2016 backpacking season has begun.
I had been looking forward to exploring the Lost Creek Wilderness for the last few years but always found reasons to go further and higher. Nestled between the high plains of Park County and the Hayman Fire area, it is certainly an interesting area of the state. The area is supposed to be an ideal late-spring and early-fall area as it's lower in elevation and has much higher temps (leading to the snow melting much faster than in the high country).
Unfortunately I picked the worst weekend to explore this area. With temps in Denver and across the state in the high 90's I assumed it wouldn't be too bad as I'd be between 8-11k feet the whole time. Boy, was I wrong.
I had originally planned to take 3 full days to complete the 35-mile outer loop (Goose Creek -> Hankins Pass -> Lake Park - McCurdy Brookside -> Wigwam -> Goose Creek). I scheduled Thu and Fri off from work and expected a great time. I figured I'd have to shake out the cobwebs from some of my field craft as it had been almost 2 years since I had been backpacking, but it'd still be fun. It took about 2.5 hours from home in Denver to get to the Goose Creek trail head and that's when I knew this would be tough. It was almost 90 degrees in the parking lot and it was packed with cars. Oh, great, lots of gapers. Wonderful.
I signed the trail register and headed out around noon on Thu. Ironically I didn't run into anybody for the first hour. I then passed 2 different couples who were struggling and didn't appear to be going very far. I crossed the Goose Creek a few times on the Hankins Pass trail and was moving at a good pace, despite the sinus infection I'd been fighting all week. Good, I'm thinking. I'm healthy, happy, and this is going to be a great couple of days. I was sucking down water and not thinking about resupply as there were tons of creeks on the map. I hit the Lake Park trail about 2.5 hours in and started climbing.
Lake Park was where it started going downhill (actually uphill). It was 90+ degrees and the elevation kept climbing to just below 12,000 ft. No water in sight and the creeks on the map were non-existent. At this point I had run out of water (I was only carrying 2L) and was in the sun for about 3-4 hours as I was near and above treeline. Trying to stay positive and moving was a challenge. The terrain ironically resembled the set of the movie "Lone Survivor". Yikes. Hours of misery ensued.
I eventually found a water resupply creek around 7p at the intersection of the McCurdy-Brookside and Lake Park trail. It wasn't a creek that I would normally grab water from, but between the Aqua Mira and the tattered espresso filter I didn't care. It was water and it was damn cold and relatively clear. I drank up and made dinner. I hadn't seen another person since 1p and was seriously dehydrated. I felt like I was in the middle of nowhere and had to make a decision - keep up the original loop plan or cut it short and get the hell out of this place. Going back the way I came in would be just as difficult as doing a 24 mile loop on the McCurdy trail. After finishing up my meal (a Thai Peanut ramen noodle dish courtesy of AndrewSkurka.com - seriously, the best backpacking dinner EVER) I headed north and pitched my tarp in McCurdy Park.
After a sleepless night (combination of AMS, acute sleep apnea, and damn mosquitoes) I decided to make it back to the car by dusk. I didn't care if it was a forced ruck march, I was making back to the car by nightfall. Unfortunately that resolve took over everything that happened that day. I refilled my water containers at every opportunity but I didn't focus on any personal hygiene (feet, balls... you get the picture) that morning and I paid for it dearly by days end. I marched at a brisk pace past the McCurdy Park Tower and down into the Lost Creek valley. The red rock formations were really beautiful, but taking photos was tough as I was typically below the aspen tree line for much of the valley. My feet were killing me and the trail appeared to never stop going up and down. Now I've climbed over 40 14ers but this seemed like I was climbing 3 14ers in the same day. Unreal. I was cussing the entire way.
The one part of the day that was refreshing was crossing the Lost Creek. There were 2 logs and a rope that I guess passed as a bridge, but it was pretty high up and the creek was running fast and waist deep. I figured if I fell with my pack on I'd probably snap my neck and drown. I said "f' it, I'm going in" and waded across (about naval deep), luckily not losing my balance and soaking my pack.
I kept up the fast pace and passed through Refrigerator Gulch by 1p and hit the Goose Creek trail by 2p. Only 6 miles to go according to a couple I ran into at that intersection. Woo-hoo! I bet some of the folks I passed would only do 6 miles in a day with their heavy packs. I was about to do 24 miles in a day and half. I'm not sure who the sucker was at that point.
In an almost catatonic state I finally made it back to the trail head at 5p on Fri. Never again. Between the 90-degree temps, bugs, and lack of water, I was beat to hell. I jumped in the car, cranked the A/C and raced to Pine Junction to stop and get a Coke for the remaining 1.5 hour ride home. I stopped in Conifer to get a quick dinner and literally couldn't get out of the car. Remember the lack of hygiene I spoke of earlier? Yeah, crotch rot had royally set in and I couldn't walk. I couldn't even get out of the 4Runner. It was probably the best thing for the general public for me to hit the Wendy's drive through anyway.
God bless the Lost Creek Wilderness. I won't be coming back anytime soon. Stay wild...