| Beautiful, Bewitching Bison
July 15, 2012
Bison Peak (12,431í)
Tarryall Mountains, Lost Creek Wilderness
Ute Creek Trailhead (8,760í)
Elevation Gain: ~3,800í
Round-trip Length: ~14 miles
Starting Time: 0615
Return Time: 1300
I love to read trip reports. I love reading about places Iíve already been, mountains Iíve climbed in the past. I find it fascinating to review a climb by someone else and see a different perspective from a new set of eyes. But another reason I enjoy reading trip reports, is that I discover new places I didnít even know existed.
This past winter I came across a report by Derek that opened my eyes to a wonderfully new area - the Tarryall Mountains in the Lost Creek Wilderness. After studying his report, I knew I wanted to visit this magical place sometime in the near future.
I was originally planning to begin my annual Colorado vacation with a moderate loop hike in the Indian Peaks Wilderness. But last minute conflicts prevented us from meeting our friends in Black Hawk. My wife and I ended up staying with another good friend who lives in Buena Vista. This gave me an excellent opportunity to hit the Tarryalls. The climb up Bison is a relatively easy hike with moderate elevation gain and I was very anxious to experience the otherworldliness of this new place!
From U.S. Highway 285 at Jefferson, turn SE on County Rd 77/Tarryall Rd. It is about 20 miles to the trailhead, but it is an excellent road, newly paved all the way with the exception of the last 3 miles, which is broken asphalt and gravel. The Ute Creek Trailhead will be seen on the left side of the road and is easily identified. The parking area is fairly good-sized.
I arrive at the TH at about 6am. Loading up my gear, I start out on the trail shortly thereafter. This will be a test for me. Iíve been experiencing some pretty severe sciatica pain throughout the past year and lately itís been bothering me the most when I walk. So Iím a little apprehensive about how I will tolerate doing a climb at all.
The trail immediately crosses the Tarryall Creek by means of an excellent wooden bridge and then bends to the northeast into the wilderness. Meandering through thick aspen and evergreen trees, it gradually rises in an easy manner. The pain in my back and legs subsides after about 15 minutes.
The morning is peaceful and quiet. It is Sunday, and I am having my own private sunrise service in a most majestic cathedral with green towering buttresses arching above me. A few birds are singing their praises, and it reminds me of when I was young. In my parochial grade school, we attended Morning Prayer, or Matins, every Wednesday before we held classes. We always sang the Venite from Psalm 95:
O come, let us sing unto the Lord;
let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation.
Let us come before his presence with thanksgiving
and make a joyful noise unto him with psalms.
After a couple of miles the trail climbs sharply. My legs are straining more now but it feels wonderful! During a long steep stretch, a trail runner overtakes me. We chat for a moment and then he presses onward and upward. He sets a good pace for me and I climb almost as fast as he is jogging. Eventually, however, he turns a corner and disappears ahead of me.
About 4 miles into the trail, the Brookside/McCurdy Trail branches off to the right. It continues through the forest, climbing more all the time. When the trees finally thin a little, I reach a break where I can see far into the valley from whence I came. It is a beautiful day!
The trail makes a few more sharp switchbacks and then I face the beginnings of the marvelous rock formations. The landscape becomes surreal and is very enticing, drawing me into them.
On an open shoulder, the trail peters out and soon I am walking among these giant monoliths.
This is where itís nice to have a partner along. Itís difficult to truly comprehend the size of these mammoth rocks without a person next to them to give it some perspective. But if you look at the mature trees nearby them, you can visualize this better.
They are truly amazing! Each one almost has a personality of its own. Many donít even look natural, more like they were constructed for Disney World. The Venite continues to flow through my head:
In his hand are the deep places of the earth;
The strength of the hills is his also.
The sea is his, and he made it;
and his hands formed the dry land.
Other groups of rocks resemble the Stonehenge. I feel like I have wandered into some other country, some other world entirely.
I stop and stare at these fantastic structures. Marveling, I ponder how the forces of nature could have created them.
I pick my line of walking aiming for the Bison summit. Soon I find myself in the middle of a garden of potentilla. I have several of these yellow flowering shrubs back home in my own gardens, but they donít compare to this beautiful setting!
One review I read about this area describes it as the fabled Elysian Fields of Greek mythology, the heaven or place of rest where the dead who were blessed by the gods were allowed to reside. That could be an accurate description. It is truly a heavenly place here on earth! I could easily return to this marvelous area many times over! Praise to my Creator fills my soul!
For the Lord is a great God
and a great King above all gods.
O come, let us worship and bow down;
let us kneel before the Lord our maker.
For he is our God;
and we are the people of his pasture
and the sheep of his hand.
Each group has such unique charm; I am truly bewitched. I cannot stop staring at them, studying their individual characteristics.
I finally find the group of ďbisonĒ on the open plain. Somewhere I read that if you blur your eyes (or in my case, just remove my glasses ;>) you can visualize these mammoth creatures grazing on the grass.
Eventually I climb up the summit rocks and remove my pack. Breaking out my food supply, I munch on some things while admiring the fantastic view. To the southeast, I look over at McCurdy Mountain. Even with my constant tarrying in the Tarryalls, Iíve attained Bison in less than 3.5 hours. It looks pretty doable to hit as well.
McCurdy, the second peak near the center.
I decide to rest a bit relishing in the moment. Finding the register, I open the canister up and read the entries. I rarely sign these things, but on this occasion I decide to add my name to the list. As Iím writing, I notice red blood on the blank opposite page. Iím surprised to see this; usually it doesnít look so fresh. Then Iím doubly surprised to discover that the blood is from my own little finger.
I almost always wear leather gloves when hiking, and especially when Iím scrambling, because my hands get so cut up from the rock edges. When I took the gloves off to start eating, I evidently leaned against some sharp edge of stone. Even though I never felt it, the cut is fairly deep and it doesnít stop bleeding until I wrap a Band-Aid tightly around it.
Before heading down, I take several pictures from the summit.
Pike National Forest and Ten Mile Range in the distance.
The shoulder leading down to the trail.
Walking down the shoulder, I encounter more formations that cause me to pause and admire them. They continue to amaze me! It's like a giant playground for adults!
McCurdy in the background
Marvelous balancing rocks (or the Flintstone's satellite dish)
Jabba the Hutt?
Petrified prehistoric creatures
There is one immense monolith that probably everyone who visits here photographs. But I find I have to take its portrait as well! To give you some idea of its size, the third tree in front of it on the right, the smallest one, is about 10 feet high.
Once I reach a level spot I cut through the thin trees and take a shortcut to the trail going over to McCurdy. I follow it to the next rise. Then I need to make a decision. I havenít done a whole lot of research on this area and donít have a real map to guide me, so Iím not entirely sure this trail actually leads to the McCurdy summit.
The terrain is pretty easy to pass through so I could just bee-line it and aim for the summit. I continue on the trail for another 15 minutes or so and then realize I will have to descend down a ravine to get over to the actual mountain.
Clouds are starting to build a bit and I really donít want to put too many miles on my legs and feet for my first hike. I calculate that I have roughly 6 miles yet to return. This is only supposed to be my warm-up.
I decide to skip McCurdy and call it a wonderful day. I find the trail going back and return to the car.
It is about 1:00 pm when I reach the TH again. There are lots of clouds now although none look very threatening. But I am very content with what I accomplished, what I experienced, and I enjoyed the hike immensely. The pain Iíve been having was never a problem and Iím very thankful for that.
On the drive out, along the Tarryall Road, I saw this old building by the roadway. I love old barns and other rural buildings and had to take a picture of it to add to my collection.
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):