Before I post my trip report, I want to post about the day before I started my hike. I was going to cover this in the trip report, but once I started typing it up I realized it would be enough for its own post.
I have been listening to a lot of podcasts about thru hiking over the last few months, and one of the topics often discussed is trail magic, which is someone (referred to as a trail angel) helping out thru hikers in some manner (giving a ride, providing food, etc.). There is also a phrase often referenced among thru hikers: the trail provides. Although my San Juan Wilderness trip wasn’t a thru hike, I got a taste of both of these on the day I drove up to Colorado. To give a little bit of background, I’ll start when I got to Dalhart, TX.
When I got to Dalhart, TX I decided to stop for gas and lunch. I stopped at a gas station, and the first pump I tried seemed to freeze after swiping my card. After a couple minutes it went back to the original screen and I decided to try another pump. That second pump had the same problem, so I decided to move on to another gas station. Just past this first gas station there had just been a wreck, which caused a little bit of a delay in getting to a second gas station.
At the second gas station, I pulled up to a pump, and after getting out of the car, realized that someone had apparently spilled some gasoline on the ground. I didn’t really think much of it. I ran my card, pulled the handle out to put it in my car, and at that point realized that the handle leaked. So I put it back, cancelled the transaction, and moved to a second pump. I finally got my car filled up at this pump. After my car was filled up, I went to use the restroom in the McDonalds that was part of the gas station, only to find out that it was doing drive thru service only and I couldn’t access the bathroom. At this point, I decided to go ahead and eat my lunch that I had brought. The line for the drive thru was blocking the parking spots in the shade, so I had to wait a couple minutes for that to die down before I could park in a spot to each lunch. After eating lunch, I hopped back in the car, stopped at a third gas station to use the restroom, and then finally left town. I was quite glad to finally get out of that town.
Then came finding a camp spot for the night, which turned out to be a similar experience. I had hoped to get a spot at the Elk Creek campground, since it was closest to the trailhead I was using. I drove through the campground, and the only open spots were the overflow spots, which I didn’t think were worth the $26 fee. The host told me about a meadow up the road that had dispersed camping, but I decided to try a couple other campgrounds down a different road. Based on how much stuff was down this road, I figured it had to be a decent road. It turned out to be much rougher than I thought. Haha. It was passible with my sedan, but quite rough, and I had to take it slow.
I eventually made it to another campground. I drove around and settled on a spot. As I was backing in, despite having a rear view camera, I managed to back into a large rock. Thankfully it was slow enough it didn’t do much damage, but I was still quite frustrated with myself. I went to go fill out the fee card, and realized when I got there I didn’t get my license plate number, so I had to go back to my camp spot. As I was filling out the card at my camp spot, someone turned on some loud music. I didn’t feel like listening to loud music for the rest of the evening, so I hopped in my car and decided to try the next campground just down the road.
I drove through this third campground and decided on a spot. When I stopped and got out of the car, I realized the person camped across the road had a generator running. I didn’t feel like listening to that either, so I went and found a second spot, which ended up being the spot I stuck with. I was quite glad to finally have a spot. I ate dinner, got camp set up, and got stuff ready for the backpacking trip. After that was finished I did some reading.
As I was reading , one of the people camped next to me (Audrey) brought me a plate of homemade tacos and sides, and invited me to come eat with her and (if I remember correctly) her daughter and grandchildren. It turned out there was a group of about 20 immediate and extended family members camped at that campground for the weekend, and I slowly met the family as different groups came over. Another group brought some goulash over, so I had some of that also. I was quite full at that point. Haha. We stayed at their site for a while and chatted. I got asked a lot of questions about my trip. After a while they all went over to a different camp spot for a campfire and s’mores, and invited me go join them, which I was happy to oblige.
As we were walking back to our camp spots afterwards, one of the grandchildren handed me a small stick on which he had sharpened one end. I kept that with me throughout my trip as my lucky stick. It was a great experience after a long day, and a great reminder that there are still great people out there. Audrey, if you read this, a huge thank you to you. On one of the podcasts I listened to at some point, someone made the comment along the lines that the best trail angels are the ones who don’t realize they are trail angels. I’m pretty sure that was the case here. Haha. It was great getting to talk to the kids about my trip. There were a couple of them who seemed quite interested in backpacking, so hopefully I was able to give them a positive experience with a backpacker, and maybe plant a seed that will eventually grow into them at least giving it a try.
For a short background on this series, see my first post.
