The Colorado Backcountry Discovery Route has been something that I’ve been wanting to do for a while. This summer we have taken a little bit of time to do a few sections of it. In mid August we completed the section closest to us that connects Leadville to Gypsum. We set off with the intentions of doing the trip over three days and two nights.
Our first day of the trip we left our home in Carbondale, Colorado and drove over Independence Pass as we made out way to Leadville where we would start our section of trail. We crested the summit of Independence just before dark, and enjoyed a beautiful sunset from 12',000’.
After cresting independence we spent our first night outside of the small town of Twin Lakes at the base of La Plata Peak (14,360’ / 4376m). we headed down a forest service road and passed several less than ideal camp spots. Finally we found a wonderful one tucked back from the road and at the base of large Pines and Aspen tress just at the edge of the meadow. We started a small fire, something that we don't normally do when its just the two of us, and settled into an evening of watching our dog run around in the dark and the stars slowly roll past the horizon.
The next day we headed into Leadville to make one final fuel stop and headed off to Hagerman Pass. The first several miles of Hagerman are very easy flat windy gravel roads that make their way pass Torquoise Lake. Soon the road turns and jumps off the old rail road grade and starts a streap and rocky climb to the pass itself. A few large rocks and one tight washed out switch back are the only notable sections that make the trail challenging on the Leadville side.
From Hagerman Pass we descended toward the Fryingpan Valley but just before the base we made a detour from the CBDR and followed roads that would lead us to Lime Creek and where we would rejoin the normal route that would take us over Crooked Creek Pass and down into Gypsum. By taking this detour we would avoid driving several miles of pavement that connect Hagerman Pass and Crooked Creek Pass. If you haven't driven this route they are not to be missed. The veiws are stunning, but since we live so close we chose to take a route we had never been before.
The original plan was to camp somewhere along this detour section. It offers many beautiful open dispersed camp spots, some on the gentle crest of small hills with stunning wide open views and some tucked back in against towering Evergreens and Aspens. Somehow in our day though we covered more ground then we had planned and got to these intended spots much earlier in the day than we had planned. So not wanting to sit around in camp from mid day to night we continued on, this was our first mistake of the trip.
We drove further along passing many beautiful established spots and not thinking anything of it until we decided it was finally time to find a spot for the evening. Since we had our dog Greta with us, we trird to choose spots well away from other people. We like to let her run free and wild around our camps. She's truly happiest outside unbound by the need to stay close. Ultimately we never found spots like the wide open ones we had passed, or ones that weren't close enough to your neighbor to not smell the dinner they were cooking. So we made a decision to continue on. By this point we only had 2 hours and change of driving till we were back home. We finished the last few miles of easy gravel roads that descend Gypsum Creek Road, rejoined I70 and made our way home west back to Carbondale.
We finished out planned 3 day 2 night trip in a day and a half. It was kind of a bitter sweet mistake. We learned some things along this trip. Maybe the most important one is that we should be setting up camp sooner in the day. Ultimately this is goal of these trips. Spending time enjoying our public lands, camping and hiking, chasing our dog as she runs free and unhindered by the restraints of life in town. Maybe we will do better next time.