Last year Independence day was spent climbing Mt Rainier. I would spend the second 4th of July in a row climbing a mountain. The goal today was to climb 17,782 ft Urus Este. This peak is considered easy by Cordillera Blanca standards, but in comparison with the mountains in my resume, it is a big mountain. Continue reading
“Anything in life worth doing is worth overdoing, moderation is for cowards”
I am struck by this quote from the movie Lone Survivor, which I am watching on my iphone as I travel by bus to the city of Huaraz. I have certainly sacrificed, and worked hard to be here. For the last eight months much of my free time has been spent on training, and this trip has lightened my wallet considerably. The level of climbing these mountains demand certainly entails more risks than I have previously been exposed to. Whether I am living a balanced life or overdoing it I’m not sure, but one thing is certain, I am happy to be here. I am tingling with anticipation for the adventure that awaits me. I am headed into the Cordillera Blanca, one of the highest and most rugged mountain ranges in the world. This area has a special combination of interesting culture, great conditions, insane beauty, and wild routes that make it a mecca for alpinism.
In many states a winter hut trip would involve heading to pizza hut for a mediocre slice of pepperoni pie. In Colorado it consists of treking through snow to a warm and cushy cabin deep in the backcountry.
Last year a group of us made an easy trip back to Continental Divide Cabin. Since everyone had a blast we decided to pick a different hut and repeat the trip. This year the group agreed to up the challenge, and go for a more remote hut. We settled on Polar Star Inn which is a 17 person hut in the 10th Mountain Division Hut system. We also convinced more people to join us getting the group size up to 11.
Conundrum Hot Springs is a 100 degree pool near Aspen Colorado, that is situated in a stunning alpine basin at 11,000 feet. At the hot-springs you stare up at two 14,000 ft peaks (Castle and Conundrum) and a 13er Castlebra.
Our faithful backpacking partners Erik and Steph drove up from Albuquerque to hike back to the springs with us. Our plan was to camp near the springs Friday and Saturday and climb a peak on Saturday morning.
Some friends of ours who moved to Wisconsin a few years ago, invited us to join them for two nights in one of the 10th mtn division huts. I have been wanting to check out these huts for some time so we jumped at the chance. The 10th Mountain Huts are a network of 30 back-country huts. They are named after the light infantry division who trained at Camp Hale (near Leadville) during WWII.
Our hut (The Continental Divide Cabin)
Lost Creek Wilderness is the closest wilderness area to my home in Castle Rock, Co. It is popular for its multi-day loop hikes. We were strongly considering doing the 26 mile loop from Goose Creek Trailhead. However, this was our first backpack of the season, and severe blowdown in lake park promised to add miles and elevation to an already strenuous itinerary. We decided the best choice was to do an out and back hike to refrigerator gulch.
Day One Goose Creek Trailhead -> Refrigerator Gulch
Friday morning I awoke at 5:30 ten minutes before my alarm went off. Friends from Albuquerque spent the night, and we wanted to get an early start to beat the heat and the crouds. We were on the road shortly after 6AM, it was around a 2 hour drive to the trail head. A lot of that time is spent on well graded dirt roads. We parked at the Goose Creek Trailhead around 8:30 AM. The traihead does not have any facilities, the closest toilet is at the Goose Creek Campground. There were five or six cars parked in the parking lot. After readying our gear we hoisted our packs (mine was 35lbs) , and hit the trail.
The first 1/2 mile or so of the trail travels through the burn scar left by Colorado’s largest wildfire.
Soon you enter the trees, and come to a well constructed bridge that crosses Goose Creek. Just before the bridge there is a trail to the left. We did not follow this trail, but It appears to lead to a nice campsite which you can see across the creek farther down the trail. At approximately 1 mile in you will come across a few nice campsites along the creek. These sites are directly on the trail, and I would imagine there is a lot of traffic that close to the trailhead.
<insert pics and map showing sites>
In the next couple of miles we passed three solo hikers, they would be the only people we saw all day. Around mile four we came to the intersection with the side trail that heads down to the “Shafthouse” area. At this intersection there is a large campsite. Again it is right on the Goose Creek Trail with little privacy. There is water available from a small stream (probably dries up mid summer). We stashed our packs in the trees, and headed down the side trail to explore. Man did it feel good to have the pack off! A few hundred feet down the trail you come to some “historic” buildings. The buildings are the bunkhouses used to house workers from Antero and Lost Park Reservoir Company. The company had a failed attempt to pump concrete into the boulders, in an attempt to construct an underground damn of Lost Creek. If you take a right at the buildings you can head 1/2 mile by trail to the shaft-house area. The remains of the pump are not particularly interesting. However, the rocks in reservoir gulch are awesome. They are immense boulders that form a network of underground caves. We had a blast exploring the caves, and especially enjoyed the break from the scorching sun!! The Caves have some awesome lighting, we found a spot that had a beam of light that produced photos looking like you were being “beamed up” (see pics below). The shafthouse area had 3-4 nice campsites. However, Lost creek is underground here so you have to be willing to hike for your water. If you get far enough up the gulch the creek re-emerges. However, it is some high class two low class three scrambling to get up there.