Sep 2019 – Observation Peak Area – Sawtooth Range, ID
My reprieve from train wreck trips was short lived. With my previous train wrecks, I was able to at least get in most of the trip. That wasn’t the case with this one. You can read my trip report here.
First lesson from this trip: don’t get in a rush. As soon as I got up to the first lake, I could tell it would probably be difficult to find a spot to pitch my tent. I could also tell there were already a few people at the lake, which would probably make finding a spot even more difficult. That got me in the mindset that I needed to hurry and find a spot. I pitched my tent at the first spot I found, which I wasn’t a big fan of, and was way too close to the lake. Thus, I figured I would try and hurry up to the second lake and see if I could find a spot up there. I went around the first lake, and didn’t see any obvious trail heading up to the second lake. In my hurry up mentality, instead of taking some time to look for a better route, I decided to take a route up to the lake that was quite steep and had a lot of loose rock. Probably about 2/3 of the way up I slipped on some loose rock and fell, and knew right away I had hurt my hand.
I’m lucky it wasn’t worse than it ended up being. Looking back on it, it was a pretty stupid decision, especially once I actually figured out the better way to the second lake (on my way back to the first lake). But it really all began when I got in that hurry up mentality. If I had actually taken my time and found the better way, there likely would have been a much better outcome. Getting in a hurry in the backcountry definitely increases the risk of something bad happening.
Second lesson: if you can, ask for directions if you’re unsure. I generally try not to bug other people while in the mountains. I’m shy as it is, and I know a lot of people get into the mountains to get away from people. Looking back on it, once I figured out I didn’t see the easier route to the second lake, I should have asked some of the people at the lake if they knew how to get up there. I’m sure they probably wouldn’t have minded, and once again, it likely would have had a better outcome. Funny thing is I should have learned this on my Aero Lakes trip when a couple other hikers found a way down a small cliff side.
For a short background on this series, see my first post.
July 2019 – Aero Lakes – Beartooth Mountains, MT
After three rough trips in a row, I was really in need of a good trip. Thankfully this trip came through, although it almost went sideways the first day. You can read my trip report here.
So first lesson: being familiar with your hike can save you a lot of time and frustration. Do some research into the hike ahead of time. See what information you can learn on the internet. If you know other people who have done the hike, talk to them about it. Then, when you’re on the trail, be following along with where you are on the map and be thinking ahead in regards to what should be coming ahead on the trail. If I hadn’t known we should be going against the flow of water, I have no idea how far down that trail we would have ended up before we realized we went the wrong way. Although it wasn’t marked on the map, the trail we had started down was mentioned in a guidebook I had read, so once we got on the right trail I connected the dots and realized what that other trail was.
Second lesson: the largest, most worn trail isn’t necessarily the correct one. Once I put all the puzzle pieces together, taking the smaller trail made sense. But without any signs and no trail intersection on the map, my logical choice was to take the larger trail. I learned pretty quick that isn’t always the right choice. Haha.
During our past backpacking trips, I had always suspected my brother and I probably weren’t eating enough. However, we had a system that worked and hadn’t had any issues other than being a bit hungry at times. A couple months ago I happened to come across Backcountry Foodie and I decided to do the math. It was no surprise when I discovered the calorie count we were getting was quite low. Haha. Not a huge deal for the short trips that we do, but I decided to try some new things on our San Juan trip anyway. Below I compare how we had been doing food and water, and how we did it on this trip.
Before: For drinking water we would fill up our camelback bladders and drink through a Saywer Mini at the end of our bladder hose. For cooking water and dishes we would fill up the Sawyer pouches and filter through a Sawyer Mini.
This Trip: We primarily used a Sawyer Squeeze screwed onto the top of a 1L Smartwater bottle. We had another smaller widemouth type bottle that we used for filtered water and drink mixes. We also had an Evernew 2L bag that we used to bring extra water to camp if the lake/stream was a little bit of a walk from camp. We had never used drink mixes before, but on this trip we tried out some Ultima Replenisher drink mixes to help replenish electrolytes.
Thoughts: If you can easily get the bottle out of your pack while hiking, I think the Sawyer Squeeze on a bottle is the way to go. The bottle was easy to fill up, the Squeeze has better flow than the mini, and the bottle was much simpler to get in and out of the pack than the bladder. Having the bladder hose to drink through is slightly more convenient (easier to reach than our bottles and drink on the go), but it was much nicer filling the bottles than filling the camelback bladders and getting the bladders back in the packs. The Evernew bag came in really handy several times while at camp. It’s hard to say for sure whether or not the drink mixes made any difference, but it was really nice to have something flavored to drink a couple times a day.
