Hike with Pete on June 19, 2008
Trailhead: 39°17’3”N, 105°30’23”W, 9,969 feet
Left Trail: 39°15’11”N, 105°31’5”W, 10,534 feet
Top of Ridge: 39°15’24”N, 105°31’3”W, 10,855 feet
Hiking distance: 6.0 miles
Pete and I were looking for relaxation as well as a good day hike when we picked the Lost Park area for our latest foray into the woods. We decided to camp out the night before, and have a leisurely breakfast before hitting the trail. You get to Lost Park Campground by turning onto Lost Park Road (Park County Road 56) from US 285 just east of mile marker 260, south of Kenosha Pass. In just 19 miles you’ll be in the campground at the end of the road. There’s an $8.00 overnight fee, or a $3.00 parking fee if you’re just day hiking, both half price if you’ve got a National Parks Pass.
When we arrived, we found a green Forest Service pickup truck parked near the campground entrance, and a blue bird sitting on its mirror. Every 15 seconds or so the bird would fly in front of the mirror and try to chase off the other blue bird – the one in the mirror.
Campsite number 11 looked good to us. It has few trees, and sits on a point high over Lost Park, with commanding views up and down Lost Creek. After setting up camp and having a little dinner, we sat down for a spot o’ tea, and discussed where we’d go hiking the next day. To the south we had a grand view of Bison Peak, the biggest and meanest-looking mountain in the Tarryalls. We decided on a trip more modest that tackling Bison, and would instead go around a smaller mountain, the unnamed 11,423 foot mountain between us and Bison Peak.
The sun went down, and the moon came up. Just after dark, a reddish glow appeared in the valley to the east, and in fifteen minutes or so we were presented with the orange orb of the full moon. It lit the sky and Lost Park the whole night. In the morning I didn’t know if the sun had come up or if I’d woken early and the moon was still out.
We arose to overcast skies, but the prospects of a cloudy day didn’t dissuade us from having a hearty breakfast of bacon-and-fried-egg sandwiches. After the meal, we rested and digested a bit, then broke camp and packed up most of the gear. Then it began to rain. Oh, well, we told each other, we’ve got our rain gear, and we’re going anyway. In five minutes it stopped raining, and in ten more minutes the clouds dissipated, leaving us with a clear sky. I’ve rarely seen a more sudden change in the weather. It’s as if the storm gods saw that their efforts wouldn’t change our minds, so they gave up.
We found the trailhead at the end of the campground, and parking there for hikers. The floor of the valley that is Lost Park was filled with bushes and swamp. All the trails were on the far side of the swamp, and the best crossing point was by following the trail from this point and crossing the creek on the sturdy timber the Forest Service has put there. Once across the bog, our path connected to the Wigwam Trail (Forest Service Trail 609). We decided to circumnavigate our mountain going counter-clockwise, so we turned right (west) on the Wigwam Trail. Small, white asters dotted the ground. The petals of those in the shade were curled up as if to stay warm; those in the sun had their petals outstretched.
There’s a cattle guard on the road a bit west of the campground, and a fence led south across the Park from there. In the swamp, the original fence posts were wooden, and were build as Xs, probably so they’d sit on the marshy ground rather than rot away in it. Steel posts have been added since. When we reached the line of fence posts, we found that the wires were gone. There was an old, open and unused wire gate, and a faded sign that read, “Close the Gate.” If we’d tried to close it, we’d surely have broken the rusty wire, and there being no fence, there was no point, so we walked on.
At a junction of trails, marked by a sign, we turned from going west on the Wigwam Trail to south on the Brookside/McCurdy Trail (FST 607). This trail led us to the boundary of the Lost Creek Wilderness Area. We stepped past the sign, and into the wilderness. We also stepped out of Lost Park and into a forest of foxtail pines. The trail was steeper than along the creek, but not a lot steeper. The footpath was well used and easy to follow, but still it was marked with blazes cut in the tree bark. Instead of the usual single blaze, all those we saw on this hike were doubles, one long blaze and one short.
The Brookside/McCurdy Trail goes up Willow Gulch, a tributary of Lost Creek. The trail led us through small clearings, one with an old horse corral, made of wooden posts and wire, the wire rusted and broken. At 1.7 miles from our start, a good wooden fence with a hard-to-open gate blocked our path. We couldn’t open the gate, so we went through the wide gaps in its rails instead.
The valley widened, and filled with bushes and swamp, and somewhere in that mass of vegetation, two creeks join. Willow Gulch comes from the west, while the trail follows Indian Creek south. The swamp and valley were wider and greener than Lost Park, and the air was full of the sweet scent of newly green and flowering plants, brought out by the bright sunshine and carried to our noses on a gentle breeze.
After half a mile at the edge of the swamp, the trail went around the end of the southwest ridge of our mountain. It took us east and up a small side valley with dry ground. Here began the bushwhack leg of our trip, when we left the trail, and went up the hill and into the woods. Due south of the summit of our mountain was a ridge with a fairly low pass. Going up the pass proved to be the steepest climb of our expedition, but we soon were up the 400 feet, and headed down the 800 foot slope on the east side.
Ridges are often dividing lines, and it was certainly true here. On the east side, we had a fairly damp forest of foxtail pine and spruce. The ground on the eastern slope was steeper, and made of decomposed granite, which is very porous and makes for dry conditions. We found a forest of limber pine and Douglas fir, a few bristlecone pines, and views up the slopes of Bison Peak. There were a few isolated patches of snow high on Bison’s north side.
Down the steep hillside we went, and near to the nearly dry creek bed below. The valley was wide and easy to walk for a half mile, and then its side closed in and became steeper. We moved up the slopes to avoid bushes in the lower, wetter valley, and then turned a corner and the valley widened and flattened. We were returning to the swamp.
We were now three-fourths of the way around the mountain, and were returning to Lost Creek. The swampy valley we were approaching is East Lost Park. It’s wider than Lost Park, wetter, and its sides decorated with rocky cliffs and peaks. The breeze again brought the sweet fragrance of the green plant life to our noses. This would be a lousy trip if either of us had allergies!
The Wigwam trail found us again. It followed the edge of East Lost Park, staying above the swamp on the edge of the forest. As we made our way up, we found Boy Scout Troop 32 from Elizabeth, Iowa, headed down, loaded with gear and enthusiasm. We wished them luck and we all went on our way.
East Lost Park is separated from Lost Park by a narrow valley. The path goes through spruce forest, and again we found the double blazes marking the trail. Lost Creek ran over rapids where the ground grew steep, but it was a short slope up. A few butterflies followed us out of the swamp, a small blue, a bigger white, and a small orange and black fellow that settled on a dandelion and posed for a picture. Soon we came out of the trees and back into Lost Park. Only a short walk brought us back to our original trailhead.
We sat and rested a bit before driving for home. As we sat, a small weasel or ferret came up the road, happily poking his nose into every ground squirrel burrow he came to. He sat up on his hind legs and gave us a good looking over. He coat was golden brown, the color of a marshmallow patiently toasted over a campfire, with a tan belly and black marks on his face and tail. After the brief inspection, he went on his way.
Lots of trails go through the Lost Park area. The swamps in the valleys could make for problematic crossing if you want to bushwhack, but the trails keep you dry. You’ll find the area popular on weekends, but pleasantly lonely on weekdays.
As we drove out of the campground, we saw that the blue bird was back on the Forest Service truck’s mirror.