Weminuche Wilderness – Sept. 2022: Trip Summary

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. 

Route of my hike. Blue is day 1, purple day 2, etc.
Elevation profile and approximate statistics from my Garmin inReach tracking. Created using GPS Visualizer.
Day 1

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. 

Looking up the Squaw Creek valley.

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. 

Day 2

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. 

Looking down at Squaw Lake.

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.

Looking down at Squaw Pass.

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. 

View from near the top of the climb on the Hossick Trail.

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. 

Day 3

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.

Yellow flowers along the Weminuche 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. 

The sunset on day 3.

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. 

Day 4

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. 

Rincon La Osa valley.

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. 

West Ute Lake.

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. 

Day 5

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. 

Looking back towards Ute Lake and Twin Lakes.

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. 

Rincon La Osa valley from the CDT.

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. 

Rio Grande Pyramid and The Window

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. 

Final Thoughts

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!

CDT Reflections Pt. 2: WY & CO Overview

Fog rising off of Shoshone Lake in Yellowstone.

This three part blog series is my attempt to answer the question “How did your CDT hike go?”. If you missed part one (overview of the MT & ID portion), you can check that out here. As you can tell from the title, this is an overview of the WY and CO portion. 

I was super excited to get into Wyoming. It is my birth state, the state where I spent most of my childhood, and it was nice to finally be finished with the MT/ID portion. Ironically, I think this is where things started to unravel on me though. Yellowstone ended up being really easy hiking, but I didn’t find it particularly scenic/interesting. Shortly after that I had a really frustrating town stop in Dubois (the town wasn’t bad, just didn’t go well). Then it was into the Wind River Range (“the Winds”), which was supposed to be one of the main highlights of the entire hike. In the northern part of the Winds I had one of the hardest days physically, and definitely one of my low points mentally/emotionally: the climb over Knapsack Col, where I broke both trekking poles and put a good gash in my shin. In the southern part the smoke returned, so the views were diminished. I rushed through the beautiful Cirque of the Towers area to get over a couple passes before rain moved in. Then a big climb on a cold and rainy morning, followed by awful blowdowns, made for an absolutely miserable day. So while there were some absolutely amazing views and scenery in the Winds, that stretch got heavily tainted by the abundance of miserable moments. Based on how much I struggled with the big climbs in the Winds, I knew I might be in trouble in Colorado and I really started to worry about making it through Colorado. 

Lander, WY was a place of big changes in my hike. The first one was with the trail itself. I was going from big mountains into relatively flat desert. This desert section had really worried me since the start of my hike. The second change was that it finally worked out so that I was hiking with a group after leaving town. In the 50+ days up to that point I had done very little hiking with other people. I had run into lots of different southbound hikers up to that point (mainly in towns), but had never been able to consistently stick around the same people for any considerable length of time. I thought it felt a lot like what speed dating must feel like. If the national parks (where camping is regulated) are excluded, up until Lander I believe I only had 3 nights outside of town (out of around 30) where I camped with other hikers. It had been quite lonely, and I was really glad to have some company leaving Lander. 

After Lander is the stretch known as “the Basin”, which is the relatively flat desert area I referenced in the previous paragraph. I got lucky and went through the Basin with great weather. It wasn’t near as bad as I had thought it might be (due mostly to the cooler weather I had), but it was still quite boring and monotonous, and I was really glad to have some company going through there to help break up the monotony. I managed to get in 40 miles during a day in the Basin, but it involved hiking the last 1.5 miles or so cross country (no trail) in the dark (with a headlamp), which was miserable and I highly discourage. Haha.

Unfortunately for me most of the group I was hiking with left Rawlins, WY about a half day ahead of me, but they were making a brief stop in a town that I would be skipping, so I knew I had a chance at catching them. I hiked the first couple days out of Rawlins really hard to try to catch up to them. I managed to link back up with a few of them on the third day, which was great, but my legs were completely exhausted. The stretch between Rawlins and Steamboat Springs, CO is when I really started to have serious thoughts about quitting, I think mainly due to exhaustion, as well as being miserable and/or “bored” through much of Wyoming.

