Willow Creek to Snow Mesa

September 18, 2011

by Linden B. (Lindy) Sisk

I have mentioned previously that I enjoy hiking with my good friends.

Sometimes, though, I prefer to be alone with the mountains and with God, and this Sunday was one of those days. The Catholic community of Creede is too small all year around to support a full-time priest - the whole population of the town and the upper Rio Grande valley in winter is only 800 people. So, the small but lovely Catholic church in Creede holds mass at 4:00 P.M. on Saturday, with the priest coming up from one of the churches in the San Luis Valley, leaving Sunday open for observances of another kind. I have before, and will again, go hiking alone in the magnificent mountains here, which I regard as God's finest cathedral.

I left the RV park at 6:30 A.M. The air temperature was about 28 degrees, depending on whose thermometer might have the most credibility. I had to take a gallon of warm water to defrost the windshield, so I could see to drive.

I stopped, for reasons which should be obvious, on Colorado 149 at the overlook with a view of the Brown Lakes Wildlife Area, and the magnificent mountains of the Weminuche Wilderness.

Back in July, I had taken a walk up on Snow Mesa, heading east up the Continental Divide trail from the trailhead at Spring Creek Pass. One of the things which puzzled me on that walk was that the map showed a trail coming up from the Willow Creek drainage - but up on Snow Mesa, I did not find a trace of that trail. Concerned with the possibility of having to endure a thunderstorm on the flat surface of the mesa which offered absolutely no shelter, I did not spend very much time looking. On this hike, I intended to find out if that trail - which is shown on both the Delorme Topo U.S.A. map and the Baldy Cinco U.S.G.S. 7.5 Minute Quad, really existed.

So, I went up Forest Service Road 532 about five miles from Colorado 149, parked at the trailhead and started hiking.

The trail runs roughly north-northeast up the Willow Creek drainage. A beautiful open meadow is crossed on a trial which used to be ATV tracks, but is now restricted to non-motorized traffic.

After crossing the meadow, the trail descends through the some trees, and then down into the actual Willow Creek drainage, crossing a talus slope which is a lot more fun to go down that it is to come back up on the return trip. After passing through some trees, one comes out into an open meadow, and can see all the way up the creek drainage to Snow Mesa.

The trail climbs from that point, offering increasingly beautiful views down the back trail to the west. And, once more, the sky is really that blue.

We've been getting some snow in the mountains.

I followed the trail shown on both maps, which runs on the east side of the Willow Creek drainage. There's really no need to do so - the drainage is open, offering easy walking, but since I wanted to see where the trail on the maps went, I followed it. At times, it pretty much disappeared, but with both the Delorme Topo U.S.A. and the Baldy Cinco U.S.G.S. 7.5 Minute Quad loaded in my GPS, I had no trouble picking it up.

I basically followed the maps up to a point where they showed the trail climbing straight up to the mesa. At that point, I just picked my way up the elk trails through the willows, until I found the trail to the top. The trail is marked at the top by a cairn - which cannot be seen until you are almost at the top.

If you find yourself going up there, though, don't worry about the trail. It's only a couple of hundred feet from the creek drainage up to the mesa, and there are numerous easy ways to bushwack off trail to get there if you don't find the trail.

Once on the top, the views across the mesa to the west are spectacular. Did I mention that the mountains have been getting some snow?

At this point, I had hiked in about five and a half miles, and was up about 2000 feet of elevation. So, I decided to find a rock to hide behind from the wind, and have lunch. The sky was absolutely clear, and it had warmed up, so I sat behind the rock for quite a while, enjoying the view.

Below is the view back down the Willow Creek drainage. It looks like a city park, save for the mountains in the background, and offers nice walking.

It had been cold in the mountains overnight, with a hard freeze - the ground hiking up was frozen most of the way. Once on top of the mesa, there were numerous puddles which had frozen. There was this very strange ice formation in one right next to where I was eating lunch. It looks like the head of a humming bird, and I can think of no explanation for it. But I have come to accept that there are things which I never will know the reason for.

Going back down, I did not follow the trail. The drainage off to the west of the creek looked like it might offer easier walking than the trail, and it did. I just followed the contour down the drainage, until an obvious creek crossing got me back to the east side, when I followed the trail. It's not like you can get lost, if you just follow the creek drainage.

I took this picture looking back up at Snow Mesa. The trail goes up to the top near the right-hand side of the mesa. But, as you might be able to tell, there are lots of ways to get there which are an easy scramble to the top.

On the way back down, I noticed a couple of these pretty birds flitting around some trees near the trail. I have no idea what kind of bird it is. Aside from a squirrel or two, this was the only wildlife I saw. Elk hunting season is on for bow and black-powder muskets, so the elk are hiding out, nor did I see any deer.

What follows is what I wrote in my last note about my drive up Cinnamon Pass Road:
I find peace in these mountains, silent except for the wind in the trees, and sometimes thunder and rain.

My life is blessed with a wonderful family, many friends, and beautiful places to live and visit. I have done little if anything to deserve these blessings, which are granted to me through the infinite mercy of God, and for which I am grateful every day of my life.

It's still true - and perhaps I'm especially conscious of that on Sunday, but I should be every day.

In the course of an 11 mile hike, I saw not a single human being. The entire hike, I was conscious of an incredible sense of peace. There was nowhere else in the entire world I wanted to be, nor a single material thing which I do not have, which I want. I guess that makes me one of the luckiest, and richest, people in the world. And, despite the losses of this year, I am.

© 2011 by Linden B. (Lindy) Sisk

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