Backpacking Through the Lost Creek Wilderness

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We arrived at the Goose Creek Trailhead around 11:30 after a long winding drive along a well maintained dirt road. We were surprised to find so many cars in the parking lot as upon calling the ranger station it sounded like some of the trail conditions would be challenging with high creeks, mud, and snow. We took that sign as a glimmer of hope we could make it across the ridge between Bison Peak and McCurdy Mountain, both above 12,000 feet.

After chatting with a few fellow backpackers, we set out on Goose Creek Trail, and immediately found a group of six backpackers that had just finished the loop along Brookside-McCurdy Trail and Hankins Pass Trail. The young college-aged group said they used snowshoes for about half-a-day, but thought most of the snow would be gone by now as they passed through the area a few days ago. They also said they were able to cross the creek on a submerged log with a line tied across the creek. Things sounded somewhat promising given Colorado’s crazy spring weather.

With our late start, we planned to hike around 5-7 miles. The trail took us along side the raging creek that looked more like a river of brown rapids that in places left its banks and watered down the trail. We walked through the shade of conifers before we began climbing the granite path. Soon we reached a volunteer group who was attempting to improve the water damaged trail as large rock outcroppings and snow-capped mountains came into view.

We took our first break a few miles into the trail, as my fellow flat-landers weren’t quite used to the altitude at roughly 8,000 feet. I certainly had an unfair advantage. In intermittent showers that stayed around just long enough for us pull out our rain gear only to strip it off minutes later, we followed the undulating trail to a junction, where we could detour to see historic buildings and mining equipment. The girls weren’t interested in “old stuff” and I doubt if I was at that time, so they chilled out at this four-mile stop while David and I went for a short exploration after leaving our packs with Heather and Jaz.

The buildings, constructed for employee housing in the early 1900’s by The Antero and Lost Park Reservoir Company when the company attempted to build a reservoir by damming Lost Creek were just a short distance from the trail junction. A quarter mile down the path was some rusted machinery. Of course, upon leaving our packs, storms threatened again with dark clouds rolling in, thunder, and a few rain drops falling, thus our visit to the historic sites were quick.

We continued, this time following the steep path up and down over a few ridges before we finally settled on a campground located between the trail and the creek. Our dehydrated camping meals couldn’t come fast enough after setting up our tents. David, the master chef, boiled our water for our nourishing meals.

With nightfall, the air cooled and the stars shined magnificently in the sky. The big dipper twinkled right above us. I feared I would freeze, and I can’t think of a time I haven’t while camping, but David brought a two person bag that goes down to ten degrees. Admittedly, I sweat all night long, but I am not complaining because as soon as I sat outside the next morning eating my oatmeal, I was already cold.


With frozen toes and fingers, we set out on our next days hike around 8 am. We started with trouncing through some muddy terrain. Soon we crossed the creek and began climbing. It didn’t take long to strip out of our “winter” clothes. The trail led us through open views, neat rock formations, a couple gorgeous aspen groves and past some sparse wildflowers. Each hiker and camper we met this morning had turned back from the creek crossing. Some had found the submerged log and thin line, but felt it was too difficult to pass. Others never found this spot. And others had heard one guy fell in while trying to cross…hmmm.

We met a couple who had hiked the loop numerous times, and they said they had never seen the creek so high. They tested the log and decided it wasn’t worth the consequences should something go awry. In their description, we learned of some nice campgrounds, so we forged forward, temporarily claimed a campsite as we left our packs with the girls, and went to scout the crossing. Just as we arrived, we met a couple that made it across the eight-inch wide log that was slightly submerged in water. They claimed the log moved slightly, but it was passable. We felt encouraged, and with it only being around one pm, we decided to plow ahead so we could tackled the next five uphill miles faced us on the way to McCurdy Park.


As he held onto the line, David stood on the log first. It bent and sunk significantly under the weight of he and his pack while his arms moved back and forth with the flimsy line. Though he made it across and back. The way he made it was enough of a sight for me to chicken out and say “no way”! Grabbing hold of the line required us to lean upstream. If we fell forward, we could have easily gotten trapped against the log in the water which was at least five feet deep. If we leaned back, chances were we would land on a submerged boulder. Finally, the log really wasn’t connected to the other side. It was being pushed up against the willows by the force of the water. Fortunately, the girls sided with me, so I didn’t have to be the spoiler. We each stood on the log without our packs, and didn’t feel safe, so we opted out and returned to a shaded camp for an early day.

