Distance: 24.27 miles
Weather: Perfect - sunny and cool
I've been eyeing the Lost Creek Wilderness Area for a long run for a couple of years now. It's a rare low-elevation wilderness area (8,000 - 12,400 feet), standing in stark contrast to many Colorado wilderness areas dominated by alpine habitat types. Plus, the LCWA is just a hop, skip and a jump from the Denver metro area. The LCWA was created by Congress in 1980 and is comprised of 120,000 acres (187.5 square miles).
On Friday I did a little online research, typing "Lost Creek Wilderness Area, loop" into Google. Out spit the Goose Creek Loop, which begins and ends at the Goose Creek Trailhead near Deckers. I saw a few pics from several backpacking reports and I was sold.
I was up and out of the house by about 5:20 a.m. on Sunday, bound for Goose Creek. By sunrise, I was driving up a washboarded dirt road through the Hayman fire burn area above Cheeseman Reservoir. (The 2002 Hayman Fire burned 138,000 acres.) The trailhead is about 12 miles from pavement on a very windy, but good (washboarded sections notwithstanding) Forest Service road.
|Sunrise over the Hayman burn area en route to Goose Creek Trailhead.|
There were a half-dozen cars in the large parking lot when I arrived, but no one was stirring. I figured the cars belonged to backpackers. With the rising sun casting a red glow on the Tarryall Mountains ahead, I set off down a buff, crushed granite-covered trail. The initial quarter mile winds through a burned section of forest.
|Let the fun begin!|
|Typical Hankins Pass Trail scene - aspen, meadows and coniferous forests.|
At the junction, I hung a right on the Lake Park Trail, which climbed steadily up and over a few humps offering great views to the northwest into South Park.
|South Park in the far distance.|
|Lake Park. The sign reads "Lake Park. Elevation 10,880 feet."|
|I'd be running down the distant valley above in another hour or so.|
|Lake Fork Trail down a north-facing slope.|
My NatGeo/Trails Illustrated map says I should have hit the McCurdy Trail, rather than Brookside. The map shows Brookside ending at an intersection further south with the "McCurdy Trail." Still, it was easy to figure out that I needed to turn right, regardless of the trail's name. (UPDATE: Map shows the trail as "Brookside-McCurdy Trail.")
From the junction, the trail winds through some heavily treed area and then emerges in McCurdy Park, another open meadow with a creek ambling through. This meadow was gorgeous, with big rock outcroppings out in its middle. Off to the right were other amazing rock formations, including an ominous looking granite sawtooth, the McCurdy Park Tower, which the maps marks as a climbing location.
|McCurdy Park Tower|
|McCurdy Park. Log cabin ruins at base of granite rock outcropping.|
After McCurdy Park, the trail switchbacks down the eastern side of a long valley. The sounds of falling water are all around as the creek that flows through McCurdy Park tumbles down to meet up with Lost Creek at the valley's bottom. Lost Creek, the wilderness area's namesake, gets its name because it "disappears" a couple dozen times beneath the ubiquitous granite and reappears again downstream. Once Lost Creek emerges from the valley and all the granite, it becomes Goose Creek.
As one gets near the bottom of the valley, the views open up and the most sublime scenery of the trip unfold below. This area feel unworldly, or at least un-Colorado. It sorta feels like Utah, with granite instead of sandstone. Big rocks. Canyons. Incredible. It was here that I saw my first people of the run, two backpackers who were shocked (!) to learn I was running their multi-day loop in far less than a day.
|There were a lot of yellow left on the aspens, but the leaves were falling fast.|
|A spot on Lost Creek where the creek emerges from granite near Refrigerator Gulch|
|There are lots of places where small tunnels or arches are created by the haphazardly placed rocks and boulders.|
From the head of the valley down which Lost Creek flows, the trail initially hugs close to the creek. Soon, though, the trail climbs the north side of the valley to get around major rock outcroppings. It drops and rises multiple times, quickly padding the elevation gain totals.
After several miles, the Goose Creek Trail enters from the north and the McCurdy Trail ends. After several more miles of ups and downs now on the Goose Creek Trail, one passes a trail spur that leads down towards the creek to some historic buildings, the remnants of a failed attempt to dam the creek (the area dodged a bullet there!). I by-passed the buildings due to time and flagging energy.
Once past the spur, the trail opens up and follows an old (wagon?) road bed, the grade and surface of which reminded me of the Bob's Road section of the Barr Trail.
Soon, the trail dropped back down to the creek, flattened out and suggested the homestretch was near.
Sure enough, after crossing a solid footbridge over Goose Creek, I re-entered a Hayman fire burned section and soon was standing at the Goose Creek/Hankins Pass trail sign. Another quarter mile climb and I was exiting the wilderness area.
|Looking back down toward the Goose Creek/Hankins Pass junction.|
This has got to be one of the best long trail loop runs I've done in Colorado. Sure, it doesn't have the grandeur and high altitude of the Four Pass Loop in the Snowmass-Maroon Bells Wilderness, but it has such unique scenery that it should be on the list of any Colorado trail runner. And, fall has got to be the absolute best time to run here. When I was there, the aspens were a week or so past peak, but still spectacularly ablaze with color. I strongly recommend running this one!
My legs today had no pep and I walked a LOT more than I normally would, plus I had an hour of picture-taking/scenery gazing/bathroom breaks. So, a more reasonable run time would easily be in the five-hour range.
|Pikes Peak was visible at several places on the run. This pic from the road on the drive back to pavement.|
There's still time to hit this one before the snow flies.
5,840 feet o' elevation gain.