Before: We would each have a couple packets of Quaker oatmeal. We would each put the oatmeal into a bowl, I would boil water in my Jetboil, and then pour the boiling water into the bowls with the oatmeal and let the oatmeal hydrate. (320 calories)
This Trip: Lemon Blueberry Oatmeal recipe from Backcountry foodie. I packaged the oatmeal into Ziploc style bags. Instead of pouring the oatmeal into bowls, we poured it into empty Mountain House packets we had brought. We would then pour the boiling water from my Jetboil into the Mountain House packets to let the oatmeal hydrate. After we were finished we would rinse out the Mountain House packets and then use them for the next breakfast. (510 calories)
Thoughts: I thought the Lemon Blueberry oatmeal was just as tasty as the Quaker oatmeal, and just as filling, if not more so. It was a little more of a pain since I had to purchase the ingredients and make it myself, but it was really quite simple. The Mountain House packets weren’t as easy to eat out of as bowls, but they kept the oatmeal warm as it hydrated, which was really nice. It also meant we didn’t have to pack an extra bowl (my Jetboil includes a bowl). For extended trips, I would likely throw in some different meals to change things up, but for shorter trips like this, the Lemon Blueberry oatmeal will probably be my preferred choice. (On this trip, I did cut off the sealing mechanism for the Mountain House packets, as I have noticed on previous trips that after a couple times reusing the packets, the mechanism starts to come apart anyway. To close up the packets while hydrating, we would fold the top over and then put a clothespin on top.)
Before: some sort of bar (Clif bar for me). (250 calories)
This Trip: no change
Before: Trail Mix. It was either a pouch of Great Value Tropical Trail Mix or Power Up High Energy Trail Mix. We would eat a handful or so out of the pouch. (~240 calories)
This Trip: Trail mix. This time I bought the bulk Canyon Runner Trail Mix at WinCo and packaged it into 3/4 cup servings in Ziploc style bags. Both of us really liked this trail mix! (480 calories).
Before: some sort of bar (Clif bar for me). (250 calories)
This Trip: no change.
Before: My brother and I would split a Mountain House meal. Prior to the trip I would repackage the Mountain House meals into Ziploc style bags to save room in our bear canisters. I would bring an empty Mountain House packet for making the meal. At dinnertime I would dump the meal from the Ziploc style bag into the Mountain House packet. I would boil water in my Jetboil and pour it into the Mountain House packet for the meal to hydrate. Once it was ready, I would pour half of it into a bowl for my brother and then I would eat the other half out of the packet. After we were finished, I would rinse out the Mountain House packet and reuse it for the next dinner. (~300-350 calories, depending on the meal)
This Trip: I tried some various Backcountry Foodie recipes, and my brother had full Mountain House dinners. As before, the Mountain House meals were put into Ziploc style bags before the trip. As with breakfast, we each had a Mountain House packet we used for hydrating and eating out of, and after the meal we would rinse them out and reuse them for the next dinner. (~600-700 calories for Mountain House meals, ~600-950 calories for Backcountry Foodie meals)
Thoughts: The Mountain House meals are really nice due to their simplicity. Purchase them, repackage them into Ziplocs, pour them into a Mountain House packet at dinnertime, add boiling water, and then let it sit and hydrate. The Backcountry Foodie recipes were a little more involved. I had to purchase the ingredients and make the meals beforehand. For the ramen meals, after hydrating, the remaining liquid had to be removed, and then the spices and oil mixed into the noodles. The Mountain House meals seemed to clean up better than the Backcountry Foodie meals, mainly due to the Backcountry Foodie meals using olive oil. I would dump the remaining water from the ramen into my Jetboil bowl, and since I was reusing the Mountain House packet, my bowl would get oil residue on it, which was kind of annoying. Taste wise, I thought the Backcountry Foodie meals were fine, and I imagine they are quite a bit cheaper than the Mountain House meals. They were also more filling than I expected. To me the Backcountry Foodie recipes seemed healthier since I was making them myself. If I have time to prepare meals before a trip, I’ll likely go with the Backcountry Foodie recipes, but I’ll have to see if I can come up with a little better system for making them while backpacking to avoid getting oil residue on my bowl.
