Thursday, October 24, 2013

Beaver Creek Loop - The hike to change all hikes

We decided to do this hike based on the description here:  It is everything described here and more.  There are also good directions to get to the trailhead along with a play by play description of the hike.  Good information.  To bad we didn't study it a little harder!  This hike was a little longer than we have been doing, 7.3 miles, but we felt we could do it easily seeing as we had done the comparable length Waldo Canyon many times.  The last time we hike Waldo Canyon we finished in about 2-1/2 hours and we expected the same here.  I fully expected to join my sewing buddies back in Colorado Springs at 1:00pm seeing as we got an early start.  Ha ha!

On our drive to the trailhead over the dirt road we were delighted to see several wild turkeys.

Here is where the trail starts:

We packed as we always do -- backpack with snacks and a large water bottle for each of us.  As I'm recalling this from memory I wouldn't use my description as a guide!  The first hour or so was a very enjoyable hike.  The trail was wet in parts.  We laughingly joked about this being our first creek crossing.

Some ups, some downs, some parts of the trail were rocky.  The rocks made progress slower going for us.

We also walked through a valley that had more undergrowth than we are used to in Colorado.  It was also very moist and close enough in one area that we could feel the moisture of the weeds brushing against our legs.  In this area we were bothered by mosquitos - another rare occurrence in Colorado.  Luckily I just happened to have some spray so I got it out -- first and only use so far!  While we were put-zing around, I looked around and there was a lovely deer looking down at us.  It ran away before I could snap the magestic frontal photo.

We had only a small while left of this blissful hiking adventure before it turned ugly.  Here are some images so you can enjoy it too.  In some places there were lovely wildflowers.  This is very different terrain than the rocky cactus scenery we hiked from to get here, but no less or more beautiful.

At a sign we turned left onto Powerline Trail.  This was the beginning of an endless uphill climb.  Luckily we are starting to get used to these, especially after hiking section 16.  Although long, we tolerated it quite well.  Towards the top we were treated for our efforts with exquisite vistas only God is capable of painting. I got a text from my friend asking me if I was going to make it to sewing.  I text-ed her a photo and told her I would when I got off the mountain I was on.

After hiking at the top for a while we descended for a bit and then climbed back up to another crest.  Then we began a long continuous downhill trek.  It was steeper than the climb up which traversed back and forth across the hill making it easier to climb, but not too steep to make the climb down very difficult.  There were some spots where the trail became questionable - like where was it and is this really where we are supposed to descend?  There were some beautiful views of rocky mountains that for some reason I didn't take pictures of.  I think I was reveling in not climbing up -- a lovely feeling that is only slightly dampened by the new muscles you are using to go down.  (-;  My husband didn't have the best shoes at this point in our hiking adventures and later his toenail turned purple from constantly hitting the front of his shoes.  Next stop - new hiking boots.  (-;

Some parts of the trail are well marked.

 Unfortunately, others are more simply marked.
I seem to remember seeing a cairn of rocks like this with a less defined trail branching off of it.  We have seen this many times while hiking and have always taken the road more traveled so I thought nothing of it.  Plus we were still on the high of going downhill.  (-;  Until we got to here.

This is the end of the trail and where two creeks merge.  Yes, the end of the trail.  So this is where we pulled out our printed instructions and realized we probably should have turned off a while back.  There was NO going back from my point of view as I clearly remembered the joy of downhill that lasted seemingly forever (without any switchbacks) and suffered no delusions about what hiking back up it would be like. There was no option to follow the stream on our side of the stream because the stream ran into a rock face.  So we took off our shoes and crossed stream one first and then stream two.  We thought it was better to have some rocks for balance or we could have just crossed the single merged stream.  I had to gather courage for this.  I am diabetic and was not fond of the idea of crossing in my bare feet.  The rocks under water are slippery.  We made it to the other side and there was a wide open spot between trees where it looked like people had camped.  We tried to find a trail but there was none and eventually we ran into thick brush and couldn't proceed.  Our only option was to cross back over the stream again.  We were able to cheat a little (using a downed tree) and didn't have to take off our shoes again, plus we found a stick to cross with.

