On September 3, 2022 I started a backpacking trip into the Weminuche Wilderness, starting at Rio Grande Reservoir and hiking to the south and southwest of the reservoir. The map below shows the route I took. Continue reading for a daily summary of the trip.
I made it to the trailhead at Thirtymile Campground around 3:00 PM. It had looked pretty stormy for the last couple hours driving to the trailhead, but it looked better once I reached the trailhead. The county/forest road getting to the trailhead was rough, and I had to take it easy in a few spots, but I made it there in my sedan without any problems.
I started up the Squaw Creek trail. Right off the bat I ran into some raspberry bushes and had me a few fresh raspberries. I love finding fresh berries along the trail! I had a bit of a scare shortly after that when I pulled out my camera and my battery was much lower than it should have been. When I was preparing for the trip I noticed that the battery was low after I was sure I had charged it, but I charged it again. Now it was low again. I was really hoping it was a bad battery and not something with the camera. I had a spare battery if it was a bad battery. About a mile or so into the trail I ran into “Pseudo Sloth”. I hiked around her for a brief period during my Continental Divide Trail (CDT) hike last year. It was pretty wild to run into her on the trail. She said the trail up to the Squaw Lake turnoff was “cruisy” (aka good for fast hiking), which indeed it was, and I made it to the turnoff for Squaw Lake around 5:30 PM. I was able to get across Squaw Creek without getting my feet wet, which I was very thankful for. I took a quick break after crossing the creek and then continued on towards Squaw Lake.
I got to the lake around 6:30 PM. It was a strenuous hike up to the lake, and I was quite glad when I finally reached it. It didn’t help that it was getting more and more stormy as I went on, so I was pushing harder than normal to get to the lake before I got stormed on. Shortly before getting there it started to sprinkle and right after arriving it started to rain moderately, with some small ice pellets mixed in. I took shelter under a tree, and thankfully it passed quickly. I spent a few minutes walking around trying to find a camping spot. There were 4 other tents already set up, so I was trying to find a spot that wasn’t too close to one of them. Once I found a spot I got camp set up and then made dinner. While I was eating dinner I chatted with a couple of the people camped there. By the time I finished dinner it was nearly dark. I got camp chores finished up in the dark and called it a day.
I was up around 6:30 AM and on trail around 7:45 AM. My camera battery was dead, so I put my spare battery in and hoped that would last the rest of the trip (and thankfully it did). I started the day going from ~11,600 ft to ~12,700 ft, with a pretty steep climb right off the bat. The difficult climb was paid off with some cool views, including down to Squaw Lake. About 30 minutes after starting I got a message from my dad through my Garmin inReach Mini that my home alarm system had gone off, but apparently the police hadn’t seen any issues since he didn’t get a call back. So between the climb, stopping for pictures, and working through the alarm system situation, it was slow going early on. I somehow managed to get cell service just long enough to see that everything appeared to be ok and get the alarm system reset, so that was a relief.
Near the top of the climb I reached a junction with the CDT and continued down that trail. I ran into a couple deer near the top of the climb. The views hiking up to and along the ridge were great, but I was glad to finally have some downhill when I got to the top of the climb. There was a lot of hiking through overgrown brush shortly before I took a break around 10:00 AM. I wasn’t feeling great during the break. I didn’t feel like eating much and had a bit of a headache, but I ate a bit of granola and drank some water. I was hoping to refill water during the break, but unfortunately the creek bed where I stopped was dry. After the break the trail went around a peak/ridge and had some cool views down into the Squaw Creek valley. Thankfully the next creek I came to had some water, so I stopped there and refilled.
At Squaw Pass I got onto the Cimarrona Trail and then had a long climb up to a saddle. I went pretty slow. Shortly after going over the saddle I ran into a couple backpackers going the opposite way. The trail was pretty overgrown in spots on the other side of the saddle. Thankfully the brush was dry. I stopped for lunch next to a creek just before the junction with the Hossick Trail. It wasn’t a great place to stop for lunch, but it was nice being next to the creek (although I didn’t end up getting any water from it).
I got to the Hossick Trail junction quickly after lunch and turned up that trail, after which was a really hard climb from ~11,500 ft to ~12,400 ft. I went very slow. Haha. It was steep, overgrown in lots of spots, and rocky. Thankfully there were some cool views along the way and at the top of the climb to reward me for the work. It’s definitely not a good choice if you’re afraid of heights though, as there is a short section at the top with a very big drop off on either side. I had originally planned to go to Hossick Lake, but when I got to the junction and realized more climbing would be involved, I decided to skip it and head down to the Weminuche Valley to set up camp. I was already pretty worn out.
I underestimated that decent. The trail went from ~11,800 ft to ~8,500 ft. in ~5 miles. By the time I got to the bottom I was so exhausted, and my feet, legs, and hips were all hurting. I was pretty sure I had a blister on one heel. When I reached the Shaw Creek Trail I continued on it and camped next to Milk Creek. I had hiked about 14 miles. I reached camp around 5:00 PM. The way I felt by the time I reached camp rivaled how bad I felt after some of my worst CDT days. I don’t ever remember feeling that bad after a day of hiking outside of the CDT. It was definitely a rough day.
