Painted Desert

Painted Desert

Saturday, July 08, 2017

Lost Creek Wilderness Loop -- Trip Report

Over the holiday weekend I did a backpacking trip that was recommended to me: a 27-mile loop in the Lost Creek wilderness. (This loop is outlined in a Backpacker magazine article.) It was just beautiful, with peak wildflowers, rushing streams, and good weather.


I had last visited the Lost Creek Wilderness over Memorial Day weekend the year before, and the change in the flora between late May and late June is huge. Over Memorial Day, everything was still brown, just released from snow:


But for July 4 weekend, everything was green and blooming.


A. shelters under the umbrella in a fast-moving shower

We parked at Lost Park Campground and set out clockwise on the loop, so that Bison Peak would be saved for last. A. accompanied me for the first night. We had a beautiful sunset. It got very cold during the night. In the morning I was a little bit sick.


A. hiked with me as far as the beaver ponds the next drainage over, then headed back, kindly packed up the 2-person tent (I had my 1-person with me) and went home so she could make it to class on Monday morning.


It was sad not having someone else to enjoy the flowers with (though, I did pass a group camping out that included me in their frisbee game).

Bistort

Stonecrop

Wild rose

Bog orchid

When we had first pulled into the parking lot, I was intimidated by how high Bison Peak looked... I'm going up there?? Not just up there, but in a wide circle around the area and approaching from the opposite side. By midday Sunday I was around back of the peak, looking into Refrigerator Gulch. The peak still looked pretty far away. I planned to camp on top Monday night if the weather was nice.

 The view from one of the dozens of campsites along the loop

I've never been someone in the mountains that had so many flat places... you could make a campsite just about anywhere, and there were plenty of established sites. While exploring one, I found one of the places where a creek appears out of the earth... and after hiking a bit further, the place upstream where it disappears into the earth. These places are where the Lost Creek Wilderness gets its name.


Not long after taking that photo, I found a stream crossing with no bridge. Thinking I wanted to cross it this evening and find another campsite on the other side, rather than having to cross in the morning when it might be 26 degrees again, I took off my boots and waded wincingly across. It was about up to my knees. As I began to climb again I realized I was growing exhausted... I had much less energy than usual and was nauseaous as well. And then, of course, even though I'd passed about one campsite every 5 minutes on the previous part of the loop, now I wasn't finding anything. I climbed weakly up and up through the forest at a snail's pace for an hour and a half before finding a good spot to set up the tent, grumpy.


Inside the distinctly coffinlike Big Agnes Fly Creek UL1 -- I was in full raingear for mosquito protection while cooking

The next morning I woke with plenty of energy and went steaming up the valley toward McCurdy Park. Eventually I hit a wall again. It was, regrettably, 9:30am, and I still had quite a bit of climbing to do to get to Bison Peak. But it was getting closer.


McCurdy Park itself was beautiful, I wish I'd been able to camp there. I would love to do the loop again and make that an overnight stop.



The trail travels through several burn areas, which are really otherworldly-looking, with silvery dessicated trunks and orange granite outcroppings.

I saw a few flowers that were new to me, such as this dwarf columbine. Its tiny curved spurs make it look like a baby squid.



Attractive penstemon

The burn area east of Bison peak is both stunning and haunting. The pictures don't do it justice. It's like being on another planet. The visuals kept taking my breath away. (I was also pretty sad that A. couldn't be there to experience it.)



Looking at the range on the other side of South Park 

I had brought 3L of water with me to this section as I wasn't sure if there would be any once I got up high. I did find a small spring right on the trail, and later on a small pond behind an outcropping next to the trail. I don't know that these would have water later in the season.

As I approached Bison Peak, rainshowers started sweeping in. Fearful that they'd turn into thunderstorms, I stopped and made dinner on the saddle between McCurdy and Bison Peaks and did some writing. By the time I finished the clouds had moved on and I continued toward Bison Peak. Finally I found myself up on the shoulder of the mountain, looking down on the rock pillar that stands like a sentinel before the peak:


It was about 6pm and I had the place to myself. I was nervous about camping that high, as it could get windy, or thunderstorms might potentially arrive during the night. But the weather looked ok and I set up the tent on the east side of a rock outcrop. There were certainly plenty of flat places to choose from. You could have a whole music festival up there.


Of course, I originally set my tent up so that it faced into the wind, and of course as soon as I had it set up the wind shifted and started hitting the tent broadside. I just left it and later guyed it out. I was so tired. I just hadn't had my usual energy on this trip... not only no energy, but also none of the endorphin high I usually get from strenuous hiking or backpacking. In that respect the trip wasn't so enjoyable. But the sunset helped make up for some of that...








