Attempt at crossing Deer Creek turns into near disaster!

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Today’s training hike took us to the Pike National Forest where we intended to park at the Deer Creek Trailhead and hike up Tanglewood Trail to the 13,575′ summit of Mt. Rosalie. We awakened well before daylight to temperatures at 27 degrees and clear skies. We left early and prepared well, as we knew this would be our longest and most strenuous hike to date. As we ambled down Park County Road 43 toward the trailhead we had a great view of the surrounding towering mountains. These big fellows can be intimidating but can be conquered with a “one step at a time” hiking mentality.

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Once we got close, our first hint this hike was destined for failure was the closure of the road from the campground to the trailhead. Although this would create additional distance to an already long hike, we decided to park and try to find a way over the roaring creek. It doesn’t look like much in this photo, but the swollen and swift moving creek was much too wide to jump and too deep to ford.

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So, we decided to make our way upstream to hopefully locate a narrower portion of water or preferably a fallen tree or two to help us cross the creek. It wasn’t easy, but we ended up making our way onto an island where the creek split. Now, to locate a fallen tree.

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Perfect! Out of nowhere our fallen tree appeared and after studying it, Sandy decided to be the first across. After taking this photo, I wisely decided to put away the camera to assist her across the creek. What happened next came real quickly.

As the water flows so quickly beneath a log crossing there are times when small drops of water splash atop the fallen tree. When this occurs and the temperatures are below 32 degrees, freezing occurs. Augggh. As Sandy was crossing the log and unknowingly stepped onto the icy section, she quickly lost her balance. She had been using her poles for stability in the water, but at the same moment she lost her balance, her pole tips were not able to touch the creek bed, as the water was much deeper than anticipated. Well, then it happened so quickly. Her feet slid off to her left and into the frigid creek she went. As she was falling she instinctively reached out for the log. She held on as the rapid current pulled her legs under the log. She let out a scream as you can well imagine after going from completely dry and warm to immersed into an icy cold stream.

As this was happening, I jumped off the log into the creek with my left leg while keeping my right leg on the log for support. The small stream was remarkably strong, as it continually tried to pull her legs under the log. She fought the current and maintained her grip on the log the whole time. I pulled upward on her free arm but her right leg was a bit caught in a pile of underwater slash. I then moved to her backpack hand hold and pulled upwards. That seemed to work as we got some elevation out of the water and she was able to release her foot from the underwater debris. With a little more help from me, Sandy used her upper body strength to pull herself out of the water and we both were onto the safety of the bank. During the fast water action, Sandy lost one of her nice hiking poles. Initially, she was more upset about loss of the pole and “ruining the hike”. After calming her about not worrying about the pole or hike, we started focusing on the immediate task at hand. We knew our hike to Rosalie was over and quickly realized we were in a bad situation as hypothermia would soon kick in. We needed to get back to the Toyota fast and warn ourselves up.

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As you can see, Sandy was soaked from head to toe. Thankfully, we were very close to our vehicle. So, we sloshed back to the 4Runner and immediately heated it up and got as warm as possible. It was amazing how cold we became in such a short time period. If we were deep along the trail, it could have been a much different story. We stripped off our wet clothing and headed for home posthaste. Once at home, and sufficiently dried up, we decided the day was way too nice to just have a bad memory. We decided to head out to one of the great Jefferson County Open Space Parks which surround us. We decided on having a positive Deer Creek experience, so off to Deer Creek Canyon Park, about 25 miles away from our bad Deer Creek spot.

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Deer Creek Canyon was home to lots of historical characters in Colorado history. Legends such as Jesse James, Alferd Packer and others spent time in this area. Like always, Jeffco’s facilities are top rate. Superb trails, super clean facilities and flush toilets! I told Sandy not to expect such fine public restrooms once on the Camino. But of course we will go with the “flow” so to speak and take what we can get.

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Deer Creek Canyon is set in the foothills of Denver with great trails climbing from altitudes of 5,700-7,250′. The park is located among scrub oak, spruce and ponderosa forests. While on the trail we noted some early autumn color. It is one of my favorite times of the year.

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Here is a much more dry and relaxed Sandy on the trail.

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One of the vistas from the Plymouth Trail. This body of water is Chatfield Reservoir, home of Chatfield State Park.

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Downtown Denver in the distance with Bear Creek Reservoir in the foreground.

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This is an idea of what the trail topography looks like. It really is quite beautiful. Even with today’s near disaster we were able to complete another 7 miles of training toward our goal.

Well, today’s events taught us some important life and hiking lessons. Never take nature for granted. Especially water. The forces generated by a fast flowing creek, even a relatively small creek are unreal. Bring an extra set of under and outerwear when hiking in the back country. The extra weight in your pack is well worth miles of hiking in wet clothing or worse yet hypothermia. Always hike with a partner. Having a buddy who can help out when you are in a fix can literally save your life.

Finally, I commented to Sandy that we are having so many wild experiences on our training for the Camino, I hope we leave some for the route once in Spain.

Buen Camino and be safe!

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5 Comments

Filed under Mark & Sandy's Camino 2014

5 responses to “Attempt at crossing Deer Creek turns into near disaster!

  1. JON

    HOLY COW. I am glad you made it back ok. i hope there aren’t too many water crossings on the camino!

  2. JON

    Also, this kinda reminds me of that book you sent to me about safety in nature.

  3. Fortunately there are no known tree crossings on the Camino. Yes, just goes to show you how a small obstacle can kill you without much difficulty. Respecting Mother Nature even more now.

  4. Yikes! I am so glad you both got out ok! I’m Impressed with Sandy keeping her cool I am not sure i would have. A very serious lesson to learn…. I have often wondered about that trail over there, now I know it is a not this season hike! Deer creek Canyon is my favorite place to make it right!

    • Yes, she is a real fighter. One thing I never though of was making sure your hiking partner’s backpack handle is really strong. Thankfully, her backpack withstood quite an amount of force without failing. Who would have thought you would ever be pulled out of a raging river via that? Thankful, for sure.

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