Archive for Buckskin Creek

Four of a Kind

Posted in Trail Tales with tags , , , , , on August 16, 2018 by A lo Hawk

I am awakened not by my alarm but by my full bladder and colon. I slip on my crocs, crawl out of my tent and find the cat hole I dug last night to relieve my bowel pressure. It is only 1:30 in the morning but I have an itch to get the day’s adventure started.

For the past month of weekends I have traveled the state to climb 14,000 foot mountains. Yesterday I motored to tiny Alma, turned up Buckskin Creek and followed it towards Kite Lake. This alpine basin south of Breckenridge is surrounded by a high ridge containing four rounded rock piles: Mt Democrat (14,148), Mt Cameron (14,238), Mt Lincoln (14,286), Mt Bross (14,172). The moderate class 2 terrain and easy access makes it a popular pilgrimage for peakbaggers of every ability.

To avoid paying the $12 camping fee I had set up my tent along the creek outside of the fee area a few miles from the trailhead. To pass the evening I sat in the car drinking double IPA, reading “House of Rain” by Craig Childs, and watched the stream of clouds fly over the mountain tops and the late arriving caravan of cars crawl along the rough road to the campground.

Overnight the wind brought a passing storm which dropped a mixture of rain and snow over the area. When I emerged from my warm cocoon the sky was clear leaving a glistening frozen blanket on the ground illuminated by innumerable sparkling points of light overhead. The unmistakable collection of stars known as the Big Dipper sits perfectly framed on the horizon as if about to pour a ladle of stellar material over the earth.

I throw my wet tent into the Subaru and drive a short distance to the end of the road. The parking lot is full of silent metal hulks so I park along the side of the road facing the exit. Using my headlamp, I toss the Camelbak over my shoulders and find the metal cylinder to deposit the envelope containing the $3 day use fee. Making my way through the automobiles and multi-colored tents clustered around a black void of still water I swivel my head until I locate the sign marking the start of the hike. No other soul appears to be stirring as I stride forward on the wide gravel tread at 3 am.

Bundled up with layers of clothing, hat, gloves and hoodie pulled down to protect skin from the bitter wind chill, I follow the trail across the basin toward the lower slopes of Mt Democrat. As I ascend the rising switchbacks I begin to see headlamps blink on and form a slow-moving line below. Looking further down the valley I also see a steady parade of headlights moving up Buckskin Creek Road.

Just below the saddle between Mt Democrat and Mt Cameron I reach an altitude where the fresh layer of snow over the scree creates tricky footing and consequently requires sharp focus. The views expand beyond the Kite Lake basin as I carefully climb untracked switchbacks to a false summit. As the route levels off the view below disappears while the universe overhead commands attention. Moments later the final pitch leads me to the lonely cold summit at 4:40 am. A sharply defined quarter moon amplifies the night sky to a surreal intensity. As much as I want to prolong this rare moment I have been pacing to keep warm and I have other peaks to visit. I reluctantly retrace my solitary tracks over the apex.

Back at the saddle I greet a human shadow making halting steps to the trail junction. I continue ahead on the rocky ridge as it begins the climb to Mt Cameron. Looking across a huge granite bowl toward the dark mass of Mt Bross I see a necklace of lights advancing across a veiled face. There is a prominent sign at the trailhead warning that Mt Bross is closed to the public next to a well worn path which takes you there. A spectacular nine mile loop lures undaunted peakbaggers to tag all four in a day. My plan is to do the loop clockwise.

Mt Cameron is a gradual camel hump; no reason to slow down across its parabolic summit. The trail is a wide white and gray trough pointing the way to lofty Mt Lincoln which is backlit by an orange and blue tinted sky. I turn off my headlamp and hurriedly scramble to reach the top as a fiery red orb rises to announce the break of day.

A lean young man dressed in khaki clothes arrives minutes later. We can see hikers strung out on the ridges connecting Lincoln, Cameron and Bross like ants emerging from their underground nests. I head for the saddle leading to Mt Bross where I meet hikers who tell me how steep the trail is from Kite Lake. Since the trail will be in the shade for hours, the descent will be cold and slick. I have another idea.

Mt Bross is another featureless mound except for a curved wall of rock built to block the wind. There are a couple of lumps huddled inside as I pace a circle around the structure and return the way I came. I have decided to return by way of Mt Cameron to avoid the shady descent and to extend the sunny ridge walking as long as possible.

By now dozens of rubber soles have trampled the thin layer of white crust into dust. On my right is a queue weaving a thread of bodies up Mt Lincoln. I turn left and minutes later am standing on the flat top of Mt Cameron looking down at a total logjam of people and dogs swarming the wide saddle, clogging the switchbacks to Mt Democrat and outlining the entire route back to the lake.

Before I am absorbed by the madness I stop at a flat rock to finally strip off unneeded layers. The peace and serenity of the morning is shattered by a flying drone, the constant klickety-klak of metal tipped trekking poles, pop music coming out of someone’s pack, the general murmur of a festival crowd punctuated by canine yelps. Continuing the descent into the basin is a stop and go dance against the flow of mouth-breathers with their various burdens either carried on their backs or following behind.

Returning to the Kite Lake trailhead at 8:30 am, I am mildly concerned to see cars constricting both sides of the narrow lane as far as I can see. Luckily, I am able to safely negotiate the metal corridor through the late arriving hikers and autos until I arrive back at the campsite satisfied with the decision to go all in. Aloha and Happy Trails!

41 Colorado 14ers + 10 repeats + 3 West Coast peaks = 54 total summits

For details go to My Fourteeners