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TR: Gold Creek (A Walk in the Woods)

Posted by gck Friday, August 17, 2012 0 comments

Distance: 11 miles (or ~9 miles as we did it)
Elevation gain: 1600 ft elevation gain (~150 ft elevation gain)
Trailhead directions and more information on WTA.

Catching up on blog posts. It’s been a busy summer! I am way behind on my reading, but I have been seeing movies and getting hikes in. This hike was one I did in mid-July. It was hard to muster up any sort of appealing agenda because I really didn’t feel like driving and so much was still snowed in. Then add in a weather forecast that kept went from sunny to possible thunderstorms to “This is 10% chance of rain? It’s RAINING.” It was going to be Annette Lake, but due to the rain, we crossed the pass, aiming for Twin Lakes and Lake Lillian. When we got to a gated road, we thought the trailhead was inaccessible (in retrospect, we took the wrong road) and instead ended up at the parking lot for Gold Creek Pond, a picnic area that looked really pretty but at the time seemed like it would be infested with mosquitoes. I always carry a hiking book with me, which comes in handy in times like these. Determined to hike somewhere, we walked down the gated road about a mile to the Gold Creek trailhead.

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Left: Pond near trailhead (possibly part of Gold Creek Pond?)
Right: Valley with many downed trees

This area of wilderness around I-90 seems to be changing in two directions. The first direction is towards development. The gated road contained driveways leading to many cabins, a number of them up for sale. The other direction is towards preservation, to counteract the development. There was a sign about how there had been efforts to purchase wilderness lands to turn them into a reserve, preserving the habitats of grizzly bears and grey wolves. There was also a big construction site near the highway exit that was digging an animal underpass below I-90. Another thing that came out of the preservation effort was banning fishing in Gold Creek. Mike was sad.

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Left: Little succulents growing on rocks (a reminder that we were east of the pass)
Right: Some sort of butterfly or moth

At the trailhead, we saw a sign indicating that a WTA work party was ahead. We saw a number of the helmeted workers (at the end of the day, they were all walking in a line, and I wanted to follow them, singing, "Heigh-ho, heigh ho...") working hard to dig drainage ditches, fill in muddy areas with packed dirt and rocks, cut away downed trees, and much more. It’s easy to forget how much of a difference trail maintenance makes until you hike something that’s in poor condition. Big thanks to WTA and the volunteers! We could see the improvement between when we came in and when we left.


The hike is a nice one. It’s long and mostly flat until the climb to the lake, so it would be a good one for people who are good walkers but don’t like hills. I was surprised at how unpopular this trail was, considering the difficulty level and proximity to the city. Aside from the work party, we saw only a handful of people all day. The first part spends a lot of time in the woods so it’s nice and shady. There are views and access points for Gold Creek throughout the hike so things don’t get too boring. We also passed a few nice campsites with fire rings – not too shabby of a place to spend the night.

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Left: Flowers and valley views,
Center: Waterfall and a lone tree at the top
Right: Gold Creek crossing with a noticeable lack of log or bridge.

The trail opens up after a few miles to nice views of the valley and surrounding mountains. On one side there was a surprising number of downed trees, so many that I first mistook it for a logging operation.  On the other side, there were two spectacular waterfalls. The hiking book didn’t mention them, so maybe they’re seasonal. Walking through this area was the highlight of the hike. There was also a nice variety of wildflowers, with butterflies fluttering around. I saw quite a bit of “Bleeding Heart” flowers, the first I’ve seen of them in the wild. We also noticed some succulents growing on rocks, looking oddly out of place in this otherwise undesert-like environment.

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Left: Mike taking care not to fall off the log into the fast-moving Gold Creek
Right: Two waterfalls

We did not make it to Alaska Lake. It was a long enough distance that I knew that turning around was a good possibility, but the creek crossings decided it for certain. At the first crossing of Gold Creek (pictured above), we saw where the trail continued, but there was no visible way to cross without fording the creek, which was pretty wide, with fast-moving water. No thanks. I learned my hypothermia lesson at Rampart Ridge last year. We backtracked and did some super fun bushwhacking and finally found a log crossing, then bushwhacked the way back to the trail. Went another half mile or so and then hit a crossing for Silver Creek that would also be a creek ford. I consulted the book and saw that after that, there was yet another Gold Creek crossing before a steep, relentless climb up to the lake. Wasn’t worth it. Maybe another time. From reading trip reports, it seems like these creek crossings tend to be consistently problematic and the trail gets even less maintained when climbing up to the lake. There’s also Joe Lake up there, and both of them are definitely accessible via other trails, which could be a better route in. I felt like the Gold Creek trail stood well on its own without a flashy lake at the end, even if it wasn’t a trail I would normally choose to do.


More to come!