12,067 Feet (5th Highest in the Kenosha Mountain Range)
Southwest Ridge Route
Long Gulch Trailhead, 10,080 Feet
September 23rd, 2007
9.37 Miles Roundtrip
3,423 Feet Elevation Gained
To paraphrase Oscar Wilde, solo hiking is the best type of hiking because the pleasure given is equal to the pleasure received. The sketchy weather reports had many hikers opting to stay at home this weekend. The likelihood of thunderstorms was 60% for most of the high mountains in Colorado, and it scarcely seemed worth the effort to commit to a major hike only to be chased off of the mountain by lightning. My regular hiking partner did not seem particularly enthused at the prospect of lightning and hail, so I decided to do a solo hike. I needed to find a lower peak, just above treeline, with most of the approach below treeline. This would shield me from inclement weather for most of the hike. The Lost Creek Wilderness has several peaks that fit the description. “Zephyr” Peak in the Kenosha Mountains seemed to be the most attractive choice.
At 12,067 feet, “Zephyr” only projects about 400 feet above the trees. It is low enough to be of little interest to many serious mountaineers, but this is actually a desirable feature. While most of the fourteeners are fairly crowded on weekends, the 12ers in the Kenosha Mountains are virtually abandoned. Add solitude to a list of pluses that includes interesting plant life, plentiful wildlife, and unusual geological features, and the decision to visit “Zephyr” Peak begins to make sense.
“Zephyr” Peak seen from the Colorado Trail
“Zephyr” Peak was named for Zephyrus, the Greek god of the west wind. The name should always appear in quotation marks because it is an unofficial name that does not appear on any Forest Service or USGS maps.
”Zephyr” Peak can be accessed from the Long Gulch Trailhead off of Lost Park Rd. (Park County Rd. 56). Lost Park Rd. is three miles southwest of the summit of Kenosha Pass. Turn left (east) on Lost Park Rd., and follow it for 10.6 miles. The turnoff for the Long Gulch Trailhead is easy to miss. There is a small post on the north (left) side of the road that is labeled Forest Service Rd. 817. The trailhead is about a tenth of a mile down this reasonably good dirt road. The trailhead is accessible to virtually any vehicle, and there are plenty of parking places.
Long Gulch Trailhead sign
The pre-dawn skies gave me little reason to hope for fair weather. Small patches of stars appeared through gaps in the clouds. The clouds hung low and obscured the tops of the 13ers and high 12ers. Waves of clouds raced by as they were pushed by a moisture-laden front that was moving in from the southeast. The only favorable aspect of the weather was the relatively mild temperature.
The washboard ridges and ruts of FS Rd. 56 made for slow travel and caused my CD player to skip in some of the worst spots. I nearly missed the turn at FS Rd. 817, but I caught it out of the corner of my eye and pulled up to the trailhead at about 6:25. It was still quite dark out, so I had to gear up by the light of my headlamp. I signed the trail register and was on the trail by 6:30.
I crossed over the small log footbridge and headed northeast on a spur trail. After 0.2 miles the spur crossed the Colorado Trail. The Hooper Pack Trail continues to the east, and the Colorado Trail heads left (north) to Kenosha Pass and right (south) towards the Lost Park Campground. I turned south, and soon noticed small triangular Colorado Trail markers nailed to trees at random intervals.
The Colorado Trail is not wide at this point, and does not appear to be heavily traveled. However, it was clearly marked and easy to follow even in the dark.
I gained altitude on some switchbacks, and headed north on the lower western slopes of Point 11,130. When I turned east, I saw the sun starting to rise over North Lost Pass.
North Lost Pass is a saddle that connects Point 11,130 and a low ridge of Peak “Y.” Water on the west side of this saddle flows into the South Fork Lost Creek, and water on the east side flows into the North Fork Lost Creek. Cattle graze along the North Fork Lost Creek during the summer, so there is a gate across the trail to keep them from moving throughout the wilderness area.
The trail is very pleasant on the headwaters of North Fork Lost Creek. It starts out as a gentle downhill stroll through Aspens and Spruce.
It’s tough to beat the scenery along the Colorado Trail
The North Fork Lost Creek flows through a broad valley that is bordered on the north by the Kenosha Mountain massif and on the south by a chain of 10,000 and 11,000-foot peaks. Willows and grasses populate the center of the valley because it is apparently too moist for most trees. The valley is long and curved, so it is not possible to see from one end to the other. The overall effect is quite scenic, and the high peaks on every side accentuate the feeling of solitude.
