The wilderness was calling. Neither Michael nor I had been backpacking since we went to Moab in January. We were way overdue for an overnight outdoor adventure, so we picked a weekend, took off work, and started planning a trip in the Lost Creek Wilderness.
The original idea was to head down to Salida to camp and hike a couple 14ers (Shavano and Tabeguache, maybe Antero); however there was quite a bit of snow on the mountains, so we tabled that idea for another weekend.
Michael planned out a 45ish-mile loop for us to hike in 3 days. 45-MILE LOOP. This would definitely be the most hiking I’ve ever done. So far this year, I’ve gotten in a few 17-20 mile hikes, but those were just day hikes where I was carrying a small pack with some snacks and water and then went home to sleep in my comfortable bed afterwards. This would be carrying a pack full of camping gear and food, sleeping in a tent, and waking up for another full day of hiking (x2).
Somehow, it all seemed way more exciting than it did daunting. I knew Michael wouldn’t put me through something he didn’t think I could do, so I was all in.
This was our route:
Lost Creek Wilderness Packing
Having hiked the PCT, the Colorado trail, and a portion of the CDT, Michael is expert on packing for adventures like this. As someone who tends to over-pack, I needed his help.
I laid out all my gear and let him walk through it. He took out my deodorant and soap (because we’re both going to smell anyways), gifted me a lovely poop shovel, and let me borrow his lightweight Therm-a-rest pad and old hiking poles.
Here is what I ended up with after the shakedown:
- Gear: REI Traverse 48-liter pack, 30-degree sleeping bag, Therm-a-rest NeoAir sleeping pad, Black Diamond trekking poles, Etekcity camp stove, fuel, Sea to Summit long camp spoon, Etekcity water filter, Platypus bottle, Osprey 3-liter bladder, 1-Liter Smartwater, lighter
- Toiletries: toothpaste, toothbrush, sunscreen, hand sanitizer, toilet paper, wet wipes, poop shovel, ibuprofen.
- Clothes I packed: Patagonia rain jacket, Mountain Hardwear puffy coat, light long-sleeve shirt, leggings, 1 pair underwear, 1 pair of socks, hat
- What I wore: sports bra, tank top, Athleta Trekkie shorts, socks, Saucony Peregrine trail runners, UV Insect Shield Buff, sunglasses
The plan was to hike in the same clothes every day and wear the items in my pack while at camp. Michael carried the tent in case you were wondering where that important piece of gear was hiding.
Based on long marathon training runs and longer hikes, I know that I typically need a snack every 4-5 miles (~2 hours) to avoid bonking. I assumed 8 hours of hiking per day, along with 2 breakfasts and 2 dinners and ended up with:
- Breakfasts: instant oatmeal packet (x4), instant coffee (x2)
- Dinners: ramen noodle packet (x2), salmon pouch (x2)
- Hydration: 3 Nuun tablets, 4 Scratch packets, 3 Crystal Light packets
- Snacks: 3 packets Justin’s nut butter, 6 bars (variety of brands like this and this), 3 small baggies of trail mix, and 3 packets of gummies/energy chews.
I either packed too many snacks or didn’t eat enough throughout the day, because I didn’t eat a packet of Justin’s, 3 bars, a bag of trail mix, and a packet of energy chews. I’d rather have a few snacks leftover than not have enough to eat, but it also would have been nice to carry a little less weight. It’s a fine line, but is something I’ll learn with time.
Lost Creek Wilderness Day 1:
Michel and I left Denver for our backpacking adventure in the Lost Creek Wilderness adventure early Saturday morning, a 2-hour drive. We started a little after 10:00am from the Goose Creek Trailhead (8,200 feet elevation) and headed west on the Hankins Pass Trail. Our plan for the day was to get in at least 15 miles, hoping to hit closer to 17-18 miles.
The weather was warm with bright blue skies and a nice, cool breeze. It was pretty ideal; however, I was struggling. It took me a while to get adjusted to carrying a heavy pack, utilizing trekking poles, and hiking at 8,000+ feet of elevation. Not to mention the trail was basically up and up and up the entire day. I was breathing heavy and was slightly uncomfortable, but I kept chugging along putting one foot in front of the other knowing that it would (hopefully?!?!) get easier.
