Mill Creek Preparatory Hike
Allan and I were up early discussed a hike from Rainbow lake to Mill Creek.
He was keen to photograph Storm Pass at sunrise. 12,500 ft in the middle of the Elk Wilderness. We decided to take a look.
We ran off to the airport and in a few minutes were climbing out toward the wilderness. When we reached 14,000 ft. I was comfortable enough to start circling our route. It looked like a lot of up and down just to get to a campsite. The area was remote and the trail rarely used. It was a bit difficult to see from the air. Soon we started picking up its pieces and it came together.
About 8 mi. to the campsite and then the good news was that the trail was downhill walking out Mill creek.
"This will be great." Said Allan enthusiastically. "At sunset we'll climb up to the top of this ridge and the next morning up to "Storm Pass to catch the sunrise." He was pointing to a couple of vertical cliffs as best I could tell. I
shook my head. I would be grateful just to make the campsite, which would be at the head of Mill Creek.
It looked doable with most of the route above tree line. This seemed like a hike for tough customers. As I turned the plane back toward the airport I wondered if I was still a tough customer. "Only one way to find out." I thought to myself.
Bev was in need of a hike. So at about 11 we started out from
Gunnison to hike in from the trailhead at Mill Creek to see what we might find. The dogs were enthusiastic and it looked there would be water enough for them on the trail.
From the air we had seen a pretty large cliff that seemed to span the valley.
Allan assured me we could get past it. 10 mi. out of town we reached the trailhead. We had been here once before. At that time we were ankle deep in mud and cow droppings. Today it was dry, temp in the 70's, and, mercifully, no cattle. The trailhead sign indicated a mile to the Wilderness and 8 mi. to Storm Pass. The Wilderness Boundary seemed like a good destination for today.
About a mile up the trail we missed the stream crossing and persisted on the south side of the creek. The GPS showed the trail on the other
side, but it showed it there for most of the hike. Before long we were bush wacking and Bev reflected that this didn't seem like much of a trail.
Back tracking, we found the crossing. A couple of logs helped us over and before long we were on a proper trail. At the Wilderness
Boundary we found a shady spot and stopped to eat our sandwiches for
We then entered the forest and started a gentle climb through huge Aspens and Spruce. The trail was in great shape. The walk through the tall trees that smelled of spruce was refreshing after the open sun. It was dark enough that there were some great mushrooms growing everywhere.
The dogs were hot but the frequent streams rejuvenated them each time.
From time to time we were greeted with
great views of the "Castles" that formed the north rim of this canyon.
These are old granite flukes that somehow
resisted erosion and left spectacular vertical flukes.
We reached the lava flow that created the
vertical cliffs about 3 mi. into the canyon. We climbed to the top. From there we got a great view backward of the Ohio
Creek valley, and realized the dogs were getting tired so it was time to turn
back. It was almost 5 when we saw
the trailhead from above and our welcome little car. I wondered what I would think of this trail in two days when
we used it to complete our much longer journey.