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Archive for April, 2010

Trip Report 34

  • Points earned:  1
  • Trip dates:  June, 2009
  • Wilderness Area:  Cohutta
  • Wilderness Size:  36,977 acres
  • Location:  Northwest Georgia
  • Destination:  Conasauga River
  • Total Miles:  6
  • Duration:  Day hike

Either the Conasauga or the Jacks River in the rugged Cohutta Wilderness

The Cohutta is the largest wilderness area in Georgia besides the vast swamp of the Okefenokee.  It is also one of the largest in the Appalacian Mountains.  I didn’t know what to expect as this was my first wilderness hike in the Eastern US.  I was surprised at the ruggedness and relative remoteness of the wilderness.

The main features of the Cohutta are the two rivers Conasauga and Jacks.  About equal in size they are both swift and tumbling clear mountain streams about 20-30 feet wide.

The trail started high above the Conasauga River and dropped down relatively steeply through dense forest to the river below after about 1.5 miles.  Once I reached the river I followed the trail upstream for about another 1.5 miles until I lost the trail.  I figured that was a good turn-around point for a day hike.  I backtracked to the point where the trail began its uphill climb back to the trailhead and stopped there.  The dog, Dozer, and I spent a very nice couple of hours lounging in the sun on a big flat rock in the middle of the river.  I tried my luck for the trout that are supposedly in the river, but all I caught was a 3-inch mystery fish.  It was bright silver with a sucker-like mouth–definitely not a trout.

After the nice afternoon in the sun, we walked the remaining 1.5 miles back up to the trailhead, and then the 2.5 hour drive from there back to the northern Atlanta suburbs.

Oddly, I don’t think I took any pictures.  I don’t remember, but I must have forgotten my camera.  The picture above was found on the internet.

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Trip Report 33

  • Points:  1
  • Trip Dates:  August 1995 or 1996
  • Wilderness Area:  Mount Massive
  • Wilderness Size:  30,540
  • Location:  Central Colorado
  • Destination:  Mount Massive Summit
  • Total Miles:  8
  • Duration:  Day hike

Mount Massive

I was tallying up my points and stats and almost forgot about this one.  Not that it is a forgettable hike.

Mount Massive is Colorado’s second highest peak at 14,421 feet in elevation.  It is indeed massive with five distinctive points above 14,000 feet.  It sits in the middle of 30,000 acre Mount Massive Wilderness.  This wilderness borders the Hunter-Fryingpan Wilderness on the west slope of the Sawatch and together they make for a sizable wild area.  It could have been called the Massive Fryingpan Wilderness!

The picture above was found on the internet.

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Trip Report 32

  • Points Earned:  3
  • Trip Dates:  July, 2007
  • Wilderness Area:  South San Juan
  • Wilderness Size:  158,790 acres
  • Location:  SW Colorado
  • Destination:  Blue and Glacier Lakes (Loop)
  • Total Miles:  25
  • Duration:  4 nights

The wild high country in the South San Juan Wilderness

They say it takes sound about 5 seconds to travel one mile.  This is how you estimate the distance of lightning.  You see the flash then count in one second intervals until you hear the thunder.  Calculate the distance in miles by how many seconds pass.  But, how do you estimate the distance when the thunder cracks a split second after the flash?  Is it 200 yards?  100 feet?

This was exactly my dillemma.  Dozer stared wide-eyed at me from under a den of tangled spruce branches, his hind quarters shaking with adrenaline.  I crouched in the open with my rain gear on wondering if I should take my metal watch off to avoid getting burned should I be struck.  It wasn’t an overreaction.

We were at close to 11,000 feet in elevation at nine in the morning.  A seemingly stationary electrical storm had formed at the head of the S. Fork Conejos Valley.  Several strikes of lightning had hit well within a quarter mile already.  Big punishing rain drops were falling perfectly straight down, battering the dirt with audible thunks.  The rain was becomming thicker, the lighting more frequent.

This was the wild South San Juan Wilderness in Colorado.  We made it through the storm, the worst by far in all my hikes.  There would be another one later in the trip that would cause a slight flash flood in the river.  But, between the storms we had hours and hours of bright sunny weather in this most wild wilderness in the state of Colorado where many believe a few grizzlies still roam.  After my visit I could see the plausibility of that.

