8,960 Feet (Unranked)
Goose Creek Trailhead (8,220 Feet)
February 8th, 2009
About 4.8 Miles Roundtrip
Elevation Gained: Approximately 1,300 Feet
Greenhouseguy (Brian) and Slow Moving Fun Seeker (Jay)
Harmonica Arch is in the southeast corner of the Lost Creek Wilderness, in the general area of Cheesman Reservoir. Many hikers probably see the arch from the popular Goose Creek Trail, but relatively few people actually make the pilgrimage to this interesting geological feature. After taking this short but strenuous hike, I came to realize that this is one of Colorado’s most special places.
The Goose Creek Trailhead
The hike started out in the 138,000-acre Hayman Burn Area. A careless and/or reckless Forest Service employee started the Hayman Fire in 2002. It looks like an atomic bomb was detonated over the area, but a closer examination shows that yucca, gooseberry bushes, ponderosa pine seedlings, and native grasses are thriving. Wildlife, primarily rabbits, coyotes, mule deer, and big cats, are abundant.
Devastation caused by the Hayman fire
The trail starts off by descending into a drainage in the burn area. We didn’t have to travel very far through the burn area. After a short distance, the trail leveled off and entered the shade of a ponderosa pine and douglasfir forest. The trail was icy, so Jay put his microspikes on. I took my chances and skated along without much difficulty.
When the trail crossed Goose Creek at about 0.4 miles, we had to make a decision. The Goose Creek Trail continued on the northeast side of the creek, and another unnamed trail followed the southwest side of the creek. The unnamed trail is the recommended route, but the snow was deep and the travel would have been difficult. We chose to cross the bridge, continue on the Goose Creek Trail, and cross the creek farther upstream at some point.
Looking upstream at the frozen Goose Creek
We followed the Goose Creek Trail for about a quarter mile, and found a good opportunity to cross over to the other side. After another quarter mile, we came to a small meadow with a good view of the arch.
Close-up of Harmonica Arch. The Organ Pipe is visible just in front of the arch.
We followed a narrow trail up a gully to begin our ascent to the arch. The north side of the gully was a jumble of house-sized boulders, so we stayed on the south side. The Lost Creek Wilderness is famous for its sculpted pink granite spires, hoodoos, towers, balanced rocks, and various other structures. The gully had a lot of interesting scenery to offer:
Our trail became more faint and eventually disappeared. We kept picking our way between the boulders and gaining altitude, but something just didn’t seem right about the route. We backtracked to see if we could find the right trail. We finally determined that we were in the wrong gully. We went all the way back to Goose Creek, and made the call to keep going and find the right gully. We continued upstream until the trail went up and over a small rock outcropping. We slid down a small cliff, and found ourselves in an open meadow with several nice campsites. There was a strong trail on the far side of the meadow. We gained altitude rapidly in the gully.
Jay working his way up the trail
The trail was great, and had small rock cairns in all the right places. We had no difficulty staying on course. The rockscape was just as beautiful in this gully as it had been in the last. The huge granite dome was the most impressive feature. The arch was on the far side of the dome, out of sight. The organ pipe was clearly visible, looking…well…phallic.
The granite dome
One might find any number of ways to meet an untimely end on the granite dome. There was a nice grove of exceptionally large aspen at the top of the gully.
Jay winding his way through the aspen grove
As we passed through the aspen, we hooked around to the northeast and headed towards a massive granite basin on the west side of the dome. A balancing rock guards the entrance to the basin.
Balancing rock at the entrance to the granite basin
The arch and the dome are not the highest points in the area; unnamed Pt. 10,123 looms to the west, and there is a scenic rocky fortress immediately to the north.
Scenery on the north side of the dome
The basin on the west side of the dome is deceptively steep, but the granite’s grippy texture made it easy to ascend. It would be a nightmare in icy conditions.
This hike would have been worth the effort just for the view from the top of the dome. The beauty of the Goose Creek drainage is incomparable. It’s fortunate that this area was spared from the ravages of the Hayman Fire.
The arch is not visible from the top of the dome. To reach the arch, we hiked to the southeast. A deep crevice blocked our path, but we were able to scramble across a narrow section of the imposing crack. The dome is remarkably solid, but a number of limber pines have been able to gain a toehold.
Limber pine (Pinus flexilis) near the summit of the dome
After we passed over the crevice, we had to descend a very steep portion of the dome. The traction was surprisingly good on the textured granite. I headed straight towards the dome’s most prominent feature, the Organ Pipe.
(Insert lewd caption here)
I stopped near the base of the Organ Pipe to take in the view of the arch. The streaks on the arch that make it resemble a harmonica are caused by water dripping from above. The rock beneath the arch was uncomfortably steep, so I admired it from a distance. It is possible to walk out on the arch, but part of it is an exposed knife edge with plenty of potential for disaster.
The monstrous helmet-shaped dome…the obscenely phallic Organ Pipe…the magnificent arch…the balancing rocks…there aren’t many places in Colorado that offer so much outstanding scenery on such a short hike. I was grateful to be able to enjoy it on such a nice day in February.
We were able to avoid route-finding difficulties on the way back, so the time seemed to fly by. I thought that it would be a good idea to cross the stream and return by the Goose Creek Trail. I tried crossing the icy creek, but wound up falling through the ice. The weather was pretty nice, so I didn’t mind the wet feet. There was a nice log bridge just a short distance downstream.
Log bridge across Goose Creek
The Goose Creek Trail was high above the creek bed at this point, but an excellent spur trail eventually led us back to the main trail. Had we taken this route on the ascent, we wouldn’t have spent two “bonus” hours exploring the wrong gully. I’ll have to admit, though, that this was one of my more scenic wrong turns. I slipped and slid a few times on the icy trail; Jay kept his microspikes on, and had no problems.
Jay on an icy patch of trail
After enjoying all of the natural beauty of the Lost Creek Wilderness, we ended the day on a sour note by hiking back through the Hayman Burn. Even the scorched telegraph pole forest couldn’t diminish the impression left by a day in one of Colorado’s most exceptional wilderness areas.