Backpacking with Dad

Thursday, June 16 to Friday, June 17, 2011

Dad casts on the Big Thompson River outside Estes Park, Colo.

My dad came up to Colorado from sea level in June for some fishing and a bit of backpacking. This June was still too cool for great backpacking, but I think my dad was more interested in fly fishing anyways. We sampled some of the waters of the Front Range Mountains with my grandfather’s two-piece Browning western rod and my new Tenkara Iwana rod. Unfortunately, the only thing we caught on the Big Thompson River was a whiff of a dead deer on the roadside.

For backpacking I thought we should avoid the snowpack of Indian Peaks, so we headed south looking for a warmer and, more importantly, drier destination. We stopped and camped Wednesday night along the Arkansas River Headwaters Recreation Area east of Salida. The FIB-Arc whitewater race was set to start the next day, so we were lucky to get a tent pad at the Vallie Bridge campsite. It was a pleasant evening camped beside the big river. I caught — but did not land — a fish just before dusk.

Dad monitors the evening grub as the setting sun darkens the mountains north of Vallie Bridge Campground.

On the advice of a staffer at the ranger district office for the Sangre de Cristo mountains, I thought we’d try to make it to Willow Lake for our backpacking over-nighter. Pulling off the dirt road east of Crestone, we had to tack on an extra 1.5 miles to our hike in the baking afternoon sun because my little Honda could not handle the remainder of the rough road. Located well above 11,000 feet, Willow Lake proved to difficult for us to reach with our heavy packs. Willow Creek Park at 9,800 feet provided a pretty scenic turnaround point after hiking in about 3.5 miles, and we camped there for the night.

Trip Summary

Original Destination: Willow Lake, Sangre de Cristo mountains, Colo.

We camped at Willow Creek Park. Willow Lake is above the steep, well-treed wall behind me.

Destination Attained: Willow Creek Park

Distance hiked: about 7 miles round-trip

Temperatures: high 80s in the sun at low elevation; low 40s at 9,800 feet

Pack Weight: probably about 30 or 35 pounds each

Notes: Carry lighter packs! Always depart the trailhead before noon. Double check that maps have up-to-date info about roads to trailhead. The road from Crestone to the trailhead was signed as 4×4 only for the final 1.5 miles, but my National Geographic topo map showed it as being a two-wheel-drive dirt road.


Looking across the Willow Creek Park meadow toward Challenger Point and Kit Carson Mountain

Willow Creek

Challenger Point and Kit Carson Mountain


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