Date hiked: 06/15/17 – 06/17/17
Mileage: Lone Cone Trail: 10.5 mi
49G Road/618: 12.6 miles from Lone Cone Cabin to Woods Lake
Head Count (how many other hikers I saw): Woods Lake Campground was almost full and there were a couple other campers along 49G Road, but I saw nobody on the Lone Cone Trail.
Starting out at the Woods Lake Campground on the eastern terminus of the trail, the first mile and a half of the route pulls away from the lake to follow Fall Creek without much elevation gain. A gradual thinning of the trees unveils fleeting views of Flat Top Peak and the 13,000+ foot Middle and Dolores Peaks off to the west.
For those seeking a cheaper or quieter night than the Woods Lake Campground can afford, a number of at-large campsites litter this portion of the trail.
From here, the trail leaves Fall Creek behind and pulls northwest into an aspen-ringed meadow. Closing in on the thick groves, the climb builds, garnering better views to both Middle and Dolores Peaks, as well as the Wilson group (Mount Wilson, Wilson Peak, El Diente and Gladstone Peak) across the valley. Keep your eyes and ears open. Just after hitting the Lizard Head Wilderness boundary one mile in, I startled a massive elk on the trail, a sign of what I was to soon find myself in.
Over the next two and a half miles, you’ll gain about 1,650 feet before topping out just below treeline at an 11,000 foot saddle connecting Flat Top Peak to Middle Peak. Though it’s melting fast, I ran into persistent snow about three-hundred feet below the saddle and lost the trail completely. Without much to go off of, I was glad I’d given myself an extra day just in case.
From the saddle, the trail gradually descends towards an unamed high-alpine pond in the shadow of Middle Peak. Given enough time for the snow to melt, I could see a few sites with perfect camping potential here, but now, the banks are a swampy mess.
Leaving the shores behind, the route then heads almost directly west towards a ridge on the sloping foot of Middle Peak. And in more ways than one, it was all downhill from there.
In summer conditions, I’m sure the hike would have been a breeze, but with the snowcover, it was touch and go.
For a while, I tried following the trail from one melted patch to the next, but I couldn’t for the life of me keep track of it for more than a few paces at a time. And when push comes to shove, I know I can always rely on my GPS. So, making a beeline, I eventually stumbled across what looked like an old logging road five-hundred feel lower. It had to have been the trail, it was right there on the map, but it was faded and covered in deadfall, and the only trail signs I saw were broken ones tied with a pink ribbon. I’m still not sure if it was the actual route or not – it looked to me like the trees and the trail were both getting the chop – but it got me to where I needed to be.
For a quarter mile, I followed this two track ribbon of dirt along a series of switchbacks, until it eventually narrowed into a single one dumping me into an overgrown meadow. From here, wooden posts mark the trail through the tundra grasses. Soon meeting with East Beaver Creek, the trail comes back full force as it crosses to the opposite bank.
Clear as day, according to the map I had, the route was supposed to trace East Beaver Creek without veering once. But, as it pulled away from the creek about a mile from the crossing, the trail forked at a swampy marsh, and each braid dead-ended not two-hundred feet away. I tried everything I could, but nothing would get me anywhere.
The trail was gone, and the map – a printout from the forest service website – was useless. It was frustrating more than anything, but with another hour of bushwacking along game trails in the thick of the woods – a pain in the ass with nearly thirty pounds on your back – some stroke of luck brought me back to the trail in all its faded glory.
Faded and overgrown, the trail gives East Beaver Creek a wide berth as it funnels through aspen and pine, and soon to be wildflowers, towards Gurley Ditch Near the Lone Cone Cabin.
To return to Woods Lake, you can either double back on the trail, or follow the Lone Cone driveway down to road 49G/618 which will take you thirteen miles back to the trailhead.
It started with the elk. Just a single grunt outside my tent as the stars were coming out.
I didn’t realize it until then, but they had me surrounded. From the second the sun went down to the first rays of daybreak, I could hear their bugling, less than a quarter mile in every direction. Such an awesome noise to hear, but eerie when you’re alone and in the middle if nowhere, twelve miles from the car.
Then came the coyotes.
The first bark had me hoping for a dog, but the rest of the pack soon joined in. The elk were a tasty buffer between us, but at some point in the middle of the night, one coyote came up to my tent, curious more than anything I’m sure, but I was so afraid I’d hear him calling the rest of the pack over. I eventually scared him off with my headlamp, but needless to say, I hardly got a wink of sleep that night.
Now that it’s over, and I made it out safe, I’m glad it happened. This was my worst camping nightmare come true. I always had it in my mind, if an animal came up to my tent in the night, that would be it. But here, two animals were five feet away, and nothing happened. At least it lessened some of that fear if anything.
(From Telluride): Head north on CO-145 for 9.7 mi. Turn left on Fall Creek Road (57P Road). After 2.4 miles, the pavement turns to dirt, and at mile 3.8, veer right to stay on Fall Creek Road. After 2.3 miles, continue onto 618 Road. The road ends at the campground. (Overnight) trailhead parking is available at the horse campground just prior to the campground.
18.6 mi; 41 min