Spring Camp/Blue Lake

Round Trip Distance: 16 miles
Difficulty: Strenuous
Elevation: 6095 - 9022 feet
Cellphone: 0-4 bars
Time: 11 hrs.
Trailhead: City Intake
Fee: none
Attractions: wildlife, solitude, forest

The Spring Camp and Kannah Creek trails are both located in the Kannah Creek basin on the west side of the Grand Mesa. The Spring Camp trail runs through the south side of the basin for around 8 miles and provides access to the Indian Point trail and Blue Lake before rejoining the Kannah Creek trail almost 6 miles from the trailhead at the City Intake. The Kannah Creek trail is almost 9 miles in length and stretches from the City Intake to Carson Lake on top of the Grand Mesa. The Kannah Creek trail has been providing access to the top of the mesa for some 7,000 years. Taken together the two trails make up a good loop hike with a nice 2 mile out and back to Blue Lake. The Spring Camp trail gets its name from the cattlemen whose herds would migrate up to the bench area of the trail during the spring after spending the winter months grazing in the desert below.

I started out a couple of hours later than normal to give the sun a little time to dry out the trail from all of the rain that we have had over the last week. The late start caused me to finish after sunset. I encountered several bears, including cubs, on this hike along with a couple of elk, deer and a skunk. As the daylight passed I decided I really didn't want to be on the trail after dark with all the bears. We've had a bear follow us while hiking after dark on the Uncompahgre. It ransacked our camp that night after we had gone to bed.

The trail splits about 2 tenths of a mile from the trailhead. The Spring Camp trail is along the right fork. All of the trail junctions were clearly marked with relatively new signs like the one in the picture. Most of the creeks were marked with much older signs and they were very helpful for keeping track on the map of where I was. More trail markers on the upper end of the Spring Camp trail would have been very useful. For some reason my GPS track wasn't lining up very well with where the GPS map was indicating the trail should be. There were enough cross trails from cows and such that I had to make a lot of guesses as to which one to follow.

I measured the Indian Point Cutoff at just under 4 miles from the trailhead. The Spring Camp trail begins in the juniper and sagebrush at around 6,000 feet of elevation. The trail climbs steadily for the first 3 miles at a fairly steep angle. As the trail passes the 6,500 foot level the pinyon trees begin to outnumber the juniper and a little oak brush and mountain mahogany begins to enter into the mix. Above 7,000 feet the oak brush becomes dominant and blueberries, service berries, currents and a few others become apparent. The raspberries, blueberries, cranberries and service berries were ripe and ready to eat. We came up on the mesa a few days later and filled a couple of buckets with berries and also harvested some nice mushrooms.

The sign at the Blue Lake turnoff is showing 4 miles to the City Intake. My GPS was showing right at 5 miles. They may have simply measured the distance on a map or from an old survey. Some of the really old surveys for elevation for the Grand Mesa are as much as 500 feet off. Maybe that has something to do with why my GPS and map weren't lining up very well. (There was a bear off in the distance behind this sign. It didn't see me and I didn't try to get close enough for a picture.)

I took the Blue Lake turnoff and hiked the mile up to the lake. This was the highest point of the hike at just over 9,000 feet. When I approached the lake there was a bear on the boulder in the middle of the picture. The bear moved off across the boulders with as much speed and ease as I can move on flat ground.

I left Blue Lake and hiked back out to the Spring Camp trail. If Blue Lake is the object of your hike the shortest way back to the trailhead is the same way you came. According to my GPS that would make a 12 mile round trip hike. According to the signs and Kannah Creek brochure it is only 10 miles. You might want to play it safe and plan for 12. I continued on up the Spring Camp trail towards Kannah Creek and measured the distance at 3.5 miles from the Blue Lake trail to the Kannah Creek trail. This 3.5 mile stretch was the main portion of the hike where the route finding was less than easy.

I came upon a couple of more bears before reaching the Kannah Creek trail. This particular bear was in a clearing and within about 100 feet of the trail. I stopped dead in my tracks to see what was going to happen. This was the closest a bear had been to the trail without running away. The bear was grazing on the grass like there wasn't going to be anything to eat for a long time and it didn't seem to see me. I removed my large can of bear spray from its holster and with my spray in one hand and my camera in the other I began creeping along on the trail. I had about 50-100 feet to go before I would be out of sight. I saved most of my movements for when the bear seemed to be looking away from my direction. From the little that I have discovered about bears I can't predict what they are going to do and this encounter felt different than any other. It seemed like it took me about 10 minutes to get past the bear and as near as I can tell it never did see, hear or smell me. I don't know how that was at all possible unless maybe it was so old that it was loosing its senses. I would sure hate to stir up a cranky old bear.

I got in a hurry crossing Sheep Creek and didn't bother finding a pole to steady myself with and ended up slipping on a rock. My GPS and $600.00 camera became totally submerged. I took the batteries out of the camera to keep from frying the electronics and the GPS I simply wiped the water off and kept using it. I met a guy on horseback at the Kannah Creek junction. He was the only person that I had seen all day. He had apparently rode down from Carson Lake and was on his way back when I saw him.

There were only a couple of places coming down Kannah Creek where I had any views of my surroundings. It made it hard to gauge my progress and get a good idea of how much trail I had left. There were quite a few bears until I got back down into the juniper trees. They were all off the trail far enough but the number of bears were starting to wear on my nerves. I tried to make enough noise as I hiked to make my presence known. My closest encounter was actually with a bull elk that jumped up from the side of the trail and preceded to destroy the forest as it went crashing through the trees and brush to get away. That is much more comforting than the bull moose that just stands in the middle of the trail and looks at you.

I made it back to the trailhead just after sunset. I went through 100 ounces of water, 180 ounces of Gatorade, 2 bagels and several protein bars. I could have used about 40 more ounces of water. This was a pretty tough hike with the distance and all of the elevation gain. There are several places on the Kannah Creek trail where it drops down over 100 feet just to climb right back up another ridge.

I advise a little extra preparation for this hike. A good map is a must and a GPS is highly recommended. If you filter your own water you might want to take an extra container. There was plenty of water but there were a few long dry stretches. I also recommend carrying bear spray and maybe remove the safety so you can make use of it faster. I had a good enough cell phone signal to send text messages most of the time. The Kannah Creek Basin is definitely a wild and adventurous place. If you would like to see it for yourself then all you have to do is 'Take a hike'.