This line of rain showers moved in from the west as I was on the east side of the peak, taking some photos. When I realized the rain was really hitting the ground, as opposed to all evaporating before it hits as it often does, I ran back to the tent to put the fly on but didn't get there in time. Oh well. One of my favorite things about Colorado is that stuff dries really fast; I knew it would be dry by the time I went to bed.

The line of rain moves on, with the tent now flapping on the guylines



I took about a billion pictures. Toward dark, a deer and I startled each other. It pronked away immediately.

I did not have a good time that night. As soon as I lay down a splitting headache started, and my nausea returned. The tent flapped constantly in the strong breeze. My half-awake brain kept trying to convince me that a mountain lion could come drag me out of my tent, and at one point I dreamed that the rhythmic thrumming of the tent in the wind was in fact a big cat purring loudly because it had found me to eat. (I woke immediately.) There was a hard lump under my right side. I only slept about half the night, on and off. Finally the sun rose.




I sat up and reached for my glasses in the side pocket of the tent. They weren't there. I checked the other side pocket, the top pocket. Not there. I looked through all my belongings in the tent. Not there. Only one more place it could be... I lifted up my sleeping pad and yes, there they were. The hard lump I'd been sleeping on was my glasses.

I'd already broken my glasses a couple weeks ago -- or, rather, they'd broken on me, with an arm simply falling off as I was cleaning them. So they were taped together. I am happy to report that other than the taped joint being bent slightly, they had no other damage from my having slept on them.

The guyed-out tent did fine in the strong breeze, besides being flappy. Not sure this would be my tent of choice in a true strong wind. All my food was fine; I had found an Ursack for $22 at an REI garage sale a couple weeks ago, so I had that tied to one of the stubby trees on the peak. Mostly I was concerned that a marmot would get into it, but it was untouched each night on the trip.



As I wandered around on the peak taking sunrise photos, the nausea continued. I don't know whether to ascribe it to altitude sickness; I've never gotten altitude sickness before and have been over 14,000'; though, I can't remember if I've slept this high before. Anyway, I'd been feeling various kinds of sick since Monday morning. It started before I drew any water from a stream, so that suspect is out. Perhaps I just had a bug I'd picked up before the trip.

Originally I had thought I would climb to the actual summit, which was still about 500' above me, but now I was so sick and tired I just wanted to get down. I waved good-bye to the sentinel.




That morning I enjoyed the curious optical phenomenon known as a glory, where a halo seems to appear around the shadow of one's head. (For a better pic -- not mine -- see here; to read more, see here.) It looks kinda faint in the pic above, but was quite pronounced in person.

It was pretty much all downhill from there. My friend L. had come to pick me up (yeah... my car was still in the shop) and she had spent the night, her first time backpacking. We hiked up together. I looked up at Bison Peak and it no longer looked so high or so far.


And in case you've noticed, I'm not on the Colorado Trail... the treatment I've been getting on my foot hasn't made that much of a difference after all. So it might be surgery for me. There's still another month in which the nerve will supposedly continue to degrade from the treatments, so it could still get less painful, but we'll see.

A. and I have several more adventures planned for the summer, including trying to do the Four-Pass Loop. This Lost Creek Wilderness loop is the same length, but with less elevation. Considering how cruddy I felt trying to finish this loop, I was having a hard time imagining us being able to complete the Four-Pass, especially since A. also has to study all summer and has almost no time for conditioning. And my experience struggling to complete a 27-mile loop in four days makes me wonder how I ever did that 60-mile loop in four days last year, in higher terrain -- but I suppose that's the difference between being in-shape and healthy vs. out-of-shape and sick. Out-of-shape because my foot still isn't well enough for running, and really, who likes the gym?

But whether our upcoming endeavors are successful or not, at the very least you know there will be pictures.

Here's my report card for this loop:

Trail conditions: A
The trails are almost all well-graded gravel. Some sections were a little overgrown, but there were almost no fallen trees across the trail.

Campsite availability: A+
Oh my goodness, so many places to camp. Many with great views.

Water availability: B+
Few sections of more than a mile without water. I expect that to change for later in the summer, though.

Views: A-
Refrigerator Gulch area, the large burn area and Bison Peak are all beautiful.

Wildflowers: B+
Very good. Blooms and plants were small and more sparse compared to areas that get higher rainfall, but pretty good variety.

Mosquitoes: C
I had to put on rain gear whenever I stopped for more than a couple minutes. Even on top of Bison Peak, eesh.

Solitude: B
I could tell by the cars in the parking area that there were a lot of people out over the holiday weekend, although with so many campsites hiding here and there the forest kind of swallowed them up. On the trail I might have passed another party (or rather, been passed by) every hour or so.