I enjoyed the scenery as I made tracks down the trail, but the weather continued to worry me. Wave after wave of dark gray clouds passed overhead, but there was no sign of thunder, lightning, or rain. I was ready to call it a day on a moment’s notice if the weather took a turn for the worse. I passed the familiar peaks “Y” and “Z,” and then I caught my first glimpse of “Zephyr” Peak.
“Zephyr” Peak from the southwest. Note the knob-like tower on the ridge to the right of the summit.
I slogged on for a few more minutes before I arrived at “Zephyr’s” southwest ridge. There is no trail on “Zephyr” Peak, so it was necessary to bushwhack. The ridge was broad and poorly defined, so I used my GPS to plot the straightest path possible. The trees were fairly dense, and I had to zigzag around numerous deadfalls. It was pretty steep and challenging for the next half mile. As I neared treeline, I could see the tall granite tower on the ridge. It was truly one of the most magnificent sights that I have seen in the Lost Creek Wilderness.
Tall, knobby granite tower on the southwest ridge of ‘Zephyr” Peak
Nearly all of the trees close to treeline are Bristlecone Pines. These trees do not appear to be particularly old, but the oldest known trees in Colorado are Bristlecones growing elsewhere in Park County.
It became more difficult to navigate around the rocks as I approached the summit. The true summit was still over the crest and out of view.
I had rock bands to the left and to the right as I picked my way through the rocks. The sky was solid gray in every direction and the wind was almost unbearable. Fortunately, the wind was at my back. At last I could see the summit block on the broad grassy summit.
I went around the west side of the summit block and found a Class 2+ ramp that allowed me to scoot to the top in short order. I set up my camera on a small tripod and took a summit shot. The shot is not particularly glamorous, but it was worth including here just to show how distressed I was. I had to hunker down for a few minutes to keep the gale force winds from blowing me off of the summit block. Zephyrus was reputed to have been a friendly god of a gentle wind; like most Greek gods, he was also tempermental.
Lovin’ it on the summit of “Zephyr” Peak. Note that the whistle on my backpack strap is flapping in the breeze.
The weather was a little bit unsettling, so I just snapped a few shots and made haste towards the trees.
Peak “Z” was just a short distance to the west. I would have loved to hike across the saddle to the summit, but the deteriorating weather conditions made that seem like a bad idea.
The Platte River Mountains were just to the north, separated from the Kenosha Mountains by the Craig Creek drainage.
Bison Peak was off in the distance to the southeast. Bison Peak is probably the most popular hike in the Lost Creek Wilderness, and for plenty of good reasons. It offers a great physical challenge, with a long approach and plenty of elevation to gain. The granite rock garden of hoodoos and spires on the summit provides a huge payoff for the effort.
I had ascended the lefthand side of the southwest ridge, and I did not think too highly of the route. I decided to descend the opposite side of the ridge, hoping for an easier route. The east side of the ridge was at least marginally better. It seemed that the trees were not as dense and there was less deadfall.
I tried to stick to the crest of the ridge, but wound up cliffing out on this giant block. I descended to the east and whacked through about 50 feet of willows to get back on track.
I caught the Colorado Trail about 0.6 miles further to the east from where I had started my ascent. Consequently, I had a longer return trip. I had to gain a few hundred feet of elevation to reach to the saddle at North Lost Pass.
Although the sky was still gray and ominous, the wind was much more subdued in the valley. Since I didn’t have to worry as much about the weather, I was able to take a little time to enjoy my surroundings. I hadn’t seen any large animals all day, but I had seen the scat of coyotes, elk, bear, and bighorn sheep. There was plenty of evidence of beavers along the creek. I saw a beaver lodge that appeared to be in pretty good repair.
The Lost Creek Wilderness is one of the best places in the state to view Aspens, and they were showing their peak fall color. Some particularly nice specimens were flanking either side of the Colorado Trail.
Golden Aspens added some color to my hike
I pushed myself to descend as rapidly as I could because I did not intend to let a thunderstorm or hailstorm catch me too far from the trailhead. When I reached 10,800 feet on the trail, I caught an excellent view of Peak “X.” I visited that peak earlier this year, and I hope to visit it again soon. The rock garden on the summit reminded me of a primitive version of Stonehenge.
From the same vantage point, I could also see the summit of Peak “Y.” I recalled having a fine time scrambling on the summit blocks, and finding a rock that resembled a miniature version of The Keyhole on Longs Peak.
The first drops of rain fell as I reached my car. I had gone from trailhead to trailhead without seeing another human being. The weather was not particularly pleasant, but it did not keep me from enjoying some fine scenery and inspirational summit views. On a day that many people opted to stay indoors and watch football, I had an exceptional day in the wilderness.