Hope Creek Trail
Highland Trail
and other things

This picture wasn't taken from a trail, but instead was taken from a Forest Service campsite just south of the falls on North Clear Creek, which is between Creede and Lake City, Colorado. The mountain in the picture is known as Bristol Head. It had been raining a bit before the sun set.

The campground was very pretty, was located just a couple of miles off Colorado 149, with very nice toilets and water, and was about 90 percent empty. The campground manager said it had never been full, in his experience, and he had been camping there for several years before getting the job of managing it this year.

The fee to camp in these campground runs around $10.00 per night, and if that's not cheap enough, there is plenty of free camping in the national forests outside of developed campgrounds.

We parked the truck at the parking lot for Shaw Lake, which is also the trailhead parking for the Kitty Creek trail, which we intended to walk down from the Highland trail, and walked down the road to the trailhead for the Hope Creek trail.

The Hope Creek trail is pretty short, only 5.8 miles to the junction with the Highland trail, but it climbs about 2500 feet in that distance, so it's a nice aerobic workout. We stopped and had our big meal at a nice place near water on the trail.

The trail winds up to a basin which was described as having some "nice but exposed places to camp." That turned out to be a good description, but we didn't get there the first day. As we climbed some switchbacks toward that basin, lightning and thunder began to pop on the high peaks, and we decided to descend to a more sheltered camping stop, and call it a day - our experience has been that one thunderstorm is often followed by others.

This is where we camped. We pitched the tent just as the rain started to fall. After a bit, the rain quit and the sun came out. Lisa walked a bit up the trail to do a watercolor sketch of a pretty creek scene nearby.

You will notice my green umbrella open to dry out in front of the tent. Until I read Ray Jardine's book, I had never considered backpacking with an umbrella. Now that I've tried it, I wouldn't consider backpacking without one. An umbrella can provide needed shade in the sun. In a light or moderate rain, it allows one to hike with one's rainjacket zipped open in front, providing much-needed ventilation as well as keeping one's pack much drier, although the latter function is not really necessary, as everything in it which water might bother is in a plastic bag.

Lisa and I both have umbrellas made by GoLite, which are sturdy but lightweight.

The sun, as you can see in the picture above, did come out after the thunderstorm, so we could have resumed hiking. Well, actually, no. We were pounded by two successive sets of thunderstorms after the first one, with lightning striking with a quarter of a mile up on the ridgeline above us, so our decision to stop when we did was correct.

My experience has been that a decision to stop early is rarely wrong, and decisions to go on in the face of a threat of lightning at high altitude is not often right. The consequences for making the less-safe decision can be severe.

This is a view to the east and a bit south as we climbed up the trail the next day in the early morning light.

Hiking as Meditation - thoughts by Lisa

"Those who do not hike long trails probably cannot understand those of us who do. Before I had hiked much I wondered what such people could find to occupy their minds.  Don't they get  bored?  What can they possibly be thinking about?

I have since discovered that distance hiking is a fine form of meditation.  Depending on the terrain and how rocky, steep, or slippery the trail may be, I attend to the placement of each foot to avoid injury.  No matter how challenging the trail, however, I also carefully observe the small mosses, lichens, wildflowers and weeds around the trail, along with their attendant butterflies, crickets and other flying insects.  Even with a field of vision bounded by my feet and the trail a little bit ahead, I have often counted a dozen different butterflies of several different types.  Amazing.  When the trail is too demanding for scenery-viewing, we often stop to look at the wider view.  But when the trail is manageable, as it often is, the wider view becomes part of my step-by-step meditation.

It is difficult to describe the meditation that hiking becomes for me. My attention is totally focused outward to this rock, that flower, the butterfly dancing down my path. My mind becomes still, and it becomes impossible to even think about anything else.  Sometimes tunes go through my head, or I listen to the sound of my own breathing, but rarely do everyday plans or worries intrude.  It is almost  hypnotic to place each foot, scan the trail, look out at the forest or the mountains, look close at the tiny wonders nearby, take it all in.  The more beautiful I find it, the more slowly I often walk, but sometimes I must deliberately slow myself down because I know that easy terrain is pulling me too fast through things I want to see and remember.  I make my body slow to the meditative state of my mind, where there is only this step, that flower, and another butterfly dancing up to greet us."

This is the basin we were climbing toward the afternoon before when we were turned around by a thunderstorm. As you can see, though it has lovely views, it is indeed very exposed.

This picture was taken on the Highland trail just to the north of the intersection with the Hope Creek trail, as we climbed up the Highland trail toward the continental divide. We had already climbed more than 800 feet since starting the morning out to get to this point, and we weren't done yet.

The trail switchbacked up the back of the bowl. Although the heights were imposing, the trail was very well maintained and easy to walk. The views to the east and south were lovely, but we hadn't seen the best of the views yet.

This is a view from the top of the Highland trail of lovely alpine meadows, and what lies below. These valleys to the west and north are shrouded in clouds, but up where we were, the views were stunning. The trail up here was easy to follow for a while, but eventually disappeared completely, and was replaced by a line of rock cairns. A cairn is simply a pile of rocks, sometimes but not always supporting a wooden post. To follow the "trail", one just walks from one cairn to another.

Barely visible in this picture is a herd of elk right on the ridgeline. We stood quietly watching them for a brief time, and I was able to get this picture. When we started walking again down the trail, they evidently decided we represented a threat and disappeared over the ridge toward the valley below. Elk in this country are hunted, so they have good reason to fear man.

The section of the Highland trail we were walking was about 2.5 miles long until it intersected the Kitty Creek "trail". I put that in quotation marks, because up on top it was mostly a series of cairns, and, lower down, we lost it completely in an area outside the wilderness where logging is permitted in the national forest. There were so many downed trees in the forest that we couldn't follow the faint trail through the detritus left by the loggers, nor could we find it where it emerged from the logged area.

Eventually, we bushwacked downhill to the headwaters of Kitty Creek, and cut a logging road, which told us where we were. Unable to find the trail where the map showed it to be, we walked down the logging road, which got us to the main road between Shaw Lake and the Hunter's Lake trailhead, albeit at the expense of a few miles longer walk. The walk down the logging road and the main road was very easy walking, though, and I estimate that the detour only added about an hour to our hike out.

The views up on the Highland trail were wonderful, and we intend to walk more of that trail on subsequent trips.

This picture was taken from the Continental Divide trail up above Wolf Creek Pass, in fact just to the west of the Wolf Creek Ski Area. We parked the truck in the pass, and did a short day hike - about four miles round trip with 2000 or so feet of elevation change.

It's a very pretty area, and gets plenty of snow, 480 inches per year on average, a local source says.

That's a lot of snow.

The ski area is run by the National Forest Service. There is no lodging at the ski area itself - accomodations can be found in either South Fork or Pagosa Springs.

Copyright 2001 by Linden B. Sisk
All rights reserved

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email: Lindy@arcanamavens.com