As I researched where to go backpacking for an end of Summer and beginning of Fall trip I kept coming back to the conclusion that the Lost Creek Wilderness is nearly in its prime this time of year and represents some of the best Fall season backpacking that Colorado has to offer. The more modest elevation of the area presents two bonuses; you are nearly always in the zone where Aspens live in Colorado and you avoid the chill that often has already crept into the timberline environs of many other backpacking destinations. Add that to the fact that the Lost Creek Wilderness has some of the most unique landscapes in Colorado and trails that provide a variety of trip options and I was excited about returning to the area I first visited in June of 2008.
On this trip I acted as both a member of a group, which is rare for me as a typical solo hiker, climber and backpacker, and as the planner and detail person and with regards to backpacking that's a job I really enjoy. So with a first timer and her friend I wanted to introduce them to the heart of the LCW and personally I wanted to explore some of the areas I had learned about since my first and only visit over three years ago.
We departed from the Goose Creek trailhead on Friday evening, 9/23/11, hiking in the dark. Something which flew in the face of my backpacking experience but seemed very important to my friends. My recollection of the trail though reassured me that finding a relatively decent and close spot to camp that night wouldn't be a major issue in the dark. The weather was great so we slept under the stars, so much easier than setting up the shelters in the dark.
This trip was to be leisurely and fun but also challenging, basically what backpacking with friends should be. Saturday morning had us on the trail with the goal of photographing what looked interesting along the way, stopping at the Shafthouse area and Lost Creek and then making our way to the Refrigerator Gulch/Lost Creek area with a proposed campsite near the cave on Lost Creek. (thanks to the helpful members here on BPL for campsite information and trip logistics)
We found the cave campsite nearest the trail (there are others I believe on the other side of the creek) to be unoccupied Saturday evening and we cooked some campfire pita pizzas, whipped up some devils food chocolate pudding with crushed oreos and the girls enjoyed some hot chocolate. It was another night under the stars and aside from a chipmunk rustling in the bushes near camp it was a calm but colder night with lows just below freezing.
Sunday morning found me up on the high point above our campsite and looking towards McCurdy Park and the vistas all around. The sunrise light hitting the granite towers and boulders with the green, yellow and orange of the Aspens was something I was looking forward to seeing and it didn't disappoint.
We packed up camp and then wanted to explore the Lost Creek cave. In June the high water of a snowmelt swollen Lost Creek can make this a difficult venture, the water, while very cold was never more than knee deep and in the cave itself was shallow and with a sandy or gravel bottom. The lighting in here reminded me of some of my slot canyon experiences in Utah, it was definitely one of the highlights for me.
(I've got more and better pictures of the cave but I won't ruin your own adventure and exploration of finding it and seeing it for yourself sometime)
We were back to the McCurdy Park/Goose Creek trail intersection right at noon and stopped for lunch here, successfully completing one of the consistent elevation gain segments early in the day. On our Sunday out day we met a total of two backpackers, saw two tents in Refrigerator Gulch and talked to a few day hikers. A very different experience than the sometimes crowded Spring weekends. Two of these day hikers, a husband and wife, started asking me about Refrigerator Gulch, they had backpacked there 30 years ago as a dating couple, what I told them about it brought the memories back as I described exactly where they camped then. Lord willing I'll still be coming back to the Lost Creek Wilderness 30 years from now.
When I backpack one of the goals is to self analyze and to see how the experiences and environment affect me on a spiritual, mental and emotional level. Do I grow at all or change, see something more clearly, learn something about myself. It's not so much about what I accomplish but what does the experience accomplish in me. I was not solo this time but shared this trip with two thoughtful and interesting women and can say that they added to my spiritual, mental and emotional aspect of this backpacking trip. I hope the experience was rewarding for them as well. They did a great job and I was happy we could all be a part of the trip.
And while this trip wasn't necessarily lightweight it did include: an MLD Trailstar and Tarptent Contrail that were not used as we slept out, food that almost exclusively met the > 100 calorie per ounce rule, the PCT method of bear bagging, and my nearly constant praise of merino wool.