Backpack Nostalgia

*We’ve recently started thinking about our vacation plans for the year and a backpack trip is included!  We skipped last year due to some foot injuries and an abnormally large snowpack in the high country, but this year a short 3-4 day trip is definitely in the works.  In honor of that, here’s the recap from our last trip in 2010.

Failes Creek Trail, Big Blue Trail and Falls Creek Trail–Uncompahgre Wilderness: 24 miles

4 day/3 Night Backpacking Trip in the Uncompahgre Wilderness

Day 1: Be prepared for a long one! Failes Creek to the Big Blue Trail
Standing here by the wilderness sign, I’ve no idea there are 3 more miles, on top of the 7 we’ve already done, in front of me…

Every adventure has some learning experiences, and this trip was no exception. It was still wonderful and beautiful and I’d do it again. But next time, I’d know a few more things that would help me and the BF out!

Day 1 started off great. We spent the night at the Little Cimmarron campground about 4 miles from the trail head. There were no other campers there and the place was well kept–even had an out house. We started from the Falls Creek area(despite what the sign at the end of the road says, it’s 20 miles to here, not 14), heading north/northeast on the Failes Creek trail. Our destination was the Big Blue Trail, 5 miles and 1 ridge away. Failes Creek is a great little trail–mostly wooded with adequate water supplies in the first 2-3 miles. Make sure to have both a GPS and a map and if you are in any doubt about where to go, follow your map! Stay on a north/northeast route and on a trail and you’ll be headed the right way.

Once you start climbing the top of the ridge is fairly easy and quick to reach. Coming down seems never ending, and there’s no good water on this side, so make sure to load up before heading up the switchbacks. Once you start to hear dirt bikes, you’ll know you’ve reached Big Blue Road and the Alpine Trail. Crossing the creek here is fun, but just aim for the trail marker on the other side and you’ll be fine. Take your water shoes!

From here it’s a short 1.5 (ish) miles to the Big Blue Trailhead. Our advice, in hindsight, is to camp right near the trail head. By this point you’ve gone 6.5 or 7 miles and you won’t find another campsite for about 3 more. We hiked on in, not knowing any better, and did find a nice spot, but we would have been happier campers if our first day had not been 10 miles of hiking!
This was our campsite for night #1. Those trees across in the center are on the other side of a small ravine–the creek is down a steep trail, but is accessible.

Day Two: Big Blue Continued
Day Two dawned cloudy. We had slept (or at least been in the tent quietly resting in the middle of the night) for almost 12 hours. Coffee and tea were calling us! As we sat on some nice logs looking down at the river below, it started to rain. We dove into the tent just as it started to pour. This was our worst fear…Will this be the day we have to hike all day in the rain?

Karma was on our side however, and about an hour later the sky cleared up and was beautiful for the rest of the day. We made this a short day, considering the length we’d covered the day before, and decided that as soon as we passed Slide Lake, we’d start looking for a spot. Slide Lake is interesting…but the “slide” itself is way more intriguing.

Soon we found a great meadow, complete with easy water access and a waterfall. We had a home. As a bonus, this spot, about 6.5 miles in, had a perfect copse of pine trees for a kitchen. We could sit in this little space, leaned back against a sap-covered tree, and stay dry even in brief rain showers.

Me in the “kitchen” at our camp spot for night #2. There are others just past this and then on for the next 2 miles or so. Lots of great views, water and trees.

Day Three: Big Blue to the Falls Creek Trail

Day three was by far the best day for views on our trip. We left our lovely meadow campsite and headed further up the Big Blue for a day of what we knew would entail quite a bit of climbing. As we climbed, slowly but surely at first, the views opened up before us. We saw great camp sites all along the trail, on the east side of the creek, and wide open meadows and mountains all around us. Soon we turned the corner and there it was: Uncompahgre Peak.

We continued climbing, at some points moving 50 steps forward and stopping, as we got closer to 12,000 ft. The trail is in great shape and is easy to follow (again, it’s still helpful to have a map and gps and know where you’re going). As soon as we turned onto the Fall Creek Trail (Ridge Stock Driveway heads further south; we turned west) we could see the saddle we were headed for. We took off across the meadow, gaping at the views, for what seemed like forever. There was no reason to complain, the trail was easy to follow, it wasn’t too steep, and the views were just incredible. The air was getting thin, however, so we did have to stop a lot. What we should have been doing was eating…

Here’s just one of the many views from the summit of our hike on Day #3, at 12, 740 ft.

**A side note: Camp before the summit. Hike in to right below, near the old shack, and camp down there. There is NO good camping on Fall Creek from the junction with Little Cimarron until you’re within 3 miles of the end of your trip. If you wait, you’ll end up with an 8.5 mile trip and some questionable tent sites…think sliding to the bottom of your tent…digging rocks out of the ground…

We continued on past the summit, heading down to what we thought would be a perfect and soon-to-be-reached campsite. The trail is downhill and covered with rocks. It’s pretty slow going just because you have to weave around so many loose rocky spots. We did stop for some snacks, but we pushed ourselves far too hard. This was mostly out of necessity as we couldn’t find a spot to camp! Everything was either boggy or uneven or rock infested. We finally did find what turned out to be a great little knoll. It worked for us because we have a small tent and were desperate. After being held captive in our tent for an hour by mosquitoes we were able to come out and enjoy a nice meal of chili mac and camp margaritas before turning in. This campsite is about 1/2 a mile after you cross Fall Creek down in the valley for the first time. If you can hold out for another mile or so, until the next creek crossing, there are great meadows for camping.

Day 4: Fall Creek to the car!

Day #4 was the most beautiful day of all. There were no clouds in the sky and it was too cold for the mosquitoes to be up when we were. At 11,200 ft there were ice crystals in our water at 7 a.m. Still, it was a lovely morning perched on our tiny knoll. We weren’t hungry, but we knew we needed to eat, so we ate sesame snaps, a pay day, and cheese. We had gone 50 hours without seeing another soul, but we knew that was all ending soon. We packed up and headed out.

The Fall Creek Trail is great for hiking from this point forward. It’s easy to follow, and the views are great. There are some rocky sections with “baby head” rocks to watch for, but it’s relatively easy hiking. We enjoyed seeing others along the trail and talked about our newest strategies for our next trip…

* Stop every hour to take OFF the pack, rest, and eat. This will keep you from getting completely hammered. It’s better to stop often than to get completely “destination focused” and forget to eat.

* Remember that everything isn’t going to go like you think–especially on new trails.

* Falls Creek is not the best trail for camping…a better plan for next time would be: Hike Failes to Big Blue and camp right at the wilderness boundary. Hike up about 7 or 8 miles towards the summit/ridgeline at junction of Big Blue and Fall Creek. Day 3 will be up and over and about 4 miles down Fall Creek past the Little Cimarron Junction…then you have a short hike out on the last day.

* We need another Ursack. Right now we have 1 Ursack (bear proof) and 1 dry bag that we hang with odor-proof bags inside it. We think 2 Ursacks would be better.

So we survived! I only cut myself once, ran into 1 tree limb, came back with 1 horrible pinky-toe blister. It was a great adventure and I’m sure by next year we’ll be looking for another one.

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