Last week I hiked a trail that I backpacked last summer in the Weminuche Wilderness of southern Colorado. I returned to this trail because I remembered how it made me feel. It is one of the most beautiful and pristine trails I have ever backpacked and yet it was one of the toughest trails. If fact, when I first backpacked the trail, I had a really hard time. I was carrying more weight than my body appreciate and I remembered how the burning sensation in my calves would never cease for the entire length of trail (which is often a sign you are carrying too much weight).
In part I carried more weight because I was training for the JMT, another reason was that I was making use of the gear that I had. I do not have a lot of money and so I had to make the best of what gear I can afford. Though the gear I used last year has served me well in many, many trail miles I continue to make adjustments when I am able.
Last year, I wasn’t able to follow the HYOH (“Hike your own hike”) motto. I was with a group whose minds were set in training mode rather than in enjoyment. This is NOT the way I like to hike my trails. It was a very rushed experience and I was not able to fully take in the area’s beauty. This time however, I had invited a long time friend to join me. Someone I knew would appreciate this beautiful wilderness. She in turn invited her niece. Since we have known each other well, I trusted her judgement in inviting her.
They didn’t have all the necessary gear, so I managed to gather extra gear I had and between my extra gear, those of her own and of her friend’s, we had managed to get everybody equipped for the trip.
We camped at the trailhead the night before. It was the first time they would be testing out the tent I had lent them. It turned out to be a very warm night and I had wished I slept a little better than I did but night turned into morning and it was time to get packing. After having breakfast we set out for the trail at around 7:15 am. The morning was very pleasant. The beginning of the trail takes you alongside scenic fields lined with grand mountain views, eventually trailing alongside the Pine River. It was an enjoyable hike, not rushed at all and yet we were making great time. At around 6.2 miles in we stopped to have lunch and refill our camelbacks at a bridge where Lake Creek River intersects the Pine River. I took some time to soak my feet in the roaring river and change out my socks. My feet felt new again and I was ready to make the ascent.
A little ways after the bridge, there is a turn off towards the lake. Though there is only around 4.3 more miles to go however, this is where the real climb begins. By the time we reached the bridge we had climbed only around 810 feet or so. We had a remaining 2000 feet to climb before reaching camp.
It was very hot. Hotter than last year. I had recalled a hiker mentioning how unusually hot it was this year. As we made our way through a couple of meadows, hot gusts of air would rush towards me from the valley to the left. I noticed recognized several characteristics of the trail from the year before. I recalled also, several places on the trail where I had stopped to rest because the pain in my calves was so intense. This time however, I barely experienced any pain at all. It was reassuring to have overcome that discomfort. Things were feeling much better this time. I was energized, happy and with a sense of purpose and lightness. The truth was, I felt great!
At around 9 miles into the hike, after coming into a gentle bend in the trail I noticed a large brown creature, no more that 50 feet before me walking on the trail away from me. It was a moose! I stumbled to grab my camera which was in my pack at the time. I decided to fore-go the camera and to use my phone instead which was in my pocket. Quietly I followed the moose who seemed completely unaware of my presence behind him, following only a couple of minutes before he finally saw me. He then left the trail into the brush to the right.
My two hiking companions were behind me a little ways so I decided to wait for them and quietly make them aware there was a moose area. After only minutes the moose appeared again, this time to the left of the trail. At this point I had already retrieved my camera. This time, completely aware of us, the moose wandered away slowly, stopping periodically to glance back at us and finally wandered away into the brush once again. It was surely the highlight of the trip.
When we finally reached our campsite at around 10.5 miles in. The weather began to turn and we could hear thunder rolling closer and closer from the northern passes. We decided it was best to set up camp quickly and just as soon as we had, rain was upon us. Then hail… Oh, the feeling of being holed up in your tent; something that was somewhat familiar with which is always an interesting experience. The rain wasn’t going to pass anytime soon, so I took advantage of the situation, had something to eat and had a short nap.
About an hour passes before it was clear again and we were emerged reset our tents and shake off the excess water. At this point, we decided to take a little walk to Little Emerald lake, filter some water and have some tea and food. It was still a bit overcast, but the mood very light and we enjoyed our lake-front rest. Afterwards we went to the river to wash up. It was my intention that I would get into the water during this trip, since I had missed my chance last year. I placed my clothing on a large rock on the bank and inched my way in. First, my feet and man it was cold! I continued to inch my way in little by little until I was finally submerged. Every time I came out of the water, I could tolerate it more and more. It was a very nice, pure, fun experience. We all had a great time.
We decided we would hike to the larger lake in the morning which was only a couple miles from camp. After a good night’s sleep, I emerged from my tent at around 5:30am. Always happy to find myself awaken to the sounds of the forest I felt at peace. It has become a ritual, that I spend some peaceful moments sitting quietly before making breakfast. I made some coffee after retrieving our bear bags. While doing so I heard slashing in the river and had assumed it was other hikers and didn’t think much of it. However, my friend who had also heard the splashing decided to investigate and just a moment later ran back to us to tells us that it was another moose! As we made our way to the river we could see the moose through the trees ‘frolicking’ up and down the river in a very playful manner. It was quite the sight!
After splashing around in the water 3 or 4 times he became calm and wandered slowly towards the other side. In amazement we were able to observe him for quite some time in close proximity. I couldn’t believe how close we were to this enormous creature and how his awareness of us did not seem to phase him much as he nibbled on some leaves. Once again we were left awestruck. It was a beautiful sight after a peaceful awakening in the woods. I felt blessed.
After some breakfast, we hiked over to the big Emerald Lake. The water looked so pure, so beautiful I was anxious to jump in! Needless to say, I slipped on the log my hiking budding and I were jumping from and scraped up my ankle. And boy did it hurt! But being in that lake turned out to be one of the most beautiful experiences I have had in the wilderness. The water was calm, the lake was incredibly scenic, surrounded by lush green mountains. It was beyond words, beautiful.
Our time in the lake was cut short by another rolling storm so we hastened our pace back to camp in hopes of packing up before it rained. To make this post short (too late, sorry…) we took our time heading back the 12.5 miles down, stopped again at the bridge to re-fuel, top-off our waters and change socks and mosied our way back to the trailhead.
The trip was only 2 days, but this time I was with much better company. The energy was light and fun and the trail seemed to take on a grander beauty than the year before.
It was a very good time.