Forum Index » Post-Trip Reports » 65 Mile Loop - Flat Tops Wilderness, CO


Display Avatars Sort By:
Tim Drescher
(timdcy) - M

Locale: The Gore Range
65 Mile Loop - Flat Tops Wilderness, CO on 08/18/2013 10:38:10 MDT Print View

Link to Blog Here

Five Days, Five Nights in the Flat Tops Wilderness Area. Approximately a 65 mile loop.


OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

On a Wednesday towards the end of a four-hour meeting at work, I stared out the window of the overcast sky as it began to open up to slivers of blue. My attention began to wander away from the present and the prospect of spending the next five days submerged in Wilderness.


*Unfortunately my camera had been acting up a bit and I came away a little disappointed in the quality of some of the photos.*


I departed the lonesome Turret Creek trailhead around 5:30 p.m. near Sweetwater Reservoir with high hopes that I’d be walking into the woods without too much of a monsoon season soaking. From this trailhead there are three different established paths that will bring you into the high islands that is the Flat Tops.


On my way in, just outside the Wilderness boundary I crossed the paths of two men on horseback. I think they were just as surprised to see me, as I them. Thunder burped and rainclouds moved towards me.


OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I got my butt kicked by rain, wind and the slip and slop of the mud on the steep trail up to my intended camp of Johnny Meyers Lake. Overlooking the Turret Creek Valley I saw lightning and heard load, but sporadic thunder. The wind turned it up a notch and my hands were freezing. The solution: hands in pants as I continued to walk upward.


Eventually the sun came out around the time I arrived at Johnny Meyers “Lake”. All I saw was a bog filled depression.


OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The following morning drying out my gear with the small amount of sun I was blessed with.


I accomplished approximately 4.2 miles and the low of the evening was only 41 degrees (Wednesday).


OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA


The Turret Creek Meadows.


I continued the gentle climb up the Turret Creek valley and aimed for Shingle Peak.


OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA


Shingle Peak.


OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA


A clearly defined trail which is protected by willows.


The sky continues to stay overcast. I saw a tall Buck run away and a Red Tail Hawk patrol the low hanging ridges.


OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA


At 11,200 feet and my trail junction, I look from where I came.


OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA


The Christmas tree.


OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA


I'm now on the W Mountain Trail and some single track here, there and everywhere. I begin to see why this is the supposed home to the largest Elk heard in North America as I see sign everywhere. What you can see in the photo above is what I am following; map and compass in hand.


OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA


Trappers Lake valley begins to open up to my west and Parvin Lake can be seen below.


OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA


The vast and open. A trail marker.


I can see a sheep herd off in the distance first and then their noise. Immediately after I begin to notice their tracks and the scat.


OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA


With my limited knowledge of the area and the monsoon season in full swing, I was unsure as to how much mileage I could accomplish. The Chinese Wall trail had been great, but it was time to dip down a little lower and perhaps settle for the remainder of the evening. I choose to target Deer Lake which sits on a nice shelf at 11,130 feet.


OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA


The rain of course came, this time around 3:00 p.m. as Deer Lake came into view. Rather than set up camp, I found some natural shelter beneath the passing shower. I walked the Lake and took my time to find a place to pitch my Tarptent. The best piece of ground I found was exactly where I had sat for about an hour out of the rain.


OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA


The view from the east side of Deer Lake is fantastic. Down below I spot a Moose eating near the wetlands of the Derby Creek drainage.


OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA


Deer Lake turns out to be a dead lake as I can neither see or attract any fish with my lures. I took a long look at my map this evening and started to form the loop I would complete for the trip. This whole bench is amazing for scenery and I spend a good time looking off the ledge.


I put in approximately 12.5 miles and the low temperature of the evening was 36 degrees with partly cloudy skies at night (Thursday).


OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA


Friday morning as I was about to arise from the tent, I heard stomps; a cow Moose had wandered on by and left just as quick as she came in. From Deer Lake I packed up camp and hiked south to the Island Lake Trail. During this stretch I stopped and chatted with a group of three backpackers. Prior to that I had not seen nor spoken to anyone in roughly 32 hours.


OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA


Near the trail junction of Island Lake and Deer Lake.


OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA


Island Lake. I couldn't help but wonder how the fishing is.


OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA


I see way more horse, deer and elk track here than that of human.


Today the rain would begin around 11:00 a.m. The rain gear had been busted out early. The trail in the above photo looks kind compared to what I was in store for the rest of the day. The Island Lake trail gets, we'll say, "less and less appealing" the farther east you go.


OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA


Around noon the heavy rains moved in, then the hail, then the lightning and the boisterous thunder soon afterwards. I huddled low and recall the volume of the thunder making me jump!


OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA


"Trail"


Upon reaching the meadows of the Island Lake trail, the single-track turns to double, triple and quadruple. It splits off into random directions for I am now in cattle grazing country. The rain drizzle goes into the late afternoon and I get turned around several times before finding the true and reliable trail. The trudge through mud and cow crap is demoralizing and the air stays cool.


OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA


My link to the Hooper Lake trail is a welcomed one. Still off in the distance I see more and more cattle. I've never seen so many within Wilderness area boundaries and I begin to wonder if the allotment for cattle grazing operations here are above the norm as apart of the agreement for turning it into a wilderness area back in the 70's. Their range here is huge.


OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA


Making my way north and getting first tracks. Looking back on it, it's amazing to think that this was my biggest mileage day.


OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA


The best views of the day were looking up to Derby Peak as I rounded it for a large part of the day.


OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA


Keener Lake and my night three camp.


