Another segment of the Colorado Trail is marked off the list…Segment 14 (20.4 miles) with a 3-mile side hike to Browns Creek Falls that is definitely worth the detour!
Just about every weekend I am in town this summer is dedicated to finishing up the 484.6 mile trail. Thus far I have completed 292.7 miles over the past few years.
This weekend I planned backpacking Segment 14 solo, but needed transportation from the end of the segment back to the beginning at Chalk Creek Trailhead to get my car. The Colorado Trail Foundation provides a list of helpers if asked, but the two places I tried contacting in the area didn’t respond.
In a bit of a bind (as I preferred not to hitchhike even though I’ve heard it is a reasonable option in the area), I posted my plan on the Colorado Backpacker’s Meetup site. Lucky for me, two backpackers signed up! Alyssa, who had no experience backpacking, but a lot of experience camping; and Darrell, who knew his way around the woods and loved maps.
I was both excited and apprehensive to have two strangers join me, and I’m pleased to say, I’d backpack with both of them again. We had a great trip!!
I met Darrell at the Wooly Mammoth parking lot. He was from Tennessee and moved out to Colorado a few years ago for the mountains. He is an engineer and owns his own consulting practice. He really has a passion for hiking and backpacking and has completed the entire John Muir Trail.
We then met Alyssa in the parking lot at the Knotty Pine in Bailey as she was coming from Conifer. Once we shuttled the cars to the end of the segment at Hwy 50 and piled into Alyssa’s Jeep, we learned that she is an engineer at Lockheed and had planned to through hike the CT the prior summer, but the plans fell apart. So now, she got to at least experience her first backpacking trip.
We arrived at Chalk Creek Trailhead around 3:30pm and planned to hike in about 4 miles to a dry campsite. It was quite a warm day for June and VERY dry. For the first backpacking trip of the season, the 1,000 foot gain over the first 1.4 miles proved slow going as our feet sunk in the sandy trail and we inhaled dust and smoke from a Utah fire. The switch backs led us through intermittent open areas and pine forests before we finally reached a nice view, where upon we descended to a small, lush valley before crossing Eddy Creek Rd.
We continued on mostly flat terrain for the next few miles until we reached Raspberry Gulch Rd where we planned to look for a campsite. Apparently, this is a very popular road for camping, as we ran across an RV, a truck, and another car all camping on Thursday night. We hoped for a quiet night so we slowly made our way a few hundred yards farther and found a somewhat flat, grassy area that seemed reasonable despite a few dry cow patties and a few cow bones.
In the time we set up camp and made our dinners, we determined the mosquitoes and ants were relentless. I must have missed spraying 100% deet in a few places, as those blood suckers bit me through my clothes! I couldn’t take the pesky insects any longer, so I turned in early and watched the sunset from my tent window!
Darrell and I both awoke when the sun came up the following morning. I slowly piddled with every task I could to finally emerge from my tent at 6:30am. Darrell had been exploring and noted there was a stream just another 100 yards down the trail. REALLY?!? We lugged 4 liters of water each (8 extra pounds each) up the mountain to a “DRY” campsite according to the book and there was full force stream running practically right next to us! DANG IT!! Usually, the databook indicates “seasonal creek” or something to suggest there might be water! But this time, nothing. In my dismay, I imagine I woke Alyssa though it was a more reasonable time, about an hour after we were stirring.
The day was gorgeous and we started out beneath clear skies with birds cawing and chirping up a storm. In fact, we felt like we slept in an aviary and the birds were a secondary wake-up call to the sun! Again, we enjoyed the view of open spaces and the shade of lodgepole pine forests for a few miles before we reached the junction to Browns Creek Falls.
Here we ditched our packs and enjoyed a lovely 1.5-mile stroll to the roaring falls. Along the way, we admired beautiful wildflowers as we dodged stale piles of horse manure. This trail was clearly popular among horse back riders as there were hitching posts and creek crossings for the horses. In addition, there we several great camping spots and other trails to explore nearby. This area is worth another visit.
Upon return to the junction, we filled up with water and nibbled on our morning snacks before the cool air finally encouraged us to move along. Over the next five miles, we crossed a few more creeks, passed through some aspen groves, and climbed a few more ridges with marvelous views before we settled into our camp just past Squaw Creek at mile 12.2.
With only 8.3 miles of backpacking and 3 miles of hiking it was an easy day, and we finished by 2:30. We chilled around camp while discussing photography and eventually built a small fire in a large fire ring to keep the bugs away, though we were cautious of the dry surroundings. It was all we could do to wait until 5:30pm to eat dinner…blue hair special coming right up! Who knew dried food could taste so good! Being camped in a valley, we couldn’t see the sunset and I think we all turned in around 8:30!
Of course, with early bedtime, came an early rising…once again with sunup. Even Alyssa woke sooner. Given the last hour of our hike yesterday was rather warm, we figured an early start was a good choice. Not to mention we had a three-hour drive home after completing the trail.
The first six miles of our morning were simply spectacular. The trail took us in and out of countless aspen groves. I don’t know how I don’t have any good pictures to show for them. We all really loved this portion of the trail. In addition, for part of the time, the trail followed a ridge with a spectacular 180⁰ view of the valley below.
The last two miles or so, however, we a disappointment. Along with a few road crossings, we entered a logging zone and listened to large machinery working in the forest. Several trees were cut and stacked along side the trail. Presumably it was all beetle kill, but tractor tire tracks peppered the trail and surrounding area. We could only imagine the possible erosion if the damage is not repaired. On a positive note, the sawdust smelled sharply of pine, so there was nice aroma in the air along with countless blackbirds. I’ve never seen so many swarming in one place.
As we left the zone, we crossed a creek and then ascended to our last view where the trail led us right beneath a tower supporting power lines. Nature at its finest…NOT! The last of our hike took us along the maintenance road for the powerlines, across a railroad bed, past a deer carcass and to my car where we loaded up and headed home. It was definitely anti-climatic after the first six miles of the day. Regardless, we were happy to finish by 11:15am as the brisk mountain air had already warmed up. Who knew it would be cooler in Denver upon arriving home! I loved my hiking companions and hope we will end up on another trip together. ETB