We took our first break after about 4.5 miles at the junction for Lake Park Trail (10,000 feet elevation). Despite the difficulties I was still all smiles.
Lake Park Trail started taking us north and kept us climbing up (11,560 feet elevation) and down through aspens, pines, and red rock formations until we reached the Brookside-McCurdy Trail (10,750 feet elevation). From here we continued heading north and heading up. We reached an old burn area with views of Bison Peak, McCurdy Mountain, and more distant mountains.
At this point we were about 14 miles in and I was definitely feeling the hike and the elevation. We stopped for a quick electrolyte and snack break and prepared ourselves for the final push of the day, a climb up to 11,900 feet.
The views were so spectacular. I had tears in my eyes, which could have been caused either by the beautiful views of Pikes Peak or by the wind whipping across my face.
It was all down hill from there. Literally. Within a few miles we dropped down to about 10,000 feet and ended at a little creek. We stopped to fill up our water and began keeping our eyes peeled for a spot to set up camp… and for moose. At this point we were wandering through a bunch of willow bushes and came across a lot of moose droppings. But alas, no moose 🙁
After another mile(ish) of searching we found a spot and started setting up camp. We put on our warm clothes, cooked dinner, brushed teeth, took some Advil PM, and climbed into the tent.
I officially survived Day 1!
Day 1 Stats: 18 miles; 4,400 feet elevation gain
Lost Creek Wilderness Day 2:
We woke up at about 8:30am to another beautiful day! After rolling out of the tent, we began cooking breakfast, taking down the tent, and getting ready for the day.
Breakfast was two packets of instant oats mixed with instant coffee and some goji berries and mullberries. Yum!
We hit the trail at 9:30am with a planned stop at the Lost Park campsite to use the facilities (no offense, poop shovel) and fill up on water. From there it was 2 miles until we connected with the Colorado Trail and started heading east. Michael hiked the entire Colorado Trail last summer and was reliving some memories. I love hearing about his adventures and try to not get too jealous while I’m listening. Maybe one day I’ll get to hike the entire trail.
I was feeling ok at the start of Day 2. Despite all the previous day’s climbing, my legs felt surprisingly great and my shoulders were only a little sore. However, my pack felt super uncomfortable on my back, almost like a sharp pain from my left shoulder-blade to my neck. We were in the middle of a short climb (about 500 feet) and I absolutely had to stop to make some sort of adjustment. I took off my pack and found a pea-sized rock lodged by the zipper just about my left shoulder strap. That was the little rock was the cause of all my pain! I felt infinitely better after that. I cannot begin to describe how relieved I was.
Again, all smiles at our snack break.
The Colorado Trail led us on an old logging road through aspens and ponderosa pines, where we dropped about 2,000 feet over 6 miles to about 8,400 feet. We took advantage of the easy hiking and moved quickly, because our goal was to reach 20 miles.
From the Colorado Trail we got onto Rolling Creek Trail and started heading south. The trail was pretty gentle, so we continued to hike quickly. About a mile into Rolling Creek Trail we stopped for a quick bio break. I peeled off my pack and revealed two large blisters at the top of each collarbone. This will teach me to wear a tank top while carrying a heavy pack! Michael put moleskin and tape over each blister and I changed into a t-shirt.
I’m such a rookie.
After another mile of nice and easy hiking the trail crossed Rolling Creek and then went straight up. This is not an exaggeration. The trail was STEEP. We gained about 2,200 feet in about 2.5 miles. The first mile or so was through a gorgeous canyon, but I was too busy charging up the mountain to stop and take any pictures.
I just took mental pictures, please believe me when I tell you it was stunning.
At the top of the canyon we took a much needed water and sugar break – Sour Patch Kids ftw!! We then continued on switchbacks and headed up and up. About a half-mile from the top we were both out of water. I was running on sugar and adrenaline alone and actually felt pretty good. We made it to the top (10,650 feet elevation), high-fived each other, and immediately started going down, dropping 1,000 feet in a little over a mile.
