We harvested Ms Autumn's glory at her peak of ripeness, from on high to valley low. Though not a perfect "10" this year, fall lingers like a lost puppy with nowhere to go. It's a nice change of pace for mountain folk facing the inevitable prospect of 6 months of snow and cold. With that in mind we load Rv Goldie. She waits patiently in our driveway, itching to roll us west into fabulous Utah.
With much to do before departing, I'm thinking this may well be our last fall hike. Thus, I want to make it count. We peruse maps for forest settings low enough to give us one last shot at color...as in, still on the trees as opposed to on the ground.
Bobbie suggests Cutler Creek. Having just hiked Dexter Creek next door, I want something different, something amazing, something new. But, I can't come up with anything; "pickings" get slimmer by the day. 15 minutes later we're parked at Cutler Trailhead, dressed in shorts and t-shirts. It's a fine day to be outdoors.
We decide on a loop hike. It begins at 8,500 feet and ascends counter clockwise up the Left Fork of Cutler Creek to 10,500 feet. It then rolls in and out of large swaths of aspen to "Baldy Trail," which should return us via Okeson back to Cutler. It sounds easy-peasy; 7 mile-ish and straight forward.
|Our Easy Peasy loop hike|
Our hike starts off grand. Tawny tall grass bends in a warm breeze, aspen quake, and oak brush sets hillsides ablaze.
|Bobbie, tripping along a less-trodden trail...|
|Mount Sneffels, framed in gold...|
Cutler Creek to Left Fork to Baldy is so straight forward...you could almost hike it blindfolded.
But, less than a hundred yards from the intersection of Okeson and Baldy, Okeson peters into slight parts in the grass that skirt alongside a rather steep slope. It doesnt take long to realize we're fumbling on game trails.
Bobbie and I spread out, looking for some semblance of a real trail...getting further mired off track in a veritable maze of game trails. Now the smartest thing to do in this situation is to turn around and go back the way you came. But damnit, I came for a loop hike, not an out-and-back. Stubbornness, I've come to realize, is not a virtue. Oh it'll win a battle or two here and there, but at the cost of friends and lovers.
If we were lost in deep dark woods I'd be worried. But we are lost in wide open space, which, in my mind, means aren't lost-lost, just temporarily misplaced.
I plop down to study a topo map, trying to pinpoint our position relative to the lay of the land. I have no glasses so that's a waste of time. Perhaps we'll cut a trail if we keep bushwhacking. Bobbie's off on a wild goose chase search for a trail "blaze" on a tree or a path bigger than a game trail.
On the map I note Okeson saddling along our hillside, clinging to the 10,200 foot contour line for what I guess to be three tenths of a mile. At that point, the trail plunges down rapidly to rejoin Cutler Creek Trail near the North Fork intersection. But what looks like three tenths of a mile on the map turns out to be more like three quarters of a mile.
Bobbie hollers that she found a trail, and I follow her voice to check it out. Ok, back on track. After about a hundred feet it peters out into another freaking maze of game trails that go every which way. I swear; elk are dumber than cattle. It's a miracle they can procreate. (Meanwhile, the herd is watching us from afar, chewing cud and muttering, "Stupid humans.")
I break the news to Bobbie that, according to the map, we are long past where Okeson Trail heads down, and that we are going to have to bushwhack our way back to the car. She's convinced we are in an entirely different drainage, but I'm pretty sure (75%, to be exact) that we are not. I point out to her what I believe to be the Left Fork Drainage we came up. We agree to disagree.
I continue following hoof prints of stupid ass elk, wishing we had a GPS.
We pass several promising ridge lines that appear to make good escape routes off the mountain and down to the Left Fork (if indeed it really is the Left Fork). I don't like the looks of all the dark timber, though; the last thing I want to add to our dilemma is to be fighting our way through a maze of beetle-kill deadfall.
We keep sidling the hillside, stepping in elk shit and looking for the best bushwhack route back to the car. On the bright side—I think, trying to quell rising panic—If one is going to get "lost," at least we've done it a place where we can see where we are. It really doesn't help all that much, but it makes me feel better about our unfortunate circumstance, and it beats crying.
Hiking a sidehill on come and go game trails through tall grass and aspen is dangerous. We can't see foot placements, ankle-rolling rocks, mole-holes, and insidious round pieces of aspen branches that have a way of rolling right out from under you. A squeal goes up. Bobbie takes a 360 degree tumble, a spin that leaves her head downhill and a leg twisted under her body weight. She swears like a sailor with pain in her knee. I help her up; she limps onward...
In the distance we spy a mound of rocks with a stick in the middle. Yes! A trail marker...finally.
We follow a trail down, down, down. There are a couple more falls, but we are optimistic. But the trail suddenly grows faint (Sheesh, what else is new?). Finally, I see the back of a trail sign and race down to find out where we are.
We were on Okeson after all; it was just further to the down-mountain spot than I realized... like three quarters of a mile instead of three tenths.
How we got off Okeson after leaving Baldy I can't say. I think it was overgrown with grass to the point we couldn't tell Okeson Trail from a game trail. Nonetheless, we managed to connect a few more "dots," had a nice hike on a beautiful day, and all is well in the end when it ends well. :)
Goldie's needing our attention. The time has come to leave Lovely Ouray...Snow, rain and wind arrives Monday.
mark and bobbie
|Dropping back into Lovely Ouray's Crevice after our hike; pointy Mount Abram centered...|