| The Ins and Outs: Following the Lost Creek
Starting Trailhead: Goose Creek Trailhead
Finishing Trailhead: Wigwam Trailhead
Distance: 16(ish) Miles (4 miles trail from Goose Creek TH, 4 miles of off trail following the creek, 8 miles trail to Wigwam TH.)
Elevation: Great question.
**SAFETY NOTE: Although I enjoy soloing and do it often, I must insist that anyone attempting this trek go with a partner. The chances for a twisted leg/ankle or fall in this area are considerable, and you are traveling in an area where you will likely NOT be found. It’s a beautiful area with outstanding terrain, but it is very wild. Proceed with caution.
As people have probably figured out through some of my previous trip reports, I’m a bit of a fanatic when it comes to the Lost Creek Wilderness. In addition to trying to finish all of the peaks and trails within the wilderness boundaries, I also put effort into exploring areas that I find intriguing despite the lack of a summit or trail. One item/area that has stood atop my plans within the LCW is to follow the true Lost Creek as it flows in and out of the ground, the characteristic that gives the creek its name. I have often peered down into the mysterious rocks and valleys surrounding the flowing creek from high above and wondered what surprises were hidden within it. The closest most people come to the flow of the Lost Creek is either passing through Refrigerator Gulch while completing the Goose Creek Loop, or visiting the shafthouse historical location 4 miles up from the Goose Creek Trailhead. Having been both of these places, my fascination centered on what discoveries were to be found in the 3 mile stretch between these two sites. I was able to gather some information from a report on 14erworld (thanks D + B!) and learned that technical gear was not needed, and that the views were supposed to be splendid as expected. That was enough for me to give it a try.
I knew that I wanted to partner up for this trip, but sometimes finding a partner using terms like “no summit”, “bushwhack” and “very little information” can be a bit tough. Through emails and PMs, I knew that Jay held some similar interests, not to mention that we had been trying to get together for a hike for a while. I tossed a quick invite to him and he was game.
I was in the LCW area doing some other things so Jay decided to meet me early near my camp by the shafthouse. We hit the trail and headed up to the old shafthouse gear system that marked the beginning of our route. After passing the gear system, we entered new terrain and began to pick our way downward through boulders and caves towards the first appearance of the Lost Creek. To get down to the creek from here is quite difficult, and we spent a lot of time here. According to the information that we had, there was supposed to be a ladder somewhere among the boulders that led to an easy descent to the creek. For the life of us, we could not find the ladder. Instead, we found cave options and a couple short class 5 moves that allowed us access to the creek below. Although happy that we had finally found the way down to the creek, we knew that we had taken a lot of time and a full creek follow was not going to happen. On our re-ascent to the shafthouse, we came across the ladder! We also discovered that had we located the ladder earlier, we could have saved a couple hours and had a MUCH easier time descending to the creek. Oh well, at least we had information to make the next attempt go more smoothly. We then spent the rest of the afternoon climbing UN10654 to the east, so it still turned out to be an awesome day.
May 6th: Jay entering the rocks beyond the shafthouse area.
May 6th: Amazing balanced rock connected only at the bottom. For size reference, the rock is about 40 feet tall.
May 6th: Jay pointing to where we wanted to go.
May 6th: Finding the infamous ladder on our “retreat” back up to the shafthouse.
Just over one month later, the decision was made to give it another try. After our sneak peek, Jay was obviously interested in trying again. Clay decided that the event sounded too good to miss so he was in as well. We knew going in mid June was going to be an issue considering the heat, however we reasoned that following water most of the trip and having plenty of shade options would offset that issue. We would be required to take two vehicles due to coming from two different directions, so we decided to go ahead and set up a shuttle option for this trip. Not only would that allow us to not repeat any ground, but it would also allow me to see a two mile section of the Goose Creek Trail that I had not traveled yet. Win-win!
Clay and I drove in from Denver and met Jay at 6 AM in the Wigwam TH parking lot. A quick toss of gear into Clay’s truck and we were off on the 12.5 mile drive south to the Goose Creek TH. The roads throughout this area are all dirt, but easily traveled by any vehicle. You’ll probably just need a car wash afterwards. By the time we arrived at the TH and hit the trail, it was getting close to 7 AM.
The first portion of the trip was following the very nice and very mellow Goose Creek Trail north to the intersection of the Shafthouse Trail. We kept a very quick pace up this part, anxious to start the fun of the day. From the shafthouse intersection, we headed west up the trail for around 1 mile to the old shafthouse boiler and gear system. This area marks the end of our established trail. We spent a few minutes poking around and discussing the old equipment and the possible uses for it before heading through the rocks in search of the infamous ladder that Jay and I had found over a month ago.
Sun casting its first rays on the eastern border of the LCW during the drive in.