My dog, Dozer, and I set out on our 25 mile loop from the S. Fork  Conejos trailhead in late afternoon.  After about three miles we came to a great campsite in the lower valley:

Perfect camp site in the lower valley of the S. Fork Conejos River

In a perfect clear mountain morning, we set out the next day towards the wilds of the South San Juan interior.  The trail was a gradual incline with the 15-foot wide stream never far away.  About six miles in from the trail head, the incline steepened a bit and the trail hugged the side of a near cliff:

Heading past the cliffs into the upper valley

About nine miles into the wilderness, the dog and I found a nice secluded camp side on the opposite side of the stream:

Campsite on second night about 10,000 feet high in the San Juans

Dozer nice and snug in the tent after a long day of hiking

One of my favorite thrills is catching a large trout out of a small stream.  I caught and released numerous brightly colored rainbows in the 10-13 inch range on this trip.  But, my favorite was the bruiser 15-inch Rio Grand cutthroat caught at the second campsite where the S. Fork Conejos was only about 6 feet wide!

Big fatty cutthroat from 6-foot wide stream

The next morning, day three on the trail, Dozer and I woke to a sky of cotton balls.  Bad news.  A front was approaching.  We only had about 2.5 or 3 miles to the next campsite at Blue Lake, and I figured we had enough time to get there and set up camp before the weather hit.  I was wrong.  By nine in the morning, we were pinned down at 11,000 feet by the most sinister four-hour electrical storm I’ve ever seen.

After the slow passage of the front, the air temperature fell by a good 30 degrees, never exceeding a very late fall-like 47 degrees the rest of the day–in mid July.  But, the rain held off for us as we made camp near Blue Lake, one of the most wonderful alpine lakes in all of the Southern Rockies:

Dozer surveying Blue Lake from atop a cliff that dropped straight into the water

Beautiful Blue Lake, 11 miles from the trailhead

Great campsite near Blue Lake

Day 4 took us up and over gentle alpine hills to 12,000 feet.  I spotted a pair of mountain bluebirds fluttering among the many wildflowers with the peaks of the San Juans in the background.

I really got the feeling of being deep in the high wilderness here.  It was very beautiful country:

The pristing high wilderness near timberline

Dozer liked it too.  He had a blast running up the trail, dashing back and forth across the trail and then running full blast back to me:

Dozer taking a break from running around in paradise

  Eventually we came to another lake, this one above timberline and called Glacier Lake, I presume because of a permanent snowfield that melts directly into the south end of the lake:

Arctic-looking Glacier Lake

 After Glacier Lake the trail dropped steeply down into the head of Canyon Rincon where the sense of wilderness and remoteness only grew:

The head of Canyon Rincon

The Canyon Rincon trail took us back down to the main trail.  But, before we got there we came upon this most unusual water slide-like falls:

The waterslide falls, Canyon Rincon Creek

After a long 7 or 8 miles up and over mountains we found our 4th and last campsite back down along the main S. Fork Conejos trail.  A couple hours after setting up camp a serious rainstorm swept over.  After the rain was over, I got out of the tent to find the S. Fork a raging muddy torrent.  I walked up the trail 100 yards to the confluence of Canyon Rincon Creek.  All the mud and high water was coming from the Canyon Rincon where we had just hiked down from.  It was a minor flash flood.  Half hour later, the water receeded and cleared up:

4th campsite--a nice cool, but dark, spot along the stream

The fifth, and last, day began bright and sunny for the final 6 miles back to the trailhead.  Dozer was a veteran trail dog by this time, expertly surveying the country as we made our way back to civilization:

Dozer on the final few sunny miles of trail back to the trailhead

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Trip Report 31

  • Points:  1
  • Trip dates:  Several trips in 1996 and 1997
  • Wilderness Area:  Cache la Poudre
  • Wilderness Size:  9,258 acres
  • Location:  Northern Colorado
  • Destination:  Little South Fork Cache la Poudre
  • Total Miles:  4-6
  • Duration:  Several day hikes

