Trip date: August 17-19, 2019
Advertisement: One of the main reasons no one goes to Forest Canyon is because simply getting into it is technical. The RMNP backcountry office suggests that you wade chest deep into water and pull yourself along the rocks in the deepest part of the canyon (see Lisa Foster's comment that "150 foot cliffs guard the entrance"). When I told them I would "figure out a scramble" they scoffed and almost refused to issue the permit. It worked but is class 4 in places and is always rough terrain (although it did take two attempts due to minor injury...). I've made some notes in the caltopo map that may be helpful if someone wants to try something similar.
caltopo map here: https://caltopo.com/m/VF6M
I'd had my eye on a trip to Forest Canyon and into Hayden Gorge for well over 2 years. The descriptions in Lisa Foster's definitive hiking guide to RMNP were hard to ignore:
How could I resist? The Strava Heat maps only confirmed what Lisa Foster had written: no one goes to these places.
First Attempt (Aug 10-11, 2019)
I actually made two attempts of this one on back to back weekends. The first try did not go well. I got a very late start and only made it a couple miles into Forest Canyon. There was drenching rain that night that left everything soaked. The next morning I slipped caught my shin on a sharp rock, leaving a deep and wide gouge. Luckily it was in exactly the right spot to miss both bone and muscle, and didn't bleed too bad. It was kind of like someone had dragged "molten" pinky across your leg (this is an ET reference).
When I got back to the car I stretched my tarp over a bush to let it dry while I looked for the nearest hospital to get my leg sewn up. I was distracted and managed to drive off and it behind...major bummer. The best part? It had been too long between the injury and stitches so they couldn't do it. Butterly bandages would have to do.
2nd Attempt: Aug 17-19, 2019
After a while you reach Rasberry Park which is full of wild rasberries and I'd hoped...bears. I've long found RMNP's bear policies excessive considering that I've almost never seen any sign of them whatsoever. I'd probably seen 3-4 piles of bear scat in RMNP total before this trip. Several years ago, on my attempt of the Mummy Kill route I ran into an off-duty RMNP ranger. We talked about bear policy in the park and eventually they revealed that if I wanted to see a bear, Forest Canyon was my best bet. I was hoping I'd finally see a RMNP bear but unfortunately I did not. I do agree with the ranger's position that Forest Canyon is the best bet for bears: I saw 2 more piles of poop.
Andrew Rose has some good pictures of what Rasberry Park looks like on his blog: http://www.hikingrmnp.org/2014/07/marguerite-falls-black-pool-and.html
Lisa Foster opens the Hayden Gorge section of her book with "Hayden Gorge is a special place". I totally agree. Possibly the most spectacular place I have been in all of RMNP. Unfortunately, most of my pictures of it did not come out very well.
Once I reached the Flattop Peak trail the route got much simpler as I just had to follow trails all the way back to my car at the Cub Lake TH. The remaining 10 miles would be 5000' feet of descent and in the dark. I had a few podcasts left and I figured I'd finish around 11pm.
I forgot about 700' of ascent to climb out of Mill Creek Basin (what would be mile 6 of the remaining 10). I'd been traveling at about 3 mph until then (probably still running on adrenaline) but once I reached the uphill section I bonked hard. I was completely out of gas. I made the climb at a snail's pace and just opted to cowboy camp under a tree just off the trail and finish the remaining few miles early the next morning (monday). Somehow I managed to still make it to work on time.