Apprx. 10 miles, 4,500 feet gain RT
Time to stretch the legs again. All the turkey and stuffing is gone (finally) and the January lull has set in. The weather is iffy, as always, but I am just itching to get back out to the mountains. I am not the only one.
After changing plans about ten times in the past week, it finally came down to this morning: Colonelpyat and me in my jeep, headed southwest to Lost Creek Wilderness. The sunrise was beautiful, but we failed to capture it because we were too busy concentrating on finding the Ute Creek Trailhead. At last, we parked in the small and empty lot and got our gear together. We both noticed despairingly how freezing cold the air was as soon as we stepped out of the jeep. My hands numbed before I was even able to get my gloves on, and we noted ominous clouds hanging over Bison Peak. It was already looking like a long day lay ahead.
At 0724 we were off, over the sturdy wooden bridge crossing Tarryall Creek. Though monotonous and rather flat, I enjoyed soaking in our surroundings as we first entered Lost Creek Wilderness. There were thickly wooded sections of aspens and evergreens, as well as small open meadows and patches of snow.
Eventually we came to where the trail steepens considerably. We took it in stride and continued up the mountainside to Bison Pass, admiring the New-England like views. When we turned east onto the Brookside-McCurdy Trail, we immediately ran into deeper snow. Here we put to use our snowshoes and skis for the first time today. The snow was three feet deep at places, but at least the trail had been hiked since some of the snow fell, hardening the path somewhat. Nevertheless, my legs felt the extra strain of the snow, as did my lungs. Too much turkey!
The trail moved up through the thick timber until it suddenly opened up, revealing the south plateau of Bison Peak. After another short climb, we were on the plateau, and I got my first views of some of the incredible rock formations. As we continued north, the gigantic boulders and rock walls increased in quantity and impressiveness. Unfortunately, so did the wind. It was as if we were walking through a forest made of rock instead of wood, and the wind was trying to tell us we were not welcome in this sacred place. We didn’t listen.
Cononelpyat had been on this plateau twice before, and he was glad to show me around. We went downhill and before long came to the giant red monolith, standing there like a guardian tower.
As we began climbing the next hill, it became apparent to us that the north sides of all the rocks were plastered in white, including the giant monolith. This frosty evidence of the strong winds added a unique touch to the already topnotch scenery. The trees as well were white with frost. Beyond all that was a birds-eye view of miles and miles of mountains in every direction. Also plain to see, however, were the threatening clouds looming ever closer to us.
Nearing the summit, we had to climb a couple short but steep walls of slippery snow. The closer to the summit we got, the fiercer the winds blew, and it certainly felt like an alpine experience. Strangely enough I enjoyed all of it, probably because I knew in the back of my mind I would be back in the warmth of my jeep within a few hours.
Anyway, we did not stay long at the summit, which, in fitting style, was a huge boulder within a large rock formation. Having reached the top at 1150, I took the time to sign the register and we took a couple pictures before beginning our descent. It was frigid up there!
Our trip out was uneventful. The only memory I recall is the pain of my out-of-shape legs. But when we got to the jeep at 1438, our journey was not over. The snow began to fall before we made it to Jefferson, and at Kenosha Pass the snow was falling heavily and the roads were covered. Before long we got away from the mountain storms, however, and returned to the predictable smog of Denver.
© 2005, Bradley Snider