Lost Park Loop

26 Jan
Pete on Brookside-McCurdy Trail

Pete heads up the Brookside-McCurdy Trail along the North Fork of Lost Creek

Hike with Pete on August 18, 2008
Lost Creek Trailhead: 39º17’4”N, 105º30’24”W, 9969 feet
Stonework: 39º18’15”N, 105º30’52”W, 10,150 feet
Hiking distance: 5.5 miles

Pete and I again headed to Lost Park for a two-day campout, as we’d done in June. The days before had been rainy and wet, and much-needed moisture was pumped into Park County. I wasn’t quite prepared for the view as we came over Kenosha Pass, though. The South Park floor spread out in the same spectacular way it always does, green with growing hay and spotted with cattle and homes. The shock came as we headed down the hill and the South Park Range came into view: Everything above timberline was covered in white!

We turned down the Lost Park Road (Park County Road 56) just east of mile marker 200 on US 285, and drove the 19 miles to the Lost Park Campground on the dirt road. Fellow camper Joys, with her dog Maggie, had no problems in her “new” VW Beetle, although we had to negotiate a few washed bits and a couple of pools of water in the road. There were several cattle guards on the road, and those were a bit rough.

We arrived in the rain early in the afternoon, and hurriedly set up camp when the rain stopped. Around supper time the skies began to clear, and we enjoyed a meal of chili cooked over the campstove. The skies continued to clear, and a full moon kept the night bright.

In the morning, patches of fog rolled over the mountains and wisps of steam rose from isolated spots in the forests around us, as if there were campers in the trees cooking breakfast. Pete cooked ours, a hearty round of bacon and egg sandwiches, washed down with coffee or tea, and topped with a muffin. Eating in the open air is one of the pleasures of camping.

patches of fog rise from the forest

Isolated patches of fog rise from the forest northeast of the Lost Park Campground, looking like smoke from campfires.

Joys and Maggie hung around camp while Pete and I went for a day hike. Several trails converge at Lost Park Campground; we chose to go north on the Brookside-McCurdy Trail. The trail leaves the campground through a four-foot-wide gate with a “Please Close the Gate” sign. We closed it, and headed up a small, picturesque valley.

There was snow visible in the trees on the north-facing slopes, and we found some of the white stuff in sheltered areas along the trail. It appeared that much of it could have been hail or big balls of “corn” snow. Although the storm provided much-needed moisture, it had a devastating effect on the butterfly population. While I’d seen hundreds on earlier hikes, only a few crossed our path that day.

The valley we walked was filled with bushes and water. The path ran along between forest and swamp, venturing into one or the other as it went. Rocks had been thrown in the swampy bits of trail, so you had some chance of keeping dry by walking the stones. Waterproof boots are always a good idea for a hike.

We also found evidence of cattle in the area, and found one of the beasts at about eight-tenths of a mile from our start. The trail there headed part way up a side valley, taking us away from the North Fork of Lost Creek, onto drier ground. It soon went back toward the creek, and then the valley curved west, where we found more cattle. “Do they truck the cattle up here?” asked Pete.

“No,” I said, hoping I wasn’t out of date, “they still have cattle drives.”

The valley widened when it turned west, and became grassier, which suited the cattle. We found more of them, as well as a couple of camprobbers, the bold gray birds that are happy to help themselves from your plate at mealtime if you venture too far from it. At 1.5 miles out, we found a crooked tree with blazes cut into its bark to mark the trail. We walked past it and into the woods, onto a steeper trail. We soon came back out to another confluence of valleys, the North Fork of Lost Creek heading northwest, and a smaller valley headed west. On higher, drier ground, we found some stone- and brickwork, apparently the remains of an old building, and a pile of slabs from a old sawmill operation.

One cowboy and three dogs have chased after the cattle

One cowboy and three dogs have chased after the bulls and a few cows that took off across the valley, while this one and his dog let the rest of the herd calm down. The snow on Bison Peak is visible just past the smaller hill at center.

The Colorado Trail came out of the forest from the northeast of this point, and joined the Brookside-McCurdy Trail to continue up the North Fork of Lost Creek. They met at the North Fork Trailhead, which can be accessed by a rough road that came from the west, from Lost Park Road. We abandoned the trails, followed the road west for a quarter mile, then left it, too, to bushwhack directly south and over a ridge to Lost Park Road.

Quite a bit of logging was done in the Lost Park area in the past. This next leg of our walk took us through logged areas, but it looked more like fire mitigation than commercial logging. We found trees cut down in the forest in thirty-foot-wide strips, perhaps a tenth of a mile long. Trees on either side of the strips were marked with horizontal lines of blue spray paint, and trees at the end of the strips were marked with vertical lines. Instead of being harvested, the logs were left laying, or were piled up in great heaps.

Windy Peak rises above the valley of the North Fork of Lost Creek.

Timbered areas in the forest gave us views we wouldn’t have had otherwise. Here Windy Peak, covered with snow from the storm a few days earlier, rises above the valley of the North Fork of Lost Creek.

While this might be good for the forest in the long run, it’s a mess now, and will be for years. It was a relief to get past the cut areas, crest the ridge, and head down toward Lost Park Road. Here we found a natural spruce forest with large trees and little downed timber to block our path. It was an easy walk down, but we stopped for a break anyway, sitting on the embankment above the road. Ten minutes later, I looked pretty smart. A cattle drive came up the road.

There were two cowboys on horseback, four dogs, and about 75 head of cattle, headed east, toward the campground. Up to that point, the valley had been narrow, and the herd was walking the road. Just before our resting place, the valley widened, and the two bulls and half a dozen cows and calves broke from the herd, running to the far side of the valley. One cowboy and three dogs went in pursuit, while the cowboy at the rear stopped pushing the rest of the herd, letting them stop, graze, and calm down. Pete and I headed up the road, while the cowboys and dogs got the herd together and continued the drive up the valley. They followed us to the campground, through a gate by the cattle guard at the campground entrance, through the edge of the campground, and out the gate where Pete and I had begun our hike earlier in the day. Cowboys and dogs went back the way they’d come (toward the west and the setting sun, of course), job well done.

A bushwhack added to a trail hike can make for a more enjoyable hike. An up-the-trail-and-back outing sometimes seems that it ends at the reversal point. This practice has served us well in the Lost Park area, where there are many trails, but most are too long for a loop all on-trail. Give it a try sometime, and you’ll be rewarded. You probably won’t be lucky enough to see a real cattle drive, though.t

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