Colorado Trail – Segment 3

Little Scraggy –> Rolling Creek –> Little Scraggy

November 25, 2020

RT Length: 29.59miles

Elevation Gain: 3362’

High Point: 8321 ’ Low Point: 7349’

Time:  12 hours

Segment 2 can be found here Colorado Trail – Segment 2 – Wild Wanderer (wordpress.com)

It was an icy drive to the trailhead.  I chose to do segment 3 today because all hikes I was interested in above treeline were too windy.  I did realize this hike was a gamble though, as yesterday it had snowed.  I wasn’t sure how much, but reports said 4-6”.  Since I was here last week, I knew this would be the first accumulation in the area.  If figured I could handle 4-6” of snow. 

I made it to the Little Scraggy Trailhead to find the gate to the trailhead closed.  I was expecting this, as when I was here last I’d noticed the gate was already closed.  There are 3-4 parking spaces just outside the gate on the side of the road.  There was a lot of snow on the side of the road, so I spent 10 minutes or so backing in and out of a space, packing down the snow.  It was 12 degrees outside.  I put on all my cold weather gear and was on the trail at 6am.  The trail follows the road behind the gate.  (Obviously, this picture is from last week, before the snow).   

After hiking along the road for about 1 mile I came to the Little Scraggy Trailhead.  Even through the snow, the road was visible. 

I passed a large woodpile

This part of the trail has a lot of obvious signage.

The Little Scraggy Trailhead has an information sign and bathrooms (I didn’t check to see if the bathrooms were closed for winter, but I’m assuming they are, as the road’s closed.

From here I followed a trail instead of a road.  The trail was covered in snow, but I was still able to tell where it led (most of the time).

As the sun rose, I passed a really cool rock outcropping that looked like a great place to camp

And I started seeing a lot of deer (and deer tracks)

I saw a sign that said ‘overlook’, and wanted to take a look, however, my toes were frozen. I told myself I’d take a look on the way out (which didn’t end up happening, for reasons I’ll explain later). Instead of heading straight I followed the trail to the left.  Here I heard a pack of coyotes.  They sounded close, yipping just over the hill.  At the end of the yips I heard a bark that sounded suspiciously like a dog (but I’m sure what I’d heard initially were coyotes).

This next part of the trail was bitterly cold.  I realized later in the day that due to the position of the mountains and time of year, this part of the trail never sees sunlight. The snow was sugary and soft and kept my toes frozen.  I kept trying to move my toes inside of my new shoes, willing the circulation to continue flowing.  Over and over again I wondered if I should turn back?  How did one know when you got frostbite?  At what point should I worry?  What was the point of no return?  Lots of these kinds of thoughts ran through my mind as I continued on.  I’m not one to give up easily.  The views of Little Scraggy Peak and Green Mountain were nice however.

Here are more photos from this part of the hike.  Sometimes the trail was easy to follow, and other times (due to snow) almost impossible.  Luckily there were good signs at junctions

I passed through a wildfire mitigation area

And some historical trash along the side of the trail.  It was weird to find an old bedspring and cast iron and debris but no structure.

More good signage

Here I came to the most beautiful part of the hike.  The trees and bushes were bent over, their branches weighed down with snow.  As the sun rose the forest became magical, and in places the trail became difficult to navigate.  After appreciating the beauty I took my trekking pole to the branches to disperse the snow, and the branches bounced back and stood upright again.

As the sun warmed up the trees, snow started falling from the branches.  It was warm out, but I kept my   hat on because of the falling snow.

There were several small creeks to cross on this segment, which means plenty of water.  These were easy to cross and weren’t entirely frozen over, so I got to hear the water flowing underneath the ice.  Most of these areas had logs to walk across.  There wasn’t a log here, but the ice was solid enough for me to walk on top (I had microspikes on for this entire hike).

The snow seemed to be heaviest here.  I’m guessing 8 inches or so.  I contemplated putting on my snowshoes, but that sounded like too much work and brought with it the possibility of frozen fingers, so I postholed instead.

At 8.75 miles I came to the junction with Buffalo Campground

And then crossed three roads.  The first went to Meadows Group Campground, but it didn’t look like anyone was headed there today

The next road was road 543.  This is the low elevation point of the segment.

The final road went to a rifle range, and actually had tire tracks!

It was so nice to be hiking in warm weather.  I use that term loosely (it was still below freezing), but the sun on my face was magical.  Also, I could feel my toes again.

Now I was getting excited.  My research had told me this was a 12.2 mile hike, and I knew I had to be getting close to 12 miles.  I kept hiking, and came across signs asking me to stay on the trail because I was near a rifle range.  No problem!

I hiked, and hiked, and hiked some more, excited I was getting near the halfway point for my hike today.  I knew I had to be over 12 miles at this point, so I should be turning around soon. That’s when I saw it:  a sign saying the trailhead was 2.5 miles away!