Before: Peanut M&Ms. I would bring a sharing size pouch, and my brother and I would eat a handful each evening. (~280 calories)
This Trip: Peanut M&Ms a couple evenings, and a Backcountry Foodie chocolate pudding recipe a couple evenings. (~280 calories M&Ms, 368 calories pudding)
Thoughts: The Peanut M&Ms are really nice since they are easy and don’t make a mess. The chocolate pudding recipe has to be made before hand, and then water added when you’re ready to eat it. The first time I made it, I made it in the Ziploc style bag I had packaged it in, and that was a little bit difficult and messy to eat out of. The second time I made it, I made it in my Jetboil bowl. That was easier mix up and eat out of, but then the bowl had to be cleaned. It tasted great, and was filling, but definitely more of a pain than the M&Ms.
I was a little nervous changing so many things this trip, but all in all it went pretty well. Despite my brother giving me a hard time about it, it was fun to experiment with the Backcountry Foodie recipes this trip. They definitely take more effort than Quaker oatmeal and Mountain House dinners, but they also generally provide more calories and seem healthier to me. One downside to the Backcountry Foodie recipes is that a lot of the ingredients come in amounts much larger than needed for just a few meals, which can be a little frustrating. If you’ll be making a lot of meals, I think you’ll definitely get more bang for your buck with the Backcountry Foodie recipes. I also think some of them would be a great idea for trail magic if you do any of that. My brother and I definitely got more calories during this trip, which I’m sure helped, and I’m sure it helped having some drinks to replace electrolytes a couple times a day. Still some things to play with for my next trip though!
For a short background on this series, see my first post.
September 2018 – Highline Trail – Uinta Mts., UT
This was trip number three in a row that ended in a train wreck (remember how I mentioned in an earlier blog I’m now very thankful when things go to plan). The first three days of this trip went really well. The fourth day not so much. You can read about the hike in this blog post. What lessons did this trip teach me?
First, keep my Camelbak bladder in the tent overnight to reduce the chance of it freezing. While it didn’t end up being a huge problem on this trip, it was definitely an inconvenience I would like to avoid in the future if possible.
Second, carrying a detailed map of the area you plan to hike, as well as a less detailed, broader view map, is a good idea. Thankfully I had both on this trip, and I was able to reference the broader view map to see what other options I had for hiking out had I not been able to get out to the trailhead where I started due to the fire. I wrote a little more detailed blog post about this after this trip.
Third, having a way to communicate with the outside world would have definitely helped with the stress level. If it had come to hiking out to a different trailhead, I would have had no way of letting anybody know that’s where I was. I would have to bank on finding someone who would be willing to give me a ride to my vehicle at the other trailhead. If I had been carrying a satellite communication device like I do now, I could have let my parents know if I hiked to that other trailhead, and at least had them try to contact someone (likely the local ranger office) to see if a ride could be arranged.
At the end of July my brother and I did our annual backpacking trip. This year we went to the Weminuche Wilderness in the San Juan Mountains of Colorado. You can read the trip summary here. I changed several things up on this trip compared to previous trips. Below I cover the major changes I made and my thoughts on how they went.
Trail Runners & Socks: Leading up to this trip I had been wearing some Lowa boots, and before that had worn Merrell boots. My socks leading up to this trip were Darn Tough socks. With both pairs of boots, my big toe on my right foot was generally quite sore by the end of each trip. It was so bad after my Eagle Rock Loop trip earlier this year that I knew I needed to try something different. I had discovered that most thru hikers switch to trail runners, so I started doing some research on those. I tried several different pairs and landed on the Brooks Cascadia 14. I have really liked Feetures socks for my running, so I decided to give them a try for backpacking. I was quite pleased with the shoe and sock combination at the end of the trip. My feet felt great at the end of the trip. There were some moments where my feet or toes started to get sore while hiking, but it was never anything that lasted. When I would get them wet, they would usually dry out pretty quickly. The main complaint I had with them was getting small gravel in them occasionally. I definitely plan to stick with these for now.
Sandals: Leading up to this trip I had been using a pair of Cabela’s sandals for crossing creeks/rivers and for walking around camp. They worked fine, but I decided to try some Xero Shoes Z-Trail Sandals since they are less bulky and weigh less. The first thing I noticed about the Xero sandals on this trip was that they were more difficult to take on and off. I also thought the Xero sandals were less comfortable. However, I plan on sticking with the Xero sandals since I feel the bulk/weight savings are worth giving up the ease and comfort of the Cabela’s sandals. Since I’m now going to be using trail runners, I’ll likely start changing into my sandals for creek crossings less and crossing in my trail runners instead, so changing in and out of the sandals will likely be less of an issue.