If you take a left at the historic buildings there is a trail that leads to a dozen nice campsites near lost creek. The area is popular, and on Saturday night there was at least 6 parties camped there. There is a particularly nice site right on the shores of Lost Creek, however, it is not legal as it is to close to the water.
I elected to spend my 33rd birthday camping in the South Colony lakes area, and climbing the 14er Humboldt. We met up at the lower 2wd trailhead and made the bumpy but uneventful drive to the upper trailhead. The drive took about 20 minutes. We arrived at the upper trailhead around 10AM on Friday morning. We promptly deployed some mothballs (to ward off marmots / porcupines), and readied our packs. The upper trailhead has 3-4 nicely developed campsites. The sites have a flat tent platform and a steel fire ring with grates. There is one site that is maybe .10 of a mile down the trail just across the bridge. There are also at least a half dozen good dispersed sites along South Colony Road. At the trailhead there are no trash or toilet facilities. When we signed in at the register there was a poster saying that they were going to start charging a $20 fee for using the area in the near future so you may want to check the status of that before heading to the trailhead.
The hike up the old 4wd road was pretty easy we took our time and enjoyed the beautiful surroundings. At approximately two miles we hit the “shortcut trail’ that is marked as a pack trail on topo maps. There is a sign here although I think it is a bit misleading. The sign indicates that the trail leads to upper lakes / Humboldt. You can also use this to access the lower lakes and Crestone Needle.
We started seeing campsites somewhere around 3 miles in we decided to keep hiking as we wanted to camp near the upper lakes. We hiked around and surveyed over a dozen good sites before settling on this one. We picked it because it was sheltered / private, yet had good views with access to water. There are a lot of good sites up there however; many of them almost have a campground feel as they are well developed and quite close together.
We spent the remainder of the afternoon lazing around camp. A couple of thunderstorms blew through in the afternoon. Wow they really move in quickly up there, and the needle blocks your view to the west where they come from. By the time you can see the clouds you have 15 minutes until it is over you.
We turned in early so we could get good nights sleep. Although our camp was hidden from view of other campsites we could hear nearby campers enjoying campfire conversations. At 4:30 AM my slumber was rudely interrupted by the marimba sound emanating from my iphone. As I fumbled around in my tent pocket to snooze it, I could hear the wind blowing hard in the trees above us. We decided we would sleep for another half hour and see if the wind would die down. Reluctantly we extracted ourselves from the warm sleeping bag around 5AM. I went down by the creek and snapped couple of pictures of the Needle as the glow of the pre dawn sun warmed it.
We hit the trail around 6AM. The wind had died down and it looked to be a near perfect day for hiking. I noticed the needle reflecting in the creek below the lower lake. The contrast was to high to get a good picture (this would be a great spot for an alpenglow shot)
Soon we passed the upper lake and the trail steepened as it began to climb the saddle. As others have noted the CFI has really done nice job improving this trail. I can’t imagine how much work it took to place all those steps. On the way up the ridge we passed some nice wildflowers. They were a couple weeks past prime but still very pretty.
We took our time enjoying the view from the trail. We reached the saddle and took a break around 7:20. We got our first views of North Colony lakes here. There was a little wind, but less than I expected.
After leaving the ridge the trail gets even steeper and rougher. I stowed my trekking poles as they were just getting in the way at this point. The trail to the false summit soon turns into a fun scramble over a large boulder field. Really the only thing to be careful of here is the occasional loose rock. There are cairns marking a pretty easy route through the boulders, but there are endless options of class two routes. Really you just need to meet up with the ridge line on the other side of the false summit. Angela was somewhat freaked out by the scrambling and so we took quite a bit of time making it up to the ridge.
As we reached the home stretch we paused to get some pictures of Humboldt’s impressive north face. A group of four that passed us on the saddle stopped to say hi as they returned from the summit (We had only seen one other group all morning)
From the false summit there was a short scramble to the summit. The summit of Humboldt was quite large and had a nice wind shelter. The weather was PERFECT hardly any clouds and dead calm. We shared the summit with a few marmots and pika that came to help celebrate Erik & Steph’s first 14er summit.
The return trip was relatively uneventful. We made good time although it seemed like a longer hike on the way out. We passed 3-4 more groups making their way up the trail
Upon reaching camp we traded in our hiking boots for sandals and headed up to the lake to eat lunch and fish. We enjoyed a lazy afternoon at the lake, and an evening around the campfire.
There were fewer people camping at the lakes Saturday night.
After a great nights sleep we packed up the tents. As we were packing a few big horn sheep showed up to bid us farewell. Sad that the weekend was already over we waved goodbye to Crestone Needle who had stood guard over our camp. We reluctantly shouldered our packs and forced our aching quads to make the 3.5 mile hike back to the cars.
This was just a spectacular weekend. It is impossible to even come close to capturing the beauty and grandeur and beauty of this area. I look forward to one day returning to tackle the harder peaks in the group.