I got my tent set up, made dinner, and then finished getting camp set up. I washed my feet and then looked at other options for routes for the next day. The next day was supposed to have another really big climb right away, and I really didn’t feel like doing that. Thankfully there was a shortcut and much easier route I could take, so I decided to do that even though it involved backtracking about a mile or so.
I spent the rest of the evening doing camp chores, reading, and typing up notes for the day. Not sure if it was the altitude, dehydration, it was harder than I expected, or a combination of all those, but this day definitely kicked my butt. Thankfully the brush wasn’t wet, though, else there would have been lots of “hiker washes”, which would have made it even worse.
On day 3 I was up around 6:45 AM. There was a squirrel right above my tent that decided to be my alarm clock. I can’t remember if I was awake before that or not, but I was a definitely awake afterwards. After getting going I made the mile or so hike back to the junction with the Weminuche Trail and took that trail toward Divide Lakes. I was feeling better in the morning, but was really glad I had decided to take the easier route. The Weminuche Trail seemed like the most heavily used trail I took during the trip. It’s apparently a popular trail for horses/mules, so there were some spots where the trail was in rough shape, but it ended up being a neat stretch of trail. The Elk Park area was neat, and there were a bunch of sunflower looking flowers (but much smaller) along a good portion of the trail.
I stopped at E. Fork Weminuche Creek around 11:00 AM for a snack break and to fill up with water. There just so happened to be some raspberries there as well, so I helped myself to a few of those. I made it to Los Pinos River around 12:30 PM. I had planned to do lunch there, but there wasn’t much shade, so I started up the Pine River Trail and stopped at the first creek that crossed the trail, around 1:00 PM.
The hike up Los Pinos River was pretty easy, and was great for making some miles. I got to the junction with the Rincon La Osa trail around 2:45 PM. Right after getting on the Rincon La Osa trail I came to a Y in the trail and took a path that went to a camp, so I had to backtrack a bit. The climb up the Rincon La Osa trail was difficult, but not as hard as the climbs on the previous day. I ran into a couple more deer on that trail. I found a good camp spot around 3:45 PM at ~11,000 ft and decided to call it a day. I had hiked about 13 miles. I was way ahead of schedule due to my change in plans and it was also starting to look stormy off to the east.
After dinner it started to look like some rain might be headed my way. I went ahead and got my feet washed and started to hear thunder around 7:00 PM. All evening it looked like it might rain. The sunset ended up being really cool with the sun lighting up the rain from the thunderstorms. It was definitely one of the more impressive sunsets I remember seeing from any of my backpacking trips. It started raining just as it was getting dark. I was glad it waited until then. It rained on and off for a bit, but didn’t rain a whole lot.
There was lots of hunting activity on this day, whether that was hunters, a train of mules, hunting camps, etc. If I remember correctly I met three people going the opposite way on trail, all before Divide Lakes. I generally felt better, although my pack was really hurting my right hip, so I unbuckled the pack several times throughout the day to try and help that. I was really glad I had done the easier route.
I was up around 7:00 AM on this day. Between the rain on the outside and condensation on the inside my tent was soaked. I tried to dry the inside up a bit using my towel. There was some frost on the tent at the foot of the tent. I hit the trail around 8:00 AM. Thankfully the vegetation along the trail wasn’t wet, which was surprising. Shortly after starting I again came to a Y in the trail, and once again the trail I chose went to a camp spot, so I had to back track again. I seemed to have a knack for choosing the wrong trail on this trip.
The hike up through Rincon La Osa was really cool. I stopped several times for pictures while hiking up the open valley. I passed next to a hunting camp with some llamas while hiking through the valley. I didn’t see any of the hunters around. There was a bit of a strenuous climb to get out of the valley, but not too bad. After reaching the top I went down into the East Ute Creek valley. It was a bit difficult to find the trail at the top. Shortly after finding the trail it turned into a fairly steep loose gravel trail with a pretty good drop off to one side. Had I slipped on the loose gravel and fell the wrong way, I would have tumbled down a steep embankment about 20-30 feet. It made me very nervous and I took it quite slow. I was quite relieved to make it past that part of the trail. I took a break shortly after that.
After that the trail was relatively flat and good for making some miles for most of the valley, although difficult to see in some spots. It seemed like the least traveled trail of my entire trip. Towards the bottom of the valley the trail steepened and was a bit more difficult with rocks and trees. I put my sandals on to cross East Ute Creek as I couldn’t see any way to rock hop across that. I was able to rock hop across West Ute Creek.
After crossing West Ute Creek there appeared to be a trail that cut NW over to the West Ute Trail. However, I lost that trail after a bit, and there didn’t appear to be a trail where the USGS map showed the trail would be. After wandering around for a bit I eventually found the trail, lower in the valley than the USGS map indicated it would be. That was a bit frustrating but I was glad to be back on the trail. The hike up the West Ute trail was exposed nearly the entire way.