Maps: In the trips leading up to this one, I had brought along a couple different paper maps when available: a wider view topo map (such as a Nat Geo Trails illustrated map) as well as a much more detailed custom USGS quad map from MyTopo. While doing some research leading up to this trip I came across the Avenza Maps smartphone app. I decided to try that out for this trip. Instead of buying a paper Nat Geo Trails Illustrated map, I purchased the digital version on Avenza Maps, and plotted out several possible routes using the app. While it was a little bit of a pain to plot a path in the app, it was definitely nice to get a mileage estimate once it was plotted. For the actual hike, I still brought a custom USGS quad map from MyTopo, but I also played around with the Avenza Maps app. The Avenza Maps app was super handy for quickly figuring out where we were on the trail. However, I did find myself paying less attention to what we should expect on the trail based on the topo map, and thus not paying attention to what we were actually covering on trail, and thus not comparing the two to make sure everything made sense. Not a huge deal on this trip, but I could see a scenario where it would take me longer to realize I had gone the wrong way if I wasn’t checking the app too terribly often, whereas I might notice it sooner if I was paying close attention to what I was seeing vs what the topo map shows. The MyTopo map was much nicer when I wanted to look at a wider view than what could be seen on the phone screen. Finally, the Avenza Maps app uses the USGS quad maps as is, which could mean your route would fall on several different maps. The MyTopo maps allow you to customize the map so that a single map could include multiple USGS quad maps, which could mean your route may fall on a single map. So there are pros and cons to both. I could definitely see doing trips with only the Avenza Maps app, but it also makes me a little nervous relying completely on an electronic device, so I’ll probably keep bringing along a paper map as backup.
Camp Chair: My brother and I generally don’t hike for the entire day. We’ll usually reach our destination by mid afternoon or earlier. After that my brother will do some fishing, if possible, and I’ll usually try to get some pictures or do some reading. After my Eagle Rock Loop trip, I realized that it would be really nice to have a chair to use for reading or watching my brother fish, so I purchased the REI Flexlite Air Chair. This came in really handy many times during this trip. I wouldn’t bring this if I knew I would be hiking most of the time. But if I know that I will likely be done hiking early most of the days, and I have the space and don’t mind the weight, I’ll probably bring this along.
Bear Bag: On our previous trips, my brother and I have both used a BearVault BV450 for carrying our food. As I started to pack my food the day before we were supposed to leave, I realized my food wouldn’t fit in my BearVault. I could make it work if I didn’t bring along an extra day of food, but I didn’t want to take that chance. I checked to see if I could get a BearVault BV500 locally, but that didn’t appear to be possible, so I made a last minute trip to REI and got an Ursack Major XL. This weighed less than my BearVault, which was a big plus, and I was easily able to fit my food in it, along with some of my brother’s food. Thankfully we always had a place to secure it, but had we been above treeline, that would have been a problem with this bag. I was also pretty nervous about a bunch of water getting into the bag or the bag soaking up water if it rained hard. It never rained hard enough on our trip to see if this would happen. There is an odor-proof/water-proof bag you can get that goes inside the Ursack, so I may purchase that at some point to help ease the worry about water getting into the bag and potentially ruining some food. The BearVault is nice since you can pretty much stick it anywhere and it’s sealed from the rain, but if I know I’ll have places to hang the bag and there are no regulations requiring hard sided containers, I’ll likely bring along the Ursack on future trips.
Food/Water: I started to type this out and realized that there was enough to write a whole separate post, so be on the lookout for that post next week.
For a short background on this series, see my first post.
July 2018 – Highland Park – Big Horn Mts., WY
This was another one of the train wreck trips mentioned in the previous blog. The first couple days went really well, other than leaving the Sawtooth Lakes area sooner than we would have liked due to storms. On our hike the third day, I had planned to stop at a particular lake for a little while so my brother could do some fishing. The map showed the trail going right next to the lake, but it never came that close. We realized pretty quickly that we had missed it, but we decided to keep going. Things just went downhill from there.
We ended up stopping later at a different lake for lunch. My brother tried some fishing, but we weren’t sure the lake even had fish. We kept moving and made it up to Highland Park mid-afternoon, where we decided to camp. It was stormy around, and the wind came up pretty good around dinner time. While the wind was blowing, we went to go get water from a small pond nearby. The wind had caused the water to become quite dirty. After pumping some water, it became quite difficult to pump, but we kept at it and we eventually got our water. The next morning, while taking a break on our hike and filling up with more water, my brother noticed he had “floaties” in his water, at which point we realized our water filter was likely bad. Since our only back up was boiling water, we decided to hike out that day (a day early).