After getting into Steamboat, getting some rest, and having what is likely my favorite memory from trail (staying at an Airbnb with several other hikers), I decided to keep on going. If I had been by myself, I think there is a high likelihood I would have called it quits in Steamboat. Despite feeling so exhausted getting into Steamboat and not taking a zero, I actually felt pretty good leaving town. Our group got spread out a bit between Steamboat and Grand Lake, CO, but I was still able to stick around a couple of the people in that stretch. There was a really big climb on the third day out of Steamboat that I really struggled with, but it helped a lot having someone with me to help motivate me to keep going. The next day had another big climb that again was a big struggle. There was a portion of the climb with blowdowns across the trail that were really difficult to get around, which made for miserable hiking and put me in an awful mood. After getting to Grand Lake I decided I would be taking an alternate route that would skip the highest point on the CDT and save me some miles and elevation gain/loss. The big climbs had been kicking my butt, and at this point I just wanted to get through Colorado. I could do a “14er” another time with a daypack if I really wanted to check that off my list. 

Although the hike out of Grand Lake was beautiful, it was a bit depressing as well since I knew the group I had been hiking with was going to be split up for a bit. Three of the hikers were getting off trail for a couple days to meet with friends. I was the only one I knew of planning on taking the alternate route, which would likely put me a couple days ahead of every one else. The first day out of Grand Lake was the first day in quite some time in which I didn’t see another CDT hiker and camped alone. Hiking with a group had a lot to do with me pushing on the last couple segments, so I was quite bummed to be without the group. Just before camp I tripped and fell hard, which didn’t help anything. The next day had a big climb up above 12,000 ft. Between the big climb, the cold temperature, the wind, and the exposed hiking, I was really miserable that morning. By lunchtime I was already fairly worn out and demoralized, and I had a decision to make: two more big climbs (with a big descent between them) for the day, or call it quits and head into Winter Park, CO. After eating I decided to call it quits. After that morning, there wasn’t much of me that was looking forward to the rest of Colorado and New Mexico. So on the afternoon of Sep. 5 I hiked my final few miles out to Winter Park. 

In part 3, I’ll cover some individual topics about the hike in general, so be watching for that in the next few days. 

South San Juan Wilderness – Aug. 2020: Trip Report

Prior to the backpacking trip my brother and I took in the Weminuche Wilderness in late July (trip report here) I had done nine other backpacking trips, none of which were in Colorado. Now I have done two backpacking trips to Colorado in essentially a month. Haha. That wasn’t the original plan this year, but COVID happened, and I got some Colorado backpacking in sooner than I expected. I had originally planned this trip as a 6 day trip, but I ended up only doing 5 days due to getting a blister on each heel. Since I’ll be running a half marathon in early October, I wanted to try and minimize damage to my feet. I still got to see most of what I wanted to, so I wasn’t too disappointed to cut a day off the trip. This honestly goes down towards the bottom of favorite hikes I have done, but that doesn’t mean it was a bad trip. Keep reading for the details of the trip and some overall thoughts/comments.

Trip Summary

Day 1: I left my camp spot in the Conejos campground around 7:30 A.M., and reached the Elk Creek Trailhead just before 8:00 A.M. Just before I hit the trail, I talked to a guy who was going in with someone else on horseback, and he stated that they were going into Second Meadows to get some cows. That got me a little bit worried about running into them going the opposite way on the trail. I signed in at the trail register, and then hit the trail. The trail immediately crossed Elk Creek on a bridge, and quickly after that there was an unmarked trail intersection. I went right, and after hiking a short ways and pulling up Avenza Maps, I realized I had gone the wrong way. I went back and went the correct way. A few minutes later, I came upon another unmarked trail junction. I once again went right, and once again realized I had gone the wrong way after walking a short distance and pulling up Avenza maps. So a little bit of a frustrating start. Haha.

About 2 miles in, just before First Meadows, I ran into Roy. He was hiking out after spending 10 days backpacking around the area. We probably spent around 20 minutes chatting, mainly about photography. That was really neat. Just after that I came up to First Meadows (which ended up being my personal favorite of the four). I reached the start of Second Meadows just before noon. There were four guys there, three of whom were fishing. I talked to the one guy not fishing for a few minutes, then set my stuff down and took a lunch break. That was a neat spot to have lunch. After I ate I grabbed some pictures and then hit the trail again. Just after hitting the trail it started to thunder. I got sprinkled on a bit, but thankfully that was it.

