Yesterday we ventured out on a chilly and blusterly day to Jefferson County Open Space’s (JCOS) beautiful Pine Valley Open Space Park for a training hike. Our goal was to carry our Deuter pack systems under a full “Camino load” while adding some additional distance to bring us closer to our goal of a 12 mile hiking average before we tackle the Camino.
We started out by crossing the North Fork of the South Platte River at an elevation of 6,775′. We quickly accented up the steep Park View Trail while appreciating the results of the hard work the JCOS trail crews put into the stairs and safety railings. We gained 300′ in elevation in the first .6 miles. The hard climbing provided for some great benefits, as the huge rock formations and vistas were amazing. After gaining this “elevation by immersion” the remainder of Park View Trail was relatively easy and we soon exited the Jefferson County park into the Pike National Forest’s Buffalo Creek Recreation Area.
We connected to the Strawberry Jack Trail which took us south in and out of the boundaries of the 2000 High Meadow Fire. High Meadow was the fire which resulted in a loss of over 50 homes in our local community and us being evacuated from our ranch for 5 days on June 12, 2000. The fire was officially contained on June 25, 2000. Sandy and I were amazed at the regeneration of the mountain sides. Where once thick conifer forests made hiking off trail nearly impossible, now vast hillsides were covered in natural grasses and one to two foot pine trees. I commented on now knowing why we haven’t seen too many elk on our property recently, as they now have thousands of acres of nearby grassland to keep them busy. No need any longer to hang out in residential or ranchland areas when this amazingly large garden salad awaits.
We hiked alternatively through beautiful healthy ponderosa pine forests, lodgepole pine, Colorado blue spruce, Engleman spruce and Douglas fir forests and then grassy hillsides with blackened matchstick blowovers and then back into thick healthy forests multiple times as the High Meadow fireline fingered throughout the mountains and across our trail.
After a few miles, we connected to the Skipper Trail west to the Buck Gulch Trailhead. Skipper was a really neat trail. Portions very flat and thickly wooded with ponderosas and then down to a neat glenlike area complete with a small running brook. At the Trailhead, we connected to Buck Gulch Trail and traveled north back toward the Open Space Park. Buck Gulch was a bit more rough than the prior trails, probably due to some heavy erosion, popularity with mountain bikers and steep decents back down to the South Platte River basin. We also were keeping an eye on an approaching spring storm front as obvious snowfall was quickly moving east over the Continental Divide. In fact, it was now obliterating the once majestic snowcapped peaks of 13,575′ Mount Rosalie and 14,265′ big brother Mount Evans, to our northwest. After a short break for a snack it was decided we should start heading back toward our starting point so we kept moving.
While on the trail, we observed two herds of a dozen or so mule deer and too much mountain lion scat to count. Mountain lion scat is easily distinguisable as it is most always white in color and contains lots of deer guard hair and bone. It is the bone and bone marrow which causes the white coloration. I commented to Sandy that there are very healthy mountain lions and lots of deer for dinner in the Buffalo Creek Recreation Area.
Once we traversed back down the steep trail to our starting point it was time to compile our trip numbers. We hiked for 4 hours and 47 minutes, over 7.45 miles of trail, and gained 1,004′ in elevation. Our pack weight was at what we expect to carry while on the Camino, 22 pounds for Mark and 17 pounds for Sandy.
Yes, we were a bit sore afterwards, but that is to be expected. Neither of us had any blisters, although a couple of hot spots on our toes were felt. We were both very pleased at our pack system, outerwear, footwear, pace and endurance level. It finally hit us…we are starting to get into “Camino conditioning” and it feels great!