Sawmill Creek, Colorado

Location: Roosevelt National Forest, Rawah WIlderness, north-central Colorado
Maps: USGS 7.5' Quads: Chambers Lake, Clark Peak; Trails Illustrated 1:40K: Cameron Pass #112
Access: From Ted's Place on Hwy 287, drive west on Hwy 14 55 miles to the Blue Lake TH. Hike west on the Hwy about 100 yards and pick up the logging road that leads off to the right.
Trailhead: NAD83 zone 13 427394e 4492174n  Elevation: 9520'
Fees: None
Trail: The route follows an old logging road that is now closed. It is popular for cross-country skiing, but is also a nice area to pack into. Not difficult, with gentle grade leading uphill about 900 feet in 3 miles to the intersection with another old logging road that ultimately connects to Montgomery Pass and the Blue Lake Trail.
Dog Regulations: Voice control for most of the trail, leash control in wilderness (after 2.5 miles)
Weather: Current and recent conditions from the NOAA    Local Forecast from the NWS

July 24, 2000
      Mark and I took this little trip only four days after I returned from the New Mexico jaunt up Wheeler Peak. My feet were still hurting pretty badly from the blisters and related injuries, so this hike was chosen primarily because it was short, and offered the opportunity to halt at any time as it closely followed the creek for most of its distance. The creek itself lies near the Blue Lake trail, which I had traversed before. The terrain, of course, is very similar. We began hiking at about 2 in the afternoon up the wide and now out-of-use logging road. This provided for relatively slight uphill sections which were much-appreciated by my aching feet. The weather was very nice and we lucked out in having no precipitation fall on us. We hiked for just over an hour before coming to the area we had pre-ordained as camp, based on the flatness evidenced by the map. At the requisite bend in the trail, we struck off east toward the creek in hopes of finding the large flat meadow the map detailed. We found the meadow, but it was more like a swamp, and we slogged our way across it to search for drier ground upstream. After half an hour of looking, we found a nice place overlooking the creek with flat, dry ground. We set up camp leisurely since there was no threat of rain. I erected my tent in a wonderful place; the camperís dream: a perfectly flat grassy area just large enough for my tent bounded on two sides with trees, one side with a fallen log, and the other side with a sloped entryway away from the door.

    Mark and I visited the creek and made our way up the creek by hopping on the boulders protruding from the icy current. I spotted several fish in the deeper pools just above waterfalls. I was truly surprised to find fish this far up a tiny stream. Back in camp we battled the mosquitoes and flies that came out to feed. As I said, we were very near a swamp, and the insect life showed it.

     We played a few hands of SkipBo and Schnitzel before collecting firewood and preparing for dinner. Typically I like to set up my stove on a flat rock so the flames wonít burn anything underneath, and the pot on the flame wonít tip over in mid-boil. Thus, I found a large, flat rock about 20 feet from camp. I pulled it up and lugged it back to camp, and set it down in the place I wanted it. It had a convex bottom, so I set it down hard to push it into the soil and render it more or less stable. Unfortunately, before the rock hit the ground, my right hand hit the tree root sticking out of the ground. The weight of the rock smashed my finger into the root, then slid it along as the rock strove toward gravitational equilibrium. Within seconds my middle finger was bleeding meritoriously and I jumped and hollered in pain. Mark broke out his first aid kit and handed me sufficient supplies for the repair job. For many minutes I thought weíd have to pack up camp and head for town, but the bleeding abated after not too long, and the stinging subsided in half an hour to a dull throb. Dinner resumed after the excitement, and we cooked up fettucine alfredo and some other pasta product. After dinner, we lit the fire and sat for the next four hours mesmerized by the flickering flame. The night sky was clear as a bell, and the Milky Way swept across the sky above us. I took some extended shutter-speed photos of the sky hoping to catch the pattern of star movement, as well as pictures of Markís tent with the light on inside. I stayed up only slightly later than Mark watching the glowing embers of the fire. Around 11, I thoroughly extinguished the fire with water and dirt, and went to bed. When I entered my tent, I was further pleased to find that I had situated my sleeping bag so as to have a natural head rest, slightly elevated and gently sloped. I stuffed my fleece shirt into a flannel pillowcase, and snoozed the best night of sleep Iíve ever experienced while camping. Usually I find that I wake up dozens of times in the night, tossing and turning. But this night, for some reason, I awoke only once before 9:30 the next morning.

     When I awoke, the sun was gently lighting my tent through the trees, and I was compelled to get dressed and out into the quiet morning. The sky was clear, and it was warm out. I walked through the woods and down by the creek. When I returned, Mark was up and about, scattering the ashes and rocks of the fire pit. We decided to skip breakfast, as neither of us were hungry enough to endure the hassle of boiling water.

     I got the idea that I wanted to try my hand at catching fish with the line and hook supplied in the handle of my Rambo-style survival knife. I baited the hook with raisins, cheese, and even cheese and raisins at once, but the trout in the deep pool would only stare at the hook, and not strike. Frustrated, I attempted to cross the creek to get a better angle, but slipped on the slick rocks when jumping, and after scrambling about like a clown trying to regain my footing, finally fell in. Wet, angry and frustrated, I rethought my strategy. I caught a fly that landed nearby, and baited the hook with that. Within 30 seconds, I landed a small cutthroat trout on the bank. I yelled for Mark who came down the hill from camp and photographed the momentous survivalist moment before I removed the hook and released the fish. Technically, catching a fish at this altitude with live bait is illegal, I know, but in this case I donít care.

     We walked up the bank to camp and began to pack up our gear. Mark had actually started that task long before, but I was too busy with my fishing to do likewise, thus he was done packing long before I was. After a bit, I had my gear loaded and we hiked off the hill towards the trail. We reached the trail and walked briskly along the gentle downhill slope. After half an hour I remembered that I had forgotten to grab my walking stick. Not to be separated from it easily, I left my pack with Mark on the side of the trail and jogged back to camp to retrieve it. Half an hour later I returned and we resumed our hike back to his truck. Within an hour we had reached the parking lot and were on our way back home to Fort Collins.

The Rawahs up ahead.
  Afternoon clouds roll in, but bring no rain.

Mark relaxes after setting up camp. 

Sawmill Creek. This picture was shot from a very large flat rock in the middle of the current.


Mark and I on the way out, just before I remembered I forgot my walking stick at the campsite.

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Page created September 7, 2000
Updated June 26, 2002