Eagles Nest Wilderness June 30 2023

shredhiker

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Last year, one of my hiking buddies reached out to doing the High Sierra Trail this summer. It doesn't take much to convince me to head into the Sierra, so I immediately began making plans, looking at time windows, and figuring out how many days we'd need to complete the trip. Long story short; the historic snowpack put an end to that, and we made the decision back in April that this wasn't our year. But with the group already having scheduled the time off, we decided to fly out to Colorado & not over plan too much. It worked out for last years Maroon Bells Trip.

Rather than my usual method of flying in and hiking out the same day, we took a more sensible approach this time. We stayed the first night in Denver, then drove out to Jefferson to spend a few days doing short & easy trips on segments 5 & 6 of the Colorado Trail. I didn't take many photos either day, but we did have a pretty awesome moose sighting as we hiked out the 3rd day. Then we headed to a drive up campground near Frisco to enjoy a lazy day, before ultimately deciding to head into the Eagles Nest Wilderness and hike the loop that circles Buffalo Mountain, counter clockwise.

While not as serious as the Sierra, Colorado still had quite a snow year & it was still lingering. We weren't able to get much info on trail conditions, and weren't certain Eccles Pass would be doable. We gave ourselves 4 days to complete the loop, I know plenty of folks do this as a day hike, but we were out there to take our time and enjoy a few days exploring somewhere new.

Day 1 was mostly in the woods, but still pleasant. We started out around 11am from the Meadow Creek Trailhead. I wasn't sure what to expect on this hike, as the first several miles of it were practically parallel to the interstate, and most of the views beyond the trees were looking directly into town. An hour in, we stopped at the beautiful Lily Pad Lake for lunch, before making our way up to the Buffalo Cabin Trailhead (which doesn't allow overnight parking) and finally making out way into the mountains.

We descended down some awkwardly steep sections of trail, before making out way up to Willow Creek Falls, which was gorgeous but in a narrow space that was difficult to photograph. Some hikers we passed said the saw goat fur in the brush up ahead, which we soon found plenty of. I wasn't certain that's what it was at the time. I was just about to put my foot right in my mouth, thinking that this hike was too close to town. We got about 5 minutes up the trail from the falls when I noticed a nice view of the valley behind us, then I noticed a rather large mountain goat standing on a rock about 30 yards below me, I'd just walked right past him. I motioned for my buddies down below me to keep quiet at pointed down at the goat, they were able to see him through the trees. He laid down on the rock, as my friends cautiously crept around him. I'd never seen one close enough to not need a spotting scope. Then out of nowhere he got up from his rock and started slowly walking toward us. We moved about 40 yards up the the trail to give him some space, but a few seconds after we stopped, there he was coming up the hill again. We repeated this 3-4 times, before ultimately deciding to move off the trail so he could pass.

He just kept slowly and purposefully walking right toward us. Now we were off the trail and near the swift running creek, upstream from the falls. Right when were realized how much we didn't have a clue as to how to deal with this guy, he got distracted by some other hikers down by the falls & decided to go see what they were up to. We looked around and found a way to scramble up the rocks to give ourselves some more space, and discovered what was almost the perfect campsites soon after. It was going on 6pm at this point, and we were ready to be done for the day. Looking around camp we saw more of the goat hair we'd seen on the trail earlier, and signs that he'd clearly been bedding in the area. We decided to keep going, as we didn't want him showing up later & ended up going another mile or two before finally seeing a few tent spots with access to Willow Creek nearby. We camped in a small opening with high canyon walls on either side of us. It was around a 6 mile day, with 2000' of elevation gain. The mosquitos were pretty horrendous at this campsite.

Day 2, we were up at 7 and hiking out by 9. It didn't take long for us to make it out of the woods and into some spectacular wildflower filled meadows, with peaks towering above us in every direction, and the occasional snow field to cross. We only covered maybe 2 miles before making camp at a small unnamed lake just north of the pass we'd need to get over. There was another group camped in the area, who planned to cross Red Buffalo Pass the next day, which we could see from camp. There were a lot of snow fields all over the meadow at this point, so once we got all set up, we spend a couple of hours scrambling around and coming up with a plan to make it up Eccles Pass the next day. Since I hadn't showered in nearly a week, I opted to take a dip in the partially frozen lake. Everyone within a mile radius probably heard me.

Day 3 once again, we were up at 7 and hiked out around 9. We made the decision the night before, that if we could get over the pass early in the day, we'd likely go ahead and hike out. Doing so would give us some extra time to drive down and spend a few days in the Flat Tops Wilderness. There was some route finding involved to avoid the snow fields, some of which we could still walk over, others we were post holing through, and some were just on steep sections where we had to find another way around. We also had to skirt the edge of another partially frozen lake, with the waters edge completely snow covered, thankfully there were foot prints from a day or two before that we could follow. Eventually we made it up a snow bank that was about 2 ft deep, 40 ft across, and 5-6 ft uphill that would be our last obstacle before getting to the top. We chose a spot to make our way up, and slowly kicked a few steps into the snow and were able to use our poles to get up the last little bit. We would've greatly benefited from micro spikes on this day.

The views from the pass were stunning in both directions. We spent an hour hanging around up there, just enjoying the moment before heading down into the lovely meadows below. Unfortunately it wasn't long after that the scheduled mountain thunderstorm passed through, and we hurried along to get under some tree cover as the rain picked up. Somewhere around noon I put the camera away, and around 3:00 we'd finished the 6 miles or so back to the trailhead.

I ended up really loving this area, and definitely hope to make it back for a longer trip sometime.


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Nice, I've been wanting to do that hike for a while now. Your photos are beautiful. Those goats in the ENW can be super annoying
 
Nice report! Glad you guys had a good time and found some non-Summit County madness solitude.

The Flat Tops are one of my favorite areas.

Next time you make it out this way, if you're looking for another member, let me know...
 
Nice report! Glad you guys had a good time and found some non-Summit County madness solitude.

The Flat Tops are one of my favorite areas.

Next time you make it out this way, if you're looking for another member, let me know...
I'll try to reach out next time I'm headed that direction. Plenty of beautiful country out that way, that I hope to see more of!
 
Now nice trip report and thanks for posting! This brought back memories. Hiked all over this Eagle Nest Wilderness yearsss ago in the years of 1978 and 1979. Such a Great Area!
 
It really is a spectacular part of Colorado. I couldn't believe it's been on my radar for so long, but I'd never taken the time to spend a couple of days out there until now.
 
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