This is about when I realized I was in love with trekking poles. They helped me hike swiftly during the flat parts of the trail, helped me stay upright and led to easier climbing on the steep uphills, and helped steady me and ease the pressure on my knees during the descent. I guess it’s just one more piece of equipment I need to invest in!
We eventually made it down to Wigwam Park (<- best name) and found a spot to camp next to a little creek.
Michael and I were both drenched in sweat, so we immediately changed into dry clothes and hung our sweaty ones out to dry. I felt like I did after my 20-mile training runs – sweaty and drained, yet full of endorphins. It’s an odd combination.
Michael set up camp while I filtered water and then we followed the same routine as the previous night – cook dinner, brush teeth, take Advil PM, and crawl into bed.
It was ramen noodles and salmon for me, while Michael had bougey Pad Thai.
Day 2 was complete! I think we passed out by 9:00pm.
Day 2 Stats: 20 miles; 3,100 feet elevation gain
Lost Creek Wilderness Day 3:
We woke up at about 9:30am to our final day of hiking! Having already covered 37 miles we only had about 10 miles of rolling hills to go and planned to knock them out quickly.
Our hiking clothes were still slightly damp with sweat, so we moved them into the sun, crossed our fingers, and hoped that they would be dry after we ate breakfast and packed up camp. Thankfully, they were.
No one likes putting on a sweaty sports bra.
We hit the trail by 10:30am, heading east on the Wigwam Trail along some beaver ponds. After about one-half mile we turned south on Goose Creek Trail. From here is was a short 9.4 miles back to the car.
“Short” is relative. Compared to the previous days of 17- and 20-milers, 9 miles felt like nothing.
The trail began with a 650-feet incline over about 2 miles. There was less “pep in my step” (as Michael put it) on this day, but I still felt pretty good overall – just a little pokey. From there it was rolling hills and gorgeous views down to the Goose Creek Trailhead. We took some very quick breaks (less than 2 minutes quick) here and there to take pictures, but basically charged through the miles.
And then… we made it!!
Michael mapped and tracked everything using the Gaia app. Our total stats according to the app were:
- Total distance: 46.85 miles
- Ascent: +8,572 ft
- Descent: -8,652 ft
Sometimes we didn’t pause it on breaks. Sometimes we did. Sometimes we forgot to re-start it. All in all, we probably hiked a little over 47 miles in 51 hours (including sleep and breaks).
Not too shabby for my first 3-day backpacking trip.
After getting off the trail, we put on sandals (the most relieving feeling ever), hopped in the car, and headed back to Denver with a pit stop for Gatorade, because: dehydrated.
We celebrated the amazing weekend with long showers, steak salads, beer, and conversations about future adventures.
Lessons Learned in the Lost Creek Wilderness:
As a newbie at this whole backpacking thing, I learned a lot of lessons.
- Wear a t-shirt (or a muscle tank) to help eliminate collarbone blisters.
- When filtering water do not put the cap of the container that holds the dirty water onto the cap of the container with the clean water unless you want to risk getting giardia.
- Be careful when taking off hiking shoes at camp, because you might step in a bunch of burs. If you step in burs and try to put on leggings, burs will line the inside of your leggings and you will spend the next 15 minutes trying to pick them all off. The smarter idea is to change in the tent.
- A 3 lb 6oz sleeping bag is heavy and takes up a lot of space in a backpack. Either live with that weight or return it and splurge on one from Feathered Friends that only weights 1 lb 12 oz.
- Trekking poles are life savers.
Those are just the obvious ones.
I would strongly recommend a backpacking trip in the Lost Creek Wilderness. We covered 47 miles, but there are 130 miles of trails to explore ranging from shorter day hikes to longer backpacking trips. Reach more about the different trails here.
Overall, it was an incredible weekend. I’m so glad Michael and I could get away and spend 3 days out in the wild. It was full of challenges (heavy pack, high mileage, steep climbs) and many rewards (quality time with Michael and nature, beautiful views). I’d go again in a heartbeat and look forward to many more adventures like this to come!