An Evening Excursion to Mount Peck, on the Great Divide- August 13, 2016

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Sunset on the Great Divide south of Mount Peck

Parking at the summit of Monarch Pass on U.S. 50, where the waters are parted between the two oceans flowing either east or west, I took regard of the day’s activity.  I had been at work, slaving away in a hot and noisy kitchen while the beautiful Summer day had proceeded without me.  I resolved that I would partially remedy this unfortunate situation by making the drive from my home in Gunnison, Colorado, to this locale that I now sat at, listening to the car’s ticks as it cooled off.  I had fed my aged Lady Dog prior to departure, but brought along the two German shepherds, Draco and Leah, faithful and adventurous hikers we all.

I released the canines from their confines and they sprang forth and thence began exploring the parking lot in earnest as I gathered my gear.  We began by first hiking down Gunnison National Forest Road 906 south of the pass but on the westerly drainage of the Great Divide.  About a half a mile of hiking brought us to the Crest Trail No. 531, forking from the narrow two-track to the right.  Both of these segments are part of the Continental Divide Trail.  I planned to hike a scant two miles along the route, and then climb up to Mount Peck so as to catch the sunset from its summit.

This part of the hike found us, as aforementioned, on the western slope and this geographic location we retained.  The trail kept just under the sub-alpine boundary with the alpine tundra that drapes over the high peaks and ridges.  Often, a thick forest grew, but just as often meadows and scarce timber allowed views of Agate Creek and the surrounding high ridges.  The forest below grows thick and presents difficult, but not impossible, passage through stands of lodgepole pine where numerous old trees have fallen and now block passage.  Reaching the south face of Mount Peck, I left the trail and the dogs followed me up to the very divide itself where I could peer into North Foose Creek and Burned Timber Creek.  The former drains to the South Arkansas River and the Gulf of Mexico, while the latter drains to Agate and Tomichi Creeks before pouring into the Gunnison and then Colorado Rivers and hence empties into the Gulf of California.  Assuming, of course, that the waters are not impounded first and diverted to other uses such as our civilization demands.

Slowly climbing the spine of the ridge, the dogs skittering about as I labored, I enjoyed this trek in this late part of the second third of Summer.  The splendid clean air, the scents of the vegetation and fantastic views sublimely imbued themselves upon my mind and I was instantly reminded of why I love my home in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado.  We reached the summit of Mount Peck about a quarter of an hour prior to the Sun’s descent beyond the western horizon.  Crossing the high point we descended the western slope and shortly chose a place from which I felt the view would satisfy my desire to watch the last light of the day.  I fed the shepherds some kibble while I gobbled a snack that I had packed along.

The sun, as always, set.  Just prior to that event shafts of light shot out over the mountains leaving us awash in golden tinted light.  I felt the burdens of the day sweep away from my soul as I sat cross-legged and opened up my arms in a wide embrace, all the while soaking up this last bit of warmth to shoot out over the realm.  Fifteen minutes or so after our star’s departure, as the sky began to dim, I gathered what gear I had dispersed and called the canines to me so as to begin our retreat to the trailhead.  I walked down the northern spine of Mount Peck and rejoined the trail in the col between my last highpoint and that, unnamed, to the north.  This pass leads from Park Creek to North Fooses Creek, but I kept on the trail and just before darkness enveloped us we reached the trailhead.  I felt blessed at seeing the sunset from this mountainous wonderland, from a point where I could see out to the west until the San Juan and West Elk Mountains.  To the east I could see much of the high peaks of the Sawatch Range, in which I stood, as well as a small bit of the northern most Sangre de Cristo Mountains.  What a fine way to celebrate the end of the day!  Ho! for the mountains, whatever grows and lives there.

Backpacking on Texas Creek in the Collegiate Peaks Wilderness, Day 3 – August 08, 2016

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The Sawatch Range reflected in one of the Texas Lakes

The morning dawned with a  golden flourish beamed down from the clouds lingering in the sky above.  I rose from the tent where I had slept the night away and unleashed the dogs, my two faithful German shepherds, so that we could all mosey down to Texas Creek.  They drank their fill while I admired the flora and natural setting that we found ourselves in.  Here, in the Collegiate Peaks Wilderness, all was peace and the solid mass of the Sawatch Range loomed, silhouetted against the bright sky of the twilight.  I felt at peace and regretted that I needed to return to the civilization that I had so recently fled, but obligations yammered and they could not be avoided without peril to myself and others.