The start of Second Meadows.

I met the guys with the cows in Second Meadows. The trail ran around the edge of the meadow. I saw the first guy down in the meadow with a few cows, and a short while later ran into the second guy with a few more cows just as they were getting off the trail and going down into the meadow. Thankfully I didn’t run into them on the trail. That probably would have got interesting real quick. My plan had me camping somewhere along Second Meadows, but I knew I could likely get farther than that, which I did. Around 2:00 P.M., while I was in Third Meadows, it started to look pretty stormy, and started to thunder again, just at the same time the trail I was on pretty much disappeared, so I decided to call it a day.

I got camp set up, then went down to the creek to get water. It started to rain just as I got back to the tent. I laid down in the tent until it cleared up around 4:00 P.M. The rest of the evening consisted of cleaning my feet and socks, letting my feet soak in the cold creek for a bit, making dinner, and reading. I probably would have kept going a bit had it not been for the thunderstorms, but I was definitely happy with the progress I made during the day, and it ended up being a good place to stop.

Day 2: This was by far the shortest mileage day, but it was by no means easy. I got out of bed at 6:15 A.M. and probably spent 15 minutes trying to find a spot I could dig a cathole, but wasn’t having any luck. I finally gave up and made breakfast. While I was eating I saw an elk way off in the distance on the opposite side of the canyon. That was cool. After breakfast I tried again to find a spot to dig a cathole, and after about another 15 minutes was finally successful. After that I got camp packed up. The rain fly was soaked by condensation, both inside and outside. I always hate packing up a wet tent. I hit the trail at about 7:50, which was later than I had hoped. As I had mentioned in day 1 above, the trail by where I camped disappeared, so I tried a different trail I had found while wandering around the area. This one ended up taking me through a marsh and disappeared, and I eventually came to the conclusion that this couldn’t be the correct trail. I pulled up Avenza maps and used that to get me back to the correct trail, which could actually be seen where I got back to it.

In both Third Meadows and Fourth Meadows the trail was difficult to follow in spots. After Fourth Meadows there were a lot of blow downs, which made for slow progress. After the trail crossed Elk Creek, it completely disappeared. Either that or I completely missed it. However, I used Avenza Maps to try and stay on the trail as best I could, and never really could find any sort of trail. The entire segment between the red arrows in the image above didn’t seem to exist. It was really slow, difficult progress through marshy areas and over lots of blow downs. Had it not been for Avenza Maps, I would have been in a real dilemma. I’m not sure if I would have kept going or not. Thankfully the trail eventually reappeared, but it still remained difficult and hard to follow in several spots. The farther I got, the better the trail became. I was quite glad when I reached the intersection with the Continental Divide Trail (CDT). I made it to Dipping Lakes around 10:30 A.M. I would definitely put those 4 miles towards the top of the most difficult 4 miles of any trip I have done.

Looking down towards Elk Creek on my way to Dipping Lakes.

I had a Clif Bar and then spent a while trying to find a camp spot. I got camp set up and then rinsed off and soaked my feet for a while. I also rinsed off my socks, shoes, and bottom half of pants, as they were all really dirty from walking through the marshy areas and climbing over trees. After that I had lunch. After getting to Dipping Lakes I had gone back and forth several times about whether I wanted to try and do the hike to Red Lake and back. Finally, around 1:00, I decided to go ahead and head that way. It looked a little stormy, but nothing too threatening. Around 10 minutes down trail, I heard some thunder, and I took that as my sign to just stay at camp for the day. Haha.

While looking for camp spots, I noticed a couple with trash in the fire rings, so I got that cleaned up after getting back to my camp. It started to get pretty stormy around 2:00 P.M., so I got in my tent and laid down. It started raining around 2:15, and rained lightly for 15-20 minutes. I got up around 3, looked at maps, and did some reading. The rest of the evening after dinner was spent reading and taking some photos. The lake was like glass most of the evening, which made for some fun photography.

