Rich and Rough Loop
Rich and Rough Loop
“Backpacking the Rich Creek and Rough and Tumbling Creek Loop Hike in the Buffalo Peaks Wilderness Area.” It’s too many words for a title. So, I shortened it. Four words is enough. Did you ever pay attention to professional journal article titles? Far too many words. Not here. We like our titles like what we put in our packs: only what is necessary.
Backpacking. I found 82 synonyms for a backpacker. Some of the more interesting ones: rambler, excursionist, tramp, vagabond, cragsman/woman, wanderer, dirtbag… that’s my favorite… it seems I may have used this term in a different context a time or two.
This is the year of backpacking for me. I’ve been on top of some of the highest mountains in America 31 different times. I’m looking for something to add to the adventure. I want to see if I have what it takes to live in the wilderness with only what I carry on my back. I backpacked when I was a Boy Scout, about a thousand years ago. Why backpacking? Many reasons and at least one aspiration; I would like to complete a thru-hike.
What’s a thru-hike? It’s a long end-to-end hike. I have been thinking quite seriously about doing my first thru-hike next year. Some thru-hikes are thousands of miles long. I have my eye on the Colorado Trail; it’s only 500 miles through the mountains from Denver to Durango. I’ve hiked that mileage over the past few years. Can I do it in one year? Can I do it in one summer… or 5 weeks?
To be sure, a backpacker and a thru-hiker are not the same. Enthusiasts will gladly set the record straight for you. But to be a thru-hiker one must hike with a pack that contains life-sustaining essentials on their back. So it seems like back-packing is a reasonable first good step.
So, this year I’ll take baby steps. Some people don’t, with mixed results. As for me, I would rather test the waters before committing to something as crazy. This has not always been my tendency. Time changes people.
Baby step: this past weekend’s hike, the Rich Creek and Rough and Tumbling Creek Loop. I chose this loop hike because it’s short for a two-day backpacking trip; it’s 12 miles and the elevation gain is also not too taxing – 2200 feet.
I suppose this hike could be called a shakedown backpacking trip. A shakedown is when a backpacker goes on a short backpacking trip for the purpose of determining what absolutely needs to be carried. Usually shakedowns are longer, maybe a week-long. But, as I said: baby steps.
Shakedowns are slightly different for everyone, because we all have different needs and priorities. For instance, first aid and sanitation kits, navigational gear, clothing, shelter, and cookware can vary significantly from one person to another. It often depends on the person’s experience, preferences, and budget. I’ll likely get into this more in a later post. But for now, let’s get to today’s adventure.
Logistics: I started at the Rich Creek trailhead. Take CR 5 off of CO 285, then turn right onto CR 22. The road turns to dirt and is passible by any 2WD vehicle. At the trailhead, there is room for maybe 6 cars before parking overflows onto the side of the road. This was the case when I arrived at 8:30am on Saturday. It was more popular than I had anticipated.
The trail immediately crosses Rich Creek on an easy foot bridge. The recommended route is to turn right after the bridge; going counter clockwise in the loop. I came to appreciate that the ascent is less aggressive and shorter when going this direction. The ascending path is indeed pleasant as it runs adjacent to Rich Creek most of the way, crossing once before gaining the upper valley.
I forgot my trekking poles. So I went old school and made some poles out of downed aspen and willow branches. Not as fancy, but it did the trick.
At about 2.5 miles into the hike the trees start thinning. Looking back offers an appreciation for the trek so far.
Looking forward is the first glimpse of an open alpine valley complemented with a blanket of short willow brush.
This is a good time to mention that there are approximately 10 creek crossings along this route. The time of year will determine how messy and challenging this may be. On this hike I had some muddy crossings, some big steps, rock hopping, and some places where the trail was the creek. And some are reasonably established log crossings.
You’ll follow the valley for a while until entering the forest again. Tall lodge pole pines and aspens are most prevalent throughout the trail.
And then the trail cuts back out of the forest and into the open valley again, which circles to the left… because that’s kinda how counter clockwise works.
Soon the trail picks up Rough and Tumbling Creek and leads out of the valley and down into a rocky canyon. It’s here where the name of the creek becomes apparent. And it’s where I decided to camp for the night. Most people camp with a view of the valley, an excellent choice as well.
I didn’t see any big wildlife on this hike. But it was reported that the person traveling a mile ahead of me spotted a cow moose with two calves. Maybe next time, at a distance, of course. I don’t need another moose charging episode like last year.
The last portion of the trail is rolling with some minor ascents and descents with views of beaver ponds, aspen groves, and mountain wild flowers.
And don’t forget to look back to enjoy the Buffalo Peaks.
What did I learn on my shake down? I will bring less cloths and less fire starting gear. I’ll leave my pillow behind and use a mesh bag filled with all the cloths I’m not wearing to bed. I need to figure out a better camera; I brought my DSLR, tripod, lenses, and chest harness. I’ll be shopping for a decent lightweight mirrorless camera with similar specs to my DSLR. I have my eye on a Sony model. I’ll leave my cup behind and consider bringing a small mat to use outside my tent to keep the dirt out and that will double as a table/food prep mat. This shakedown will continue over the course of the year. I have much more to experience and consider over the coming hikes.
I also brought new gear: Big Agnes Copper Spur UL1 tent, Alta Lone Peak trail runners, and a Gossamer Gear Mariposa backpack. All items performed very well as expected. I may do a review of these items in future posts.
So until then, remember: Shorter titles are better and it’s good to be a dirtbag!
Keywords: Buffalo Peaks, Colorado, Rich Creek, Rough and Tumbling Creek, Wilderness Area, backpacking, hiking, loop
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