Colorado Backpacking Adventure
- Travel to Colorado
- Zirkel – Mica Lake
- Rabbit Ears
- Gilpin Lake Loop
- Wyoming Trail
- Mt Werner
- Flattops – Hooper Lake
- Snow on Gilpin Lake Loop
- Devil’s Causeway
Travel to Colorado
I retired at the end of June, backpacked the Wallowa’s, Three Sisters and the Timberline Trail to get back in the groove with the main adventure goal to backpack around Steamboat Springs, CO, during the month of September.
And it was awesome. Heading off on a month-long journey with my dog required some planning but for the most part we just adapted to the situation.
We decided to take the northern route through Montana which did not turn out to be a wise decision due to many forest fires burning in the north. We did get to stop by the Palouse Falls on the way to Spokane but the fires around Missoula were extensive and the air quality was horrible so we moved on as quickly as possible to Jackson, WY. There was some smoke in the Tetons, however, it was acceptable.
This adventure was as much about exploring new backpacking trails as it was about learning how to travel with my dog Brook. Staying in a hotel or a campground were new experiences for her. She struggle a bit with the need to protect me from all the nearby sounds but she quickly adapted to the situations. The other travel issue was how to dissipate Brook’s high energy.
We dealt with this on drive days by stopping at parks to play some ball.
The visit to Jackson, WY, was a great way to start the backpacking portion of our adventure.
We camped in a NFS campground with plans to find a representative backpacking overnight to experience the local wilderness. Asking around town we decided to backpack to Goodwin Lake and Jackson Ridge. The road to the trailhead turned out to be the worst we would encounter, but the Rav4 handled the challenge. The view would have been of the mountains next to the town of Jackson but the smoke filtered the view extensively. However, the Goodwin Lake terrain was exceptional. This was trip was also about acclimating to the altitude. The trailhead started at about 8100′ and I hiked up to about 10000′ above Goodwin Lake exploring Jackson Ridge. I was definitely sucking air but I had plenty of time to let my lungs adapt.
After coming out from Goodwin Brook and I did some sight-seeing around Jackson Hole. Traveling to Steamboat we were able to checkout Pinedale, WY, to do some research for a future trip to explore the Wind River Range.
Back in Steamboat
My adventure to Steamboat was not a random choice. In 1976 I left Indiana to replant in Colorado. I ended up in Steamboat Springs that winter only to see the mountain close because of no snow. This story is much longer but the outcome included living and working around Steamboat until 1987. During that time I was discovering my passions (Second Quarter). Returning to my backpacking origins was a confirmation of that passion as well as a walk down memory lane. Oh, but Steamboat has changed. I left the area 30 years ago and it was obvious that Steamboat was growing, but I would not have predicted how this invasive development would creep into the wilderness. Money can afford beauty and Steamboat has sold a lot of it.
The Zirkel Wilderness which is northwest of Steamboat provided my entry into backpacking and fishing. The small store in Clark provided the entry. Today the Clark store is thriving from serving the growing population in the area and the large influx of vacationers and hunters. Over the next 3 weeks the Clark store served me numerous blueberry pancakes.
I started out on my first trip on August 3rd needing to escape the Labor Day weekend vacation crowds. I thought I got to the Slavonia Trailhead early on Sunday morning, however, I ended up having to park about a half mile down the road. My goal for my return to Zirkel was a new destination for me, Mica Lake. This turned out to be the right choice since it carries the lowest traffic and allows camping near the lake.
This was about a 3 mile hike in climbing 1500′. I was still sucking air, but acclimation to the altitude was progressing. The weather was perfect and my campsite on a rock next to the lake was perfect. Brook and I shared the lake with a 4 or 5 other groups but the basin was essentially ours alone. This video gives you an idea of the solitude.
What a great return to the Zirkel Wilderness. Now out of the wilderness to meet my old backpacking buddy, John, at Steamboat Lake for a few days.