Day 3: I got out of bed at 6:45 A.M., made breakfast, and hit the trail just before 8. According to my calculation on Avenza maps, it was roughly 4.5 miles to Red Lake, with not much elevation gain. With my daypack, I figured it would only take 2 hours to get there, at most. So I figured a pretty easy day. I was quite wrong. Haha.

All the elevation gain was pretty much in the first half mile or so. The hike along the CDT was really neat. There were some fantastic views along that trail. At one point, I pulled up Avenza maps and realized that I had missed the trail to Red Lake. I had figured there would be a sign marking the trail junction, but that wasn’t the case. Thankfully I wasn’t too far past it. Since it was fairly flat and open, I cut across to the trail. However, it turned out that there was no “trail” to Red Lake. It was a cross country route marked my cairns, and it wasn’t marked that well. I was honestly using Avenza maps more than I was using cairns. However, it made for more of a zig-zag pattern getting to the lake, which added to the miles. It was rough ground as well, which made me realize how nice smooth maintained trails are. Once again, if it wasn’t for Avenza Maps, I’m not sure I would have actually kept going. I could have used my map and compass and possibly made it, but I’m not sure I would have been willing to risk getting myself lost.

Open plateau area along the CDT on my way to Red Lake.

I reached Red Lake around 10:30, and realized that one of my feet had a blister on the heel. That was a big bummer. It wasn’t really a scenic lake (in my opinion), but I would have liked to spend some time there resting. However, it was already looking stormy, and this was not a hike I wanted to do in a thunderstorm. Most of it is up on a high plateau with very few trees. So I took just enough time to eat a Clif Bar and refill on water, and then headed back towards camp. Sure enough, about 15 minutes after leaving Red Lake, I heard the first thunder. At that point the race was on to try to get back to camp before I got stormed on, and this was definitely not the route I wanted to be trying to race through.

I did a little better on the way back staying close to the trail marked on the map, but still got off course a couple times. I was really glad when I reached the actual trail again. I was in the zone booking it back to camp when, with a little under a mile to go, I passed a guy resting just off trail. I’m not sure if I saw him first, or he said something first, but either way he scared me pretty good. Haha. He was section hiking the CDT, and goes by the trail name Cache 22. We chatted for 20 minutes or so about backpacking, and then headed our separate ways. It was really cool to get to chat with him.

I got back to camp around 1:00 P.M. The roughly 9 miles round trip had turned into roughly 12, according to my Garmin. It was much harder than I had expected. It also didn’t help that I was quite stressed out about getting caught in a thunderstorm. Had there actually been a trail, I think it would have been quite easy. If I was going to do it again, I would actually keep going down the CDT a ways, as that seemed to have the more scenic views (again, in my opinion). If I were going to go to Red Lake again, I would likely try using my map and compass and just following a heading. Assuming I could stick to that heading, I think that would be the better option than trying to follow the cairns.

When I got back to camp there were a couple different storms around with thunder. I ate lunch and then washed my feet off. I ended up getting a blister on each heel during the hike. At that point I knew the 6 days was likely going to turn into 5. It started to rain just before 2:00 P.M., and I laid down in the tent until 3:00 P.M. It stayed cloudy and chilly the rest of the day, and I spent most of the rest of the day doing some reading.

Day 4: The original plan for this day was to go to Green Lake, but due to the blisters on my heels, I decided to skip Green Lake and get to Alverjones Lake. I knew that a good chunk of this hike was going to be in areas where I wouldn’t want to get caught in a thunderstorm. To try and avoid a repeat of the previous day, I set my alarm for 5:30 A.M., ate a Clif Bar instead of oatmeal for breakfast, and hit the trail around 6:30 A.M. The hike between Dipping Lakes and Trail Lake was easily the best section of this trip. The views once I started climbing above Dipping Lakes were spectacular. It was fantastic in the morning light. It definitely made me glad I got an early start. I stopped often to snap some photos, while in the back of my mind thinking I might regret it later if I get caught in a storm. Haha.

