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.

Weminuche Wilderness – July 2020: Gear Changes

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.

Weminuche Wilderness – July 2020: Trip Summary

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.

Trip Summary

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).

Overall Comments

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.