One nice and relatively easy backpacking trip is the one to either of the Sand Creek Lakes in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains when approached from Music pass. You will likely want a 4×4 to get to the trail-head as the road can get pretty rough in spots. We went the weekend of June 24th/25th, arriving at the trailhead on Friday in dense fog, and camped next to the parking area.
We awoke Saturday morning to brilliant sunshine and a perfect morning for a hike. The hike from the trailhead to Music Pass is not too difficult as far as hikes in the mountains go, but the view upon arrival is excellent.
What makes this hike one of the easier backpacking trips is that you hike up to Music Pass, but then back down into the valley below where you can camp if you’d like, or you can continue up to either of the lakes and camp there. We continued on to the upper lake and for the first backpack trip of the year I felt really good.
After setting camp and eating lunch I headed to the lake to fish. On this trip I was accompanied by my two older sons (Joshua and Luke), two long-time backpacking friends (Troy and Jeff) and Jeff’s neighbor Rod.
Troy and I fished with zero success, while the other four hiked up to Cottonwood Pass which is between Milwaukee Peak and Marble Mountain to it’s north (see earlier photo). I could see the fish swimming in the water, but they were uninterested in anything I threw at them. I began with an elk hair caddis, switch to a Panther Martin lure, then took a nap in the damp grass. Once I got back to fishing again, I continued with the lure for a little while, but then switched to a pheasant-tail nymph and then a bead-head prince nymph. All of these fish were about the same size and appeared to be spawning. Typically, I can get into some smaller fish, but there didn’t seem to be any. So, after a couple of hours I headed back to camp.
Back at camp I talked with Troy for a while and gathered some firewood. Later, the guys returned from their hike. Luke was first two return and we had the following conversation:
Me: How was the hike? Great views of Broken Hand Peak and the Crestones?
Luke: Yeah . . . you’ll never, ever guess what we found.
Me: Uhmmm . . . I don’t know. I’ll never guess? Hmmm . . . a dead guy?
Luke: How could you guess that?
Me: What do you mean? Did you actually find a dead guy?
Luke: Yep. Right between Marble Mountain and Milwaukee Peak, just below the ridgeline.
The rest of the crew arrived and I think everybody was a little stunned. It was decided that we would stop at the Sheriff’s office in Westcliffe the next day and report it.
We fished some more that evening with the same rate of success (zero!) and made a campfire and ate dinner. Luke has been using that 1945, M-1942 MOD stove I gave him last year on all of his backpacking trips. He is impressed with how reliable it is and easy to use. Now Joshua is been asking about getting one, too. Funny how what is a piece of history to some can become a useful tool today to others. It really is a good stove.
I slept like a rock from about 9PM until about 5AM when I awoke with headache. Slowly it went away. Was it caused by dehydration? I don’t think so. I drank a lot today. I think it was either, or both, a tension headache and sinus headache. I get these on river trips sometimes, and sometimes at home. Anyway, by the time everyone got up and began preparing breakfast it was going away nicely.
Everybody gives me a little grief for this, but once again I brought 6 whole eggs, a package of pre-cooked breakfast sausage (which we kept cold in the snow banks) and . . . my 5-1/2″ cast iron skillet. Yeah . . . I know I could bring the freeze-dried or dehydrated foods, but I really like fresh eggs in the morning. I mean, how much extra weight is a cast iron skillet, eggs and sausage? Maybe 3 pounds? Meh, that’s not very much, right?
Jeff did some fishing while the rest of us basically goofed around and slowly packed up. When he returned he had the same fishing report as the day before. It’s just too close to ice-off and it looks like the fish are spawning. It was, however, another beautiful day.
The hike out was nice, up until the grind up to Music Pass. But still, it’s not that bad.
So, now the rest of the story.
We stopped at the Sheriff’s office in Westcliffe as planned, to provide the location of the dead hiker and a photo of the body. It took about an hour for them to ask questions, gather the location information, which Jeff provided, download the photo and for the search-and-rescue leader to arrive. Then, we were on our way.
It turns out that the poor soul who lost his life up there was out looking for Fenn’s treasure, at least that was what we had heard from another source. He was many miles from where he parked his car down at the Sand Dunes. I’m not even sure how he could have gotten that far and he must have had really good endurance or possibly left a camp somewhere along the way. If I remember correctly, the Sangre’s got some heavy snow in early May, so I wonder if it caught him unprepared. His name was Bryan and it was his final adventure. It was a sad way for us to end a trip, but I think everyone felt good that we reported it and they recovered his body within a day or two.
His mis-adventure provides a good lesson about hiking alone in the back country. Let people know where you’re going and when you plan to return if you’re by yourself.
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