I fed Draco and Leah some kibble and made my breakfast of oatmeal accompanied by my solitary cup of coffee.  I sat upon a convenient log to watch the dawn proceed until the air had warmed a bit.  Then, I packed up our gear and began the trek back to my waiting car.  I decided to return by the same route that I had come, with a slight variation and taking some time to visit a few sights along the way.  The first thing I did was to immediately wade across Texas Creek to take a lightly used trail on the south bank of the stream.  The verdure stretched out in the creek bottom, upstream and downstream, and my world was green and wonderful.  I came across an old cabin set in one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen.

Just past the cabin the dogs and I recrossed the creek and walked down to the Texas Lakes, a series of lakes formed by either a moraine or the deposits from a flood.  To do this I crossed the creek a third time, although in this case I made use of a bridge put in place to aid motorized users of the trails in this area.  It is most unfortunate that these lakes do not sit within a protected area, but fortunately for me the noisy machines were not within earshot this day and I sat down to meditate on the shore of one lake which has an incredible view of the Sawatch Range.  For me, this defines Rocky Mountain splendor and I felt blessed to bid adieu to the mountains from this locale.  I made my final crossing of Texas Creek and rejoined the road to continue the hike.

As I hiked back westward towards Taylor Park the creek bottom widened until it became a large flat, filled with sagebrush and surrounded by low hills clothed in green forests of conifer.  After so much quietude I had to readjust to the world of plodding machinery that I soon found on Texas Creek Road.  It appeared that all the people were enjoying themselves and I can’t really complain when I know about something in advance and yet continue to engage.  Unfortunately, this area has become a haven of sorts for the more aggressive form of motorized recreation and I can’t help but think that too many of those users disrespect the people and world around them.

I made one final detour towards the end of my hike and decided to walk along Gunnison National Forest Road 755.1B.  This road leads up into the hills a bit off the main line road.  As a final bit of exploration it felt a bit mundane, but nonetheless helped to edify me with further knowledge and feeling about this area.  The walk out had been casual and I took time to smell the vegetation and admire the flowers seen.  However blessed I had been for this trek I felt a certain amount of recalcitrance at leaving this setting, for a return to work did not appeal to my senses.  Now, in deep Winter as I sit and type these words, I can still catch wafts of sagebrush percolating through my nostrils and hear the water gurgle over the numerous cobbles in its bed, clear and inviting.  A better way to make memories is seldom found.

Backpacking on Texas Creek in the Collegiate Peaks Wilderness, Day 2 – August 07, 2016

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The glaciated form of Waterloo Gulch, in the Collegiate Peaks Wilderness of Colorado

Ah, dawn in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, replete with dew-laden spiders’ webs and fresh air unpolluted by toxin nor cacophony of civilization.  I awoke along Texas Creek near the addition of the waters of Waterloo Gulch, within that portion of the Collegiate Peaks Wilderness under the stewardship of the Gunnison National Forest.  I immediately felt fortunate and blessed to be backpacking in such a sublime location without so much as leaving my home county.  Typical for early August in the mountains, clouds dotted the sky above and added to the twilight’s crepuscular spectacle by catching the early light and illuminating the sky.

Draco and Leah, my two faithful hiking companions and true-heart German shepherds, immediately bestirred upon noting my own waking motions.  I thus rose and donned my clothing, after which I released the canines from their cables stays.  We strode down to Texas Creek, said waters gurgling as they flowed over the innumerable cobbles along its bed.  The dogs slaked their thirst as I admired the sublime setting.  We soon returned to camp where we enjoyed our repast prior to departing on our day’s expedition to the high country that loomed above our current setting.

The plan as formed in my mind compelled us to hike up the Waterloo Gulch Trail No. 540 to explore the alpine setting among a high basin tucked away on the west side of the Sawatch Range.  We departed, after I had properly stored my and the dogs’ food by suspending it all from a branch so that it was ten feet off the ground and some four feet from the trunk.  Therefore, this action placed my mind at ease and did not invite larcenous bruins to camp while we tramped about the country for the day.  We strolled over to the trail junction between the mainline Texas Creek Trail and the seldom used path leading up the gulch.  For a brief quarter of a mile the trail followed the creek that descended from above and the vegetation bore a lushness that corresponded to the Summer month then existent.  After crossing the creek we began to climb two thousand plus feet over the next three miles.

The initial climb through the sub-alpine forest cast glimpses through the forest to the distant ridges that rose up to their serrated crest.  The roar of water I heard at all times.  The valley narrowed and slopes of talus ran down from the slopes above.  Blue sky above, green immersion and gray slopes of rock spangled with specks of bright white snow.  Climbing above into the alpine I could look behind me and espy the distinct U-shaped outline of the valley that denotes past glaciation.  Draco, Leah and I hiked into the cathedral of verdure, water pouring down among chasms carved into the granite.  The trail faded and we climbed up to a high lake retained by a dam, that is, a moraine left by the toe of some prehistoric glacier.