Uncle Rico (the truck) with the sunrise coming up behind Cheeseman Mountain.
Entering the wilderness from the Goose Creek TH.
Nice, mellow Goose Creek Trail.
Derek taking in the view along the Goose Creek Trail. Photo by Jay
Left hand turn (west) at the historic buildings sign.
Buildings located near the shafthouse trail turnoff. These were originally the living quarters for workers attempting to dam the area in the early 20th century. Thankfully, that plan fell through. Image by Clay
Playing around in a cave on the way to the shafthouse gears.
Derek and Jay discussing the gear mechanism. “Well, that there is your problem…needs new sparkplugs!” Image by Clay
Derek headed into the crack leading through the maze beyond the shafthouse gears. Suck it in! Image by Clay
First views of the valley once beyond the rock maze and the shafthouse gears.
We came across a few campers on the rocks just beyond the shafthouse area and had a quick chat. They mentioned that the ladder we were looking for had been moved from its original spot, however they moved it back up where it had been previously. I’d like to say a big thank you to that group, since that saved us some precious time from finding a different way down. (Not to mention carrying that heavy old ladder couldn’t have been fun.) Sure enough, in just a couple minutes we found the old iron ladder in the same spot as it was last time. After carefully descending the rusted rungs, we gave a quick shout and wave to the one of the campers watching us from above and we were on our way. This same section had taken Jay and I almost two hours to find a way through in May, and this time had taken us only 10 minutes.
Jay approaching the ladder from above. Image by Clay
Clay on the iron ladder.
The Lost Creek. Let the fun begin.
The next 3 miles and 5 hours held some of the most interesting and scenic areas that I have even witnessed in Colorado. Rather than take the experience of exploration out of it for anyone in the future, I will not describe in words our exact route. In fact, describing our exact route would likely be almost impossible anyway considering the amount of backtracking and route changes we made along the trek. Just note that for most of the way we followed either the creek, or we followed the land above where the creek flowed underground. You can view the map at the bottom of the report for our path. Instead of describing the route, I will just share through photos and captions this 3 mile playground to provide a peek of what lies in wait for the next set of crazy adventurers.
Walking the creek.
Passing through overhangs and arches.
Clay at the entrance of a cave he spent some time exploring. (Sorry Clay, caught you with your eyes closed.)
Cave interior. Image by Clay
More cave interior. Image by Clay
Glad we brought our headlamps! Image by Clay
Derek and Clay workin’ the creek. Photo by Jay
Interesting colors on the rocks.
Boulder time. Over or under?
Trying to get back to the creek.
Jay finds a way. We hope?
Jay’s way works! Image by Clay
Jay hoping that geologic time isn’t now.
More creek walking.
Some squeezing by Jay. Image by Clay
Alright. These boulders are getting old.
Ok, some backstory on this photo. I have this strange gift that allows me to come across balloons while bushwhacking in wilderness areas. With my best hunting trophy pose, I am showing off balloon #5. Image by Clay
Smelling the homestretch, almost to McCurdy Park trail and Refrigerator Gulch.
Five hours after entering the Lost Creek, we reached our northern stopping point of the McCurdy Park Trail in Refrigerator Gulch. Exhausted but happy, we took a long break here. We weren’t looking forward to tackling the 1100’ of elevation we had to gain to make it out of the gulch, but that elevation gain was the only option we had to make it into the Wigwam Creek area to the north.
After pumping some water (I think we all broke our personal water intake records on this trip) we started up to long switchbacks that led back up to the Goose Creek Trail. I was starting to suffer quite a bit from the heat at this point, and I would stop in each shady area I came across to grab some relief. Once we hit the Goose Creek Trail, we took a left and headed north. It is just over 2 miles from the McCurdy Park/Goose Creek Trail intersection to the Goose Creek/Wigwam Trail intersection. The trail reaches a high point of 10,150’, and the slog up to this point was rough. Finally, all that was left in front of us was 4.5 miles of descent. We stopped one more time for water at the Wigwam Trail intersection near the beaver ponds, then aimed east and set it on auto-pilot. Although scenic, we each had been to this area multiple times and the only thing on our mind was the finish line. (Well, that and the Modus Hopperandi that Jay had mentioned was in the cooler at his truck.) After the long descent, we arrived at the Wigwam TH around 6:30 PM, almost exactly 11.5 hours after hitting the trail that morning.
I’d like to say a big thank you to Clay and Jay for being crazy enough to join me on this adventure. After my cuts and bruises disappear, I can guarantee that this trip will result in being one of my favorite romps into the LCW. Thanks.
Looking back over the Lost Creek area on our way north towards the Wigwam Trail. The smoke from the newly started “Springer Fire” in the background.
Leaving the wilderness area behind on the Wigwam Trail.
Back to the road at sunset. What a day.
Final map. (North portion.)
Final map. (South portion.)