Thankfully neither my bother or I got sick. After this I realized I hadn’t put enough thought into the water filter going bad/breaking situation. While we could have boiled water if it came down to it, once I started really thinking about it, it was not a great option. It would have been very time consuming (small amount at a time, having to let it cool before pouring in our bladders) and would have used a lot, if not all, of the fuel we had with us. After this trip, we both got Sawyer Mini filters to use as back up in case we had an issue again. So definitely put some thought into what your back up plan is if your primary water filtration system has problems. I’m not saying you can’t use boiling, but just know the pros and cons of each method.
Normally my brother and I would have done our annual backpacking trip in the vicinity of NW Wyoming. My dad’s side of the family has a reunion in Cody, WY each summer, so we get in our backpacking trip leading up to that, or afterwards. But as we all know, this year has been anything but normal. When the family reunion got cancelled, my brother and I scrapped our plan to do our second trip in the Wind River Range, and instead decided to go to the San Juans in Colorado since they were a shorter drive. It was the first time doing our trip outside of the NW Wyoming vicinity, so that was a little weird, but it was nice getting to finally do a trip in Colorado. I can finally tell people I have done a backpacking trip in Colorado. Haha. Keep reading for a summary of our trip. I will have some more blogs over the next couple weeks covering some things I did differently on this trip vs. previous trips, and lessons learned, so stay tuned for those.
If you follow my trips, you know that they rarely, if ever, go to plan. This trip was no exception, but it really worked out for the better this time instead of being a disaster, so that was great.
Day 1: I had an “uh-oh” moment right off the bat on the first day when I realized I forgot the belt for my hiking pants at home (I hadn’t worn them on the drive up the previous day). Thankfully my brother came to the rescue. He had an extra belt with him that he let me use. The first day went as planned. We hiked from the Pine River Trailhead to just south of Little Emerald Lake (~11 miles). The weather for the hike was great. The hike up The Pine to the Lake Creek turnoff was easy. The hike after the turnoff was pretty strenuous. Of the ~2,000 ft of elevation gain, ~1,600 ft of it was done after the turnoff (last 5 miles). We were glad when we finally got to the lakes.
We had to camp about 1/4 mile south of Little Emerald. The first time we started to walk to the lake, it started raining moderately part way, so we went back to the tent and hung out there until it stopped. Unfortunately, it was cloudy, rainy, and gloomy for most of the time we were there. It was a really beautiful area, but because of the weather we were never able to see it at it’s best. We were able to spend some time at the lakes, but not as much as we would have liked. My brother got a little bit of fishing in at each lake, but never caught anything. I got very few pictures on this day, which was discouraging. When I was getting my bear bag at one point, I slipped off a wet log and somehow managed not to hurt myself too bad. Just a couple scrapes and bruises on one arm. That was quite lucky. I put my bear bag in a different spot after that. Haha. We saw three day hikers up at the lakes, and one person passed our camp headed out. As far as we were aware, we were the only people camped at the south side of the lakes. Just as the sun was setting, the clouds started to clear up, and we were treated to a nice rainbow and sunset. Having that ending to the day was definitely a morale booster.
Day 2: Our second day was a pretty wild day. Haha. This is where we started to deviate from plan. The day started off with great weather. The trail was easy to follow while hiking along the lakes. Once we reached the north side of Emerald Lake, the trail became difficult to follow. I’m not sure if we got off the main trail at some point, but there were points where we were pretty much bushwhacking our way along a very faint path. We finally met back up with a well beaten trail just north of Emerald Lake. The first half of the trail on this day was pretty overgrown in a lot of spots, even where there was a well beaten trail. Since it had rained quite a bit over the previous couple of days, all the vegetation was wet. Unfortunately my brother and I didn’t have the foresight to put on our rain gear, so after a couple miles, both of us were pretty much completely soaked. It was pretty miserable hiking.
As with the first day, most of the elevation gain was at the end of the hike. About 1,200 ft of the 1,600 ft of elevation gain was achieved in the last couple miles of the hike. Not too long after we started climbing my brother noticed a bear across the drainage. It was so far off it was hard to see, so big kudos to him for spotting it. That was the first bear we had ever seen while backpacking, so that was exciting. Thankfully it was a ways off. There were lots of waterfalls during the last couple miles of the hike, which helped take our minds off the difficult hike, if only for a moment. As we started getting close to Moon Lake, we started to hear thunder, and it was pretty stormy to our south. The thunder kept getting louder, and just below Moon Lake I saw a lightning strike that ended up being 3 or 4 miles away. I knew my brother was already worn out, so I was already contemplating camping at Moon Lake instead of going on to Rock Lake. The thunderstorm was the deciding factor to go ahead and stop at Moon Lake. We both pushed hard to get to Moon Lake, stopped at the first campsite we came to, and quickly got camp set up.
