Mission: Collect Wilderness permits and check out potential hunter camps along Martin trail, hike out to West Grouse Mountain trailhead.
This is the story about how an easy day hike through the Holy Cross Wilderness became the longest hike ever.
8am: I headed out to find Martin trailhead.
8:15am: I found the trailhead board. I was entirely confused by the understood direction that the trail should be heading. I kept asking myself, “Am I in the right place?”
8:30am: I double-checked with a cohort and made my way up Martin.
9am: I reached a fork in the trail and followed the sign pointing to Grouse Mountain trail.
9:45am: I realized that I am misdirected once again and headed back to the fork.
Once I finally found the Martin trailhead, I collected the few permits there. I continued up the trail, feeling as though I was on a treadmill that is set at a consistent 10% grade through a mix of lodgepole pine and aspen stands. I continued up the trail and heard intermittent gun shots coming from all directions, reminding me that it is hunting season. I heard a scoping sound and immediately began to worry that I was a target. I yelled “Hello, I am a human, please don’t shoot!” and ran further down along the rail
1pm: I was 6 miles in, and I had reached other fork in the trail. “Where do I go from here?” I asked myself. The signage to Grouse Mountain was pointing in two directions, and Martin trail was signed with two arrows pointing in both directions. I was, once again, confused. I checked the map that I had, along with a GPS, and began to follow what I believed to be the correct way down to Grouse. In reality, the correct way was in the other direction.
As I was hiking down, I thought to myself, “Oh boy, glad I don’t have to hike back up these switchbacks, so steep.”, a thought that I would later be kicking myself for having. I continued on for about two hours before I had the thought that might be heading in the wrong direction. I stopped to wonder to myself, “I am really following Cross Creek?”
Then, the horrible realization: I was on the wrong trail.
Thankfully, I had cell service. I called USFS dispatch, and they talked me back up to where I had last turned off.
3:30pm: I’ve hiked over two hours in the wrong direction and darkness will be falling shortly. At this point I began to think that I was going to be trapped. I panicked and shed some tears. After allowing myself this moment, I found my composure and snapped out of it. “Turn around and get moving”, I told myself.
I rushed up those switchbacks that I was once relieved I wouldn’t have to face, and finally come to the Martin and Grouse Mountain fork. I headed down the trail towards where I thought was West Grouse Creek trail, my final destination.
“Wait”, I said to myself after a few minutes of feeling concerned. Fog was rolling in, I couldn’t see the sun, and I wasn’t sure what direction I was going. I couldn’t convince myself not to go down this trail, so I continued forward. It turned out that, once again, I was headed down the wrong trail.
Meanwhile my trusty partner in crime, Mr. Rob Duddy, had received word of my misguided adventure and had begun to head up West Grouse Creek trail, where I should have been close to by now. Little did we know is that I was very very far away from that point.
8:00pm: Darkness was upon me.
I was trying to keep my cool, trying not to think about mountain lions or bears, keeping my light strictly on the trail ahead of me and not anywhere into the depths of the dark.
“I should have reached the fork by now, I have been hiking for two more hours” I told myself frantically. I checked-in with Rob, and finally realized that I was once again lost. In the midst of exhaustion and desperation, I suddenly became distracted by the size of the ponderosa pines; they were giant. I needed to stop and smell one, even though it seemd like there was no time to waste. “Mmm, butterscotch.” I thought, feeling slightly soothed. “Okay, back on track”.
At this point Rob had turned around, as there was no use in both of us wandering around the woods in the dark when neither knew where I was. Finally, I talked to the USFS and used my GPS to give them my coordinates. They figured out that I was on Cross Creek trail, 1.26 miles from the trailhead. They asked if I could make it.
All I wanted to do was go home and sit down. My pants and boots were soaked, and I was exhausted. “Yes, I can make it”.
I crossed the giant bridge, and my brain began to imagine creatures in the shadows, in the foliage. It was the longest half of a mile I could have ever imagined. My ride was waiting for me at the trailhead, and I had been a nuisance all day bothering them. I just wanted this day to be over.
Then, finally, it was. I reached paradise in the form of a CFI truck.
11pm: I jumped into the truck, where I was greeted with food. I am glad to have made it out alive.
After all of this, all I can conclude from the day was that I needed the experience of getting lost in the woods for 15 hours. I want to thank Mr. Duddy, Priscilla Williams, Max and the people at dispatch for sticking with me through the day, pinpointing my location and picking me up