After my final long run before a 55K race turned into a trying day, I decided to break my taper with a 29-mile loop through the Rattlesnake Wilderness with a friend.
Clear skies and lakes – and a trail mostly free of downed trees – were just what I needed.
Like the routes to Stuart and Mineral peaks, the Lake Creek loop starts on Trail 515 at the main trailhead at the Rattlesnake National Recreation. About two-thirds of a mile north, we turned northwest on Trail 517.1 along the shadier side of Spring Gulch.
At 2.4 miles, we crossed the creek and continued on Trail 517, passing junctions with the Wallman Trail and the trail back to Curry and Sawmill gulches. We rose steeply at first then more gradually as the trail switchbacked through thinner forest to the wilderness boundary at about 7 miles.
After rounding the top of the East Fork Grant Creek drainage – passing the Twin Lakes overlook and skipping the side trip up Stuart Peak – we reached the junction for Trail 534 at 9.8 miles.
From there, we turned east and ran down into the Lake Creek drainage – all new trail to me.
In the next 2.4 miles, we passed McKinley Lake, an unnamed pond, a historic cabin and Carter Lake, looking back up to the rocky ridges to the west.
After the lakes, we refilled our hydration packs at a creek crossing, then left the wilderness as we switchbacked down to a junction with Trail 502 at about 14.8 miles. From there, we continued half a mile over a bridge where Rattlesnake Creek makes a narrow cut through rock, then reconnected with Trail 515.
From the junction with Trail 515, it was a long, hot and dusty 13.6 miles south and west along the creek back to the trailhead – and by the time we were done, I was feeling more confident about my upcoming race.
Here are more photos from the Lake Creek loop.