Shortly before lunch I ran into a couple men hiking the opposite way. They were both decked out in camo and everything about them screamed hunters. However, when I asked them if they were hunting, they said no and one of them said his friend wanted to see the area. I’m not sure if they were being smart with me, if they were up there illegally, or they were truly just out hiking, but their outfit was definitely outside the norm of hiking outfits. It was a really odd encounter. Shortly after that I stopped around 1:00 PM at a shady spot for lunch, which was the first shady spot on the trail since getting on the West Ute Trail. I laid my tent and footprint out in the sun to dry them out.
It started looking stormy after lunch. I started hearing thunder around 2:00 PM. I made it to West Ute Lake around 2:45 PM. For some reason it hadn’t dawned on me until reaching the lake that that wasn’t the lake I wanted to be at. My plan had always been to go to Twin Lakes, not West Ute Lake, but for some reason my mind had latched onto West Ute Lake on this day. I wasn’t a big fan of the camping at that lake, and it was still fairly early, so I decided to hike the 4 miles to Twin Lakes and hope I didn’t get stormed on. At a creek crossing about a mile from Twin Lakes I noticed some bear prints in the mud, and shortly after that saw a moose.
I arrived at Twin Lakes around 4:30 PM. My feet were pretty sore, particularly my left foot. I had hiked about 15 miles. There was a storm fairly close with some thunder. It took me a few minutes to decide on a camp spot, and then I hurried as best I could to get the tent set up. According to my map there was an outlet stream from the lake close to my camp, but that wasn’t the case so I went to the lake to get some water. Filling up my water bag in a lake is difficult, so that was frustrating, especially since I was in a hurry. Once I got some water in the bag I noticed there was a definite yellow/green tint to the water. After getting water I finished setting up camp and then ate dinner. Thankfully the storm that was close wasn’t moving towards me.
While dinner was hydrating I washed my feet. I had a couple CDT hikers go by after dinner. I spent some time with my map and compass making sure I could remember how to use them. Thankfully I still remembered. Haha. Late in the evening another really heavy thunderstorm got going. I was so glad I wasn’t under that one. It made for another really cool sunset. I was stoked about having two awesome sunsets in a row. Shortly after sunset the wind picked up and it started to rain lightly, but that was short lived.
I was up around 6:45 AM. I had slept awful. There wasn’t a good place to secure my bear bag with my food, so I had it sitting next to my tent, which had me a bit paranoid. I could also hear animals wandering around outside throughout much of the night. I normally don’t sleep well while backpacking, but this was a really bad night.
I got on trail around 7:45 AM. There were a few elk on a hillside in the distance as I was leaving. Just a bit down the trail I ran into a creek that wasn’t on my map, which would have been much better than the water out of the lake. Oh well. Haha. I stopped to clean my socks from the previous day since they were pretty dirty. I didn’t fill up with water, which I figured I might regret later. The hiking from Twin Lakes to Ute Lake to Rincon La Osa was really cool. It was one of my favorite segments of the entire hike. It was slow going due to climbing and stopping for lots of pictures. Just before getting to Rincon La Osa I chose the wrong trail once again at a Y. It was really cool hiking around the rim of Rincon La Osa after having hiked up that valley the previous day. As I was nearing the end of the rim of Rincon La Osa I noticed a spring next to the trail. I had been rationing water so I was really thankful to find that water source. I drank the water I had and then refilled.
After Rincon La Osa I came to the same junction I had reached the previous day but continued on the CDT this time. There was one last big climb. It wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. Thank goodness for switchbacks. I took a snack break at the top of the climb. On the decent down towards Los Pinos River there was a cool view of The Window and Rio Grande Pyramid. There were also a couple cool waterfalls. I stopped for lunch just before meeting the Pine River Trail, around 12:45 PM. I was really hoping there was water in the ditch next to the trail, but it was dry. Thankfully I still had a bit of water for lunch, and there was a creek a bit down trail I could stop at to refill.
It was already looking stormy when I stopped for lunch. Shortly after getting started again after lunch there were some sprinkles. The trail was nice and good for making some miles. I stopped at Weminuche Creek to refill water. I started to hear thunder around 2:00 PM. On the way down I met some people taking some horses/mules in. The lower part of the trail was really cool. I made it to the trailhead just before 3:30 PM.
Despite changing my plans and going to the wrong lake, I was quite happy with how the trip turned out. I think I got quite lucky with weather and not getting stormed on while hiking. There was a lot of exposed hiking on this route, and not much hiking in the forest, although there is so much beetle kill that even in the forest there isn’t a whole lot of shade. I wasn’t much of a fan of the East Ute Creek and West Ute Creek valleys, but other than that I enjoyed the route. With as much hunting activity as I saw, I would recommend wearing some bright colors if you’re hiking this time of year. It definitely made me a bit nervous not having some bright colors on. If I exclude the hunters and all the people camped at Squaw Lake, I didn’t come across many people at all. That was nice, but it makes it a bit lonely as well. I always enjoy conversation with other hikers. It was a bit of a difficult hike, but definitely worth it!