Cache la Poudre Wilderness

My most embarrassing moment when there was no one there to see it, except maybe a curious moutain lion:  I was standing in a little sandy area next to the river looking at some very fresh-looking mountain lion tracks.  After a few moments leaning over for close examination, I straightened up, and for some reason, completely lost my balance.  Stumbling and bumbling, I fell backwards in spread-eagle fashion splashing right in the middle of a pool in the river.  Good thing it was a hot day.  The cold refreshing water soaked me from head to toe.  I imagined the lion that made those tracks watching me from behind some rock outcropping… If lions could laugh… 

This little wilderness is less than one hour from Fort Collins and maybe 1.5 hours from Denver, yet it has one of the lowest levels of human visitation of all wilderness areas in Colorado.  That’s because there are no trails (except if you count the McConnel, which is really just a tiny loop that barely touches the wilderness area.)  This makes it one of my favorite areas.

About 15 miles of the beautiful Little South Fork of the Cache la Poudre River flows through this wilderness at unusually low elevations for a Colorado Wilderness.  This area is usually snow-free for much of the winter and definitely by mid-spring.  Only the hardiest fishermen (like me) enter it.  I would very much like to hike the entire length of the river through the wilderness one day, which I know will involve multiple stream crossings as the river cuts through its rugged gorge.

I haven’t done the whole thing, but I have hiked up a couple of miles of it.  Before reaching the Little South Fork, though, you have to cross the main branch of the Poudre.  I start at a campground on the far side of the river from the highway, and walk cross-country for about 1.5 miles down the main branch.  In places  this requires scrambling over some big rocks and ledges near the river.  Finally, you reach a wide ponderosa park where the Little South Fork enters the main river. 

From the confluence, the first mile or so is quite a nice little stroll through ponderosas and up and over some big granite rocks.  The stream here is beautiful with deep holes and nice riffles.  The fishing is good, too.

The picture above was found on wilderness.net

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Trip Report 30

  • Points:  2
  • Trip Dates:  August, 2006
  • Wilderness Area:  Flat Tops
  • Wilderness Size:  235,214
  • Location:  Northwest Colorado
  • Destination:  Upper reaches of the S. Fork White River
  • Total Miles:  Approximately 12
  • Duration:  2 nights

Valley of the upper South Fork White River

I stood hidden behind a single large willow bush above a deep pool in the stream.  I dropped my line in the current upstream and let it drift downcurrent a few feet.  I flipped the bail and began to real in the slack.  Just as the line straightened I felt the unmistakable slow and heavy pulse of a big trout.  A second later I saw a broad flash of shimmering silver from the bottom of the hole–a REALLY big fish.

“Oh crap!” I said out loud as a reflex.  The large cutthroat began to take the line towards the bank, under the willow.  If I didn’t act fast this fish would tangle me up in a second.  I raised the rod handle up over my head and held the pole over the top of the willow as I sidestepped downstream to the other side of the big bush where there was a gravelly beach.

Nice and calm, I played the big cut gradually into the shallows.  “Eighteen, maybe twenty inches,” I thought to myself as it’s full length was displayed in the clear riffle.  My heart raced as I slowly reeled the fighting lunker to the shore.  I could see the crimson blush on the fish’s cheeks and the big black spotted tail.  I had no net.  As carefully as I possibly could I gingerly tried to pull the big guy out of the water and onto the beach.

A foot from the edge the line went slack, the weight of the fish vanished, and I watched the big fish dart back under the bank like some kind of Rocky Mountain shark.  I slumped my shoulders and looked across the 10 feet to the far bank.  “Eighteen or twenty inches, easy,” I thought again.  “Out of a ten foot wide creek! And, it got away!!”

I would have released it anyway.  But, still it would have been nice to get a photo of the biggest trout I would have ever caught from a stream, much less a native cutthroat.

But, how frustrated could I be, really?  How many people get to experience that?  This was the Flat Tops.