I reached Trail Lake around 8:30 A.M. The intersection where the trail to Alverjones Lake splits off of the CDT was actually marked. That was nice. There was a small pond there where I refilled my water. While I was doing that, another backpacker went by on the CDT. Prior to the trip, a coworker had mentioned he thought the trail towards Alverjones was marked by cairns, and after my experience with Red Lake, I had a hunch we was correct. It became obvious quite quickly that it would be a cross country route marked by cairns, at least initially. There was one spot with two massive cairns, one probably at least 7 feet tall, and another one probably over 6 feet tall. Those were quite impressive. I was really wishing I had someone with me to take a photo of me between the two massive cairns.

One of the massive cairns between the CDT and Laguna Venado.

Things seemed to be going well until I got to a cairn and couldn’t see any more cairns. I pulled up Avenza Maps, and it showed that I was off trail a bit. I hiked back towards trail, eventually saw a couple more cairns, and then found an actual trail just above Laguna Venado. The trail came and went between there and Laguna Venado, and then was pretty consistent after Laguna Venado. My original plan had me going by Victoria Lake, but the maps indicated the hike might be pretty marshy, and based on what I had seen so far, I figured it probably wouldn’t be the kind of lake I consider scenic, so I decided to skip it. Most of the hike from near the Victoria Lake trail intersection to Alverjones Lake was through open meadow.

I reached Alverjones Lake a little after 11, and it was already starting to look a bit stormy. Once again, I was glad I had got the early start. I found a previously used camp site quickly, although I wasn’t a huge fan of it. There was a fire ring, and some pre cut firewood. It honestly looked like it was a campsite used by hunters. There were lots of cow pies around, and it was probably a 1/4 mile walk to the lake. However, the rest of the lake didn’t look too promising for camp sites, so I decided to stay there and got camp set up. I ate lunch, then went down to the lake to get water. These long walks to the water are when I’m really glad I have my 2L bag to fill up and bring to camp.

The first thunder was a little after 12. It started to rain about 1:15. It didn’t rain for very long. I read and listened to podcasts most of the afternoon. The clouds actually cleared up about 3:15 and there was a light breeze. All the previous days it had stayed cloudy after the storms, and went pretty much calm, so that was a little bit of a change. Several cows showed up on the opposite side of the lake. I figured they would probably stroll into my camp at some point, but they never did, thankfully. I believe about 5:00 P.M. a thunderstorm went up to my NE, and I was quite glad I wasn’t under that storm. It looked like it was dumping a lot of rain, had a bunch of thunder, and moved very, very slowly. I got some cold outflow winds from that storm around 7:20 P.M. Thankfully I was pretty much ready for bed already, so I hopped in my tent. I looked out of my tent towards the lake around 7:30 P.M. and noticed several elk walking along the opposite side of the lake. I counted 9 elk. That was really cool to watch them for a few minutes.

I eventually got into my tent for good around 8:00 P.M. and tried to get to sleep. It took me forever to get to sleep. It started raining lightly around 10:00 P.M., which I wasn’t thrilled about since that meant I would have a wet tent in the morning. I’m not sure what time I finally fell asleep, but it was much later than I would have liked.

Day 5: After the change in plans, the goal for this day was to hike out to the trailhead. I once again set my alarm for 5:30 A.M. and hit the trail around 6:30 A.M. I dried my tent off as best I could with my towel before getting it packed up. I ended up wearing my rain jacket and beanie starting out. This seemed like the coldest morning of the trip. If you look closely at my actual map, you can see that I went the wrong way at the first trail intersection. Once again, the intersection wasn’t marked, and I never even saw the other trail. I only found out I had gone the wrong way when I checked Avenza maps at the second intersection. I was able to see the correct trail taking off on my way back to the first intersection.

Just as I was about to stop to take off my rain jacket, a band of coyotes started making noise, and they seemed to be quite close, so I decided to keep going for a bit before I stopped. Haha. At some point during the hike I had a Ptarmigan take off just ahead of me, which scared me pretty good. Those things are quite good at scaring you. The trail was quite difficult in spots where it started going down into the canyon for Elk Creek. There were several spots that were quite steep and were nothing but loose rock and dirt. There were several instances where, if it hadn’t been for my trekking poles, I probably would have ended up on my butt. I passed a random trail sign partway down into the canyon. I had only seen signs at a few intersections, and this sign wasn’t in a spot where the map indicated any sort of trail intersection, so that had me a little bit confused. Not sure why it was placed there.

