July 19-20, 2017
Distance: 14.9 mi (24 km)
Elevation Gain: 1843 ft (562 m)
Highest Point: 8121ft (2475 m)
On Wednesday, Madelyn and I set out for a camping trip in Granite Canyon, aptly named for the granite lined creek and boulder fields that characterize the route. The trail can either be a loop or, as we hiked it, a one-way route that takes you up and back down the canyon.
The entire trail follows Granite Creek up the canyon and branches up toward Indian Lake, Marion Lake, and a few lesser known bodies of water.
The best things about hiking near a water source are the cool geographic features – rapids, waterfalls, terraces – and the availability of fresh water for drinking. (We filter and sanitize all water before consumption, FYI.) Given our proximity to the creek, we didn’t have to carry much water at all. We lugged a few Nalgene bottles up the canyon, but at any point, I don’t think any one person would need to carry more than a liter or so.
We also saw some pretty cool rock features. I won’t add them all in here or else this post would go on forever, but my favorite was a 15-foot cracked boulder right off the trail.
At about five miles into the canyon, we set up camp in a clearing. We figured it was a winning spot for a few reasons: it was near the creek, in the evening shade, directly off of the trail, on relatively flat ground, and had enough trees nearby to buffer wind and sound. We pitched the tent in about 10 minutes and cooked dinner on the JetBoil.
We slept well in the canyon, where temperatures dropped to 50°-ish. We got lucky enough not to get rained on – there had been afternoon storms in the mountains for days – and were comfortable overall.
In the middle of the night, I was pretty sure I heard something walking near our tent. I sat up to the sound of sticks crunching unmistakably under weight, so I grabbed by flashlight and stayed alert until I was confident the animal (whatever it was) had retreated back into the woods. After about a half hour, I relaxed enough to fall back asleep until morning.
We woke up to the sunrise and packed up camp. Madelyn stayed behind to rest while I hiked through the reaming canyon trail for about 5.2 miles up to the Phelps Lake junction (and back down). On the way I saw gorgeous waterfalls and a few small lakes.
The sun was rising in the canyon, so the lighting was spectacular. Similarly, the wildflowers were to die for.
The walk back offered more waterfall views – really I have so many pictures it’s hard to choose the best ones – and some pretty sweet overlooks.
On the way back, I ran into two guys hiking up the trail. They asked if I knew the “other girl” down the trail – they meant Madelyn. I said that I knew her and they warned me that she was unknowingly sitting in camp with a couple of moose who were taking advantage of the creek near our site. (They hadn’t wanted to walk up to her, thinking they had already scared her when they waved hello.) I hurried back down the scree-covered trail and made it back to camp about 1.5 miles away and about an hour later.
Meanwhile, Madelyn was dealing with a full blown moose problem. While she was waiting for me to return, the moose calf had charged into camp with the mother following shortly behind. Scared, Madelyn hid behind a bush, but didn’t have her boots on and was a good distance from her pack. So, she played ring-around-the-rosie with the moose for the next hour until I finally arrived.
When I walked up, she was clapping at the moose trying to scare it away from our packs. Eventually, we grabbed our things, took a few pictures (I mean, come on. Moose.), and headed out to leave the poor moose in peace. Apparently we’d accidentally camped in their home, which was obvious when we saw the thicket they were hiding in about 15 feet away from our tent. In retrospect, a few things gave it away. For all of the reasons we found the site to be desirable – did I mention the multiple footpaths down to the water? – the moose had also found the site to be a suitable place to live and sleep.
The rest of the walk back was largely uneventful. We did run into two hikers – Carol and Steve – who taught us how to identify edible huckleberries. On the way down the canyon, we snaked on berries and did our best not to choose the wrong ones. (Is that how that guy died in Into the Wild?) Anyway, we’re still alive, so I think they were safe.