I chose a sunny meadow where I could repose in grace of the mountain grandeur that sprawled up to the higher reaches of the atmosphere.  The hike had been replete with the dew that resulted from the recent storms.  The sun consequently felt inviting and pleasingly warm.  The sky, mostly cerulean, grew increasingly dotted with puffy white clouds as the morning progressed.  They provided brief and welcoming respite from the sun’s rays.  By the time the cloud departed the blast would be welcome again.  As late morning rolled on, the searing quotient of our Sol had strengthened beyond comfort and additionally owing to our long languid condition I determined that it was high time to remove myself and my pack to lower elevations where shade would be found in abundance.

The trail had faded some half a mile or more prior to the lake and thus the hike up had been a bushwhack.  From my vantage on the moraine I could look and trace the upward route.  I decided to descend to the proximate location of the trail’s formation via a slightly different path.  There are numerous such valleys as this that I then observed in the Sawatch Range and, while similar to each other, the vagaries of geology and topography render each distinct.  As is often the case, I found the whole of the natural world to meld into a synergistic whole, and that totality fosters a spirit of contentedness that I find nowhere else.  Contemplation comes easily as my mind lets dissolve the worries of the outside world.  That happy state I found myself in as I trod down the trail, keeping up a steady pace but not forgetting to admire the natural beauty of the place.

Returning to camp I felt that the dogs and I deserved a rest and we commenced basking in the meadow under a large conifer that provided just enough shade to create a steady-state of salubrious napping.  Later in the day we strolled somewhat aimlessly towards the creek so as to refresh muscles and replenish depleted stores of hydration.  My worries seeped out of my soul and washed down the creek as the languor of the mountain afternoon possessed us.  Towards evening I could feel a restlessness overcome my general state of inertia and thus I gathered up the dogs and we hiked up the Texas Creek Trail No. 416 to North Texas Creek about a mile above camp.  Greenness greeted me at every turn, whether the dark green of the coniferous forest or the brighter green of the willow and grassy meadows.  Here a ridge of rock suggests a huge outpouring of river worn cobbles from some past flood where the concomitant crashing of water continues to this day.  There was no hurry to this hike, and I admired whatever caught my fancy and let my mind wander wherever it chose.

Back at camp I fixed my supper of Tom’s Camp Stew and set out kibble for the shepherds.  The sun descended towards the west as is its wont, and the clouds remained a bit bright as the sky dimmed until all closed in darkness and naught but stars remained visible excepting for the patches of dark sky that announced the presence of a passing cloud.  I had packed all the gear away so that I could watch the dusk and thus when I decided to encourage slumber I merely strolled over to the tent and slipped into my sleeping bag.  I leaned out and lay on my back, my head reclining upon my hands, and watched the stars a bit more until I could feel the pulls of sleep and retreated entirely into the tent.  The dogs curled up nearby and soon we all slept the sound sleep of the content.

Backpacking on Texas Creek in the Collegiate Peaks Wilderness, Day 1 – August 06, 2016

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Camp on Texas Creek near Waterloo Gulch

The Summer monsoons, the wet storm flow that annually drenches the Rocky Mountains in these parts, had arrived.  Some days were dry in the morning and then wet in the afternoon.  Others began wet but then dried out.  Yet others are wet all day, or remain dry due to the vagaries of the system.  This day seemed wet but soon dried out.  I sat at home, enjoying a morning of repose as I sipped my coffee and enjoyed the languid nature of the early hours.  By noon, I had packed and dropped off the elder dog at the kennel.  Leaving my home in Gunnison, Colorado, I drove north on State Highway 135 to the small village of Almont.  Here, the Gunnison River forks, the Taylor River forming the eastern fork and the East River denoting the western fork.  I chose the former, and drove up along the Taylor River through its canyon up to Taylor Park, Dam and Reservoir.  Towards the upper end of the reservoir I parked the car at Gunnison National Forest Road 755 and made ready for my forthcoming adventure.

We began to hike along the aforementioned road and shortly came to Texas Creek itself, which we would henceforth parallel.  Most of the landscape was studded with Big Sagebrush, probably Artemisia tridentata, although groves of conifer could be seen wherever I looked.  Looking ahead, to the east, rose up the great mass of the Sawatch Range, out of which the drainage of Texas Creek has created a massive void where the rock has been eroded away and down river.  Although I was headed for the Collegiate Peaks Wilderness, the first seven or so miles of hiking would traverse this two-track upon which I saw bicyclists, motorcyclists, folks riding all-terrain vehicles and still others in full-sized four-by-fours.  In fact, I probably could have piloted my trusty Subaru along this road should I have chosen to.

