September 4-7, 2015
We waited until the end of school Friday to tackle segment 6 of the Colorado Trail over Labor Day weekend. Our first stop was Gold Hill to drop off the pick up car. Then we shuttled to Kenosha Pass. It was 6:45 pm before we were able to start our hike. We planned on getting 3 miles under our belts so that we only had to average 10 miles a day the rest of the weekend.
We started hiking through large aspen groves. We were about a week or two too early for the magnificent colors, but the leaves were beginning to turn yellow. After emerging from the aspen grove, we enjoyed a nice view of South Park at dusk before we clipped on our headlamps. We passed two small creeks, and likely the ideal campground in the dark. A car camping group with bright lights and music were situated near the suggested camping spots, 3.1 miles into the segment, so we continued on into the valley and set up camp just as sprinkles fell.
Fortunately, we had already eaten dinner, so we really didn’t need any water from the creek that we passed up to avoid unruly campers. We’d just have to backtrack a quarter-mile in the morning to load up. The night was rather lively. We could hear the music from the campers around the way. Later, David jolted awake and whispered tensely, “Did you hear that?” We laid quietly until I heard the swishing noise by our tent too. We jumped up, David grabbed his headlamp as I reached for the Illuminaid, a product featured on Shark Tank, that is a fantastic light weight light with a solar charger. We didn’t spot anything, but if I had to guess, a bobcat or the like walked by. My guess only comes from knowing what a leopard sounds like in the grass when it walked by my tent on a safari, and in the morning we heard an animal calling. Shortly after the noise woke us up, we heard a gunshot from the other camp, so needless to say, our first night wasn’t too restful.
Our view from the tent this morning was fantastic, though we found we set up camp in a field of dried cow patties! Regardless, the golden grass meadow with mountains in the background offered a nice way to wake up. After an oatmeal breakfast, we headed toward Georgia Pass, a 2,000 foot elevation gain (with a few other ups and downs) over nine miles. The well-maintained and well-marked trail led us through intermittent aspen groves, pine forests, and meadows along with several dirt road crossings. Jefferson Creek at mile 6 was a quite lovely creek.
We stopped for lunch beneath the trees around mile 8, but had we hiked just a little further we could have enjoyed sausage, cheese, and peanut butter on a nice rock outcropping. For the next three to four miles we gradually climbed to treeline as we stepped aside for several mountain bikers. This section from Kenosha Pass to Georgia Pass seemed to be very popular for cyclists, and once we got into the tundra, the narrow trail turned into a V-shape that isn’t the easiest on the ankles as it was tracked out from the bikes. Soon, we reached Jefferson Creek Trail at mile 11.7. Our only chance to fill up for water in the next 6 miles was 0.3 miles north of the Colorado Trail, so we opted to camp here, just below Georgia Pass with the protection of a small group of trees.
This was an excellent campsite with two or three flat spots, two fire rings, and magnificent views. We hoped for decent weather in the open, breezy space. After dumping our gear, the girls grabbed a nap as David and I followed Jefferson Creek trail to water. At first, we only spotted a dried out pond with animal tracks which gave us pause, but next to it was a small, yet active spring. The clear, cold water trickled over a narrow rock bed. As David dipped the water bag at the spring’s head, sparkling minerals swirled around in the pool. Generally, I would say it was mica or sand, but it seriously looked like gold flakes (which I never found when I went gold panning with my mom once)!
Just after we arrived back to camp loaded with water and set up our tents, the skies unleashed with rain and hail. Fortunately, it didn’t last long and after taking cover briefly, we got to enjoy dinner, s’mores, stories, and games around the campfire as the sun set. As the evening fell upon us, we seemed to be below a flight path. In addition, the wind whipped through the night, so it wasn’t terribly quiet, but the stars were amazing!
When morning arrived, we climbed to the top of Georgia Pass beneath looming dark, clouds which quickly blew by allowing us to hike under sunny skies all day! Over the next seven miles, we descended 2,000 feet beneath a lodge pole pine forest. Many of the pines, though alive were suffering from pine beetles infestation. At mile 19.7 which included campgrounds and several motor bikers, we reached a wonderful creek and debated whether we should fill up with water, as the next location to possibly find water according to our data book was mile 26.1 which was marked “seasonal”. While Colorado has had a wet year, rain has been more sparse over the last month, and we were at the end of the summer.
Preferring to be safe, rather than sorry, we loaded up enough water for dinner and hiking for the rest of today and tomorrow. Given a gallon of water weighs eight pounds, and we filtered roughly three gallons at lunch, we (though mostly David) carried a lot of extra weight up 1,300 feet over the next 2.4 miles. By the time we reached the top of the ridge and finished ten miles, we were somewhat pooped. We decided to look for a campground among many fallen trees. Lucky for us, we found a perfect spot right around mile 23 that the Colorado Trail Book doesn’t mention (the next morning we found another spot around mile 24 too, assuming hikers carry water). This was the quietest campsite of the three nights…no wind, no planes, and no loud campers. What a peaceful night!
The following morning, we left camp around 8am to hike out the final ten miles. We prepared to leave during a light sprinkle and a one second snow flurry! Fortunately for us, we were able to decipher several unmarked intersections on the ridge, to descend through devastated forest which did offer a nice view of ski resorts, and to make it all the way to the car (even with a short lunch), before the rain fell (we had awesome weather karma)! Along the way, the girls spotted three bucks that trotted across the trail in front of them, and we noted that we could not find the “seasonal water” at mile 26.1. The only other water was at mile 28.8, so we were thankful we lugged water up to the ridge, and ate a protein bar for breakfast instead of making oatmeal.
At the end of our trip, we treated ourselves to a great, real meal at Empire Burger in Breckenridge before braving the traffic back to Denver. What a nice Labor Day Weekend! By next week, I will have completed the first ten segments of the Colorado Trail. ETB