September 20, 2014
Since setting my goal to hike the Colorado Trail in mid-August, I’ve been able to hike the first four segments, though not in order. Today, with the help of Jim, I logged Segment 5’s 15.1 miles, so I have now completed the first 72.2 miles of the trail!
Segment 5 offers absolutely magnificent views. I thought Segment 4 was a fantastic segment to complete during the fall in order to see the changing aspen leaves, but Segment 5 may take the cake! The colorful aspens were definitely the highlight.
We began our hike at the Long Gulch Trailhead where we crossed the creek and climbed uphill for 0.2 miles where we intersected the Colorado Trail and followed the sign pointing to Kenosha Pass. The trail entered the Lost Creek Wilderness Area, established in 1980, almost immediately. The 119,790 acre wilderness area has a storied past as it was home to Reynolds Gang that terrorized stagecoaches and riders passing through South Park a century ago. Some believe the stolen gold is hidden in the craggy peaks.
We gained a few hundred feet as we climbed through alternating pine and aspen forest for the first three miles where we crossed a small, seasonal stream. We continued through the shade of the forest for five miles until we found a fallen log where we could take a short break. Shortly after our break, we crossed another stream and descended across open space with lovely views of red, gold, and green aspens.
We enjoyed our 700 foot descent as we exited the Lost Creek Wilderness area into Johnson Gulch. After crossing Rock Creek (the last reliable water source), we intersected with the Ben Tyler trail and followed the road toward a ranch until the trail veered uphill to the right. We walked through sporadic shade until finally we climbed a slightly rocky and drab part of the trail beneath a sunny sky. We were on the look out for another place to sit and enjoy our second snack, as we dodged a few mountain bikers who are not allowed in the wilderness area.
With a ridge in front of us, we hoped we’d find a nice view around mile ten. WOW! Boy did we ever find a view. To the west we could see South Park and the Continental Divide. To the east we could see the Kenosha Mountains and Black Canyon. In the middle, bright yellow aspen groves contrasted with the evergreens for a spectacular sight. We took our time enjoying the vista, until we heard gunshots below us and to the right, though very close.
Someone had decided to shoot at the mountain for target practice as hikers and cyclists were crossing the ridge. While some shots sounded like a cap, others exploded against the rocks and whistled above the ridge. We heard more than one bullet whistle by us! We ended our lunch quickly as we opted to take cover from the open area. Other hikers, along with us, yelled for the shooters to stop, blew whistles, and even took cover behind a rock.
For a short time, we found relief, so we continued through the danger zone. Jim stopped to talk to a few folks, and I just kept going as I figured any idiot taking target practice in a public place with trails and campgrounds would start up again. I was right, they did. While we couldn’t see them, from the sounds of it, they didn’t move too far from their original spot.
We stopped to take in the lovely views a few more times, but continued a quick pace through the intermittent forest and along the ridge until we reached an amazing aspen grove. Just being a few miles the end, we shared this portion of the trail with several leaf peepers who had parked at Kenosha Pass. It would have been nice if we could have had this section of the trail to ourselves to admire the enormous white trunks and sea of yellow, but it was a Saturday during peak season!
When we dropped our car off this morning, we were on of 15 cars. Now there had to be 200 in the parking lot and lining the shoulder of 285 in both directions. Upon completion, we took a short time to look at the exhibit on the Denver, South Park & Pacific Railway in the parking lot before we piled into Jim’s truck, picked up my car, and headed back to Estabrook for the weekend. Aside from almost being shot, the hike was awesome as we were spoiled with vivacious views. ETB