The Flat Tops is, in my view, the quintessential western wilderness area.  The second largest in Colorado, it is basically a massive alpine plateau.  On top of the plateau is a vast matrix of trout-filled lakes and streams with miles and miles of meadows mixed with groves of pine and aspen.

When Arthur Carhart visited Trappers Lake in 1919 he was asked to scout out possible sites for vacation cabins.  Instead, he was so taken by the wild quality of the area that he pleaded for it to be federally protected as some kind of wilderness preserve.  This was a pretty radical idea in 1919, but it arguably set the stage for the eventual first Wilderness Act in 1964.

The South Fork of the White River flows through the southern part of the wilderness, below the high plateau.  My trailhead to the upper part of the river may be the most remote wilderness trailhead in all of Colorado.

From here, I hiked a short four or five miles to a beautiful campsite on a flat bluff over the stream:

Campsite in the Flattops

My biggest interest in this trip at this time was fishing.  I had read stories here and there of huge cutthroat trout in the wilderness section of this stream–fish of 24 inches and larger.

I did catch quite a few very nice trout.  In addition to the largest one that got away (18-20 inches), I caught and released the 15-incher below:

15 inche cut caught and released

Perhaps more surprising, though, were the exceptionally large brookies.  In most streams brook trout rarely exceed 10 inches and most are 6-8 inches.  Not here.  I caught about a dozen large brookies that averaged 12-14 inches.  And, they were the most brightly colored I’ve ever seen.  Here are a few pics of those guys:

Fatty brookie

Big ole male brookie. Cose to 15 inches and 2 lbs!

Another unusually large brookie

Brook trout usually overpopulate their habitats leading to intense competition for food which stunts their growth.  My theory is that in the S. Fork of the White River, the very large cutthroats in the stream feed on smaller brookies, helping them grow to large sizes.  This also thins the brook trout population enough to allow the ones that escape the cuts to grow to larger sizes.  Add a healthy supply of bug life to the waterway and you have unusually large brookies and even larger cutthroat.  I could be wrong, but the theory makes sense to me.

Heres a picture of the stream in the area I was fishing–as you can see it’s not a large river:

Upper S. Fork White River in the Flat Tops Wilderness

After a very enjoyable day of fishing in beautul blue bird weather, Dozer, my dog, and I returned to our great campsite:

Campsite in the Flattops

Of all those great trout I caught I only kept one 13.5 inche brookie, which was delicious.  Dozer thought so too.  From camp, it was a mere 4 mile hike back to the trailhead the next day.  I had hiked about 3-4 miles up the river from the campsite and back the day before making for about a 12 mile trip total.

At a crossing of the river on the return I tied my hiking boots to my pack and put on a pair of “aquasox” to cross the stream.  When I got to the other side I put my pack down to grab my boots, but they were gone.  I searched for an hour, finally becomming convinced that I didn’t tie them on securely enough and they fell into the swift water on my crossing.  They could be a mile downstream.  I returned the final couple of miles in my aquasox.  It wasn’t that bad.  In fact, good riddance.  The boots were giving me a nasty blister on my right heel.  I only feel bad for leaving them somewhere in the wilderness.

Flattops, I will return!

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Trip Report 29

  • Points:  1
  • Trip Dates:  July, 2006
  • Wilderness Area:  Lost Creek
  • Wilderness Size:  119,790 acres
  • Location:  Central Colorado
  • Destination:  Lost Park
  • Total Miles:  6
  • Duration:  Day hike

Lost Park in Lost Creek Wilderness

Lost Creek Wilderness is like a cartoon.  There are dissappearing creeks and teetering boulders and secret passages through columns of granite.  It is one of the most unique wilderness areas in the west and certainly in Colorado–all within a 1-2 hour drive of the Denver metro area.

In July, 2006 my wife, three dogs, and I hiked from the west side of the wilderness east three miles into Lost Park.  The trail starts in forest along the banks of Lost Creek, but soon passes through a gateway of two granitic shoulders before entering the kingdom of Lost Park.  Here the scenery opens up into an expanse of meadow fringed by forest and outcroppings of rock.

It’s an easy hike, just enough to wet the appetite for more.  This is one wilderness area I will return to for sure.

The picture above was found on the internet.

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