Thankfully the storm calmed down after that. There weren’t any more lightning strikes and the storm moved out without raining on us. As we were eating lunch, I noticed a rock chuck headed towards our camp spot. I couldn’t remember if I had left my bar bag open, so I got up really quick and chased it off so it didn’t get into the food. It turned out that the bear bag was closed. It was stormy all around us, but it ended up being a pretty nice afternoon at Moon Lake, so my brother did some fishing and I took some pictures and read. My brother caught several fish, which was good after not getting any at Emerald Lakes. It started looking like it might rain a little after 3:00, so we headed back to our campsite. My brother had left his trekking poles laying on the ground when we left camp, and when we got back we discovered the rock chuck had eaten most of the cork off of the handles. He ended up filing the rest of the cork off the handles. We discovered a little later that the rock chuck had also put a small hole in his dry bag. We were able to fix that with some duct tape. That definitely put a damper on the day.
It started to rain around 3:30, and rained lightly for about an hour, so we laid in the tent for a while and relaxed. After it cleared up again, my brother went to try and catch some fish for dinner. He caught a couple fish quickly. Just as he started to fillet them and I started to get stuff set up to cook them, a cold front apparently came through and the wind got a little bit gusty out of the north. I found a spot somewhat out of the wind and my brother eventually made it over with the filleted fish. The last time we cooked fish on a trip something similar happened. Not sure if that is a sign we should heed or not. Haha. While cooking dinner, I went back up to camp and noticed the rock chuck in camp again, and then quickly noticed he had been eating the mesh used for back ventilation on my brother’s backpack. I chased the rock chuck out of camp and had to deliver the bad news to my brother. Needless to say, we were quite frustrated with the rock chuck at this point.
We eventually finished dinner and hung out around camp the rest of the evening. It started to rain lightly around 7:30, so we started to get ready for bed and then got in the tent. It ended up raining on and off throughout the night. At an elevation of 11,620 ft, this was the highest either of us had ever camped. Our previous high was ~10,400 ft in the Wind River Range. This camp spot is up near the top of favorite campsites, if not at the top of the list. It definitely took a lot of effort getting to it though.
Day 3: The original plan for this day had been to do a day hike from Rock Lake to one or more of the Ute Lakes, but since we stopped at Moon Lake the previous day, we decided to go over the ridge to Rock Lake, spend some time there, and then hike to Flint Lake. It would be a short and easy day, which would be nice after a couple tough days.
After our experience walking through the wet vegetation the previous day, we decided to put on our rain gear for the first part of this hike since it looked like we would be hiking through more wet vegetation. It was a short hike from Moon Lake up to the ridge, but it involved another ~800 ft of elevation gain. There wasn’t much of a trail between Moon Lake and Half Moon lake, but the hike up to Half Moon was pretty straightforward. Once we got close to Half Moon Lake, we took the rain gear off. We made it to the top of the ridge around 9:00 A.M. We were both really glad we had waited to go up and over the ridge. The sky/light was great for pictures and we weren’t in a rush to get up and over due to thunderstorms. The view from the ridge was incredible. It was definitely worth the difficult trek to get there.
We spent some time on the ridge getting pictures, and then headed down to Rock Lake. We spent some time at Rock Lake (my brother fishing, myself taking pictures and reading), and then headed on to Flint Lake. We got to Flint Lake around 11:40 A.M. After getting camp set up we headed over to the lake and spent some time there. I came really close to jumping in the lake, but couldn’t quite get the courage up to do it (I really hate getting in cold water). My brother caught several good sized cutthroats. I eventually headed back up to camp while my brother continued fishing. I tried laying down in the tent for a bit, but it was too hot in there, which was a change for the trip. My brother had a bull moose walk quite close by him while he was fishing. After eating dinner we went back down to the lake for most of the evening. It ended up being a beautiful day all day, and was the first day of the trip we didn’t get rained on, which was really nice.
Day 4: Our plan for this day was to hike down Flint Creek to The Pine, and then find a camp spot somewhere along The Pine. We had two separate people warn us the previous day about blow downs on the Flint Creek trail, so we were a little worried about what we were getting ourselves into. At some point along the trail there was a dry stretch of trail, and we both got excited since that was the first dry trail we had seen up until that point. It’s the little things. Haha.
