The First Solo with a Pack – Lost Creek Wilderness, Colorado

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Starting the trip with cloudy skies

My little VW bug spun around the corners, kicking up a trail of dust which the sun caught like a brides dress. It felt good to be leaving the city behind, I had spent to long locked in by its concrete since returning from the wild Himalaya’s.

Jett stuck her ears and nose out into the wind letting it tear at her face, sniffing at the forest as it blurred by. The sun was sinking low in the sky so when we pulled into the trailhead parking lot, I rushed to lace up my shoes and strap on Jett’s and my pack. She glowered at me, refusing to move. It was my border collie’s first backpacking trip, and it was my first solo backpacking trip.

We both were adjusting to the new challenge. I walked up to the trail head waiting for Jett to except that she had to walk with a heavy pack. She eventually moved to catch up with a look that could have skewered an ant. We started down the trail.

Just one of the beautiful views
Just one of the beautiful views

No better feeling exists than walking into the wild and with each step I felt more and more at peace. Dusk clouded the forest with shadows as we walked away from Goose Creek and the few people that we had seen. The jingling of our bear bells clanged loudly in the silent forest.

Up and down, we quickly made it the short distance to the Shaft House Grave my first X for the trip. I rapidly set up my tent and made a quick dinner wanting to be in my tent by the time it was pitch black. I calmed my butterflies, this was real, and I was doing this on my own. Hiking into the middle of nowhere with no one but myself to rely on.

It was scary; it was risky; it was liberating. I had no one but myself to take care of except a dog who probably could take care of me. After I calmed my irrational fears of ax murderers, shaft house ghosts, and psychopaths, or at least let go of the possibility, Jett snuggled up next to me and we drifted off to sleep.

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The best dog ever and some flowers

I woke up to the excited chattering of the birds in time to watch the skies turn pink with the sun. I packed and ate breakfast in the early morning stillness. Jett had succumbed to her duty of carrying a pack, and bound ahead after squirrels despite its weight. The forest was refreshingly quiet. My thoughts ran a million miles an hour as my footsteps slowly kneaded them out of my mind.

I watched wondrously around me at the beautiful aspens shooting up to the sky and the early sun dancing with their leaves. I walked through the sturdy pines and huge granite boulders sculpted by the earth eons ago. Moss lit up like emeralds on the shady sides of the rocks and trees toppled over them. I felt so light by myself almost as I was floating to oblivion. There was no else to entertain or take care of. Peace and time were all my own to only share with the beauty of this wilderness.

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Jett adjusted to her pack

Step after step early morning faded to the day. The pup and I dropped down to the Lost Creek. We wove through the willow after passing over the hill that swallows this huge river whole. Huge Colorado rains had swollen this creek beyond normal so when I rounded the corner to see the trail on the other side I was stumped.

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Unexpected challenge of crossing Lost Creek

A log stretched over the swift water with a hand line above it. Okay I could do that, but Jett … Jett could not. And she couldn’t swim the river without getting pulled down into the rapids around the bend. After half an hour of experimenting and failing with other hikers and their dog, including me trying to shimmy across a log and almost going for a swim, I waded into the river holding onto some branches and caught Jett by the collar and pulled her to the other side as she furiously swam.

We had made it past our first challenge with only really wet boots and paws. Back to the hiking it was. We kept walking by the picturesque boulders with great views of the surrounding towers of mountains, but I was beginning to wonder where McCurdy Park was.

We had been hiking further than expected already, and the last set of switch backs still lay ahead. We crossed another creek and there they finally were. Camp had to be right there! So after a short break we attacked the trail.

Until I realized that the four switch backs shown on the map were really eight or ten. After every turn I thought the trail would finally go east, but it always turned south again. We slowly pulled ourselves up the mountain. The forest glinted laughingly at our struggle. I pushed hard as clouds began to grow to the north. Only after the switch backs were thru did we collapse in the shade of a tree. Jett took a quick nap and I sprawled over my backpack.

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McCurdy Park Tower

Reluctantly we returned to the path and again it stretched endlessly. My body was ready to quit. My hip flexor burned. Jett was back to trundling behind me. The trail kept going up. The busy thoughts in my mind were gone, I was too tired to think.

I started wondering if parks could be forested until without notice we popped out into the open. McCurdy Park had never looked more stunning. Without resting I set up camp in the middle of some boulders and went squishing through a marsh to find water until I gained enough sense to walk back down to where a stream drained out of the wetlands.

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McCurdy Park camp

We spent the rest of the day soaking up the sun and watching the clouds shrink and grow into horses and dragons. The hike demolished both of us, but Jett could even tell that the pain was worth the place we landed in. The vast skies and empty space drew out the meaningless fervor of civilized life. I slipped back into the simplicity of life with a pack so easily, almost as if a sigh of relief: the relief of catching a quick breath from crazy living.

At the end of the loop, happy to have made it!
At the end of the loop, happy to have made it!

The next day as I walked back to my car through muddy trails, wildflowers, and fallen trees, I couldn’t help but be a little proud. I had done it: soloed for a short three days. New possibilities, new adventures popped into my mind as my bug spit out a tail of dust behind it again.

I returned to the city a little happier with the wild on my mind.

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Full view of the loop in Lost Creek Wildernes
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