A Snowshoe Trip Up Callahan Gulch

23 Feb
Mount Logan from the upper clearing

Mount Logan from the upper clearing

Snowshoe with Steve on January 4, 2009
Whiteside Campground: 39º28’54”N, 105º41’36”W, 8,905 feet
Trails junction: 39º28’18”N, 105º43’7”W, 9,790 feet
Snowshoe distance: 4.4 miles

There’s always another trail to find, by talking to someone, or looking around as you’re driving down the road. I found the trail along Callahan Gulch by looking on a map where I just hadn’t looked before. It makes sense that there would be a number of trails along the lower portion of Geneva Creek near Tumbling River Guest Ranch, where horseback riders have been using trails for years.

This trail starts in Whiteside Campground, which is 2.4 miles up Guanella Pass Road (Park County Road 62) from Grant, just west of mile marker 211 on US 285. A parking area parallel to the road had been plowed out, but otherwise the campground was closed for the season. Steve and I clambered over the pile of snow left by the plow, crossed Geneva Creek on a footbridge, and turned downstream at a sign that said “Horse Trail.” We stopped at the table at campsite 4 and threw on our snowshoes, then headed out.

The trail followed Geneva Creek for about two-tenths of a mile, and then turned sharply, almost a switchback to the right. The trail there was wide enough to have been an old road, and goes fairly steeply up. The creek was to our right, so it must have been under the six inches or so of snow where we crossed it.

The gulch was narrow, with spruce and aspen on the hillsides. The tracks of many animals, large and small, crossed our trail. The forest was thicker to the left, on the north-facing slope.

In another two-tenths of a mile, the creek bed and trail became one. Sometimes it’s lousy being the hike leader, because if you make a decision, and it’s wrong, you have to take the blame. I decided that the trail must not go up the creek bed, and so must go up the hillside and then come back to the creek farther up. I saw no path through the thick forest to the left, and so led Steve up the hill to the right. And up, and up and up.

horseshoe hangs from a broken branch

A horseshoe hangs from a broken branch on a spruce tree at the side of the trail

We found less snow, and high up no snow, so we could find our way around the rocks on the hill, but otherwise, there were no redeeming qualities to the hike up and then down the hillside. Once we got back down to the valley bottom, we found the trail looking much as it was where we’d left it, except the creek was on the left instead of the right.

Continuing up, we crossed a tributary creek, then crossed Callahan Gulch. The trail continued steep. We passed a board nailed to a tree; perhaps a wire gate had been there at one time. Farther on we found an old barbed wire fence.

At about seven-tenths of a mile from our start, the trail’s steepness abated, and the valley widened. The snow became deeper, powder on crusty snow on powder. The differing layers of snow grabbed at our snowshoes, making for slow progress. There were soon more aspen near the trail among the spruce, and on one spruce hung an old horseshoe. The sky began to clear, the wind came up, and snow began to fall, not from the sky but from the trees.

leaning outhouse

We found three ruined buildings, including this leaning outhouse, as well as an old corral in the lower of the two clearings along Callahan Gulch.

After another short steep bit, the valley widened more and we entered a meadow. We saw half dozen deer running up the meadow, soon disappearing behind the bushes along the creek. Halfway through the clearing we found the remains of an old corral, and we spooked the deer again. They continued up the gulch, and into the trees to the north. A little farther on were the remains of a log cabin and a pair of outhouses.

The valley narrowed again at the top of the clearing, and the trail steepened, but wasn’t as steep as before. It wasn’t long before we got to a second clearing. Looking back, we found we were finally high enough for a view to the east, where we could see Kataka Mountain and Rosalie Peak.

In this upper clearing, Callahan Gulch takes a near right-angle turn, changing our path from southwest to northwest. In another half mile, the map showed an intersection of two trails meeting. Reaching that intersection, we decided it was time to look for a lunch spot, and turned southwest again, up an easy ridge, and found some logs that were mostly clear of snow for seats.

After a bite and a rest, we looked around and found a couple of interesting things. Near our lunch site, beside of the trail, someone had nailed four sticks, 1.5 to 2 inches in diameter and about 18 inches long, vertical on the tree, about 2 feet above the ground, evenly spaced around the tree. Across the path, they had repeated the process on another tree. This had been done some years ago, as the sticks were weathered and the nails, rusty.

A pair of does looks back to see we’re still coming

A pair of does looks back to see we’re still coming. We scared them out of the trees at the bottom of the lower clearing along Callahan Gulch, and then again after they’d hidden in the tall bushes along the creek.

Farther up the trail, there appeared to be a clearing, so we went to investigate that, too. We found a area of at least several acres had burned, and young lodgepole pines, two to four feet tall, were growing in the cleared area. The section of trail to the young trees we could follow only because there was an obvious gap in the older forest. It looked as though finding the trail in the new trees would be difficult.

On the return trip, we enjoyed the views to the east, now in front of us, of the nearby mountain tops. The going was easier, both due to the downhill and the freshly broken trail.

The mystery of the lost bit of trail was still to be solved. We came again to the tributary creek above our detour, and found that the tributary must have flooded the path in recent times, running alongside Callahan Gulch. The two finally came together where I believed the trail had disappeared. On our trip up, it had looked to me that there was only the creek bed ahead of us.

We didn’t get very far up Callahan Gulch, due to the unnecessary detour, and the untraveled snow that was rough to plow through at times. Once you get past the steep bits, this is an easy trail, and there should be more views higher up. t

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