Last backpacking trip of 2011 season

October 20, 2011

Saturday, Oct. 15, to Sunday, Oct. 16, 2011

A meadow near the Forgotten Valley backcountry shelter at Golden Gate Canyon State Park

For the second year in a row, I went to Golden Gate Canyon State Park  for my last backpacking trip of the season. Coincidentally, this trip fell on exactly the same day as last year, Oct. 15.

Rogers Pass Lake on Oct. 7, 2010

I had intended to go for my last trip the previous weekend with a couple of buddies, but the forecast that weekend called for one of Colorado’s first serious winter storms.

The first weekend of October seems to be unlucky for backpacking. In 2010, I encountered a snow storm at Roger Pass Lake on Oct. 7 and, chickening out, returned to the trail head with my buddy, Ian.

Oct. 7, 2011, wasn’t much better.

The weather near Kremmling on Oct. 7, 2011, was just as bad as backpacking exactly one year prior.

Ditching our plan to backpack to Snowmass Lake, Ian and I decided to go car camping and fly fishing near Kremmling. We thought having the safety of retreating to the car would be the most reasonable plan for a three day weekend. It didn’t matter. We encountered a low of 27 degrees that Friday night and woke up to an inch of snow. The snow kept blowing throughout the day, and, after a few cold hours of fishing without success, we bagged the rest of the trip and headed home.

Oct. 15, 2011, became my new drop-dead date for a final backpacking trip of the season. I began to eye Golden Gate as the safest bet.

Oct. 15, 2011 was a perfect day with a short hike to Forgotten Valley in pleasant fall weather

My girlfriend reasonably expressed some concerns about joining me for this overnight trip. But we caught some great fall weather, and I think we were both were glad we got in one last trip before the skiing and snowboarding season.

Golden Gate Canyon is a low-elevation park with fairly easy trails. The hikes to the backcountry camping areas are fairly short. The park offers several three-sided shelters, so we didn’t need to carry the weight of a tent. Considering these things and the comfortable trips I’ve had there the last two Octobers, I’d say this metro-Denver park is a good late-season venue for easy overnighters. It may not have the most spectacular sights, but it offers warmer weather than the Indian Peaks Wilderness or the other high-elevation areas I usually frequent.

View from the backcountry shelter at Forgotten Valley

Destination: Forgotten Valley backcountry shelter, Golden Gate Canyon State Park, Golden, Colo.

Distance hiked: about 3 miles round-trip, from Bridge Creek parking lot/Burro trail head

Elevation: This trip had very little elevation gain. The shelter where we slept was at about 8,600 feet

Weather: sunny and clear, some light breezes at times, perfect fall weather!

Temperatures: low to mid 60s during the afternoon; low of probably about 35 degrees at night (I didn’t have my watch and its thermometer, but it didn’t feel like it got below freezing.)

Pack Weight: 24 pounds + about 3 pounds for camera and its bag. I carried 2.5 liters of water, but it turned out that the small creek near the shelter was still running. I did not bring my tent, but I did bring its ground cloth to protect our inflatable sleeping pads.

Notes: I took my REI Halo 25-degree sleeping bag and my 35-degree Jacks ‘R Better Sierra Sniveller quilt. Although it seemed so warm at bedtime that I thought I didn’t need the quilt, it was nice to have it at about 4:00 in the morning when my feet became cold in the 25-degree bag. It really wasn’t necessary, but the quilt was worth its light carrying weight considering this was such a short trip.

Clothing List:

I had more clothing than needed, but I was comfortable the whole time.

green wool felt hat fedora
lightweight wool cap (only needed briefly before bed and in the morning)
lightweight waterproof bike gloves and liners (only needed liners briefly in morning)
North Face synthetic insulated mid layer (did not bring winter coat, this layer was just right)
long-sleeved Columbia Titanium SPF shirt
short-sleeved synthetic undershirt
yellow long-sleeved synthetic undershirt
hiking pants
two pairs synthetic underwear
two pairs synthetic socks, lightweight and heavy (used heavy weight socks only in the morning)
rain jacket and pants (carried, not used)
long johns (slept in these but did not need them in the morning)


This photo is not from my backpacking trip, but I had to post this great fall scene. This panorama from my Sony NEX-3 shows ranches surrounding the Williams Fork of the Colorado River near Kremmling, Colo., on Oct. 7, 2011.