We still couldn't find a trail so we just followed the creek for a while which wasn't too difficult to do.  I had downloaded the track to my phone, but it was starting to run out of charge.  Didn't make us happy.  For one, we weren't really sure where we were and if we were proceeding correctly.  We kept running into rock faces and had to cross the creek again.  So, we took off our shoes, crossed the creek, put back on our shoes and hiked until we could hike no more.  Then we'd cross the creek again.  At one point we had just crossed the creek, put on our shoes, and 20 feet later had to cross again.  It doesn't sound like it would be difficult to take off your shoes and put them back on, but it was tiring to do it again and again, especially after the never ending uphill climb we had made.  Plus, being sort of lost, the stress was getting to us.  We were reasonably sure we would make it back to our car, but not entirely sure.  The desire to get to a point where we were sure made us want to press on and not take proper breaks.  I read that you also go faster and tire yourself out when you are stressed.  Not to mention that some crossings have their own crossing guard like the huge wolf spider below.  We tried to find places to cross the stream where trees had fallen (or been dragged across) or where there were large boulders to hang on to.

At one point I became so frustrated upon realizing we had to cross the stream one more time I sheepishly admit that I started crying.  My husband, afraid I was going to give up, told me harshly to "Stop it right now".  I responded by ... crying harder.  Hugs all around.  (-;  It was in that crossing that I fell into the stream.  Instead of quickly jumping out, I sunk into the coolness of it.  It was refreshing in the heat.  It wasn't until later I realized that I actually hurt myself.  My elbow hit a rock and later I looked down to see it was swollen to the size of a golf ball. I could move my arm alright, but it hurt to touch it. If I wasn't in such dire straights I would have enjoyed the scenery more. Gorgeous!

A couple of times we thought we'd found a trail just to follow it to a dead end. More frustration. Finally we did find a trail (yay!) and started to follow it. More uphill climbing and I am barely able to put one foot in front of the other. At one point we came close to the creek again and I poured a bottle of water over my head and it gave me a second wind. I think I was hotter than I realized and the heat was affecting my ability to proceed.  I had no hat - not smart. This trail is further south where the heat is usually a good 10 degrees hotter than we are used to. We finally hiked up to the trail where we remembered seeing a sign post early on that we could have hiked down to the creek near to the beginning of the trail. It was such a relief to be in familiar territory. Good thing as we were nearly out of water and hadn't been able to drink as much as we wanted. It was a longer hike to the car from here than we remembered. We ran into two women hiking in - the only people we saw all day. It was about 3pm in the afternoon by the time we got to the car. Two things I remember -- one was that I was being eaten alive by mosquitos waiting for my husband to change shoes.  The other was how grateful I was that he thought to pack a small cooler with fresh drinks in the trunk of our car. I was so thirsty and it just saved me.

This hike shook my faith in myself. I made the decision that I would make sure my bag was packed for any contingency. Major lessons learned:  Find out all you can about the trail your hiking before you go -- read any instructions carefully to know what you might face. Have a topographical trail map and check landmarks around you before you start your hike. We didn't know how close the creek was to our car and so weren't sure if the creek would lead us to the trail head. We thought it would eventually lead us to somewhere civilized. You can also check your landmarks for bearing if you feel you have gone astray from your trail.  Have a GPS so you know if you are returning to your starting point. However, a GPS can show you that you have to hike from point A to point B to return to your starting point -- what it doesn't tell you is that there is a rock face you can't hike through -- great reason to keep your topo maps. Have good hiking shoes. Carry extra water for hikes new to you. Wear a hat to protect you from the heat.  Know that bug spray is sometimes necessary in Colorado.  Water socks and hiking sticks would have been nice to have while crossing the creek. Be prepared for an overnight stay in case someone gets sick or hurt. These days we are much better prepared to hike in the mountains.

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