Lily covered pond on the hike out to the trailhead.

I reached Elk Creek about 9:45 A.M. I stopped for a break, refilled water, and ate a Clif Bar. I had heard some voices as I got close to the Elk Creek trail, but nobody came by while I was taking my break. After that I resumed my trek towards the trailhead. I passed several people hiking in. All appeared to be day hikers. I reached the trailhead around 11:45 A.M., and noticed what looked like a trail crew sitting next to their van eating. I asked them if they were about to start some trail maintenance, which was actually a pretty stupid question. If I had been observant, I would have noticed they looked pretty worn out. I’ll blame it on being worn out and probably dehydrated myself. Haha. But they replied they had just finished a four day trip of trail maintenance. I assumed they had been the voices I heard as I got close to the Elk Creek Trail. I chatted with them for a couple minutes, and then opened up my trunk to start putting stuff in.

That is when I noticed that at least one mouse had made my car home while I was backpacking. That quickly put a big damper on the day. It had eaten most of the food that I had in the trunk, and left evidence of itself all throughout the car. I spent a while looking through the car to see if I could find it, but had no luck. This was the second time I had had this happen, and I got quite frustrated. I had planned to use the restroom, get my tent out and let it dry out, and each lunch, but I decided to just get to Chama and try to get the mouse situation taken care of. Looking back on it, I would have loved to stick around and chat with the trail crew, and I’m really bummed I didn’t, but I really wanted to try and get that mouse out of the car as soon as I could.

I drove to Chama, NM, bought some mouse traps and peanut butter, and then got a room at “The Hotel and Shops”. It wasn’t anything fancy by any means, but it had a bed, a shower, was in a great location, and they had some tasty looking sweets for purchase, which was really all I needed. Haha. The customer service was great as well. Once I got everything out of the car, I put some peanut butter on the traps and put them in the car. I got washed up, got some cheesecake from the hotel for lunch, then got stuff organized and did some reading. For dinner I got a green chile smothered cheeseburger and a slice of apple pie from The Boxcar Cafe.

Conclusions

As I mentioned at the beginning of the post, this hike goes towards the bottom of the list of favorite hikes I have done. It just seemed like a lot of effort for not that much scenery. The only part I really considered scenic was the part along the CDT, which was just a small portion of the trip. The trip up Elk Creek wasn’t too bad either. If you’re into meadows, this would be a good trip for you. There are some massive meadows/open areas on this trip. While I was quite impressed with some of the meadows, I would much rather hike through forest or in an area with views of big mountains. Also, much of the forest on this hike was dead, I’m assuming from a beetle infestation, so that was a bummer. It made finding a camp spot away from dead trees nearly impossible, unless I wanted to be out in the middle of a large open area, which wasn’t preferable either.

With that said, though, the experience of hiking cross country was a good experience to have. I definitely have some work to do to get better at that. Haha. You often hear of large mountains making people feel small, but the huge open plateau between the CDT and Laguna Venado made me feel quite small as well, which wasn’t really expected. That may be the most isolated I have ever felt. I could see forever in pretty much every direction. There was no trail, and really no evidence of any human activity other than the occasional cairn. The only other trip that I may have felt more isolated was my solo trip in the Uintas when I didn’t see anybody for nearly 3 days.

One thing I forgot mention in my Weminuche Wilderness trip summary, and was the same on this trip, was the lack of mosquitoes. That was so nice. There was plenty of evidence of wildlife on this trip, although I didn’t really see much other than the elk. I was super excited to get to see the big group of elk though. That was easily more elk than I had seen in all my previous trips combined.

So, in short, met some great people, saw a new area, had some new experiences, but just not quite the scenery I would have liked.

Trash

Trash left in a fire ring at Dipping Lakes.

If you pack it in, please pack it out. Fortunately, most of the trail was quite clean, but a couple camp spots at Dipping Lakes had some trash left in the fire rings. I had brought a bag just in case I ran into something like this, so before I left Dipping Lakes I picked up the trash and packed it out. Please do the same if you come across trash while you’re out in the backcountry.