With a wedding to attend Saturday evening and the higher snow levels in a good chunk of the northern portion of the state, I wanted a trip that was a quick get-away..but one that was not overly crowded.
As I looked over my maps, I thought of my of the Lost Creek Wilderness and a route I did as a day hike three summers ago.
Rather than a one way hike with a car shuttle as I did three years ago, this time I would hike along the Colorado Trail, hike up the Brookside-McCurdy Trail and then 'shwack along a ridge from the (unofficially named) "Zephyr" to "Kenosha Peak" down to "Platosha Pass" , go down the Ben Tyler Trail and back along The Colorado Trail to my truck at the Lost Gulch trailhead.
A simple plan and one that fit my needs for a trip a little off the beaten path without being far away
After a leisurely morning with someone, I headed out and made my way down 285. As I drove through Golden, Morrison and other towns along the way, I could not help but notice just how green everything was on the hillsides.
Finally made it to the turn off for Lost Park road and headed down the bumpy, but very passable dirt road. Many wildflowers lined the road and I was tempted a few times to stop and take photos. The rushing cars coming my way changed my mind however….
After arriving at the Lost Gulch trailhead and changing into what I call my hiking costume (long sleeve thrift-store dress shirt, Target running shorts, trail runners and my dorky sun hut) a car pulled up with two young women. After they asked me take their photo at the trailhead sign, it would be the last people I would see for that day.
I made my way on The Colorado Trail on the hot July day. Lost Creek is really best hiked in the late and early season; it was too hot this time of the year. The lure of the higher elevations drew me on with its thought of cooler weather and the broad expanse of tundra.
I veered off The Colorado Trail and onto the Brookside-McCurdy Trail. After reaching a saddle, I made my way west towards Kenosha Pass. The off trail portion began!
After crossing to Zephyr Peak, made my way to the start of the route made famous by the Roach's: The Alphabetizer.
From Peak Z, I could see where I came and where I could go.
From Peak Z; looking towards Zephyr
There is a strong pull for me when it comes to ridge walks. I just want to follow them further and further. Being above tree line and seeing the mountains continue with no end… Planning other routes even as I am walking the current one… And having it all to myself on a holiday weekend.
Rather than head east to Bison, McCurdy and beyond, I continued west towards Kenosha Pass.
View from Peak Z looking west
Continued up and along the ridge to Peak Y and descended down and up to get (I think) my largest elevation gain and lost for the day towards Peak X.
I paused on the ridge of Peak X. Officially called Peak 12429', Knobby Crest or Peak X as it is popularly called, is the highest point in the Kenosha Range of the Lost Creek Wilderness. Yet, it is not heavily used. The views towards South Park and the Continental Divide were shared with no one. It was the perfect spot to look, enjoy a snack and savor the solitude.
After Peak X, the mountains broadened and became more genteel. The tundra expanse continued to impress.
After Kenosha Mountain, the end of my off trail jaunt was sited. Platosha Pass was below and I could see the wooden poles that marked the Ben Tyler trail.
Platosha Pass below
It was tempting to continue the ridge walk into the Platte River Mountain Range. But, the thought of walking the dirt road that can be popular with ATVs (esp on a holiday weekend) and then coming upon Kenosha Pass (again, a holiday weekend) did not seem to fit the mood I was in. I wanted to continue to my solitude.
The memories of the experience from three years ago and the view from the current evening would suffice.
Looking towards North Twin Cone Peak
I made my way down the trail and enjoyed the twilight. Walking into the early evening hours is my favorite part of backpacking.
The light is at its best and seems to bathe the mountains in a warm, orange glow. Where other people may already be in their tents, I am still walking and seem to have the wilderness to myself. It is the 'golden hour' not just for photography…but for experiencing nature.
Wooly Actinella in the last hours of the day
I reached the Ben Tyler trail and made my way down the switch backs. Tundra expanse gave way to pine forests.
Just before sunset, a suitable piece of flat ground was found, my ground cloth was laid out and a camp was made for the evening.
Being solo, camp is a Spartan affair: A place large enough for my pad and sleeping bag, a simple meal of cold cous cous and left over skinless chicken from home, the sounds of the nearby creek to lull me to sleep and the stars above as a roof over me. I was as happy as I have been in a while. What more could I want? What more did I need?
The following morning, I made my way back to The Colorado Trail and started seeing people again. Weekend backpackers ending their holiday. And a smattering of people who looked to be hiking a long stretch of The Colorado Trail. The ULA packs, lighter gear and determined pace indicated thru-hikers. Part of me wanted to stop and chat. The larger part of me just gave a simple hello and wished them a good hike. The solitude from the day before was still with me. It seemed better to be in that mode for a little while still.
Not long before the I reached the trailhead, I saw the the two women from the trailhead when I started the trip. The trip was almost over.
Just before reaching my truck, I saw the perfect Columbine. The blue-ish purple flower is a distinctive part of the Colorado high country. This beautiful gem is also the state flower of Colorado. And rightfully so.
I reached my truck, changed into cotton and drove off.
Another memorable backpack was ended.
And I already long for another one.
All the photos
Trip Beta: The route details can be found here. I think this route would make a wonderful high-country alt. route for anyone hiking The Colorado Trail. An experienced hiker who enjoys a moderate challenge would thrive with the high country views, remoteness and solitude. Less experienced hikers may want to stick to The Colorado Trail below.
More info about the features of the ridge can be found here. Want an extended walk? Read here.
As noted, my friends and I made the extended ridge walk three summers ago.
The additional mileage to North Twin Cone Peak offers an awesome experience; the walk down to the dirt road and back along the CT, not so much. 🙂 There are a couple of nice camping spots, however.
Note that the mountains and features along the ridge have no official names, just widely accepted ones.
Getting There: Follow SH-285 S over Kenosha Pass. One miles north of the small hamlet of Jefferson, turn left onto FS-56/Lost Park Road. Follow this bumpy (but do-able by most 2WD passenger vehicles) road for approx 11 miles. Turn left at FS-817, follow a very short stretch (50 yards?) of very rutted road to the Long Gulch trailhead. Park on the grass. Most 2WD vehicles should be able to get up the short road; just need to drive carefully. There are two obvious camping spots if you do a late night camp and want to get an early start in the morning.
Post Trip Munchies: The Jefferson Market grill serves breakfast until 11am and lunch until 3pm. I caught it in time. Nothing fancy, but a bacon cheeseburger, fries and a cold Coke is almost Zen-like in its simple perfection after a backpacking trip. The people working there have a tendency to call people "Hon". I did not find in annoying, but endearing.
Jefferson is a resupply stop for many CT hikers. You just may see them. Get some trail karma and offer them a ride back to Kenosha Pass if you can.
Me? I did not see any CT hikers. Instead, I took my order to go, sat on the tailgate of my truck and enjoyed the view of the snow-covered Mosquito Range in front of me.
This was also Zen-like perfection: A view, a meal and a satisfying trip.