Approximately 20 miles covered today and the overnight low was 35 degrees (Friday).


OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA


Early morning rays on Derby Peak Saturday.


OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA


I took my time in camp this morning enjoying the sun and the view. Despite the fact that I woke to clouds in the sky, this morning had probably been the clearest so far and my mood improved because of it.


OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA


Atop the pass looking on towards Stillwater Reservoir.


I decided to cut the trail and go off the beaten path to link up with the Bear River trail from here.


OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA


I walked right into a scattered lincoln log set.


OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA


The appropriately named Flat Top Mountain straight ahead.


The Stillwater Lake region was by far the busiest section of the trip. Nearly all the groups of backpackers, day hikers, horseback riders and trail runners I came across, I had a good conversation with.


OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA


I had hit the northern most section of my loop and it was time to return to the high mesa scene. I choose to go as far as Surprise Lake on an unmaintained trail. For the reasons stated above, I eventually lost the true trail and began to ponder. I found it tough to match physical features to a map with 50 foot contour intervals with speckled ponds of water everywhere which were not detailed on my map.


OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA


Surprise Lake and quite the surprise to share the lake with 3 other gentlemen for the evening. It felt good to finally hit my camp early and do some well deserved fishing.


The rain clouds decided to burst around 5:30 p.m. this time and the moisture that was left over on a 37 degree evening felt as though it were colder. Only 11 miles completed this day (Saturday).


OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Sunday morning. Not a cloud in the sky to start the day. Back to the primitive trail to link up with an area I had been before: W Mountain Trail. First I had some willows to walk through (see above).


OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA


Standing above the Trapper Lake valley.


OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA


On to some new terrain: Trappers Lake Trail going south and encountering a few stray sheep. Fortunately I escaped any dogs.


OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA


An easy going trail and a little solitude.


OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA


Shingle Peak and the headwaters of the South Fork White River. For miles after this point I heard coyotes barking and howling from the deep valley to the west.


OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA


First elk herd of the trip. I counted 23 cows.


OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA


Edge Lake.


I originally thought I would camp here, but decided against it upon arrival due to my suspicion of their being no fish. I hiked to an even bigger un-named lake to the West but the story was the same; time to backtrack.


OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA


At this point I decided to hike closer to my trailhead and dive right into the Sweetwater Creek drainage. The trail here has some excellent views and the grouse here love letting you get as close as possible before letting you know they're amongst you.


OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA


Monsoon rain came in shortly after 3:00 p.m. today which came to fruition right after I chose the final night of camp.


14 miles came and went quick this day. Despite the cloudless night, the low temperature only hit 40 degrees (Sunday).


OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA


Sweetwater Reservoir and my ride back to civilization the next morning.


OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA


A quick jaunt back to the original starting point took around 4 miles Monday morning. It felt good to end dry and to see the Sawatch range again

Edited by timdcy on 08/18/2013 21:38:37 MDT.

Dondo .
(Dondo) - F

Locale: Colorado Rockies
Re: 65 Mile Loop - Flat Tops Wilderness, CO on 08/18/2013 12:03:02 MDT Print View

Thanks for sharing this, Tim. There's a lot of valuable information in here. Wish I had been able to read it before a two-night trip I did in the Flat Tops this week. Deer Lake was the planned destination for my second night out but I got so disgusted by the number of cattle along the Hooper Lake trail that I bailed out of there and spent my second night at Little Causeway. After seeing your pics of the Deer Lake area, I wish I had persisted beyond the cattle. I've been working on a trip report of my aborted trip and will post it on my blog as soon as I get a chance to proof it.

Tim Drescher
(timdcy) - M

Locale: The Gore Range
Re: Re: 65 Mile Loop - Flat Tops Wilderness, CO on 08/18/2013 14:02:23 MDT Print View

Dondo,

Your very welcome. Thanks for the comment. Had you kept on going from Hooper it would have not gotten much better! As always I'm looking forward to seeing the photos from your trip report.

Dondo .
(Dondo) - F

Locale: Colorado Rockies
Re: Re: Re: 65 Mile Loop - Flat Tops Wilderness, CO on 08/18/2013 16:35:47 MDT Print View

Had you kept on going from Hooper it would have not gotten much better!

In that case,Tim,I'm glad I didn't continue on that trail. ;-) From my perspective near Road Lake it looked like nothing but cows,cows and more cows!

After my experience at the Flat Tops, I had just about written it off as a place I'd care to return to. But after reading your trip report, I think I'll give it another chance.

But I'll make sure to PM you first to find out the best places to visit and to avoid.

HK Newman
(hknewman) - MLife

Locale: Western US
Re: 65 Mile Loop - Flat Tops Wilderness, CO on 08/18/2013 17:51:31 MDT Print View

Great report. Wonder if the increase in cattle you saw were those coming from the burnt wilderness areas down here (i.e. no grass left to graze)?

Randy Martin
(randalmartin) - F

Locale: Colorado
Flattop Wilderness on 08/18/2013 18:21:12 MDT Print View

Some very useful information here. I have a 32 mile loop mapped out in this same area that uses Stillwater Reservoir, Trappers Lake, Wall Lake, Island Lake, Road Lake and Hooper Lake as the rough boundaries of the loop so it was useful to get a picture of the area. The wet boggy nature of the lower sections certainly puts a premium on staying high whenever possible.

Ben Wortman
(bwortman)

Locale: Nebraska
Thanks on 08/19/2013 12:24:33 MDT Print View

Great trip report. It is a little discouraging to hear of the lack of fish. Still looks like it was a great trip though.

Ben