Between blow downs and overgrowth, the trail was definitely in need of some work. The trail was easy to follow the whole time though. There were parts of it where it felt like what I imagine a rainforest to be like due to the dense, lush green vegetation. It was a lot different than what we were used to hiking through in our previous trips. At one point we were walking through some dense vegetation and three large birds took off right in front of my brother, which I’m pretty sure almost gave him a heart attack. It gave us both a pretty good laugh.
We reached The Pine just before 1:00 P.M. and took a break for lunch. We then headed down The Pine towards the trailhead. At one point we found some raspberries along the trail, and we each grabbed a couple. They were so good! I’m sure we both could have eaten a whole bush full, but there weren’t that many fully ripe, and we wanted to leave some for others. For the last couple miles or so of the day we could see an incredible waterfall coming down the mountain to the left of the trail. It was neat to be able to see that as we were hiking along. The first three established camp spots we passed were all occupied, so I started to worry we might not be able to find a spot. Thankfully the fourth spot we saw was open, so we stopped there for the day. Using the Avenza Maps app, I calculated we had about 8 miles left to get to the trailhead.
We hung out around camp until dinner time. Both of us let our feet soak in the river for a few minutes. That felt great. After dinner my brother tried some fishing in the river just upstream from camp. He caught one small fish. I read while he fished. After a while of that we came back to camp and hung out there until bedtime. It was another beautiful day without any rain, which was much appreciated.
Day 5: Nothing too exciting to cover about this day. We hiked out to the trailhead, and in the process saw lots of people hiking in and saw a couple snakes. We reached the trailhead around noon. The trailhead was packed, which was quite the contrast to when we started the hike. I’m assuming the main driver was the weather (bad when we started, great when we finished).
Wildlife: We saw more wildlife in this trip than several of our previous trips combined. That was exciting. We saw pika, rock chucks, turkey, several deer, a bear, a moose, and a bald eagle.
Vegetation: As mentioned earlier, there were parts of this hike (particularly at higher elevations) that seemed quite rainforest-like. There were many, many parts of the trail where we were walking through dense vegetation even though there was a well beaten trail. That was a lot different than what we had hiked in previously. It was really neat. The wildflowers were fantastic, especially in the higher elevations. It seemed like we kept running across flowers that we hadn’t seen before. Finally, the hike along The Pine contains a lot of Aspen trees. I kept thinking how awesome that hike would be in the fall with the Aspen trees changing color.
People: The Pine was a fairly busy trail, but away from The Pine we really didn’t see too many people. It wasn’t as isolated as some of the hikes we have done in WY, but it wasn’t crowded either. The weather may have helped with that some.
Trash: I was actually quite surprised with how little trash we found during the trip. That was encouraging. We found a sock, some fishing line, an empty bug spray bottle, and some other small bits of trash. But all in all, it was quite clean, so kudos to everybody using those areas for keeping them clean.
For a short background on this series, see my first post.
July 2017 – Teepee Pole Flats/Emerald Lake – Big Horn Mts., WY
This trip, along with three of the following four trips, were pretty much train wrecks. There were lots of valuable lessons learned during this stretch. Haha.
The plan for this trip was to do the purple loop in the map above, starting at the yellow star and going counter clockwise. However, on the first day, we ran into a creek crossing that we didn’t feel comfortable crossing because of the depth and current (roughly in the vicinity of the red star). We briefly looked for other options, then decided to head back to Teepee Pole Flats (pink star) and figure out what we wanted to do. We ended up camping at Teepee Pole Flats, and then hiked back out to the campground at the trailhead the next day and stayed there for a night. After that we hiked to Emerald Lake (orange star) and spent a night there before hiking back out. So what lessons did I take away from this?
First, trekking poles were on my list of gear to get for the next trip. I had never used them since I figured they were additional items to bring along that I didn’t necessarily need, but they would have been really useful for this creek crossing. I have taken trekking poles and used them throughout each trip since this trip. They were a tremendous help for all the creek/river crossings on the Eagle Rock Loop hike I did earlier this year.
Second, I wish we would have taken longer to try and find a spot to cross that we were comfortable with. I’m not sure if we would have found one, but we definitely had some time to look, and I think it would have been worth taking some more time to try and save completing the loop. I’m pretty sure if we had had trekking poles, and had taken some time to find a better crossing, we could have got across that creek.
Finally, a good pack makes a big difference. Up until this trip, my brother and I had used cheap packs we bought at Walmart. I remember after our last trip with those packs my shoulders were killing me. For this trip, my brother and I each got an Osprey pack and had REI fit us. This helped tremendously. The fitting was definitely a good move since there were some adjustments they made I would have had no idea I could have made. So while not necessary, a good pack will definitely make the trips more comfortable.