of overcrowding or overfishing. Maybe in low water in August it is easier going, but this is a pretty rough hike, and not recommended if you are not an experienced bushwhacker. I also can't recommend going solo, there are just way too many opportunities to slip and hurt yourself and get seriously stuck. But if you are up for a rough adventure, this is a great choice.
If you want to see more of Grape Creek, I posted a YouTube video here