Monday, April 9, 2018

Milton Seaman Reservoir loop.

I suppose with the hiking end of RMNP being near, I've been directing my sights elsewhere.  I just don't know how many people are interested in reading about sub-8000 foot peaks in Larimer county, so I've not been writing up anything.  Consider the MOST climbed peak in this report, 6712, has 38 registered ascents (counting 2 repeats by one person, and 4 by another) on, while the most climbed 14er in the state has nearly 1300, and that site is probably not used by the vast majority of people climbing Mount Bierstadt!  So it's a low summit that doesn't see much traffic.
But this day a few weeks ago was too good to not mention, though it was not an easy outing to visit three  lowly 6ers.  Rugged and challenging but rewarding terrain, bushwhacking, just a touch of scrambling, and adventurous route finding?  Check!  And I didn't see a single person until I got back to the dam.
I started at early o'clock, as I hoped to beat the traffic north through Fort Collins from my home in Longmont.  During the day it's always slow, and this way I'd only have to sit through it once.
I started on peak 6176, right near the mouth of the Poudre.  By now, I've driven by it numerous times, but funny that I've only been up the Poudre before once ever, and that was only last year.
This summit lies on state lands, and as signed at the pullout, dedicated for use for hunting only.  I suppose there might be some penalty for not hunting there, but it doesn't say what you have to be hunting (do summits count?), and I arrived pre-sunrise, so I felt ok going for it.
I missed a nice trail going up in the dark, and after a rock and scrub filled gully, exited north onto a nice grassy slope with a bit of talus to the broad summit area.  There were a few candidates, and no cairn or register, so I made sure to pay attention to them all.
Sunrise near the summit.
I stood for a few minutes and enjoyed the view down to the plains to the east.  What a big world it is, and how pleasurable to see another sunrise.
I headed back down but took the trail, which starts or ends behind the "Don't go here unless you're hunting" sign previously mentioned.
I headed up to Hewlett Gulch to run... only to discover it was closed for this one day only.  Argh!  I stopped at the next pull out and looked at the map- I had a quarter tank of gas and knew that would get me back to civilization from where I was, but didn't know how much farther up the canyon I could go and get back, and at this point it would have to be pretty far to visit something new.  I also knew if I went that far, I'd take CR27 back so I wouldn't have to drive through Fort Collins, which meant I'd be away from potential gas for longer if I was to run low.
A few months ago I visited Gateway Natural Area with the dogs to do the hike I'm about to talk about, but could not do it due to construction which was supposed to be over by the time I was there.  I'm glad it didn't work out, because this would've been a pretty hard day for them.
So I headed back downhill to Gateway, where I was the first vehicle in the parking lot shortly before 7am.  I was freezing at first, but knew I'd warm up once I got some sun, and I didn't want to carry an extra layer all day for 10 minutes at the beginning.  I crossed the now completed bridge and started up the Black Powder Trail.  Once it flattened out, I turned east, hopped the first (unsigned) barbed wire fence of the day, and started up for real.
Above the reservoir.
I'm sure some of these fences mean something or once did- most of the land covered over the day was public (though of varying ownership), and most seemed to be relics of another time, with the wooden posts rotted enough to fall over, the barbed wire badly rusted, and gates left wide open.
I was feeling alot of joy when I took the photo above.  Though I'd started with my teeth chattering, I'd now warmed up enough to appreciate the cool breeze blowing, the early morning sun, and the songbirds in the area were filling the morning with music.  It was pretty perfect!
Some Pasques just starting to bloom.  There are one of the first flowers of spring.
I hit the ridge, and began the undulating hike to 6823.  Along the way I encountered more of the same style fencing, most in disrepair.  In some places the barbed wire was no longer attached, but rather looped around on the ground.  A good place to keep your eyes open!
The terrain was a bit more open here, so I was able to jog a bit.  My legs were already well scratched up from the scrub I'd encountered up until now.
I got to the summit and was unable to find a cairn or register.  It was hard to tell with certainty, but it looked like the high point might actually be slightly east of where it's marked on the map.  
The hills of Larimer County.
Looking west from the summit of 6823.  You can see all the scrubby stuff as well as the striking Greyrock Mountain, my photographic muse for the day.  
The next part of my plan involved descending the long west ridge to the inlet of the reservoir.  It was easy enough, some runable, some not, again mostly due to thick scrub.  I'd had enough of it here and my legs were pretty mangled already.  Fortunately, the other side of the valley looked like it was clear of this, or it was at least avoidable.
