Hike Summary: 19.3 miles of the last (or first?) segment of the Colorado Trail.
Last week, the Girl Scouts of Western Oklahoma (GS-West) High Adventure Team (HAT) backpacked most of Segment 28 of the Colorado Trail. This segment runs from Kennebec Pass down to Durango, CO.
My first plan had been to start at the Pass and walk the rest of the trail in. However, the last couple miles of road to the Pass are pretty rough, and four-wheel drive with high clearance is recommended. Since we were driving a couple 15-passenger vans, that didn’t sound very promising. So instead I saw that FS Road 204 got to within about a mile of a trailhead, and Champion Road, AKA 171, would get us there. I talked to a very nice young lady in the Durango Forest Service office, who told me that getting vans in there would not likely be a problem.
FS 204 is about 15 miles from Junction Creek camp, where we stayed two nights prior to backpacking. While half of the road is pretty decent, the other half is darned rough, and you can only drive about 10-15 miles an hour on it. FS 204 connects to Champion/171 for about a mile. You can park in several wide spots in the road where the Colorado Trail crosses 171, and there is plenty of room to turn around.
We had driven up to Durango in two vans and a truck. We left the truck in Junction Creek camp with the permission of the camp hosts, which was very nice of them to let us do that.
The drive up there has some spectacular views of the Weminuche Wilderness and the Molas area. It’s worth a drive up there if you are in the Durango area.
There are no facilities of any sort at the trailhead, and no water.
The drive to the trailhead took a lot longer than I had thought it would, and we got there about 1115, and hit the trail around 1140.
There was a lot of green stuff on the trail starting right at the trailhead. And flies. Lots of flies. They were annoying, and some bit.
We had lunch at a nice spot just above Fassbinder Gulch. We hiked along and down, and didn’t see more than a trickle of water in the several creekbeds we passed.
At some point, we were somewhat above Flagler Creek. We turned up Leavenworth Gulch, and there is a decent waterfall there that is about 75 ft tall. The creek from the falls runs into Flagler, and that water looks solid.
We got to camp about 1630.
We camped at a small area near a bridge built over Junction Creek. The camp has no tree cover, and was quite hot in the direct sun, but around 1800 Sun dropped behind the hill to the west and it started cooling off.
One interesting thing here, we found the remains of a small (calf?) elk at the north end of the camp area.
The obnoxious flies went away as soon as Sun went behind the wall, and started again as soon as Sun came back over the wall to the east the next morning.
There are not many places to hang a bear bag here.
The days hike was 5.62 miles, with 416 ft of altitude gain, and 2180 ft loss.
This was a different day. We anticipated a big climb and little water. We broke camp and headed out about 1000. The trail did not disappoint, we headed steadily upward all morning. The trail was not steep, but it was steadily up.
We found a very nice spot for lunch at a high point near Sliderock Canyon, that had amazing views all around.
Right after leaving the lunch spot, we found a small stream where it crossed the trail in Sliderock. There was a bit of a larger stream in the next turn, First Trail Canyon. We pumped a couple liters of water from the First Trail stream, but I don’t know that it is reliable water; the pool we pumped from was about 10 inches across and a couple inches deep.
At the point between First Trail and Road End Canyons, you can look down the Junction Creek drainage and see Durango in the distance. We had solid 4G service there.
As we came around into Road End Canyon, it looked to me like there was a former camp on the north side, but it was terribly overgrown. You have to keep going and make the turn at the end of the canyon, and the camp is about another hundred yards, between the two arms of the trail. We hit camp around 1600.
This camp is in the trees and is very cool. A low volume stream flows on the north side of the camp; the stream may be reliable through summer. It was a stretch to get all of our tents and hammocks in there, but we got it done. There is a nice fire ring with logs to sit on.
Our second day on the trail was 5.94 miles and 1650 ft of altitude gain.
We got up and managed to hit the trail around 0930. We didn’t see any water again until we hit Junction Creek at the bottom of big wall below Guda’s rest. Before we left camp, we filled a couple of Platypus bladders and all of the water bottles.
We found a very nice spot for lunch above Deep Creek, right before the trail headed back to the east. There were amazing views off to the south, and cell service was 4G along here.
At one point, we hiked into an area that was largely open, with a lot of scrub oaks. We saw a number of bear scat, and Elaine and I smelt strong bear smell at one point. I’m certain we were within tens of yards of a bear, possibly sleeping.
We hiked along until we were able to enjoy the view from Guda’s Rest, then headed down the big switchbacks there to Junction Creek (the first water since we left camp), and along to Junction Creek campsite.
Our last day was 9.9 miles, with 2760 ft of altitude loss. We had some tired girls coming off the trail.
When we got off the trail, we sent the girls to the campsite at Junction Creek with two of our adults, and took the truck back up to the trailhead, then all of us drove back again.
It was a lot hotter there than we expected. Forecasts before we left were in the mid 60s and mid 40s, which was consistent with the historical data at a SNOTEL at 10,000 ft a couple miles farther west. We had temps in the mid to high 80s for highs, but at least the humidity was low. We had zero clouds for the first two days, and a couple sparse clouds on Day 3.
I’m thinking it would be a dry distance for our Day 2 and 3 segments in August. I drank every bit of my 2 bottles hiking to our second camp, so it would take another couple for staying overnight up there, not to mention not seeing any more water until getting all the way to Junction Creek.
This was a good beginners backpacking trip. The Scouts did great, and handled the climbs and loads with ease. We were kind of slow, but it doesn’t matter as we got into camp in plenty of time each day.
I’m very proud of the Scouts for keeping good spirits up in spite of the heat and the flies.