Monday, November 9, 2009

Clear Creek Canyon Hike 11-9-09

Clear Creek Canyon is West of Golden, Colorado on highway 6 and the canyon continues up the gorge to Blackhawk Colorado.
Jefferson County Open Space has been building trails in Clear Creek Canyon for several years and their efforts are an ongoing project. Eventually the the goal is to have a trail which connects to the Continental Divide Trail.
Because the project is currently underway, there is often construction on parts of the trail and the only way to find out which is open is to start driving up the canyon. And that is what I did today!
I woke up on my Monday off, feeling very restless and in need of a good hike. I had a couple of hours of work to do then I gathered up my gear, laced up my hiking boots, and got the dogs ready to hike. The dogs and I drove into Clear Creek Canyon and kept our eyes peeled for a trail-head. Since the canyon trails here are new, I don't know where they are all located but I knew of one farther up the mountain near the city of Blackhawk. As I drove up the winding mountain with the music blaring, wind in my hair and two dogs eager to hike, I was taking the time to reflect on my goals in life. The reflection time was much needed. After driving up the mountain for 20 minutes, I came across my hike, which was closed due to construction on the road in that area and no parking. Since I wasn't sure of any more hikes farther up the mountain, I decided to go back down the mountain to hike at a new trail that I passed along the way. After 20 minutes of driving back down the canyon, I stopped at my second choice hike and eagerly parked, jumped out of the car and started up the mountain with the two dogs.
I was in quite a mood today, reflecting on my job, my goals in life, my past choices and all I wanted to do was hike and listen to upbeat music. I love listening to my MP3 player while hiking, but it's not something I do frequently as it's not very safe especially with the dogs. But today, on a cool Monday morning, with not another car in the parking lot, it was definitely a good time to turn up the music and hike!

The trail was not well marked and it was difficult to discern from the underbrush and deer trails at the start of the hike. I was determined to not get back into the car, so I continued up the mountain heading back west into the canyon and up the mountain. The trail was hard to follow but, do-able for about 15 minutes, then the 'trail' came to a stop near a cliff and I was not sure where it went after that. After only 20 minutes of hiking and then loosing the trail, I was not about to turn back and find another place to hike. Looking up at the mountain above me (photo to left), I decided I was just going to start hiking up to the <--- top. I remembered seeing another trail going up the far side of the mountain, so I figured I could climb to the top and pick up the trail on the other side. As I started to the top, I realized this is exactly what I needed to do today, accomplish hiking to the top of a mountain I had never been on before while listening to music as loud as possible, watching the cars driving on 6th Ave below. The mountain was steep, there was no trail to follow, but I continued uphill trying to avoid the cactus and the loose rock. Listening to the MP3 player made me unable to hear any rock slides, rattlesnakes or dogs running off, but sometimes that's just what you need to forget your worries! As much as I enjoy hiking with others, including my husband, one of my favorite things to do is to hike alone in the wilderness and to think.
It took me about 45 minutes to reach the top, and I stopped along the way to enjoy the views behind me. There were lots of deer on the mountainside to the west of us, and the dogs could see them, but they were too far to chase them. As I reached the top, I looked down at my legs, the bushes that feed the deer and elk have prickers on them and my legs were scratched and bleeding at this point.

The views from the top were incredible! The blue Colorado sky meets the earthy brown mountains then the mountains roll into the city and the plains; I could see the Denver Airport in the distance well over 40 miles away! There was also a cairn at the top, which made me think that there was trail the mountain.

After sitting and enjoying the views for a few minutes, the breeze picked up and it was time to head down the mountain. I noticed when I started the hike that there was a trail heading up the other side of the huge gorge so I decided to head down the opposite way in hopes to meet up with it. The mountain meadows behind me had several herds of deer that we could see in the distance. As we continued down the mountain, music blaring, I quickly realized that there was no trail over here either, so we carefully maneuvered down the mountain. I was keeping the gorge and valley in mind just hoping that we did not come out to a cliff or something as we rounded the corner.
At one point I lost Belle, she went chasing after some deer (she was far far away from them) and with my music blaring, I didn't catch her for a few minutes.
Then, what I hoped wouldn't happen, did happen. We came out to the gorge and there wasn't a very clear path down. I decided that we could scramble down the rocks, I was fairly sure that there was a way down, from as far as I could see, and even though it was treacherous, it was do-able. I climbed carefully down the gully and called for the dogs, who would not budge over the edge, it was very steep, but they would have been fine. After trying to coax them for a few minutes as I balanced precariously on a ledge, I decided to head back up rather than continuing to beckon them. Climbing back up was not as easy as climbing down, and I had a few "oh crap" moments before I made it breathlessly back up to the top of the gorge. Coincidentally, Widespread Panic was blaring "Climb to Safety" into my ear as I climbed back up, thinking to myself "this would have terrified my mother and probably my husband as well."
After this, we managed to continue hiking east and met up with that trail I saw in the beginning of the hike, but the trail was very short and we were down a half an hour later. All in all the hike took me 2.5 hours, and it was a much needed adventure to draw strength from as my workweek starts tomorrow.

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