I got down to the water.  Man, what a beautiful place.  Much to my surprise, there was a thin trail running along its edge on the east bank.  I headed upstream, looking for a point to cross and feeling happy that I'd come to be at this place at this time.
About half way to Obenchain Draw, I encountered some rocks, but there were not enough to rock hop.  Ah well, I got my feet wet and waded a bit, scaring two ducks who took off in the process.  Again, I was impressed by how much this short loop to three 6ers had delivered.  Why would anyone want to climb a 14er?
After the initially steep uphill, the terrain flattened out nicely and I was able to jog/fast hike most of it, scaring a herd of deer in the process.  I followed an animal trail around the north side of 6377 and then basically stuck to the ridge from there to the summit of 6945.
An extremely pleasant meadow I passed through on the way.  I was seriously about to go full on "the hills are alive" and skip through it singing, but I somehow restrained myself.  It was just beautiful!
Greyrock Mountain, standing proud and a story for another day.
I ran out of water near the summit, but was not concerned in the slightest.  I would've brought my filter, but since I planned to do something else I didn't have it with me.  Ah well, only a few more miles to go, or so I thought!
The rocky summit of 6945.  I took a few minutes to enjoy the scenery, and dropped south to the creek below.
My plan from here was to cross the creek, and ascend up the other side of the valley, going by point 6632 and then staying on the ridge until I intersected the old Wintersteen Trail.  The scenery would change abruptly on the other side of the creek, as it is a forest fire burn area.
As I've said about everything, the creek was awesome!  How many people have had the privilege to stand here and listen to it, feel the coolness of it's water?
I decided that I should fill up just in case, as I always keep tablets in my backpack for that very reason.  That turned out to be a good call as I was alot farther from the car than I thought, and I would've been dry for some time until I'd gotten back.
Forest fire burn area and deadfall.  Unfortunately, the deadfall was too much to make this area runable, but I was still feeling great.
A closer up view of Greyrock.  It looks improbable that there's an easy trail to the top, but there is!
I don't know if I would've been able to find or follow the Wintersteen Trail without the mobile app that I have.  It was not very distinct and covered in deadfall at these higher elevations.  There were some cairns which certainly helped.
A cairn leading the way. 
While in the area, I looked for the old Brinkhoff mine that you see on the topo and think I eventually found it WSW of where it's marked.  It's not much to look at, just a channel dug into the hill.  I did not locate any buildings or anything.
Using the mobile app and all of my bad trail recognition tools, I was able to follow the trail into the saddle north of 6712, where I left it direct for the summit.  This one was a little challenging due to the steepness and looseness of the burned area.  But really a quick up and down.
The summit area.  An enchanting view was had of the Poudre Canyon to the west from the top.
Said view.  Could the day get any better?
Well, it was all downhill from here (literally).  I'd yet to see a single person.  I had food and water (fortunately).  Things were pretty great!
The Wintersteen Trail got better.  Someone or someones maintains this section, so most of the deadfall was cut or had a textured flat cut into the top in the case of the bigger trees.  Still not super obvious, as I would soon find out.
More kind of trail.
Somewhere after this, I lost it.  Since I didn't plan on doing this day, I didn't have the Laporte Quad saved on my phone.  I lost the trail where I started follow an old animal trail which must've looked more obvious.  It didn't take long to figure out that I was not going the right way and guess where the trail must've gone from where I was. 
A quick uphill through some more scrub and I was back on it, and moving a bit quicker, as it was now dirt and easily visible.
Getting close to the Seaman!
Back above the reservoir.
The outlet was pretty cool, and I saw the first people of the day here: a girl walking her dog, and a guy fishing.  There were a number of people out enjoying the day that I passed as I made my way back to the car.  What a great day! 
I got back to the car a few minutes later, changed, and started for home. 
I drove home feeling fortunate to be here, and was pretty happy that I spent the day on three lowly 6ers.  A really fun thing on concentrating on a county peak list is that I've gone to places I never would've otherwise, or didn't even know existed.  Gateway Natural Area and the Seaman loop delivered in a big way. 
Almost all days outdoors are great, and this one was particularly memorable.  How lucky I am to live in the place, and have these hills in my backyard (or just a short drive away!).
Link to hike map/GPX on Caltopo.
Milton Seaman Reservoir Loop:
6823: 3.65 miles, 1473 foot gain.  Second class but bushwhacky.  Moderate+.
6945: 7.65 miles, 1565 foot gain.  Second class.  Strenuous-.
6712: 11.1 miles, 1332 foot gain.  Second class.  Moderate+.
As a whole, this day covered 14.6 miles with 4519 feet of elevation gain though some splendid scenery.  Strenuous-.

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