Hiking The Odell Creek Trail
This summer I have been blessed to enjoy several 'new to me' excursions. From cattle drives to hiking new trails to (I hope) a fantastic finale, this has been a full summer. Full of fun. Full of adventure. And, hopefully, full of lots of great memories.
Part of what has opened the door of adventure for me - at least the 'hiking door' - is an employee who not only enjoys hiking as much as I do, but hikes at a similar pace. As a result, we have packed some pretty full hiking excursions into some pretty small time slots. One such adventure occurred in June this year.
With a few hours reprieve and an itch to explore, we headed off to check out the Odell Creek Trail. Although the trailhead is only about 25 minutes from the lodge (less than 15 miles), I had never attempted to check it out. I'd heard from other explorers that the trail traveled down a canyon - and, well, for one who likes mountain tops, it sounded a bit dull. Well - - - one should never underestimate the unknown.
Perhaps the reason I'd never felt the urge to explore this trail is its unasuming beginnings. Not only is the trailhead poorly marked - though not especially so if you compare it with other trails in the Centennials - it just doesn't look like one will find much adventure up that trail!
Of course the view looking east from the trailhead is gorgeous - but I have yet to find a bad view in the Centennial.
The lower end of the trail just didn't look inspired. Aspens. Evergreens. Green Grass. Abundant Wildflowers. Okay. Gorgeous combination. But these were abundant around every corner.
Inspiration didn't set in on the lower section of the trail, either. Even after we entered the trees and began our slow ascent, then descent then ascent, I wasn't getting excited. Granted, it was pretty. Granted, I was enjoying the walk. Granted, I was looking at trees I'd never seen before. But, then again, trees are trees! Where was the creek???? Finally we found water. Was this Odell Creek? No. However, we did enjoy the sight and sound of several small streams. Some small enough to jump across.
Some with their own natural bridges (like the large log in the foreground). I must admit, after a mile or so, I was beginning to wonder why this was called Odell Creek Trail. After all, the walk was pretty. The air fresh. The small creeks musical and refreshing. But. . .
And then, there it was. Odell Creek. And NO BRIDGE! Wouldn't you know it. Well, our plans weren't to be stymied by such a little thing as the lack of a bridge. But. . .wet feet didn't sound to fun either. There had to be a better way.
Just a few yards down stream we found a solution to our problem. Granted it was a bit bouncy. Granted it had a few 'hazards' to trip us up. But it was a bridge!
So we headed across. Slowly. Carefully. Not only did we not want to get wet - we did NOT want to find ourselves skewered on one of those lovely stobs.
Across the creek and up the far bank we jumped a pair of nice bull elk in velvet. Of course, from the nearby tracks we realized they weren't the only local residents.
The lower end of the creek was quite placid and beautiful. It tumbled and flowed in and around the rocks through tree lined meadows and patches of heavier timber.
The lower end of the trail was similar. An old road bed followed the creek through the meadow and up the slight incline into what, at this point, was a fairly mellow and open canyon. But what, I kept wondering, was around the corner? More adventure or more of the same?
Up until this point, the trail had few markers. Outside of a few signs to keep trekers off the private land which bordered the lower section of the trail, the area boasted few trail markers. No directional signs. No trailhead markers. Just a well-worn trail through the trees, across a creek, then along an old road bed. I should have known, when the first sign appeared, things were about to change.
From this point onward, they did. The sign was the first clue. The bridges the next. As you can see, these bridges have been recently rebuilt. However, remnants of the old bridges remain. (As an aside, our local outfitter said the worst 'horse wreck' he ever experienced occured on one of these bridges. Years ago a favorite old mare went through the rotting wood of one old bridge and ended up with her left hind leg and her right front foot stuck. She was up to her haunches and bleeding in the back. His story of how he managed to get her free - and the happy but unexpected outcome is worth the time it took to tell.)
Our pretty, burbling creek began to take on a deeper throated sound. As we continued up the trail, the sound grew louder and louder. While perhaps not as loud as Hell Roaring Creek, Odell Creek definitely picked up the volume.
While sections of the creek were strewn with boulders and down timber, other places had beautiful pools and pretty little waterfalls. Everywhere the clear water abounded - and, I suspect, if we'd had a pole and the inclination to fish, there were probably fish residing in those eddies.
The water was not the only thing worth noting. Life takes an obviously harsh turn as one heads deeper into the mountains. This twisted log speaks of the harsh growing conditions and, I suspect, sometimes gale-force winds the tree had to endure during its lifetime.
Yet when one spots a lone tree clinging precariously to what looks like a soil-less ledge, they can only wonder how on earth that downed tree grew to be so large before succumbing to the inevitable.
Rocks dominated this section of the trail. Tall pillars. Crevasses. Twisted shapes. Uninviting (or in some cases beckoning) rocks tumbled together or stood straight, tall, and seemingly impassible on both sides of the trail.
And, if one were a bit superstitious or had an extreme imagination, it might have seemed like the rocks were watching us! Certainly the dramatic sights and sounds on this section of the trail added a LOT to the adventure of the hike - and kept us going when we really should have been thinking about turning back.
Yet, it looked like the creek would be making that decision for us. Once again the trail crossed the water. Once again we were left without a bridge. Once again we were looking for a way across. This time there was none to be found. So? Wet feet? Turn back?
Some claim to have been saved by the bell. My adventure was saved by the sign! While the trail looked like nothing more than a dry creek bed (which it was for the first hundred feet or so), the sign let us know there was something up that direction. So, we turned and headed up the Spring Creek Trail.
For a trail which had, to this point, few signs, I was surprised not only by the beauty of the little valley we now followed, but by the abundant trail markers.
The first trail marker was on our left - notifying us the trail up Sheep Mountain started on that side (although, like the Spring Creek Trail, the first part - at least - didn't look much like a trail).
Then we came to the Twin Basin Trailhead on our right. I must admit, it was extremely tempting to take a right and see what we could see in the next 2 1/2 miles it said we'd have to traverse to reach the Continental Divide Trail. But, incoming guests, dinners to serve, and a few rumbles warning of a possible thunderstorm convinced us to turn back toward the car.
In the end, we decided the Odell Creek Trail is quite deceptive. It looks plain, even boring. Yet the further one goes, the wilder and more beautiful it becomes. How like the Centennial Valley!
Lady of the Lake