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Hiking Slow on the Keystone Gorge Loop Trail

Monday • July 28, 2014

I have to admit, I’m a competitive guy, even when it comes to hiking.  It’s usually not enough to enjoy being out in nature.  I feel compelled to finish any hike that I start (no cutting it short), and while I’m not racing, time to complete is usually an element in my hikes.  Occasionally, time to complete is important, especially with long hikes to high elevations when afternoon thunderstorms is a real risk, but usually, I just like to compare my hike times with previous hikes, just for the fun of it.

That said, watching the clock isn’t the best way to enjoy a hike.

Today, I decided to intentionally slow down and concentrate on enjoying the hike.  Keystone Gorge is a perfect trail for a slow hike.  It’s a fairly short and moderate 3 – mile loop.  Half of the loop is on the south side of the San Miguel River and half of the loop is on the north side.  On a normal day, this might be a one hour hike. 

During the entire length of the trail, you can hear the San Miguel River raging down the gorge.  For most of this stretch, the river goes through almost continuous rapids.  Sometimes, the trail is right next to the water, while in other areas, the trail is well above the water.  Today, I took multiple opportunities to go a few feet off the trail to find a large boulder to sit on to just watch the rapids.  The water can be quite loud, and when I closed my eyes to just listen for a while, I could hear a full spectrum of pitches coming from the water.  The high pitched sounds seem to come from the top of the water and would be more sporadic.  The low pitched sound reminded me of the sound coming from the engines of a commercial airliner. 

Also, while watching the water, you could see hordes of mosquitos hovering over the water.  It’s not clear to me why mosquitoes do this.  Perhaps it is the daredevil adolescent mosquitoes that tempt fate by being close enough to the water for a random spurt of water to drag it into the river and being close enough to a fish to jump out and grab it.     

Besides the water, I enjoy Keystone Gorge for the variety of terrain.  On the south side, you are treated to aspen groves which then turn into fir forests.  There is a bit of a Pacific Northwest feel because the sun isn’t as harsh to this side of the river.  On the north side, it is much more dry and exposed to the sun.  On this side, you will run across several areas of mine ruins.  Back in the day, the miners would blast the side of the canyon to move soil into sluice boxes to capture gold and other minerals.

Located fairly close to town, but far enough way to not attract most tourists, I seldom run into many people on this trail.    Today, I only crossed paths with 3 people.

A big chunk of the south part of the loop shares the trail with the Galloping Goose trail, which follows an old railroad grade.  That means the trail is wide and has a very gradual pitch. The north part of the trail has been cut into the side of the hill.  It is narrow and at times steep.  I strongly prefer to hike down the easy south side and hike up the more difficult north side.  It feels a lot better on the knees that way.

In the end, my “slow” hike took 2 hours, which was about double normal.  It felt great. 

Will I intentionally slow my pace down by 50% for future hikes?   Occasionally, is the honest answer.  But, this reminds me that it is often the journey that is important, not the destination.  I’d recommend this slower approach for any of the shorter hikes near town:  Jud Wiebe, Bear Creek, Owl Creek, and the Sheridan Crosscut.  I’m not quite ready to add 50% to a 6-8 hour hike, though.