We had only hiked six miles today, so we chose to hike out twelve miles tomorrow and spend a few days at our cabin in Estabrook. We didn’t feel too disappointed as we probably could have brought a little more food too. While we had enough for every meal plus snacks, Jaz and I have high metabolisms, and I think we would have wanted larger portions by the end of five days on the trail.

Since we were packing out the same way we came in, the girls wanted to do a “solo”. They were packed up and ready to go by 6 am. After we cooked oatmeal for breakfast, the girls headed out. We made plans to meet up at our old campground six miles down the trail. The girls got an hour head-start before we got the camp cleaned up and enjoyed some Taster’s Choice Instant Coffee (better than Via and regular brew)!

The girls took their time, and we moved quickly in order play a little catch up. At our morning lunch spot, we gave them some food, a lighter and compass just in case they got lost, though it seemed unlikely. Since they didn’t have much of a head-start, David and I strolled along the trail taking photos, restroom breaks, and filtering a bit more water. Other hikers had seen the girls along the way, so all was going as planned until the trail that the volunteer group was working on was closed and re-routed. When we arrived at the car, the girls weren’t there!

We had discussed the Hankins Pass/Goose Creek Trail junction located at the end of the trail and thought perhaps the girls continued. It was 1:30. I told David to go down the Hankins Pass Trail for 1 hour and then turn around to be back by 3:30, as without a pack on, he would have caught them. In the meantime, I waited at the trail junction in case we somehow missed them. At around 2pm, the couple that crossed the log yesterday finished their hike. They hadn’t seen the girls, but about fifteen minutes later the girls, hot and sweaty, showed up. What a relief! The trail closing confused them as the trail they were on didn’t seem familiar so they turned around to find us, but somehow ended up on a different fork, and we missed each other. After some mis-direction from some guys down by the creek, they eventually found their way safely after crossing a log twice.

DSCN6551 log

I told the girls to wait at the trail junction, which they happily did, while I went to get David. I felt like he would feel much better the sooner he knew his girls were OK. The Hankins Pass Trail with several creek crossings was significantly different than Goose Creek Trail. He kept going to try to find another hiker on the trail just to confirm no one had seen them as the trail was so different they would have known they had gone too far. After an hour, as we discussed he turned around, I caught up to him and we were back to the trailhead to meet the girls before 3:30 pm. Needless to say, the final hour put a slight damper on our three day camping trip.

But we made up for it at Estabrook. Upon arrival Jennifer and John had a “kitchen sink” salad ready for us. Fresh vegetables hit the spot after multiple days of dehydrated food. The salad included two cheeses, broccoli, avocado, two types of tomatoes, apples, dried cranberries, seeds and more. I think we all had two or three servings!

The next day, we took the classic Estabrook hike to the Bear’s Cave and the hanging bridge. Craig Creek was out of its banks and soaking the trail in a few locations, but we made it to some of my favorite spots in the whole world. After lunch in town and quick stop at the Knotty Pine for some clean T-shirts, we enjoyed a lazy afternoon playing Settlers of Catan. When the evening arrived, it was time to celebrate Heather’s 16th birthday. Car keys, a watch, and tickets to the Violent Femmes and Barenaked Ladies playing at Red Rocks the following night complemented amazing s’mores and charades for a fun celebration. We bought jumbo marshmallows and Jaz had the BRILLIANT idea to stick the chocolate in the marshmAllow and then roast it. YUM!! Jaz even roasted marshmallows on the woodstove after breakfast the next day!

We capped off Heather’s birthday at Red Rocks the following day. One of her favorite bands is Violent Femmes, and one of my favorite bands is Barenaked Ladies. And of course, watching live music at Red Rocks is epic. Even the bands get excited about playing at the venue. We had a fun five days before hanging out in Denver for the rest of the week. ETB


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Beth Bankhead

Former public finance professional turned award winning travel blogger and photographer sharing the earth's beauty one word and image at a time.

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