A group of seven of decided to visit the Lost Creek Wilderness and Bison Peak after reading several stories about the rock formations and hike in trip reports here and elsewhere. the weather wasn't looking so good for Saturday, so we chose this over a 14er, plus the shorter drive from COS appealed to us.
We rendezvoused at my house and car-pooled into to a truck and an SUV with two dogs accompanying us, leaving at 0510. It had already begun to rain lightly in and around the Springs at this time, so we were a little concerned, but it looked like the precip was of the squall/passing variety and by the time we made it to Woodland Park there were several clearings in the clouds. We took 24 west to Lake George and then turned right on to CO 77, driving the nearly 20 miles on that road to the Ute Creek Trailhead. The valley through which 77 meanders is really beautiful in the morning and we saw several elk in the meadows. The granite formations along the right (north) side of the road along the way were harbingers of the more exquisite sites we'd see later in the day.
We parked at the trailhead and began our climb at 0645. Temps were in the low 40s or upper 30s, but the winds were light and were seemed to be between rain/snow squalls.
The trail begins with gentle up-downs along the stream for the first half-mile before turning north and climbing steadily. We were impressed by the quality of the trail given how little pressure the area seems to get. (We saw not a soul on our ascent and only ran into two groups of two more than an hour into our descent).
Once the trail starts decidedly up hill, it becomes deceptively tough. Though the footing is good, the unrelentingly moderate climb can take a toll. We paused at the first ridge crest and realized we’d come up over 1,800 feet, covered nearly four miles, and were all drenched in sweat—having peeled off layers along the way. One of our group is 5 months pregnant, and she volunteered to wait for us there or at the vehicles below, but we urged her on, slowed the pace a bit, and stayed together. We were all glad we did.
The weather held together well for us as we climbed, staying generally clear with a few low cumulus clouds. It did appear that more was brewing around us, though, and we kept a close eye on conditions. At about 11,000 we began to see grapple and light snow in the shadows from the morning’s storms and we also soon began to see bigger breaks in the tress, able to pick out McCurdy Peak, various granite bluffs, and the general direction of Bison Peak. The trail continued to be in magnificent shape. I can’t really remember a hike this long, with this much elevation gain in which we experienced fewer slips, slides, or stumbles. The dogs behaved extremely well throughout the hike, too, with the German Short-Haired Pointer (Maximus) leading the way, while the giant chocolate lab (Mousse) herded us. Be sure to turn right at the McCurdy Trail sign to get to Bison Peak!
When we finally broke above the trees at about 11,800, the views were amazing. Through gaps in the clouds we could the Collegiates to the southwest, Buffalo Peaks, the 10-Mile and Mosquito ranges further northwest, as well as the Torreys/Greys pair and Bierstadt/Evans farther north. The granite formations are just stunning and not to be missed. We were all repeating to ourselves stunned questions about why NONE of us had been here before.
The dogs treated the open meadow like world’s highest and most fun dog park, and one of our cadets (who had WAY too much energy himself) enjoyed running them all around.
We ventured to the Bison Peak monolith and took the obligatory photos before circling around from the southeast side of Bison Peak proper towards what appeared to be the summit.
By now, the weather was moving in and we even heard a dull rumble of thunder as the storms developing near us headed east, growing all the way. Satisfied that we’d seen enough and that climbing up wet granite in a storm with views shrouded by clouds didn’t seem all that exciting, we turned-around at about the 12,100 mark just to the south of what we surmised was the summit.
We were glad we did because as we were recrossing the grassy plane near the monolith we were battered by strong winds and sleet that needled our faces. The sleet didn’t stop until we were below treeline again, and then sun came back out for another taste of spring.
The descent was uneventful except for another passing storm that dropped legitimate snowflakes on us for about 30 minutes, though none accumulated on the ground. The slope on descent made for quick travel and we arrived at our vehicles in just over two hours from when we started the descent. By now it was warm again, too, and the last mile or so was fairly tedious with a few little uphills that we’d forgotten from the early morning.
All in all, Bison Peak and the Lost Creek Wilderness is a not-to-be-missed hike. Sure, it’s not a 14er, but I can guarantee anyway that takes this route will be satisfied with the climb, workout, and scenery. We’re already planning a bigger group trip, possible in the Fall to see the Aspen turning, or a long two-day overnight loop trail in the LCW.
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