John was recovering from some serious medical conditions but was making incredible progress so we were able to push his body more each day.
First a hike around Steamboat Lake and playing tourist in Steamboat. Then we had to summit the iconic Rabbit Ears which recently lost part of an ear. I have made it known to my children that I would like for them to spread my ashes from Rabbit Ears. This request is to insure that my ashes end up on each side of the Continental Divide as well as forcing my kids to venture into the wilderness. The hike is basic but with some vertical challenge. A few fires had sprung up around Steamboat and were now contributing to a less than desirable air quality.
Gilpin Lake Loop
It was time to say goodbye to my old backpacking buddy. We referred to ourselves 30+ years ago as the last of the true mountain men. I was so impressed to have my friend hike to Gold Creek Lake with me on the first day of my Gilpin Lake Loop. This was simple loop that would allow me to come out with time to visit with my old business partner, Jeff, from the early Steamboat days and be able to watch my Denver Broncos. Broncos looked great.
My next venture was to explore the Wyoming Trail which is really the Continental Divide Trail near Steamboat. I knew that the Wyoming Trail connected to the Gold Creek Trail which I had recently been on and from there I could take it over to connect with the Three Island Lake Trail, but I would need some shuttle help. Jeff provided that shuttle and hiked with me up to Gold Creek Lake.
Once I switched to the Wyoming Trail I could tell that I was alone except for hunters who might be lurking in the woods. I was climbing out from the Gold Creek basin when I had a fairly exciting encounter with a large brown bear. Brook and I both saw the bear about 50 feet away when it jumped up and then scampered off through the woods. The animal was so elegant in how it effortlessly bounded over the fallen trees. I was impressed but not scared. I really sensed that we both had plenty of space in this wilderness and we would not be seeing each other any more. The first night we actually got a little rain which definitely improved the smoke situation. However, there was a fair amount of thunder and lightning which Brook had to deal with. She is not afraid of a storm but she does not want to be in the tent during a storm. But that is her choice and she seemed to be OK with sleeping outside during the storm.
The following day we needed to traverse the open space of the Wyoming Trail over to where we would descend to Three Island lake. The problem was that I did not have a map showing me exactly where that connection would be made. I knew it existed but I was also stressed a bit by how far I had to go to connect with it. Finally reaching the sign provided a very positive feeling.
The terrain of the Wyoming Trail that I was on was much like a mesa and was obviously used for open range grazing. Truly beautiful. The hike down to Three Island Lake was easy but finding a campsite that was approximately a quarter-mile from the lake was a challenge. I ended up falling twice with my backpack on while bushwhacking over fallen trees. We did end up with a great campsite though.
I came out of the wilderness in time to pickup Bob, my backpacking friend from Oregon who was flying in for a week.
Bob was joining me from sea level so we needed to work on acclimating him to altitude. We started off by hiking up above Fish Creek Falls and then climbing Mount Werner or the Steamboat Ski mountain up to the Thunderhead Lodge.
We took the Thunderhead Trail up but got lost and ended up on a mountain bike trail that was not going to end well if bikers had been using it. Overall the hike was tough and rewarding, as in the option to have a Burger with Beer at the lodge. This was also an opportunity for Brook to prove her flexibility in that she had to stay tied to a rail outside the lodge while we were eating and she did great. We all got to ride the gondola down.
It was time to venture into the Flattops Wilderness with an overnight that would help to prepare Bob for a multi-day outing. We chose the trail to Hooper Lake from Stillwater Reservoir that would take us up over a saddle for a spectacular view back over Stillwater.
It had rained all the night before but this was a beautiful crisp day showing the area’s first snowfall. Brook was definitely excited by finding the snow.
We thought about going to Keener Lake but opted for Hooper Lake. This area also shows the signs of open range grazing along with offering good fishing. Hooper Lake was spectacular sitting under a surrounding fortress wall.
