Elk Creek Loop Lessons Learned
On July 1-4, 2022 Chris Spears and I traveled to Southern Colorado to do a "shakedown" trip with his daughter Maxine on the Elk Creek, Valle Verde loop in preparation for the 4-Pass Loop trip that we would go on August 5-8.
This was my first time ever backpacking in Colorado. Going into it I was treating it as a learning experience for probable future backpacking trips - like the 4-Pass loop, as well as future aspirations of doing the Colorado Trail a week or two at a time. So, what are my take-aways?
1) Almost everyone says that the Colorado mountains are famous for afternoon thunderstorms. This is true. However, it is not limited to afternoons. We had substantial rain overnight on 2 of the 3 nights, as well as morning and all-day rain. More than one of these storms included hail.
2) The soils vary with their capacity to handle this much water. Some areas get really slimy, slick, and muddy. Others become bogs. Others drain well.
3) Being wet was a normal state of affairs. If it's not rain, it's river/stream crossings, or marsh/bog crossings.
4) UL ethos promotes not bringing any more than the absolute bare essentials. In Texas I almost never used my spare set of socks, so I cut them from the list. That was a mistake. Walking through bogs, marshy areas, and mud in general gets mud into your shoes. The particulate from this mud becomes sand paper imbedded in your socks that then grates on your feet, rubbing them raw. If you don't have a spare set of socks, you can't change into something clean after walking through mud, and thus, your feet suffer. A second pair is necessary so you can take the mud-logged pair off and wash them while having something clean to ware. It can be wet and clean, so long as it is clean.
5) Diamox works.
6) Trails almost never have any discernable blazes or markings. The best they might have are rock cairns, and those only exist in limited areas.
7) Trail conditions are directly proportional to the amount of use those trails get. Heavily traveled trails are very easy to follow. Lesser used trails may not be maintained very well, which may create navigational challenges. Take away - try to discern the level of use of a particular trail before planning on using it
8) The sun umbrella wasn't really used in the mountain meadows like I thought it would be. I found that a sun shirt and caped hat were sufficient. Of course, the temperatures were such that escaping the radiant heat of the sun was not necessary. The sun umbrella is near mandatory in Texas as it provides shade in addition to sun protection. In Colorado shade for temperature relief is not as important, and there are options for sun protection.
9) The Zpacks Duplex tent must be very carefully pitched to prevent water running off the tarp into the bathtub floor. This is easy on flat ground with sufficient space. It becomes an issue/challenge when having to pitch in less-than-optimal locations. (I got soaked by rain runoff because of a poor pitch because of having to shoe-horn my tent into a location too small to fit it.)
10) Condensation in a DCF tent is a HUGE consideration in Colorado. (Not so much in Texas.) The lightload towel was Uber useful for removing condensation. The amount of water wrung out from the light load towel while wiping down the tent was impressive. I had to wring it out over a dozen times each time I wiped down the tent.
11) I need to add Claritin or Allegra to my med kit. Allergens in Colorado are WAY different than Texas, and I'm clearly allergic to something out there.
12) I eat way less food than I think I do. I need to bring less next time. Going hungry isn't going to kill me if I undershoot a little. (I'll lose some weight, which isn't a bad thing.)
13) Cardio training for Colorado is Uber important
14) As I said above, being wet is a normal state of affairs. In light of this, consider merino wool for an insulation layer rather than a down puffy.
15) Colorado has mosquitoes on par with Vermont or Wisconsin. I need to acquire a spritz bottle of picaridin and remember to treat my clothes with permethrin just prior to each trip.
Keep Hiking my friends