NO WAY!  My spirits plummeted.  I did some quick mental calculations, as I had a decision to make.   It was now 2.5 more miles to my turnaround point.  This would add 5 miles to my hike, and 2 hours to my day.   If I continued on, I’d be hiking 30 miles today in the snow, trenching the entire way.  Also, I’d most likely get back after dark, and I didn’t have cell service, so I had no way of telling anyone I’d be home late.  In the end I decided I’d already gone this far and I didn’t want to waste the progress I’d already made:  I was going to continue on to the Rolling Creek Trailhead.  Also, this was going to be a long day!  I resigned myself to not getting pictures of the start of this trail, since I’d be both starting and ending in the dark.

I hiked around what must be private property, given the fencing.  This fence must have fallen inwards a few times:  they steadied it with a large rock. 

Yep, I’m still on the right trail!  I was excited to see a Colorado Trail marker here.  They are few and far between on this segment (although there is great signage).

The last 2.5 miles seemed to take forever!

I hit the high point of the trail, saw power lines, and then descended a short distance to the trailhead.

I made it to the Rolling Creek Trailhead at noon.  I’d hiked 14.84 miles in 6 hours.  Doing the math, I’d definitely be getting back after dark (dark now is 5pm, although, as I was to find later, it comes earlier on this segment).  There was one vehicle parked in the small lot at the trailhead (taking up every spot available with the way they’d parked)

Even though it was noon I knew daylight was limited, so I didn’t waste much time here. I quickly turned around and headed back the way I’d come. The segment started with a little bit of elevation gain

Route finding was much easier on my way back, as I just followed my tracks in the snow

One really cool thing about this part of the day:  all the snow that had been covering the trees was being warmed by the sun at a dramatic pace.  Within minutes the trail became a rainforest, with snow melting and falling all around me as water as I went.  It truly felt like it was raining!  By the end of this part all the snow was gone from the trees, and there were water marks in the snow below them.

Some more trail pictures

With the snow, much of this trail looks the same.  I did see more tire prints on the road on my way back out

(Sorry about the water droplets scarring the picture:  the water was falling from the trees at a rapid pace)

Besides the deer, my tracks were the only ones on the trail on my way back

While the sun was quickly melting the snow off the branches at the more exposed spots, snow still lingered on the trees in the shadowy areas. In the morning I’d gingerly walked through this area.  Now, I whacked every tree with my trekking pole to remove the wet snow so I could pass.

As I rounded the north side of Green Mountain I once again entered the shadows.  It was now I realized this area doesn’t get sun in the winter time.  The temperature dropped, and I quickly became cold again.  Little did I know, but even though it was still afternoon, I wasn’t going to feel the sun again today.

The snow once again became sugary.  I assume this is due to the lack of sun/melting.  I passed the fire mitigation area

And followed the well marked “Colorado Trail” signs

The sun was rapidly setting.  It wasn’t yet 4pm and it was already getting dark out.  I quickened my pace, knowing I still had a few hours of hiking left in my day, and also cognizant of the fact I had people who’d be worried about me getting back after dark.

The sun seemed to abruptly set, just as I passed Road 550.  I still had 2 miles left to hike in the dark.  I don’t mind hiking in the dark (in fact, I do it on just about every hike), but the lack of a visual aid became troublesome here because it seemed someone had brought their family to go snowshoeing in this area sometime earlier in the day. There were several sets of tracks and prints that didn’t really lead anywhere, and my tracks from earlier were lost in the melee.  I also wasn’t able to get any good pictures of the last 2 miles of the trail (which I’d also needed for the first 2 miles). 

I passed the Little Scraggy Trailhead in deep darkness (despite the early hour) and easily followed tons of tracks in the snow on the 2wd dirt road back to my truck.

I made it back to 126 and, just for good measure, walked to the other side of the road and tapped the Colorado Trail sign on the other side, just to make sure I’d adequately linked segments. I turned around and took a picture of my truck on the other side of the road (and the closed gate)

I made it back to the trailhead at 6pm, making this a 29.59 mile hike with 3362’ of elevation gain in 12 hours.  I’d like to note I’d expected this segment to be around 23-24 miles, even with the added mileage from parking at the winter closure.  Here’s a topo of my route. (Side note:  feel free to contact me if you’d like a copy of the GPX file for this route).

My shoes were covered in ice when I got back to my truck.  I shook most of the ice off, but some clumps stayed on my shoes for the 2 hour drive home, and even for a while after I set them by the fireplace.  I was pleasantly surprised the hiking shoes I’d worn had kept my toes from frostbite in the conditions I’d hiked (30 miles, in consistent, sugary snow, for 12 hours, in below freezing temperatures). I have Raynaud’s, so this is phenomenal! 

Author: Laura M Clark

Mom, Solo Colorado 14er Finisher, Outdoor Enthusiast, Traveler, and Girl Scout Leader with an MBA in International Business and Marketing. I value adventure, growth, courage, wisdom, integrity, accountability, and family. I enjoy yoga, wine, whiskey, traveling, reading, and the outdoors. I strive to be the person who inspires and motivates myself and others to succeed.

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