One nice thing about the recent rains became obvious as I gained elevation.  Greenery shone everywhere in the grasses and other vegetation.  Despite my concern about inclement weather, rain sprinkled the dogs and I for about thirty minutes only.  What did precipitate was fairly minimal and I can’t say that I became so much as damp.  This area is fairly bustling with people and I walked passes numerous folks out car camping and all appeared to be enjoying themselves.  Of course, out of courtesy, I kept Draco and Leah close by whenever we walked past one of those camps.  I felt gratification at the numerous complements I received on their beauty and behavior.

After the first two or three miles of hiking we became enshrouded in the conifer forest that grew on the hills nearby and now flowed down to the bank of the creek itself.  Periodically, I could see the mighty summits rise up above the creek that we walked along, and a fine sight it was.  Finally, the road ended and we kept on walking.  We now hiked along Texas Creek Trail No. 416.  The last mile or two of the road had turned into a true four-by-four road, and not much traffic passed us on our journey.  Still, a few folks had set up camp in this remote corner.  The dogs and I strolled on another half a mile or so until reaching Waterloo Gulch, a deep defile draining from the north.

Near the trail junction I found a nice level patch upon which I could set up my tent.  I situated it so that I had a fine view from camp.  Still having some daylight hours left I took the dogs to go exploring nearby.  We wandered around the creek,  and explored a bit of trail and adjacent forest.  Dinner I made and found satisfactory.  As the light began to fade, I found myself sitting and watching the dimming colors.  Ah, mountainous repose!  A few stars shone between the various clouds and I therefore decided that the time for slumber had arrived.  I said my blessings and felt giddy at having this mountain setting as the backdrop to this night’s sleep.

Foggy Evening Hike on the Continental Divide – August 04, 2016

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Forest atop the Continental Divide south of Monarch Pass, enshrouded in low clouds

Work finished, I drove home from the ignominious day, having slaved away for a pittance while Summer’s glory reigned out doors.  Clouds had sallied into our corner of the mountains, perhaps dimming the outlook for some but also adding texture to the views and moisture to the land.  Thus, once having doffed my foul, work-stained clothing and donned appropriate gear, I loaded up my two faithful German shepherd dogs, Draco and Leah, and drove east on U.S. 50 from my home in Gunnison, Colorado.  The drive itself soothed my parched soul, parched at having been enclosed during the day, as I sailed relatively effortlessly down the paved highway.

I’m not sure what led me to this place on this day.  Already, six months have passed since the time of this hike and now, writing about it, recollections have dimmed.  Generally, I didn’t make many evening hikes this past Summer due to the time and physical energy involved.  Yet, once having reached the summit of Monarch Pass, straddling the Great Divide that issues waters to the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans, I recall feeling relieved at having some time to mosey about the woods despite the damp weather.  The clouds enshrouded the forest and created an ethereal setting that is infrequently encountered.

Having not much time to spend in my mountainous pursuits,the sun would soon set and I had yet to sup, we walked down Gunnison National Forest Road 906 until we reached the single track portion of the Crest Trail No. 531.  That trail also serves as part of the Continental Divide Trail, and indeed one can walk the divide for a great distance in this locale.  As we strolled along the clouds grew dense and rain began to fall.  The trail consists of crushed granite so we were spared a muddy escapade.  However, I still decided to not proceed much further after the trail was obtained.  Instead, the dogs and I wandered off-trail a bit and found a large conifer, the spreading branches of which provided a relatively dry place to sit and ponder the day while consuming the viands that I had brought.

This storm consisted of such a mass of clouds that lightening was no worry.  This was a true storm system rather than the daily upwelling of moisture into the atmosphere that subsequently forms the thunderheads that also create peril to those exposed on high points or other lightening prone locations.  I stood under the tree and donned my rain jacket, listening to the soft sounds of the falling drops striking whatever they would.  The scents rose up from the dank forest floor and I drew in deep breaths that invigorated my senses.  While perhaps not the most salubrious weather for a hike, I remained warm and dry under my protective layers.  I exuded a certain joy at my isolation from humanity, an isolation replaced by the friendly confines of the Rocky Mountains.

Dusk rapidly approached, only discerned by a barely perceptible fading of the light.  No sun rays shooting between clouds striking an orange light against stunning peaks, but still a closing of the day, a sacred time that I relish no matter the year or location.  The twilight is not to be missed except occasionally when a situation demands it.  The diurnal time is blessed and I felt as much staked out in the damp forest.  Time passed gently, and I soon began to hike back towards the trailhead where I had parked the car.  I drove home, relaxed and happy and I would bet that the dogs felt the same.  A glimpse into the wildlands of this region, just enough to set my mind right, and not much more I needed this evening.  Soon, I would fall asleep and a more peaceful sleep I had than would otherwise have been the case.