This was the coldest night of the Colorado Adventure getting down to 28 thanks to a clear sky which spawned a sunrise beaming off the fortress.
Mount Zirkel Goal
We were now ready for a 3 day trip with the goal to summit Mt. Zirkel. The plan was to do the Gilpin Lake Loop camping at Gilpin the first night and then on to the Gold Creek meadow to camp for the next 2 nights while summiting Zirkel with a day hike.
We knew that a front was coming in but it was only supposed to produce wind on the second day. The hike to Gilpin had some challenging stream crossings but it was a beautiful day. It was a perfect evening set for the first night near Gilpin Lake. Brook enjoyed managing her herd.
We were treated with a beautiful sunset and sunrise.
I did get lucky waking up in time to capture the sunrise.
The climb over the pass brought on the wind but it was to be an easy day.
And then down into the Gold Creek meadow.
We chose a campsite at the head of the meadow and set our tents up with a great view. Then the clouds started to form causing us to consider the possibility of some snow.
We had a good fire, a good dinner and then it started to snow at about sundown. Off to bed listening to really heavy snowflakes pounding our tents. Brook finally came into the tent around 9 pm and sleep happened. Woke up a little after 10 pm realizing that we had a problem with snow. To much and to heavy, the tent was collapsing under the weight. In fact, Brook was being smothered at the foot of my tent. I was banging the snow off the tent which scared Brook and she went out on her own. Turns out she went over to Bob’s tend and scared him a bit since he could not figure out what animal was prancing around his tent. I got the snow cleared from the tent but now I had to think about how we would deal with the mounting snow pack. At that time there was about 6 inches and it was snowing hard. All I could think of was how the snow/moisture might affect some difficult stream crossings that we would have to make the next day. Actually, I offered prayers that we needed it to stop snowing, and thank God it did.
Morning greeted us with almost a great sunrise, but it had definitely stopped snowing so I knew it might be a bit uncomfortable but no worries about making it back to the trailhead.
It was actually quite beautiful seeing all of this familiar terrain covered by snow, but we still had some difficult stream crossings to navigate. The very first crossing was right by our campsite and thankfully there had not been snow melt to raise the stream. On to the trail which was still easy to follow. As we progressed into the forest and dropped elevation the snow was lighter, but more stream crossing were ahead.
Overall I really loved this piece of the adventure. The snow was a great twist and it reminded me cross-country skiing which I also was introduced to back in those early days around Steamboat. The hike out got a bit wet as the snow was raining off the trees as we got lower.
Now back to Steamboat to recuperate and prepare for the hike I had anticipated the most, the Devil’s Causeway.
The jacuzzi at our hotel was so wonderful.
The weather was clear but there was going to be wind which might prove to be a problem up at the Causeway, but then again it would probably provide a good excuse for deciding not to cross. So back to Stillwater Reservoir for the trail to the Devil’s Causeway.
This area also had the best option for autumn aspen colors. Overall the aspen color change was disappointing but there was enough color mixed in with the evergreens to present some of the most beautiful scenery of the adventure. The climb up to the Causeway was steady with a final push at the end.
Once on the top the 360 views were amazing. I think Brook really appreciated it as well.
The Causeway was all that I had heard it would be, and there was no way I was going to walk across it, but I had the good excuse of it being to windy.
The weather had changed and my hangnail on my big toe was making it difficult to hike so Brook and I headed back to Oregon.
I was surprised to see all of the energy exploration activity while driving across Utah on Hwy 40. Vernal, UT, seemed to be a major hub for this activity. Maybe all of that activity was the reason while that deer darted out from the bushes next to the highway and slammed into my car. This type of accident is typically reserved for evening travel, but this was middle of the afternoon, traffic was heavy. I was moving at 65 mph with oncoming traffic, so no time to take evasive maneuvers. My split second decision was to not hit the brake since I think that might have allowed the deer to hit the windshield. So I took the hit which damaged the entire passenger side of my car.