RT Length: 13.38 miles
Elevation Gain: 4934’
I chose this peak for today because it was the closest one on my list of unfinished bicentennials to Cielo Vista Ranch, where I’d just spent the morning hiking. I drove to the Willow Creek Trailhead and backed into the only available parking space. Vehicles were parked and double parked in each space, as well as several hundred feet down the road on the drive in. This is a popular trailhead and it was a Saturday afternoon.
It was raining a bit as I got out and looked around. There is an open and stocked bathroom here, and lots of signage.
I opened the trail register container and was disappointed to find another full register. Every page was so full people were just writing in the margins of past pages. This one is from 2019. There were probably 7 pages total, which could probably get filled up here in a week. How are these useful when they aren’t kept up to date? Signing these seems useless.
I went back to my truck and got my stuff ready for the hike tomorrow. I didn’t have a flashlight so I decided to use my phone’s flashlight app. That meant conserving battery, so I put it in airplane mode. Then I people watched. There was a man hiking with a small dog in a basket, a group of about 20 high school aged backpackers returning from what looked like their first outdoor experience, and two men hiking in to Willow Lake to summit Challenger and Kit Carson tomorrow. I spent a good 30 minutes watching a man trying to turn his pulled trailer around in the parking lot. He must’ve been looking for a dispersed camping spot and wasn’t able to find one before the trailhead. Turning his rig around in the parking lot of the Willow Lake trailhead was his only option, and it took dozens of attempts. His rig was loud and he set off several car alarms in the process. It was all quite entertaining.
When the mosquitoes came out I decided to call it a night and went to bed early. I woke up at 2:30am, decided I was way too comfortable, and went back to sleep. The only bad thing about having a bed in the back of my truck is I don’t seem to want to get up in the mornings. I was on the trail by 4am.
The trail starts at the east end of the parking lot and almost immediately comes to a junction. I turned right here, crossed a creek, and continued on a sandy trail.
During the first mile of this hike, as I was hiking in the dark, I kept hearing chirping. It sounded like one of those bird boxes that’s put in the middle of nowhere to monitor birds and chirps every few seconds was out there somewhere, and broken. It wasn’t chirping on my way back, so it either ran out of battery or was an actual bird going crazy at 4am. The Willow Creek Trail is a class 1 trail that switchbacks all the way up to Willow Lake. Here’s an overview
And some pictures of the trail
There are a couple of streams to cross, each with bridges/rocks
Before making it to the lake there’s a camping area. Someone has set up communal bear bag hanging areas, which I think was a brilliant idea. What’s even better is people actually seem to be using them. I saw two such areas, but there may be more.
After the camping area it’s a short distance to Willow Lake. I went up this rocky area
And was greeted by this sign and the lake. I turned left at the sign
I made it to Willow Lake after 5 miles of hiking
I continued following the trail until just before the boulder field. At this point I left the trail, turned left and continued north/north west up the hillside
There is no trail, but the route is easy to follow, as after I gained this small ridge I kept the creek to my left and willows to my right and continued north up to the basin.
It’s important to try to stay as much in the center here as possible, as to the right there are willows and shallow ponds to contend with. (I made this mistake on my way in, but was able to avoid it on my way out. I scared several deer out from willows in the process.). At the end of the basin you turn right and head east
This area was a bit mushy, so I went to the right around this rock/water to avoid getting wet, and then entered another basin
There were a lot of friendly deer here who didn’t seem to mind my hiking past them. I gave them room, but they let me get within 20 feet of them with no problem.
I headed east into the second basin, which was full of large rocks
There are a lot of ways to summit this point. I decided to gain the ridge and follow it to the summit of PT 13580
Once on the ridge it was an easy hike to the summit. The only problem was the sun was rising directly in front of me as I was hiking and I couldn’t see anything due to the glare. These pictures are from the way back down. While hiking up this ridge I heard someone from over on the Kit Carson/Challenger side yell “rock!” every couple of minutes. It’s amazing how sound carries out here.
I summited PT 13580 at 8:45am, after 6.8 miles of hiking
There was a summit cairn at the top, as well as a summit register. I didn’t open it, but I could read through the glass it was recently placed there (6/20/2020?)
It was a beautiful day and I stayed for a long time on the summit, enjoying the views
When it was time to go I retraced my steps back down the ridge into the basin. Here’s an overview, with Willow Lake to the south
And step by step…
Staying higher and dryer this time in the lower basin
It was easier this time to avoid both the willows and the creek
Once Willow Lake was in view it was easy to make my way back down to the trail
There are some beautiful waterfalls here
I made it to the camping area and was startled to see bighorn sheep just off the trail. The camping area was full of tents but the hikers were all out hiking. It seems while everyone is out hiking for the day the sheep came to play. They posed for me while I took a few pictures. Yes, they were a little unkempt, but friendly enough.
Here are some shots of the class 1 trail back down to the trailhead
I made it back to my truck at 12:30pm, making this a 13.38 mile hike with 4934’ of elevation gain in 8.5 hours. Here’s a topo map of my route. Oh, and just for reference, using my iPhone’s flashlight took up 66% of it’s battery in 2 hours (while on airplane mode).
I drove back home, cleaned up, and noticed I was full of mosquito bites. Curiously, they were only on the left side of my body.