Ann decides that one of our first hikes this season should be a relatively short, flat trail that she and I have not hiked before. The Ceran St Vrain Trail Head is just outside of Jamestown, CO. She has often heard good things about the trail in the past. So we depart on a Thursday morning, on one of the first warm days of the year in Boulder: June 2nd!!
Not only is this trail relatively flat heading out from the trail head, most of the elevation change going out is downhill. And nearly the entire trail follows the scenic South St Vrain Creek, where early on one finds pleasant-looking primitive campsites set in a quiet, peaceful upper-montane pine forest.
The creek origin is Isabelle Glacier at the top of the Continental Divide a little over 10 miles away and 3,700 higher in elevation. The trail is named for Ceran St. Vrain (1802 – 1870), a fur trader, politician and settler who established several trading posts and military forts along this creek and the South Platte River.
The trail terminates at an old jeep trail approximately 2 miles from the trail head. Because there was little physical exertion going out, and I had not seen any of the famous, jaw-dropping Colorado snow-capped mountain views up to the jeep trail, Ann and I agree that I will leave her behind as I ascend what appears to be a long incline on the trail to where I hope will be an open view of snow-capped Rocky Mountains on the horizon.
I hike for just over the time that Ann and I had mutually agreed I’d spend looking for a mountain view. Just as I am about to turn back in disappointment, I see blue sky in the trees ahead of me. “AHA!! A possible ridgeline with a view!” I hurry my pace towards the blue in front of me. I arrive at an intersection of jeep trails, where I catch a glimpse of the sought-after peaks through the pine trees. Finding an opening in the trees, I snap a few photos.
Which road is it that I came in on???
Forests are notorious for not having obvious and unique landmarks. In addition, my short-term memory is mediocre at best. All I remember is I had hiked uphill going out, which means I need to do a lot of downhill going back. I hike one road for a few minutes. Too much uphill. I hike another road back at the intersection, and I see landmarks I KNOW I didn’t see coming out.
Now I’m worried. Ann, by now, expects me back at the agreed time, which was 10 minutes ago. There are no other hikers likely to hike this far out on the jeep roads in the Rockies, so it is hopeless for me to find a hiker and ask for directions. I have no idea which direction takes me out of the forest and back to civilization, so it doesn’t matter that I am without a compass. Ann has the Cliff bars we brought. All I’ve got is water. It is beginning to look like I’ll be eating grubs in the forest tonight.
I transition from hiking to trotting. I’m starting to worry and sweat. Good thing I just updated my will…
But wait. The trail is going downhill. I breath more easily. I’ve somehow found myself on what MUST be the right trail. I call out to Ann as loud as I can for six or seven times. No response. I go over a hill. I try again. She responds.
What a relief.
As we had promised ourselves on the hike out, we return to an attractive creek swimming hole, with a big rock nearby to sun on. We strip off sweaty clothes—being careful that no one is on the trail observing us—and hope there are no Forest Service rules against nudity.
Unlike last year, I am the first to immerse myself in the frigid snow melt water. I tell Ann that after what I just went through, ice water is not going to phase me.
At the end of the day, I am able to call this an adventure. An adventure, in my opinion, must be at least potentially deadly. And it must be an experience where one can become lost. Both of these criteria were met.
The elevation gain to the turn-around point is -260 feet. Roundtrip distance is 3.8 miles.